Isla Holbox Driving Directions:
Cancun Airport to Chiquila Ferry Port
Two parallel highways run east to west across the Yucatan Peninsula: One is a modern tollway that speeds drivers between Cancun, Mederia and the Mayan ruins of Chichen Itza. The other is a free road that alternatives between four and two lanes.
The problem with driving from Cancun International Airport to Chiquila, from where the Isla Holbox ferry runs, is that the regular signposted roads will lead you to the pay highway. But there’s no way off the pay highway to go to Chiquila. One solution is to drive through Cancun city. But the faster route is to take this unusual shortcut:
Step 1. By trial-and-error, find your way around the the curvy one-way roads on the Cancun Airport grounds until you see signs for the Cancun highway going north and the Tulum and Playa del Carmen highway going south. Counterintuitively, go south (ie. towards Playa del Carmen).
Step 2. Drive for about 2 miles/kilometers on the highway and then take the first exit to the right. The signs will say MERIDA/CHICHEN ITZA CUOTA. If you are driving north from Playa del Carmen this is the exit you’ll take too.
Step 3. You are now heading west and a little trafficked two lane road. Look for mile marker postings. They’ll be counting down from km 305. At kilometer 296—literally, from a few steps in front of the 296 kilometer-marking sign—a wide, badly maintained dirt road will veer off to the right. Turn onto this road.
Step 4. Though you can’t possibly imagine that you are going the right way, keep driving along this road. You’ll pass a few little huts and, probably, several sickly-looking dogs. After around 10 minutes the road will end at a (mostly) paved road. Turn right. After two minutes this road too will end at a T junction. You’ll see a bus stop straight ahead and a little shop on your left. Turn left. Drive for another two minutes and you’ll come out on a four lane highway. This is 180D, the free cross-Yucatan highway.
Step 5. Turn left (eg. west) onto the free highway. After about five minutes of driving you’ll see a ramp onto the pay highway. Do not take it! Instead, stay on the LIBRE road to MERIDA.
Step 6. From this point you are roughly 90 minutes from Chiquila; the way will require two right turns. Follow the signs to CHIQUILA or ISLA HOLBOX or LAS NUBES DE HOLBOX HOTEL, all of which will lead you to the same place. It also helps to follow your route along with a National Geographic Northern Yucatan driving map. (We bought ours with Pay With Points, available through American Express Travel).
Step 7. Eventually the highway will end at a Pemex petrol station in Chiquila. Turn left (after going around the roundabout) and you’ll be at the port. A handful of places near the port offer overnight parking; none is much to look at but each is safe. We heard good reports about Pancho’s parking and so used that. Pancho is an extremely gregarious man and seems to take his job seriously.
Note that the parking fee of 40 pesos is per calendar day, not per 24-hour period. Eg. park in the evening of Day 1, pick up your car the morning of Day 3, and your parking fee will be 120 pesos. Just how things work in Mexico.