Lonely Planet’s marketing manager, Serina Patel, recently returned from her weekend in Isla Holbox, Mexico. Here she shares her trip highlights and what to prepare for before you step foot on the island.

What screams "30" better than a girls' trip? When my sister floated the idea of a weekend getaway for her birthday, she had one destination in mind – Isla Holbox. If you're craving a Mexican escape, minus the crowds, but with beach clubs, great eats and total chill vibes, then Holbox is calling your name. As soon as she finalized the dates, I mentally packed my luggage and imagined myself on a cozy beach chair by the ocean – I was so ready for this.

I’d done the typical Cancún family trip as a child, spent a lovely week in Mayakoba for my uncle’s wedding, and celebrated in Tulum for a bachelorette party, but I’d never ventured out beyond the popular spots in the Yucatán. Here is where Holbox comes in – I hadn’t met anyone who had visited, and I’m so thankful my sister introduced me to its beauty. 

L-R: Serina ready for a day of sunbathing; hotel room with 'happy birthday' sign above bed; Exterior of hotel with swim-up pools to each room
L_R: Serina ready for a day on the beach at Playa Punta Cocos; the hotel room dressed for the festivities; Punta Caliza's swim-up rooms © Serina Patel / Lonely Planet

Where did you stay? What was the vibe?

Holbox is a hotel paradise, no doubt about it. On this car-free island, you zip around on bikes or hop on taxi buggies (pro tip: stash some cash, especially small bills). We chose hotel Punta Caliza, for its beach club, boutique feel and proximity to the ocean. It’s about a 5 minute buggy ride from the center and has a swim-up pool for every room, with breakfast included and a gorgeous lookout point. 

The Nômade hotel also caught my eye: it sits on the lower end of the island, so it’s a tad farther from the center (but still not far). The beach club, restaurant and property are stunning near Playa Punta Cocos (beach). On my next visit, I’m staying there. 

My advice: snag a hotel near the beach, bonus points if there's a beach club attached. Those beach chair reservations can pile up, so having them included will save you some time and money when it comes to locking one down. If not included in your hotel, chair reservations can range from US$20–65, but often the reservation cost goes towards food and beverage spending.

Collage of food images featuring cocktails, tostones and a gold-leaf haute cusine dish
L: Tostones at Ser Casasandra; R: gold-dusted lentil cracker at Milpa; dinner at Punta Caliza; Tajin-rimmed margaritas at Luuma © Serina Patel / Lonely Planet

Best thing you ate?

As a vegetarian who loves to eat, traveling can come with challenges. But, eating Mexican food – one of my favorite cuisines – in Holbox, I had some of the most delicious bites I’ve had in a while. I loved the healthy brunch at Painapol, and the mind-blowing six-course tasting menu at Milpa left us dissecting each dish for a good 15 minutes. Hello, gold-dusted lentil cracker and soy sauce caviar.

Over at Ser Casasandra's Mojito Beach Club, we ordered chile relleno tacos (with almond cheese) and tostones with guac. Just let me tell you…we had three orders and zero leftovers. We left our bones there. I truly haven’t been so impressed by food in a while – and this did it for me. Each meal featured fresh vegetables and seafood, and delicious sauces paired with unique presentations. Don’t get me started on how fresh the avocados are. The avocados in New York can’t compare. Not pictured is the trio of four fiery salsas, starring a habanero salsa that I’m trying to recreate at home. I’d give it a strong 8.8/10 (there is no logic behind my food scoring, just vibes).

We spent my sister’s birthday celebration at Luuma and pre-dinner drinks on the beach at Mandarina at Casa Las Tortugas – and THIS was one to remember. Picture this: drinks in hand, toes in the sand, and a Tajin-rimmed passion fruit margarita – take me back, please!

Serina watching the sunset on Isla Holbox from a beach club
Serina enjoying an Isla Holbox sunset at Zomay beach club © Serina Patel / Lonely Planet

What should we book in advance?

Book transportation, restaurants and beach clubs in advance. You can book a van from Cancun airport to take you to Chiquila, where you’ll grab the ferry to Isla Holbox for about M$300. You can pay in cash there for the ferry ticket (and by card, but that depends on the card machine internet gods).

Beach clubs can get reserved days in advance, so book your first beach club before you arrive, or if your hotel has one – even better. That way you can pop around the island and see where you’d like to book for the rest of your trip – just go to the reception and book in advance with them. 

Our favorite beach clubs

The author in a sun hat on a sunny beach
You won't go far on Isla Holbox without a hat, sunglasses and sunscreen © Serina Patel / Lonely Planet

Favorite activities from the trip?

Holbox's claim to fame is Punta Mosquito, a nature reserve on the island's north side. It's about a 1–1.5–hour walk through a beautiful sandbar (go early, before 9am) where you can see stingrays, flamingos, dolphins and other wildlife. The walk will make you wish you wore a suit of ice, so bring lots of sunscreen and a cover-up – those UV-10 levels do not discriminate! Due to favorable currents surrounding Holbox, seaweed season doesn’t hit as hard thankfully. You'll still see a bit washed ashore, but nothing compared to Tulum levels.

Another standout moment for me was horseback riding. We booked a few weeks in advance and paid in cash upon arrival. I won't sugarcoat it – getting back on a horse after a long break is no joke. You feel like you’re about to slide off the saddle and don’t quite trust the horse at first, especially when it starts trotting quickly. But, within 15 minutes, we were back in the saddle and loving it. The guide led us to the beach, treating us to breathtaking water views before heading back. Afterward, we were itching for a drink, so we ran back to the hotel to freshen up so that we could catch the sunset at Zomay.

My sister saw a Wataflow experience (think mind–body therapy) for the first time on a Real Housewives of New York episode and said we had to do it. When I researched it, it looked like meditation meets floating meets getting whipped around in the water – so obviously we all said yes. Our lovely instructor Laura met us on the beach for a group session. She worked with each of us individually and it was truly an eye-opening experience. Did I find my zen? Absolutely. Was I soaking up the sun? You bet. Would I do it all over again? Without a doubt. I left feeling connected to my body and nature, a vibe that Ramona (from Real Housewives) clearly missed out on. If you know, you know.

Serina and her sister on a white-sand beach on a sunny day
L: Serina and her sister making the most of beach clubs and sunny days on their Isla Holbox girls' trip © Serina Patel / Lonely Planet

What essential items did you pack?

Be sure to pack:

  • Hat and sunscreen: I was not prepared for the strength of that sun... whew! I went through sunscreen like it was going out of style and definitely needed a serious scrub-down when I got back home. You can buy sunscreen on the island, but I made sure to bring my own ocean wildlife-friendly zinc oxide sunscreen just to be safe.
  • Bug spray: Punta Mosquito literally translates to "mosquito point," so don't forget to pack bug spray, wear it and bring it with you.
  • Plenty of cash: Some places take credit cards, but cash is preferred, and is the only option in some spots. Bring smaller bills (M$100/200) for taxis.

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