The Yucatán Peninsula: Isla Holbox
Back in May 2016 (which feels like a lifetime ago), I traveled alone in Mexico’s Yucatán Peninsula region. When I looked back on this trip, I could hardly find any evidence! After ten days alone in Mexico, I had only a handful of pictures, no emails home or angsty journal entries, and a couple sparse instagram posts. This thin documentation told me two things: that I clearly hadn’t been planning to write a blog back in 2016, and that I had a fantastic trip.
I spent ten (apparently social media free) days drinking cold beer on sunny beaches, eating amazing food, exploring Maya ruins, and strolling through gorgeous cities. Although many Americans stick to resorts in places like Cancun and Puerto Vallarta, straying even slightly off the beaten path (believe me, there were still plenty of tourists around) offers travelers insight into Mexico’s amazing culture—past and present. Living in the United States, it can be easy to get lost in the sensationalist headlines about Mexico, but it’s a huge country! As a solo Black woman, I felt extremely safe in the Yucatán Peninsula. Flights from the US are usually super cheap, and if it gives you peace of mind, you know a Cancún resort is just a bus ride away. With it’s accessible travel, opportunities to meet other travelers, and spaces to explore and relax on your own, the Yucatan Peninsula makes a perfect first solo trip!
This is a leisurely, flexible itinerary with a good mix of time in the city, on the beach, and exploring ruins:
- Getting there: Fly into Cancun. Either spend a night here or in a smaller town like Puerto Morelos (Heads up — Cancun, Puerto Morelos, and Tulum are all in the state of Quintana Roo, not Yucatán, though they’re in the Yucatán Peninsula)
- Spend 1 Day: Bus to Chiquilá — catch a ferry to Isla Holbox
- 2 Days: Isla Holbox
- 2-3 Days: Merida
- 2-3 Days: Valladolid
- 2 Days: Tulum
- Back to Cancun and home!
There’s a lot going on here, so I’m breaking this Mexico trip into three separate posts:
- Isla Holbox
- Mérida and Uxmal ruins
- Valladolid, Ek’Balam ruins, and Tulum
Cancún’s Chill Neighbors: Puerto Morelos to Isla Holbox
Cancún is made for tourists, so navigating the airport and bus terminal is very straightforward. Even after a full day of travel, I decided to spend my first night in Mexico just outside of Cancún in a smaller fishing town called Puerto Morelos.
There’s not a ton to do here, which is honestly a plus. I spent one day strolling around the port, browsing through jewelry at a street market, and eating the best 10 peso lengua tacos in a small stand under a bridge (I went three times in a day and a half).
When I got to my hotel, the very affordable and charming Casitas Kinsol guesthouse, the first thing I noticed was the sound of the birds. I climbed into my mosquito net and listened to the jungle wildlife as I fell asleep.
I woke up early to take a bus (usually an ADO bus depending on where you’re going) to a town called Chiquilá where I planned to take a ferry to an Island called Isla Holbox (pronounced Hol-Bosh. It means “black hole” in Yucatec Mayan!) This Wiki has more information on getting there — I promise it’s less complicated than it sounds. On the one hand, Holbox is a little tricky to get to. On the other hand, that means that it’s still considered one of the few uncrowded gems in the Yucatán Peninsula!
I don’t know what I was imagining when I signed up for a ferry, but this wasn’t it. This “ferry” was more like someone’s personal speedboat. As soon as me and the boat’s four other passengers donned life jackets, we careened across the Gulf of Mexico, clutching loose hats and scarves.
Once on the island, I quickly realized that Isla Holbox was unlike anywhere I had ever been. The entire island is only twenty-six miles long and about one mile across. There are so few cars on the island (it’s pretty much just golf-carts!) that most of the streets are packed sand instead of tarmac. These sandy streets are lined with whitewashed stucco buildings that are covered in intricate murals.
Most tourists come to Isla Holbox to swim with the whale sharks (!!). I was there at the wrong time of year (and honestly the idea sort of freaks me out!), so I didn’t get to swim with sharks, but there’s still plenty to do on Holbox.
If you can’t swim with the whale sharks (or even if you can) I recommend taking a tour of Bird Island (Isla Parajos), a tiny strip of land that’s home to wild flamingos, pelicans, and the 150+ other Yucatán birds that come to Holbox.
I stayed at a very cool oceanside hostel called Hostel Tribu— it had hammocks swinging from beachy wooden beams, colorful murals, and (like the rest of the island) lots of sand. It also had a great bar where I sipped fruity drinks and met tons of other travelers—solo and in groups alike!
Two full days on Isla Holbox was the perfect amount of time to disconnect from my hectic life back home and take in the island’s wildlife, beaches, and peaceful vibe!