In the Yucatan Peninsula, I’ve found the closest thing to paradise: Isla Holbox. Check out my travel guide to Isla Holbox Mexico.
It might come as a surprise to many: even though Mexico’s Yucatan Peninsula is overrun with tourists, there are still pockets of wilderness and remote areas waiting to be discovered by curious travelers. Since moving to Mexico, I’ve made it a mission to hunt down the coolest and most underrated places in the country.
Isla Holbox Mexico is one such place: the dreamy island is gloriously car-free and largely undeveloped. Only a small part of the island is inhabited, and even then, it never feels overrun with visitors. No paved roads, no cars, no hassling. Just miles and miles of spearmint water and powder-puff white sand beach.
Table of Contents
- Isla Holbox Travel Guide
- Why Isla Holbox is So Special
- How to Get to Isla Holbox Mexico
- How to Get Around Isla Holbox
- Mexico Travel Requirements
- Things to Do in Holbox
- Does Holbox Have Seaweed?
- Rent a Bike or Golf Cart
- Bike to Punta Coco
- Swim with Whale sharks
- Admire the Bioluminisce at Night
- Take the 3-Island Boat Tour
- Kayak through the Mangroves
- Learn to Kite Surf
- Chill at the Beach clubs
- Swing on the Hammocks
- Admire the Mural Art in Town
- Enjoy Beautiful Smoothie Bowls
- Eat Street Tacos by the Main Square
- Browse the Night Makret
- Isla Holbox Travel Guide
- Best Time to Visit Isla Holbox Mexico
- How Long to Stay on Isla Holbox?
- Where to Stay on Isla Holbox
- What to Eat in Holbox Mexico
- Where to Eat on Isla Holbox
- Is Isla Holbox Safe?
- Isla Holbox with Kids
- Cost of Travel on Isla Holbox
- Money Matters on Isla Holbox
- WiFi on Isla Holbox
- Nightlife on Isla Holbox
- What to Pack for Isla Holbox
- Is it Worth Visiting Isla Holbox Mexico?
Isla Holbox Travel Guide
Why Isla Holbox is So Special
Situated unassumingly off the northeast coast of Mexico’s Yucatán Peninsula, Isla Holbox (pronounced hol-BOSH, meaning “black hole” in Maya) lies in a wild, untamed part of the country. As part of the Yum Balam, Mexico’s largest ecological reserve, the island is mostly covered in wild mangroves and empty beaches.
Just a decade ago, the sleepy fishing village began drawing in tourists. But locals have since fought to stave off mega-resorts. There are no cars, no chain restaurants, and no high-rises (buildings are not permitted to top 40 feet). Electricity reached the island in 1987, and even now, WiFi signals can be spotty.
Fast forward to today, the white-sand beaches of Holbox see only a fraction of the six million visitors that flock to nearby Cancún each year. Yes Holbox Island is touristy, but not in the way Cancun is. It’s retained its sleepy, laidback island vibes and small-town feel.
How to Get to Isla Holbox Mexico
The best way to get to Isla Holbox Mexico is by flying into Cancun International Airport (CUN). From there, you’ll need to travel 2 hours northwest to Chiquilá to catch the ferry to Holbox. Read my step-by-step guide on how to get to Isla Holbox.
Getting from Cancun to Chiquilá
- Rent a car — It’s easy to rent a car from Cancun Airport and drive there. An economy rental car in Mexico averages just $200 for a whole week, which is less than $25 a day. We always use DiscoverCars.com as they’ve consistently given us the best prices and customer service. The toll fees are around 168 MXN (US$8) each way.
- Take a bus — Catch the ADO bus (biggest bus service in the area) that departs regularly from Cancun. The journey to Chiquila takes around 3.5 hours, and 1-way tickets cost between 200-300 MXN (US$10-15).
- Book a transfer — There are private transfers from Cancun to Chiquilá, which are worth the cost if you’re traveling in a group. Book here.
- Fly private — There are no commercial flights to Holbox, but you can charter a private plane. Flights start at $470 per plane. Click here to check rates.
Ferry from Chiquilá to Holbox
In Chiquilá, there are two ferry companies that run ferries to Holbox every 30 minutes: : 9 Hermanos and Holbox Express. Both ferries charge the same price: 220 MXN (US$11) each way for foreigners and 180 MXN (US$9) for Quintana Roo residents. The journey takes only 20 minutes.
They both run daily starting at 5 am and leave every 30 minutes, one departs on the hour, and the other ferry leaves on the half-hour. The last ferry is at 8:30 pm.
Secure parking lots along the port cost a standard 100 MXN (US$5) per day. There’s no need to book the ferry or parking in advance.
How to Get Around Isla Holbox
Everything on Isla Holbox is easily accessible. Cars are not permitted on the island at all, and roads are mostly unpaved. At the dock, golf carts are waiting to take visitors to their hotels for 50 MXN (US$2.5) once they arrive on Holbox. The island’s only settlement is a 10-minute journey along the main road.
Bikes and golf carts are the main modes of transport — but the town is so small you can walk everywhere . We mostly walked everywhere, but also rented a golf cart for 4 hours (which cost us 1000 MXN or US$50) from Rentadora Golf Car El Cachorro.
Mexico Travel Requirements
- Mexico has no travel restrictions, and there’s no need for proof of vaccine or PCR tests on the plane. Anyone is welcomed to travel to Mexico.
- However, I always recommend travelers to buy travel insurance, whether you’re traveling for a year or a week. These days, it is particularly important to have travel insurance that covers COVID-19. Read my travel insurance guide.
- Safety Wing is the most popular travel insurance company for COVID19-coverage. I use their Nomad Insurance plan, which covers COVID-19 as any other illness as long as it was not contracted before your coverage start date.
Things to Do in Holbox
Hit the Beach
On Holbox island, there’s no shortage of glorious, pristine beaches with sugar-puff white sand and dreamy turquoise waters. Playa Holbox is perhaps the most popular, as it’s right in the heart of Centro.
If you’re looking for a more secluded beach experience, head to the east or western side of the island where you’ll find endless stretches of undeveloped coastline. Punta Cocos is one of the quietest beach on Isla Holbox, as it’s so remote that you often have the entire beach to yourself!
Walk the Sand Bar
Right off the beach on the eastern end of Holbox is a sand bar that appears and disappears with the tides. It’s an eerie but cool experience to walk on water! The sand bar also creates a shallow lagoon with warm, clear water that’s perfect for kids.
To get there, start walking on the beach from town in the eastern direction. The sand bar starts around Las Hamacas, but the best part is around Villas Flamingos. Sometimes the tide might increase and the water level gets up to your hip; I don’t recommend carrying things you don’t want to get wet on your walk.
See Wildlife at Punta Mosquito
The sand bar is surprisingly long and stretches all the way to Punta Mosquito, a protected conservation area teeming with flamingos, stingrays, and even crocodiles!
There’s no guarantee of seeing flamingos, as they migrate here only during certain time of the year. The signs warn of crocodiles but you’re unlikely to see these from Punta Mosquito. We did see lots of stingrays in the water and plenty of little fish.
To reach Punta Mosquito, keep walking on the sandbank for 45 to 60 minutes. You’ll know you’ve reached it when you see a narrow strip of beach, small boats anchored and ultimately, the Do Not Pass sign. Please respect the sign and don’t enter the protected area – for your safety and the animals and ecosystems there.
See Sunset at Playa Holbox
At sunset, the entire island gathers at the pier to witness the spectacular show. As the sun sinks into the horizon, the sky turns a beautiful shade of orange, red and purple. Grab a table at the Zomay bar and watch the show with a cocktail in hand, or just cosy up on the rock outcrops on the beach. It’s the perfect way to end your day on Isla Holbox Mexico.
Does Holbox Have Seaweed?
Since 2011, masses of sargassum (a type of macroalgae) have washed up on Caribbean coastlines. Mexico’s Yucatán peninsula has been particularly affected by the ecological problems and the tourism economy in Cancun, Playa del Carmen, and Tulum is suffering.
Scientists chalk the explosive growth up to increased runoff of agricultural inputs and sewage from the Amazon River in Brazil as well as warming water temperatures and upwelling in the eastern Atlantic Ocean.
Thankfully, Isla Holbox and Cozumel aren't quite as affected by the sargassum and beaches here continue to stay pristine and clean of seaweed. If you're concern about the sargassum, check this sargasso daily update close to your travel dates.
Rent a Bike or Golf Cart
Take to the open road and discover the island on a golf buggy or bicycles. There are a lot of rental agencies to choose from, and you don’t need any prior experience to drive a buggy.
The standard price for a bike is 50 MXN ($2) per hour and a golf buggy is 300 MXN or US$15 per hour (minimal of two hours). Prices have sadly increased since pre-COVID days. We rented a golf buggy for 4 hours and got a decent deal for 1000 MXN (US$50).
Bike to Punta Coco
After you’ve rented your bike or golf buggy, head west all the way to Punta Coco, the furthest point on the island. The ride takes about 30 minutes, and it’s a pretty easy ride on the unpaved roads of Holbox.
Punta Coco is the quietest and most deserted beach on Holbox, with no hotels and only one bar (with hammocks and a swing). There are mangroves surrounding it. This is the best place to spot flamingoes.
Swim with Whale sharks
Isla Holbox is one of the best places in the world to see whale sharks! These gentle giants migrate through the waters off Holbox from May to September. We sadly came to Holbox before the season started, but we’ve swam with whale sharks in the Philippines before and can safely say it’s an incredible, once-in-a-lifetime experience.
A standard whale shark tour costs around 3200 MXN (US$160) per person and includes snorkeling at Cabo Catoche, lifejacket, and lunch. It’s important to choose a reputable operator if you decide to go. This tour has the best reviews.
Admire the Bioluminisce at Night
One of the coolest things to do in Holbox is to go out at night and admire the bioluminescence. This natural light show is created by tiny plankton in the water that emit light when they’re disturbed. The best way to see it is by swimming or kayaking in the dark.
Sadly there was a full moon during our visit so we couldn’t see the bioluminescence. It’s not easy to see the bioluminescence without a guide as you’ll need to know the best spot and best time (usually after 11 pm when it’s completely dark). Check out these bioluminscence tours.
Take the 3-Island Boat Tour
The most popular thing to do in Holbox is the three-island boat tour. For 500 pesos (US$25) per person, you’ll get to visitthree different spots in 3 hours: Yalahau, Isla de los Pajaros, Isla Pasion (scroll to read more about each spot). It’s easy to book this tour in Holbox; every tour agent offers these tours daily, at 9am, 12.30pm and 4.30pm.
Swim in the Yalahau Cenote
First, you’ll visit Yalahau, 30 minutes by boat from Holbox Pier. Yalahua is a freshwater spring (cenote) that used to be the largest source of fresh water for Holbox. In ancient times this cenote was an important harbor for Maya traders. Today, it’s a natural freshwater pool that’s great for swimming. Don’t forget to climb up to the watch tower for a view!
Go Bird Watching at Isla de los Pajaros
Next on the boat tour is Isla Pajaros “Bird Island ” (also called Tan Island), a small islet and protected wildlife sanctuary. Isla Pajaros is covered by cacti and mangrove that are home to thousands of marine birds. To protect the island’s fragile ecosystem, no humans are allowed to walk on the island, but there is a viewing terrace and platform for birdviewing.
Swim off Isla Pasion
Just a 15-minute boat ride from Isla Pajaros, this tiny islet is an uninhabited island with remote, empty beaches and huge bird colonies. You can walk for miles off the beach and the water will still only reach your calves.
Kayak through the Mangroves
One of the best ways to explore the mangroves of Holbox on the eastern end of the island is on a sunrise kayak tour. With a kayaking guide, paddle through in shallow, calm water through the forest, alive with the sounds of coastal wading birds. Keep an eye out for flamingos and alligators sunning themselves on the banks of the channels. Round-trip transportation and bottled water are included. Book the tour here!
Learn to Kite Surf
On the eastern end of the island (where the sand bar is), you’ll find lots of kite surfers and beginners trying their hand at the extreme sport. Thanks to the geographical location, there’s a constant wind blowing from the east making it one of the best places to kite surf in Mexico.
If you’ve never tried kitesurfing before, you can take a beginner’s lesson (we did that years ago!). The 2-hour group lesson costs around 3500 pesos (US$175) and includes all the gear and a professional instructor. Book the experience here.
Chill at the Beach clubs
If you’re looking for a place to relax and just do nothing, head to one of the many beach clubs on Isla Holbox. With a day pass, you’ll have access to sun loungers, beach umbrellas, bathroom facilities, and sometimes a pool. Our favorite was Casa Calitza, a small and intimate beach club that doesn’t charge a pricey day pass. There’s just a minimum consumption of 300 MXN (US$15) per person, and the cocktails here are excellent!
Other beach clubs worth checking out are:
Swing on the Hammocks
There was a time when you could swing on floating hammocks in the water on Holbox, but sadly the government has removed all of them. These days, you can still find hammocks at many beach clubs where you can swing the day away. We found a photogenic spot at the Villas Encanto beach club where you can chill and snap some photos with the signs.
Admire the Mural Art in Town
The walls of downtown Holbox have become canvases for local artists to change the streetscape of their island home. These days, many murals in town adorn beautiful paintings. For a self-guided street art tour, start from Whale Shark Street, the main thoroughfare. Head to the main square, which is flanked by a leafy park, small sports hall, and an outdoor stage. Many of the best artwork in town are found here.
Enjoy Beautiful Smoothie Bowls
The fruit bowls at Painapol are so gorgeous that I had to include them on this list of things to do in Holbox! Located right in town, Painapol is one of the most popular breakfast spots on the island, serving up acai smoothie bowls that taste as good as they look. Other dishes are just as delicious: the hotcakes are gigantic and the avocado toasts are ridiculously good.
Another spot with fresh smoothie bowls is Bah Bah, which boasts cool architecture reminiscent of Tulum. Sit under the palm trees with sand in your feet and a palapa overhead and tuck into healthy smoothies and burritos.
Eat Street Tacos by the Main Square
Every evening, taco carts and food trucks take over a section of Whale Shark Street (Calle Tiburon Ballena) next to the main square. You can find tacos de arrachera (skirt steak tacos) for as little as 17 MXN (US$0.90) and giant burritos for just 60 MXN (US$30). Don’t miss the local’s favorite Yucatecan marquesitas, delicious crepes filled with Nutella and Edam cheese.
Browse the Night Makret
Holbox is a quiet island, so don’t expect to be raving in big clubs and partying the night away. Instead, make the most of the evening breeze and browse the night market along Avenida Pedro Joaquin Coldwell (right by Soulbox). Shop for trinkets, hats, or leather goods; the prices here are not too unreasonable.
Isla Holbox Travel Guide
Best Time to Visit Isla Holbox Mexico
As with the Riviera Maya, the best time to visit Holbox is during the dry season, from late November and February. Temperatures are usually around 29 degrees Celsius and there’s plenty of sunshine.
If you want to snorkel with whale sharks, make sure to visit between June and mid September. The peak of the season is around late June to early July, during their annual migration around the Yucatan Peninsula.
Avoid the hurricane season, which runs from June to September. During the rainy season, many of the unpaved roads get flooded and can become impassable. Many businesses also close down during this time, as it’s the low season.
How Long to Stay on Isla Holbox?
Isla Holbox is a small island that measures about 26 miles (40km) long and one mile (1.6km) wide. It hardly takes 15 minutes to ride a golf buggy from one end of the island to another. I’d say 3 days would be enough to see Holbox and explore the surroundings. But if you’re a beach bum with plenty of time on hand, you’d want to stay for a week to just slow down, relax, and soak in the island vibes.
Where to Stay on Isla Holbox
Budget backpackers would probably prefer to stay in Centro Holbox, which is the area around Playa Holbox. It is the more lively and most of the restaurants and bars are concentrated there.
But I highly recommend staying in the eastern beach, close to the sand bar Las Nubes, as that’s the most beautiful stretch of coastline. It’s less commercialized and beaches are wider and more pristine. Read my full guide on where to stay in Holbox.
MUST STAY: Villas flamingo
In my opinion, this is one of the best hotels in Holbox due to its location! Located right in front of the sand bank (where you can walk for miles and miles at low tide), Villas Flamingo has rustic yet elegant bungalows overlooking the ocean. Every room has a balcony with hammock; the Bungalow Mangle even has a hot tub in the room. Check rates.
Luxury: Casa Las Tortugas Petit Beach Hotel
With stylish Tulum style decor, Casa Las Tortugas is perhaps the most Instagrammable hotel in Holbox. The adults-only (or we would have stayed there!) hotel features stunning design right on the oceanfront. Even if you don’t stay here, check out its beachfront restaurant LUUMA for its beautiful design. Book here!
Mid Range: Tropical Suites by MIJ
We stayed at this mid range, small-scale boutique hotel in the quiet end of town, about 4 blocks from the beach. Great option for families and digital nomads, and suites are spacious with lots of room to work. The pool is excellent and breakfast on the rooftop is affordable too. Book your stay here!
Budget: Tribu Hostel
A casual, laidback backpackers hostel just 50m from the beach and close to town, Tribu is a great spot for young travelers looking to mingle and relax. It’s got a mix of private rooms and dorms, with hammocks, a communal kitchen, and a roof terrace to hang out. Check rates here.
What to Eat in Holbox Mexico
Seafood, seafood, and more seafood! Since Holbox is an island, it’s no surprise that the seafood here is amazing. In fact, seafood is so popular that there are more seafood restaurants than anything else on the island.
Some of the dishes you must try are:
Pescado a la Talla: Fish grilled with garlic, onions, and cilantro. This is the most popular dish on the island and can be found at pretty much every restaurant.
Pescado Tikin-Xic: Fish marinated in achiote (annatto seeds), sour orange, and spices then wrapped in banana leaves and grilled.
Ceviche: Fresh seafood marinated in lime juice, onions, and cilantro.
Arroz a la Tumbada: A seafood rice dish made with shrimp, squid, fish, and vegetables.
Conchas negras: Grilled squid served with garlic sauce.
Where to Eat on Isla Holbox
Eating on Isla Holbox is pretty affordable, and there’s a wide range of restaurants to choose from . You’ll find a lot of seafood here (try the ceviche!), but there’s also international fare like wood-fired pizzas and excellent Italian food.
Budget: La Tapatia
My favorite place to eat in Holbox has to be La Tapatia, a fun, colorful cantina-style restaurant that serves surprisingly cheap Mexican cuisine. The menu ranges from US$1 tacos al pastor to more elaborate dishes like pozoles and mole poblano. With a lively atmosphere, the outdoor restaurant is decked out with neon-colored furnishing and wooden tables.
Mid Range: ROOTS
Lauded as the hottest spot in town, ROOTS claims to have invented the legendary lobster pizza that Holbox is well known for. With a long list of pizzas on offer, even if your budget doesn’t allow you to try the pricey lobster pizza (which goes for 730 MXN or US$37), you won’t be disappointed with the food here. Plus, the outdoor dining area has lively vibes!
Luxury: Amaite Restaurant
Those looking to treat themselves or celebrate a special occasion should check out this place! Amaite is located right on the water, with a beautiful wooden deck that sits on the water and gets lit up at night for romantic candlelit dinners. The menu is pricey, but the octopus tacos were the best I’ve ever had!
Is Isla Holbox Safe?
Isla Holbox is extremely safe, as it’s very small, rustic, and laidback. It’s way safer than most parts of Riviera Maya. My family and I felt very safe here and my daughter was free to play on the beach herself and at a distance from us. The island has thankfully steered clear from the radar of drug cartels; let’s hope it stays this way.
Isla Holbox with Kids
Is Holbox island suitable for those traveling with kids? Hell yeah! My daughter ranks Holbox as her number 1 favorite place in Mexico. The wide, sandy beaches with their warm, shallow water are perfect for the little ones. The adventurous, big kids will love all the wildlife experiences, island hopping tours, and boat trips.
That said, those traveling with babies might find it hard to get baby supplies (formula milk, diapers etc) here; so make sure you get them on the mainland before traveling to Holbox. The unrelenting sun can also be hard on kids; pack hats, rashguards, and sunscreen.
Cost of Travel on Isla Holbox
We found prices on Isla Holbox to be the same as Cancun and Playa del Carmen. Be aware that prices in Holbox are higher than pre-COVID.
Thankfully, there’s a good selection of cheap hostels and local eateries in Holbox, so you can easily keep your expenses down. Here are the general cost of things in Holbox:
- Coffee: 50 MXN (US$2.5)
- Cocktails: 100 MXN (US$5)
- Tacos: 30 MXN per taco (US$1.5)
- Restaurant Meal: 150 – 350 MXN (US$7.5-18)
- Room in a Budget Hotel: US$50
- Bike rental for a day: 350 MXN (US$18)
- Beach club for a day: 300 MXN (US$15)
Money Matters on Isla Holbox
There are only two ATMs on Holbox, but they’re not reliable as they might run out of cash or not accept your card! The closest ATM to the Holbox pier is at CIBanco, just a 3-minute walk down the main road. We have a Mexican card, so didn’t have any problems getting cash.
Some places in Holbox accept credit and debit cards, but many don’t. Your best bet is to bring lots of cash with you (only in Mexican Pesos) before reaching Isla Holbox.
WiFi on Isla Holbox
Most hotels in Holbox offer WiFi, but in general WiFi connections throughout the island can be sketchy and slow. We did manage to work remotely and even do Zoom meetings without any problems at our hotel (Tropical Suites by MIJ). Don’t expect to find coworking spaces or Starbucks in Holbox!
Nightlife on Isla Holbox
Isla Holbox Mexico is a quiet island with several restaurants and bars; you won’t find rowdy nightclubs and rave parties. If you do want to meet others and mingle, the best place is at hostels’ bars. Many restaurants have live bands playing in the evening. The hottest bars in town are Hot Corner and La Palapa.
What to Pack for Isla Holbox
Be sure to pack all your essentials for a day at the pools such as bathing suit, sunscreen, sunglasses, and dry clothes to change into. Sunscreen and mosquito repellent are a LOT more expensive in Holbox, so make sure you bring them.
PACKING LIST FOR HOLBOX
- Bathing suit
- Microfiber quick-dry towel
- Water shoes
- Waterproof sun hat
- Waterproof dry bag (for boat trips)
- Waterproof phone holder
- Reef safe sunscreen
- DEET bug spray
- GoPro & charger
- Power bank
- Book or Kindle
Is it Worth Visiting Isla Holbox Mexico?
In a part of Mexico that has been developed extensively for tourism, places like Isla Holbox are few and far between. It’s one of the few places in Mexico that have escaped the clutches of mass tourism and I truly hope it stays this way.
I am absolutely smitten with Isla Holbox and will definitely return again. I think you’ll like it as much as I do and hope you find this list of things to do in Holbox useful. Feel free to leave a comment below if you have any questions.
For those who are planning to travel more of Mexico, check out other articles I’ve written on Mexico:
- How to Get to Isla Holbox
- Where to Stay in Holbox
- 10-Day Yucatan Road Trip Itinerary
- 35 Fun Things to Do in the Yucatan Peninsula
- My Guide to Laguna Bacalar
- 15 Things to Do in Cozumel
- 20 Things to Do in Valladolid
Disclaimer: This post contains affiliate links i.e. if you book a stay through one of my links, I get a small commission at NO EXTRA COST to you. Thank you for your support!
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