Wanting to take a beach vacation to Mexico but don’t want to be stuck in tourist hell? Well, there are a few places around that still offer a quiet beach town feel but still has all the amenities, bars and restaurants you need to have a great time. One of our favourite island getaways is Isla Holbox (pronounced Ila Holbosh). Not only is it a beautiful island, but it’s also a great launching point to go out and spot whale sharks in the Riviera Maya region of Mexico.
How to Get To Isla Holbox:
Isla Holbox is an island that’s only a very short ferry ride from the town of Chiquila on the Yucatan Peninsular. If you are flying into Cancun airport you have 3 options:
- You can get a direct flight from Cancun to Isla Holbox. This will cost you from $470 USD per person
- You can get the bus/ferry combo which will obviously take longer but will cost a lot less.
- You can hire a car at Cancun airport and drive to the town of Chiquila. Parking is cheap but you may not want to be paying for car rental when you can’t use it on the island. If you plan to go elsewhere in the Yucatan, however, this is an affordable option to get around Mexico.
If you are already in Mexico we recommend getting an ADO bus or hiring a car…but be warned the trip is booooooooring! Long staright roads and nothing much to see. Good thing there’s paradise waiting for you at the other end.
What to Do: Whale Sharks Mexico
Isla Holbox is only a small island, but it is loaded with natural beauty. Imagine sandy streets, crystal blue Caribbean waters and an amazing assortment of underwater wildlife to explore.
One of the main reasons we went to Isla Holbox is that it’s an amazing launching point to see the whale sharks in Mexico during their migration. Migration occurs from the months of May to September, but remember they are wild animals and there are no guarantees to how many whale sharks you will actually see. But all you need is one sighting and it will make your entire day!
For this whale shark Mexico experience, we decided to team up with VIP Holbox Experience. We chose them as they have over 20 years experience in the region and run ethical tours that don’t feed or lure the animals in any way. Due to this it’s good to be prepared, and know that you will have to wait until there is a spotting….this can take a while. Whale sharks in Mexico aren’t just sitting around ready to do a morning show for paying guests. All the guides can do is go to the areas where they were recently spotted, keep their eyes open for any sightings, and wait.
The thing I liked is that all of the tour companies work together to help each other out. If there is a sighting they don’t just keep it to themselves and screw over their competition, they let everyone know so that guests to the island have a whale shark Mexico experience no matter who they happened to book with. But let me tell you, once some whale sharks have been spotted, hold on to your hats because your captain will go full tilt to catch up to these majestic creatures.
Once you catch up, then it’s GO time! People from each boat are only allowed into the water 2 at a time so that there is no overcrowding (which is amazing) you go in with a guide who will help you to get the best view while swimming with the whale sharks. You get about 5-ish minutes each before you have to swap with another couple, but that’s not it, you will get the opportunity to dive in a few more times depending on how quickly the whale sharks are moving. And trust me they can move FAST! So be ready to Go Go Go once you hit the water.
Swimming with whale sharks in Mexico will absolutely be a vacation highlight – I guarantee it! But that’s not the end of your day with VIP Holbox Experience. Once everyone has had their fill of swimming with whale sharks its then time to head closer to land and explore the stunning area known as cuevones reef. On this tour, not only do you get the amazing opportunity to swim with whale sharks earlier in the day but on this particular reef you get to swim with stingrays, eels, octopus and best of all…..turtles! It’s hard to say which I liked best as swimming with whale sharks is obviously incredible, but the amazing wildlife in this reef was astounding. Plus on the way there we spotting a few pods of dolphins and flamingoes too! You are truly surrounded by the beauty of Isla Holbox no matter where you look!
After this, it’s time for some lunch which is fresh ceviche. If you are not a big fan of ceviche they do make a fantastic guacamole as well. But please at least try a little bit of the ceviche. In this region its so fresh and tasty, it would be a shame not to give it a little try.
It’s now been a looong day of sun, swimming, and snorkeling and it’s time to head back. But first….more pretty sights!!!
Tips for taking this tour:
- It’s a long day out in the sun make sure you wear sunscreen and regularly re-apply
- Regular sunscreen is bad for the reefs and animals so please make sure you use reef safe sunscreen, I also had on my SirenSong wetsuit to stay warm in the water and keep the sun off.
- Stay hydrated. The crew do provide drinks like water and soft drink throughout the day…make sure you drink up!
- Make sure you have an underwater camera charged and ready. Sadly ours died during our swim and we are absolutely gutted that we lost all of our footage 😔
- You are out on the water for a long time so if you have issues with motion sickness make sure you take precautions before boarding the boat.
VIP Holbox Experience
Where To Eat: Isla Holbox Restaurants
Small island towns in Mexico are not often known for fine dining, you’d expect some grilled seafood, tacos (of course) and other local foods. But we found a restaurant that absolutely surprised us, a place that is serving up 5* dishes for a 3* price. It’s Called Milpa and it’s phenomenal!
Chef Adrián Barajas from Mexico City is taking local produce and turning them into masterpieces. These dishes not only taste amazing but Chef Barajas’s plating skills are incredible as well. We were all surprised to have such beautiful meals served to us in this little island town. Imagine fresh seafood, homemade bread and sauces, and desserts to die for! Every time a plate comes out of the kitchen the patrons all turn to look and see if it’s prettier than what they ordered. Ordering at Milpa could entirely be based off just ordering what looks delish on someone else’s table! But if you are wondering what we had…..we recommend trying:
Starter: Cheese Crackling
Mains: Duck Pipian
Or Drunken Octopus Roaming Valladolid
And Dessert……Oh! You must try the empanadas!!!!
This restaurant is a not very well kept secret so it is best to make a reservation in advance so you don’t miss out on this tasty dining experience!
Where to Stay: Isla Holbox Hotels
The great thing about Isla Holbox is the fact that the big all-inclusive chain hotels haven’t moved in and taken over…..yet. It’s still a small town where you can get a great Airbnb for a decent price. But if you are looking for Isla Holbox Hotels that will make you truly feel like you a vacationing on a beautiful island paradise here’s our top picks.
Why you’ll love it: Larger than normal rooms, private hammocks, a swimming pool for cooling off, and they even have a restaurant on site which offers an artisanal breakfast every morning. (included in the price)
Why you’ll love it: This beautiful resort that’s very close to the beach offers villa-style accommodation with an environmental focus. Either choose a room that’s close to the beach for easy access or get a room with your own private pool.
Also make sure you check out their sushi bar. Ok it’s not very ‘Mexican’ but with all the amazing fresh seafood they have access to, it’s a place you have to try! You can also choose to have your stay all inclusive, half board or with just breakfast included….it’s entirely up to you!
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