Isla Holbox Promises: Flamingos, Golf Carts & Relaxation

After 2 months in Playa del Carmen we finally started moving – and we won’t stop moving for the foreseeable future which is super exciting. Our first stop after Playa del Carmen was Isla Holbox. We’d heard of this magical island through blog posts, other travelers and locals around Mexico. Supposedly it was/is known as a little slice of heaven in Mexico that hasn’t quite been taken over by tourists and resorts yet. Of course – the truth is always stretched a bit.

Our journey to Holbox started with a bus ride – from Playa del Carmen to a tiny port town of Chiquilá in the northeastern Yucatan. The bus ride took about 2-2.5 hours and you drive through a whole lot of nothing. Once in Chiquilá you take a 30 minute ferry to Isla Holbox – however, we were immediately propositioned off the bus to take a tiny boat that fits 6 people over to the island for the same price but only 20 minutes. So we did that instead.


On the bus ride over – it was packed. There is only one bus a day that leaves from Playa del Carmen to Chiquilá  and I was thinking it might be half full given that almost everyone we’ve talked to (or blogs we read) said how unfrequented Isla Holbox was. So apparently – the secret is out because everyone was going to Isla Holbox.

When we arrived we thought we could find our way to our cabana (Ida y Vuelta Hostel and Cabanas) by walking since we had a screenshot of the town which is very small. Turns out that they don’t label their streets whatsoever so we immediately got lost. We kept asking cab drivers (golf cart “cabs”) for directions but of course they wouldn’t tell us unless we paid them to take us there – so we did.

Isla Holbox is very small. It’s about .75 miles wide and 26 miles long – but a majority of the island is a nature refuge so the town only takes up a very tiny area which is very walk-able (turns out had we kept walking a bit longer, we would have found our lodging…oh well.) The island doesn’t have any paved streets – they are all packed sand. And there are virtually no cars – everyone drives golf carts. The only exception to this is the garbage pickup trucks and some trucks that transport some construction equipment for the new resorts that are popping up.

The “streets” of Holbox (and a rare truck that we happened to capture)

We arrived at our cabana, which is also a hostel, and it was by far one of the “funkiest” places we’ve ever stayed. It definitely had that hippied-out, relaxed, whatever-goes vibe. We booked a private cabana with our own bathroom because although I’m a budget traveler, I’m not down with the shared-room hostel environment. It certainly wasn’t luxury – lizards are able to crawl in and out, the mosquitoes were a bit pesky and you can hear everything from the outside since the wood pieces don’t quite touch. But it was super charming and a really great experience. Waking up to the sounds of the birds in the morning was pretty amazing.

Our cabana
The bed in our cabana with our (much needed) mosquito net

We arrived fairly early in the day and had some time to kill before they would let us check in so we took a walk down to the beach about a block away. This is where our minds were blown, our breath was taken away and we realized why everyone loved this place. The beach was insane. Absolutely out-of-a-storybook beautiful. The water was incredibly calm and the colors looked fake.

What is this place?!

The water is so shallow! You could walk forever and have it only come up to your thighs. And! The shore is just littered with tiny perfect seashells everywhere. We felt like we were dreaming when we first got there. It’s definitely a place that’s gaining in popularity so we felt lucky to be there when we were but couldn’t help but wonder what it was like 10 years ago.

Perfect little seashells. I wanted to have each and every one.
It’s so shallow!

The next day we woke up to have breakfast that was provided at our hostel which consisted of coffee, banana bread (drizzled in chocolate, which was completely unnecessary) and mango water. The owner/guy who served us asked where we were from, we clearly said America and when he delivered our food he made a “faster than Burger King” joke. Oh the things people think about our culture and how they try and relate. We thought it was funny.

Holbox is known for being an incredible bird sanctuary for tons of species that are migrating and also live there year round. One migration that was supposed to be happening were FLAMINGOS! Since I found out we were going to Holbox I was dreaming of seeing wild flamingos. The guy at our reception marked on the map where we could find flamingos in the morning. It was about a 1.5 mile walk from our hostel down a sandy road (of course) to a small nature reserve area. We excitedly walked down and finally arrived at the spot. But…no flamingos. Not one. Nor did we see one on our entire stay. So bummed.

You can just picture flamingos here, right?!
But nope…not one flamingo.

We did, however, have an incredible walk back along the beach. Isla Holbox has so much cool wildlife that we never saw down in Playa, Cozumel or Tulum. We came across horseshoes crabs (but they were all dead…sad) and a conch (that was still inside!) Plus some great photo ops that we couldn’t pass up.

Did you know they aren’t crabs at all?! They’re more closely relate to spiders! Crazy, right?!
A conch in the sand – I wanted to throw him back in but I was scared to pick it up.
The water was just too perfect not to take advantage of this shot.

It was a lazy day at the beach which is exactly what we wanted – we even saw dolphins swimming off in the distance. Like, what?! There were some paddle boarders on the water that the dolphins swam by. So jealous! We wrapped up the day with some fried fish (of course) and beer on the beach at a reggae bar on the sand. The sunsets here are incredible too now that we’re on this side of the Yucatan.

Sun, beach, beer, reggae – yes, please!
Sun starting to go down – a dock lined with conch shells.

Our last day on Holbox called for thunderstorms so we mainly hung out in our cabana. When my mom visited last week, she gave us some cool adult coloring books so that helped pass some time. The thunder and lightning were pretty great – we always love a good storm. There’s something about rain when it’s still really warm out, I love it. When the storm passed we went back to the reggae bar for another fried fish for dinner. It was crazy windy still. By the way – eating rice and a chopped salad outside while it’s super windy is extremely hard.

It was the aftermath of the storm that completely made us breathless. It was seriously one of those moments in life where – if you don’t believe in God, it definitely makes you question some things and think of a “bigger” energy out there. The clouds parted in the most perfect way and the once calm beach was now rough but beautiful. Kile was able to capture a pretty epic moment.

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This happened.

The next morning we had to wake up at 6am to catch the 7am ferry and then the 7:30 bus to Valladolid (which is where we are currently.) But not before we caught one last insane picture of the sunrise.

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Bye Isla Holbox!

Out of the promises we heard that Isla Holbox would deliver – the island certainly succeeded in most. Just no flamingos.

Leaving the beaches for some history and culture – updates to come!


5 Comments Add yours

  1. zangarano says:

    All the way reading, I was like wow I’ve got to tell them how great THIS photo was! But then I got to the end… and that was like all of them. My favorite is the storm photo! It all looks so great!

    1. ashandkilebrewer says:

      Thanks so much!! It was a pretty amazing place!

  2. Joe says:

    Great post! I think there must be some kind of flamingo conspiracy…

    1. ashandkilebrewer says:

      Ha! We think so too! Thanks Joe!

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