How to get to Isla Holbox from Cancun, Tulum or Playa del Carmen and back again
Updated: Jun 9
Isla Holbox is a beautiful white Caribbean sand island off the north coast of the Yucatan peninsular. If you are still needing persuading that a trip to Isla Holbox is worthwhile to tag on to your itinerary, read our post on all the things to do & see on Isla Holbox.
As the island has grown in popularity, access to it has become easier. There is even a small air strip so if you are feeling really flush you can charter a private plane from Cancun! However, as you can imagine this would be pretty pricy!!
The other, more affordable options, require you to get yourself to the port town of Chiquilá, which lies about 2 hours 40 minutes north of Cancun. The most affordable way to get there is by bus (you can look at private transfer or taxi options that will offer almost a door-to-door service, but these will be more expensive) which is very straightforward. The company ADO runs an extensive service along the Yucatan peninsular and you are able to get a bus from all the major towns; such as Cancun, Playa del Carman, Tulum; to Chiquilá, offering multiple buses each day.
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How to book a bus to Isla Holbox (Chiquilá)
**All the information below was correct as of January 2023 but please double check bus routes & timetables with the bus provider before starting your journey**
Tickets can be booked online at https://www.ado.com.mx/ and we found prices to be the same online as in the bus station. I noticed online a few forums saying it is not possible to book online without a Mexican credit card, this has changed. The forums were quite a few years old and we used our UK credit card online with no problems at all.
When selecting your destinations be aware that some places have multiple options/terminals
For example, for Playa del Carmen you want to select the last option, the one with the bus icon and ‘tourist’, if you select Alternate the bus does not run there. On the other hand the Playa del Carmen, QR (Quinta Roo) just defaults to the tourist terminal.
There are multiple buses from each location every day. We only booked the day before travelling for both journeys but you may want to keep an eye on the availability during peak season if you are rigid with your dates.
Bus to Chiquilá from Cancun
The ADO buses run to/from Cancun main bus terminal frequently (around 7 buses a day) throughout the day, starting at 8:15am (and 10:15am for the reverse journey). the bus costs 344MXN (£15/$18) at full price but is normally discounted depending on demand & time of day, I’ve seen as low 50%.
Bus to Chiquilá from Playa del Carman
The ADO buses run to/from Playa del Carman turística every couple of hours (around 4 times a day), starting at 9:30am in Playa del Carmen (and 1pm for the reverse journey). It takes 2 hours 20 minutes, full price is 352MXN (£15.30/$18.50) but again discounts can be had if you are flexible on time of day.
Bus to Chiquilá from Tulum
The ADO buses run to/from every couple 4 times a day, starting at about 8am from Tulum (and 1pm for the reverse journey). It takes 3.5 hours, costs 470MXN (£20.50/$24.50) at full price & as above it can be much lower if you are flexible.
Booking your return bus journey
If you haven’t arranged your bus from Chiquilá to your onward destination before arriving on the island (don’t worry, we hadn’t either as we weren’t sure how long we wanted to stay) just bear in mind that you will need to book online or chance that there will be availability on the next bus once you arrive back in Chiquilá. There is no ADO ticket office on the island, but you can buy at the bus station in Chiquilá. Isla Holbox has limited Wi-fi, we have a Mexican SIM and were able to find 3G & 4G signal on the island quite easily, but if you are relying on Wi-fi just consider that your accommodation may not have it and you may need to locate a bar or restaurant that does.
Catching the ferry from Chiquilá to Isla Holbox
There are two companies that run the 20 minute crossing from Chiquilá to the island and back. Both companies offer the same service and advertise the same price of 220MXN (£9.50/$11.50) one way or 400MXN (£17.50/$21) return. One 9 Hermanos runs on the hour, every hour and Holbox Express runs on the half hour, every hour so you will probably just end up getting the one that is next. The ferries run between 5am & 8:30pm (there isn't a ferry at 5:30am as Holbox Express don't start their service until 6:30am, not that you'll be trying to get it then) .
Buying the ferry ticket to Isla Holbox
They may try and sell you boat tickets on your ADO bus, they are legitimate and will offer the same price as advertised by the boat companies but don’t buy these as both boat companies are open to negotiation, and you will be able to get a cheaper ticket at the port.
When you get off the bus you will be bombarded by people trying to sell boat tickets from both companies, they may also be playing ridiculously loud music or bellowing through a megaphone (or both as we found when we arrived!). All of this is designed to panic you a bit and encourage you to make a hasty decision when buying your ticket. Don’t panic, don’t be pressured, take the time to talk to each company about the price and when their next boat is and make an informed decision.
Although both companies advertise a one-way, adult ticket as 220MXN (£9.50/$11.50) and an open return journey as 400MXN (£17.50/$21). This is the price they will also try and sell you on the bus. However, we only paid 300MXN (£13/$15.50) per person for a return journey and we actually found out that another couple only paid 200MXN (£8.75/$10.50) return so it is definitely worth haggling. The boats run so frequently that unless you are trying to catch the very last one of the day, you have time to get the best price.
The return ferry from Isla Holbox to Chiquilá
Chances are you have bought an open return, so you already have your return ticket. As each company runs hourly but half an hour apart, you will need to work out which boat is best to marry up with your bus from Chiquilá. We had a 1pm bus booked and the company we had bought our return ticket from ran on the half hour so to ensure we had enough time we had to get the 11.30am ferry as although the ferry should only take 20 minutes, leaving at 12.30pm would be cutting it a little fine as the ferry doesn’t always leave on the dot.
The return ticket is open, meaning you can jump on that companies ferries on any date and time. On neither of our journeys were the ferries full but in peak season you may want to get to the port a little ahead of time to secure your place.
If you didn’t buy a return ticket, you can easily buy one at the port on the island. Both companies have ticket offices and lots of staff that will stop and ask you if you have a ticket. Again, same rules apply, don’t take the first price, haggle for a better deal.
The return service is from 6am - 9:30pm, again every 30 minutes.
Great spot for lunch in Chiquilá if you have time to kill
If like us you have a little bit of time to kill in Chiquilá we can recommend Empanadas De Cazón for a cheap eat on the way to the bus station, empanadas starting from 20MXN (£0.85/$1). We particularly liked their “Motherfocker Salsa” which comes with all orders!!