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A few hours’ bus ride from Cancun rests an island unlike any other in the Riviera Maya, the infamous travel destination on the Yucatan Peninsula. Its name is Mayan (pronounced like hole-bosh) and means black hole, perhaps due to the plethora of cenotes or subterranean river systems found here. Now it is also known as the self-proclaimed Island of the Whale Shark.
The island is accessed from the small port town of Chiquilá. Buses come here fairly regularly from Cancun, but thanks to a new route via the 2nd-class bus system known as Mayab, you can also travel here inexpensively (about 168 MXN, or just over 14 USD) from Tulum with minimal stops, and, interestingly, it’s quicker than the bus from Cancun.
The first notable difference on this island is the lack of cars. Golf carts are the preferred mode of motorized transportation with the occasional scooter. A “taxi” for 2 to most places in the inhabited parts of the island costs 30 MXN. Next you might notice the lack of paved streets. All the roads on Holbox are packed white sand. They invite you to slip off your shoes and walk barefoot everywhere. And no worries, most stores, restaurants, and other businesses won’t care that you aren’t properly shod.
As you walk around the small island, you feel yourself automatically slowing down to match its pulse. You won’t find large chain stores here. Even the touts seemed uninterested in trying to steer you into their shops. People smile a lot. It just kind of happens to you.
Holbox is closer to the whale shark areas than popular Isla Mujeres, so you may get a better deal here, and less time on the choppy water might also equal less seasickness if you’re prone to it. And when you return to shore, your adventure won’t be forgotten so quickly as you reenter the noise and bustle of a larger town.
The lodging choices vary widely on the island. Everything from camping, hostels with sand floors (Ida y Vuelta Hostel), to luxury accommodations await your visit. Restaurant options are very diverse as well; however, keep in mind if you want more typical Mexican food, or to eat where the locals eat, you’ll need to wait until about 7:30 PM when the street vendors start showing up near the central plaza. You can also save money by shopping at the small neighborhood grocery stores. As Holbox has been, and still is, an active fishing village if you love seafood, you’ve found the best place. It is, however, much more costly than its sister islands of Isla Mujeres and Cozumel, charging almost double for most entrees.
When you are ready to leave the island, if you’re heading to Cancun by bus make sure to catch the 5 AM, 7 AM, or 1 PM ferry. You’ll find the ADO or Mayab bus waiting for you on the other side. Buy your tickets right next to where the bus is parked.
If you want to find a place to slow down, experience some different Mexican culture, do ecological tours (a nearby lagoon has a large number of birds, including flamingoes), or to visit a unique location for romance, Isla Holbox is the perfect destination.