Sometimes you discover a destination purely by accident. A place you have never heard of, but that captures your attention and imagination nonetheless. Holbox, Mexico is one of those places. It’s an out of the way island that beckons visitors with its relaxed lifestyle, but also offers plenty of opportunities to explore. Today I have Nikki from Clanventure sharing what families will love about Holbox, Mexico and I’m pretty sure after you read about this place, you’ll want to visit too.
Why You Should Visit Isla Holbox with Kids
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On our family’s latest trip to Mexico, we opted out of the well-worn path south of Cancun and headed north, to where the Gulf of Mexico meets the Caribbean. Far from the crowds of Cancun and Playa del Carmen, but only 2 hours from the Cancun airport, lies the quiet little paradise of Isla Holbox (pronounced hol-bosh). This walkable, bike-able island — not much more than a sandbar — is low-key and family-friendly. We spent a week on this welcoming island but could have easily stayed longer. It is a trip I know we will be doing again and again.
How to Travel to Holbox, Mexico from Cancun
A driver met our flight and then dropped us off in Chiquila, where we took a 20-minute ferry over to Isla Holbox. At the ferry are golf cart taxis, waiting to take you to wherever you need to go. My kids loved this, especially my oldest who now has visions of his future as a golf cart taxi driver! (There are very few cars on the island; you’ll only see a few police cars and work trucks on the sand streets.) You won’t find high rise hotels or fancy condominiums on Holbox, only small hotels and eco-resorts. We stayed at the Villas Delfines, a relaxed, eco-resort with palapa-roofed bungalows with views of the beach. I knew from the minute I walked onto the porch — with two hammocks with a view of the crystal clear waters — that we had found a gem.
The small town of Holbox, with a traditional Mexican plaza in the middle, has shops and restaurants along the sandy roads, but nothing is overly touristy. Friendly dogs nap in the street — we met Frito, Coco and a few others along the way. All have owners but they are just as free as the residents here, living alongside Holboxeños and visitors in this small community. The island vibe is simple and unplugged, slow living at its best. The resort had wifi but we decided before traveling that we’d leave electronics at home. There was so much to do and see on Holbox — my kids didn’t ask for an iPad even once!
We were told that you go to Holbox to do a lot of nothing. And that is definitely a possibility. But if you are traveling with active kids (like my three!), you’ll have plenty of options to fill your days. Here were some of our family favorites:
Spend the day at the beach in Holbox
The water is relatively tranquil, perfect for little ones as parents can relax on the beach without worrying about big waves crashing down. My kids loved playing on the sandbar right off the beach. We built sandcastles and collected an astonishing variety of seashells. We even found an octopus and a sea turtle shell! For more excitement, rent a kayak and paddle along the coast. Tip: don’t let kids run through the vegetation near the beach. (It protects the dunes and it is also filled with stickers!)
Walking to town for a treat
Most Isla Holbox hotels are on the east end of town. A quick 5-10 minute stroll down the beach puts you in the middle of everything. You can find fresh coco frios on the beach near the Hotel La Palapa. Or head over to the square for fresh juices at Angeles y Diablitos (southeastern corner of the square) or try their specialty, the macachado: shaved ice with mashed fruit, condensed milk, evaporated milk, vanilla and cinnamon. You’ll also see an old-fashioned shaved ice bike cart cruising the streets. Flag down the driver and watch him shave the block of ice by hand. After dinner churros or crepes on the square in the evening were a big hit for my clan too.
Taking a boat tour in Holbox
A must-do on Holbox is one of the several boat tours around the island. Visit secluded beaches and swim in a cenote (freshwater swimming hole) that is only accessible by boat. See flamingos, osprey and pelicans as you zip through the bay. Fish for your own lunch and snorkel off Cabo Catoche. A day on the water will give you a different perspective of Holbox, and an opportunity to see its rich, natural diversity.
Holbox is best known for the whale sharks that visit the waters off the coast in the summer months. You can take a boat tour in Holbox and swim with the whale sharks from June to September, Holbox’s busiest months. We’ve all agreed that this is now on our family’s bucket list!
Trying the freshest seafood
Ceviche was a daily indulgence and my kids learned to love it! Grouper, red snapper, shrimp, lobster and octopus come straight from the small fishing boats that line the beach near town. Eat at La Changarrito, a shack next to the beachside pier. You’ll see the catch come off the boat and prepared on the grill right in front of you.
The best ceviche, the best grilled fish, maybe the best meal I have ever eaten was the lunch provided on our boat tour. While we were swimming in the cenote, our boat captain, Fausto, made ceviche and grilled grouper with a roasted tomato salsa, served with fresh tortillas and avocados. Not one of my kids complained about onions or tomatoes in their food! We ate then shared some of the tortillas with two curious raccoons. Ask for Fausto on the beach near the pier where boat captains schedule tours.
Planning a day trip to Chichen Itza
We planned a visit to the Mayan ruins in the middle of our week. It was a full day — taking the ferry back to the mainland then a 2 hour car ride — but well worth the effort. First, we went to the UNESCO world heritage site of Chichen Itza, where we had an English-speaking guide show us the highlights of this amazing, pre-Hispanic Mayan sacred site. We learned a ton about the customs and daily life of the Maya and had a chance to shop for souvenirs.
We then hopped back in the van for a short drive down to the Ik-kil cenote, called the “Sacred Blue Cenote”, one of hundreds of underground caverns and pools in the Yucatan peninsula. To reach the cenote you have to go down a long, stone staircase, which feels a bit like walking into a crypt. About 85 feet below the surface is the cenote, a perfectly round swimming hole with clear water and waterfalls, open to the sky above. Grab life jackets for kids and walk up to the high plateaus to jump in the 130 feet deep pool.
After lunch, we visited Ek Balam, a lesser known Mayan site, but no less impressive than Chichen Itza. You can climb the pyramid and see the impressive carvings up close. Many of the ruins are still buried in the jungle. You’ll beat the crowds here and give the kids a chance to explore.
We had a spectacular day with Arnoldo of Huellas Mexico . You can take day trips to Cobá and Tulum as well.
Renting bikes, a golf cart or kayaks and exploring the island
A golf cart is a fun way to explore the island, there are some rental shops in town, or if you are in the mood for more adventurous transportation, rent bikes from Holboxtreme. You can ride from one end of the island to the other, from Punta Coco to Punta Mosquito, on the sandy roads and also on the beaches themselves. We packed a picnic and saw pelicans and flamingos on the isolated beaches. Holboxtreme rents kayaks and organizes tours of the mangroves as well. The double kayaks are perfect for parent and child to explore.
Having a Mexican breakfast on the plaza
Walk to town for breakfast and then stop by the small daily market. El Limoncito, on the beach side of the square, was a favorite, with great Mexican dishes, coffee and agua frescas. Try huevos moltueños, a Yucatán specialty with eggs, tortillas, ham and peas, or huevos divorciados, eggs and tortillas with green and red salsas, for a true Mexican treat.
If you get tired of fresh seafood and Mexican cuisine (is that possible?), there are other options in town. Et Voilà! has crepes and French sandwiches, sold out of a colorful bus with outdoor tables and chairs. Carioca’s has great wood-fired pizza too.
Enjoying some time at the resort
Our small resort was eco-friendly (think no-flush toilets and solar hot water) and charming. It fits in perfectly with the flip flop lifestyle of Holbox. Villas Defines has a small but beautiful pool and 15 resident iguanas to keep your kids amused. There is also a ping pong table outside and hammocks and lounge chairs near beach. Hang out on your porch and read a book or play cards or board games with the kids. You can let the kids grab a coconut or two and try to crack them open. The simplest things are often the most fun!
If you are looking for a family vacation that feels a million miles away, but is relatively easy to get to, you can’t go wrong with Holbox. Locals are friendly and kids are genuinely welcomed everywhere. The stresses of daily life melt away as you settle into the slower pace of life on the island. What I found was time — time to relax, time to just be, and uninterrupted quality time with my family. Throw in gorgeous beaches, amazing food, culture and fun adventures and you’ve got a family trip for the ages.
*This post first appeared in January 2016 and was updated in February 2019.
Have you heard of Holbox Island? Would you like to visit?
Nikki Woodson Blair is the founder and director of Clanventure.com, a new website devoted to unique, kid-friendly vacation rentals — with all the gear and safety features for families with small children. She knows a thing or two about traveling with kids, having visited much of the U.S., Canada, Mexico and Europe with her three monkeys, and loves swapping tips and ideas with other traveling moms. Originally from Louisiana, today Nikki and her family call Austin, Texas home.