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While Mexico is no stranger to beautiful beaches, Isla Holbox (pronounced holbosh) is the ultimate paradise. A fisherman village turned into one of the most popular destinations in the Yucatan Peninsula, Isla Holbox (or Holbox Island) is part of the Yum Balam Nature Reserve, which protects the wetlands and mangroves with animals like flamingoes, crocodiles, and pelicans.
You can explore part of Yum Balam by a kayaking tour.
The best things to do in Holbox Island are beach hopping, snorkeling, and wildlife watching. The best way to enjoy these activities is by booking a tour with one of the local tour operators or buying it online through Viator which offers a variety of tours in many destinations in Mexico and other countries.
What is Isla Holbox known for?
Holbox is a tropical island that is known for its beaches, relaxed lifestyle and wildlife watching. It boasts crystal-clear waters and some of the best sunsets in the Yucatan Peninsula.
This article provides a detailed guide to the island. Here you will learn how to get to Holbox, best activities in Holbox, and what restaurants in Holbox have the best food.
Where is Holbox located?
Holbox is a skinny island in the Gulf of Mexico off the northern coast of the Yucatan Peninsula. The island spans approximately 42 miles (26 kilometers), and its terrain consists of beaches and mangroves. Holbox also has a designated protected zone free from any development.
Holbox is separated from mainland Mexico by 10 kilometers of the shallow lagoon.
How to get to Holbox
There are a few ways to get to Holbox based on your budget and available time.
Getting to Holbox by plane
The fastest way to get to Holbox is by taking a plane from Cancun. Holbox has a small airport (HOL) that has daily flights from Cancun. Taking a flight from Cancun to Holbox is also the most expensive option, but the upside is that you will save at least a few hours.
Getting to Holbox by boat
Most people arrive at Holbox Island by boat. Boats depart from the town of Chiquila on the northern tip of the Yucatan Peninsula. The channel separates Chiquila and Holbox, and the boat takes about 15-20 minutes.
Chiquila to Holbox ferry timetable
The ferry from Chiquila to Holbox runs daily from 6:00 am to 9:30 pm every 30 minutes. The ferry costs around 7 USD and the ride takes about 20 minutes. Have cash on you, because when I was there, I couldn’t pay with a credit card.
Cancun to Holbox
If you are traveling from Cancun to Holbox, you can take a public bus to Chiquila. But taking a private transfer is a much better option as you will save a lot of time and hassle.
How to get to Chiquila?
To get to Chiquila, you will need to take a bus or taxi. Buses to Chiquila depart daily from Tulum, Playa Del Carmen, and Cancun. You can check the bus schedule online on the ADO website. ADO is a bus company that serves the Yucatan Peninsula and other parts of the country.
Another option is to check schedules to Chiquila on busbud.com., a third-party website where you can purchase bus tickets.
Best things to do in Holbox Island Mexico
1. See whale sharks
Swimming with whale sharks is one of the most fun things to do in Holbox Island!
On this tour, you swim with these giant animals while keeping a safe distance. Adult whale sharks can reach up to 41,000 pounds and up to 33 feet in length!
You can only spot whale sharks from June through September. Local tour companies closely work with organizations that protect and monitor the sharks, and the exact dates when you can see them fluctuate every year. Whale sharks eat plankton and fish and are not interested in eating you!
How to choose whale shark tours in Holbox Island Mexico
I visited Holbox in mid-September when the season for watching whale sharks just ended, so I can’t give any information on what these tours are like. But remember that not every tour is sustainable and animal friendly. It’s important to do research before booking a tour.
If you read reviews about too many people, or people following the sharks too closely or even bothering them, do NOT book it.
Many local companies in Holbox Island sell whale shark tours on the spot. Brush up on your Spanish so you can talk to local tour operators and ask questions. Always check a tour operator online and read reviews before booking a tour!
2. Kayak in the mangroves
One of my favorite things to do in Holbox was a sunrise kayak tour during which I got to explore the Yum Balam Nature Reserve. I saw crocodiles, flamingoes, birds and other wildlife.
Best kayaking tours of mangroves
After you meet your guide, you drive to the entrance of the Yum Balam in a golf cart. You depart in kayaks and after paddling for 15 minutes along the shore, you see flamingoes along the sand bank. After that, you enter the mangrove area by kayak. No boats are allowed in the mangrove area, and it’s a perfect chance to see a different side of Holbox!
The tour has a professional guide who will provide an overview of the area and help you to spot animals.
Mornings are perfect for wildlife watching, and speaking from personal experience, getting up early is well worth it! Book your early morning kayak tour here.
3. Go island hopping
Exploring the coastline of Holbox by boat is a lot of fun.
Most Holbox visitors take a tour of the three islands surrounding Holbox. The tour includes Punta Mosquitos (Mosquito Point), Isla Pasión (Passion Island) and Isla Pajaros (Birds’ Island). The last stop is home to a beautiful cenote surrounded by the lush jungle where you can enjoy a refreshing swim.
FUN FACT: Did you know that the Yucatan Peninsula is home to thousands of cenotes? You can dive, swim and snorkel in them. Read my complete guide to the best cenotes in the region!
You get about 40 minutes at each stop. Bring your camera because Holbox Island boasts some of the best beaches in Mexico!
4. Explore Holbox Island by bicycle
One of the best ways to explore Holbox Island is by renting a bicycle. Many hotels in Holbox (which ones) offer bike rentals. You can rent a bicycle for a day or two to get from place to place faster.
Here are the bike rental shops in Holbox:
- Sea Bikes Holbox
- Bikes Holbox
- Bike Land Holbox
Most bike rentals in Holbox cost about 200-300 Pesos per day, but they could be slightly higher during the high season. Some bike rentals also require a cash deposit. Always carry cash while in Holbox.
5. … Or golf cart
Another option for getting around Holbox is renting a golf cart.
Golf carts are the go-to vehicles for traveling around the island. To rent a golf cart in Holbox, you need to pay about 1,000 Pesos (or about $50 USD) per day. It’s a steep price, and in my opinion, it’s not always worth it because Holbox is small, and you can walk to most places.
If you stay close to downtown Holbox, you don’t need a golf cart. Most people get around Holbox on foot or by bicycle, and unless your hotel is further away, you can do the same.
6. See Bioluminiscence in Holbox
Isla Holbox is known for its bioluminescence – a natural phenomenon that occurs plankton living in the water emits light through chemical reactions in their bodies.
When you get to Holbox, you will find bioluminescence tours sold on every corner. Do the research and talk to multiple tour vendors because not all bioluminescence tours are the same.
Here’s what you need to know:
You CAN see bioluminescence in Holbox without a tour.
All you need to do is go to Playa Punta Coco on the far west side when it’s dark. Most tours bring people here, so you probably won’t be alone. To get here, you can rent a golf cart, or take a walk. Get a good flashlight or a headlamp because there’s no light here except for some hotels in the distance.
When you arrive, step in the water and make some movements with your hands to see the sparkly plankton. Isla Holbox has no light pollution, and you can also enjoy the clear dark sky full of stars above you!
Why you should consider a bioluminiscence tour
Guided tours of bioluminescence offer a more curated experience as you get to experience different parts of the island, where you can see different levels of bioluminescence.
A tour is worth it, if you are visiting Holbox for the first time and don’t know the area well. Your guide will most likely be a local who knows the island and can show you the best spots that you won’t be able to visit by yourself.
Go during the new moon:
Although you can see the bioluminescence on most nights, the best time for viewing is around new moons when the moonlight reflects in the water. During the nights, the bioluminescent plankton produce an incredible neon blue glow!
7. Take a cooking class
Take a cooking class in Holbox with La Puerta Rosa, to learn the secrets of authentic Mexican cooking! La Puerta Rosa is in the heart of Holbox Island and offers morning, evening, and private cooking classes. All you need to do is select your time and sign up for a class on their website.
Most classes include 2-10 people, so this is one of the best cultural experiences in Holbox, as you will be a part of a small group. Partaking in this class is one of the best things to do in Holbox to support locals.
The group cooking classes are $65-80 USD per person, and private classes are $105 USD per person.
8. Go shopping in the artisan market
Holbox has a mini version of the artisan market in the downtown area. Walk along the street where you can find artisans selling their arts and crafts like jewelry, clothing, and souvenirs. If you want to buy something, carry cash, as many street vendors accept only cash.
Carrying cash is one of my top Mexico travel tips. Although many businesses in major travel destinations like Cabo San Lucas, Puerto Vallarta, or Tulum accept credit cards, cash is still king in many parts of the country. Always have a few hundred pesos in your wallet.
9. Rent a paddle board
Paddle boarding around the coast of Holbox is a lot of fun! You can rent a paddle board and kayak in many stores around Holbox.
Here are places that offer kayak and paddle board rentals in Holbox Island:
- Kayak Center Holbox
- Kayaking Holbox
- Kukulkite – Holbox Surf School
- Kayak Xplore Holbox
10. Grab a fresh fruit
Try some fresh fruit while in Holbox. You can buy it on the street from one of the vendors on the beach.
11. Spot flamingoes
Wildlife watching is one of the best things to do in Holbox! You can spot flamingoes in many parts of Holbox, but keep in mind that they are not very keen on contact with humans.
During my kayaking tour, I could see flamingoes only in the distance, and as soon as we started moving, they quickly flew away. If you go on a tour, ask your tour guide to bring binoculars.
Do not run after or bother flamingoes, as they generally like to stay away from people. If you try to get closer, it might stress them out. My guide told me that if flamingoes run too fast when they are scared, they could even injure their legs.
12. Have a fun night out
Holbox is famous for its laid-back vibes, but come night, this place has some great parties!
Downtown Holbox has some of the best bars on the island. The Garden at Luuma, offers vegan tapas; Hot Corner is popular with backpackers and serves drinks like tequila and mezcal. Arena is part a hotel and part a bar, with a cool rooftop. Located on Calle Tiburón Ballena, it offers live music and a great atmosphere.
13. Check out Punta Mosquito
Punta Mosquito is a sandbank at the end of Holbox Hotel Zone. Although Punta Mosquito is included in the three-island tour, you can also come here on your own by taking a walk on a road that goes along the Hotel Zone. You can visit the Punta Mosquito sandbank during the three islands tour, but you will only have about 30-40 minutes.
Punta Mosquito is a perfect place to take photos and videos. Many people come here to bask in the shallow waters around the sand bank.
14. Watch the sunset
Holbox boasts spectacular sunsets and no less spectacular sunrises! While many people watch the sunset, sunrises are just as spectacular. Get up early and walk along the beach away from the hotel zone. You might have a spectacular display of colors all to yourself!
15. Do yoga
Holbox is the ultimate destination for practicing yoga!
Yoga Holbox is a studio that offers a variety of classes like beach yoga, Mayan energy cleansing, and cacao ceremony. You can also stay in one of the hotels in Holbox that offer yoga classes. Alcobas Del Mar, Villas Caracol, and Casa Las Tortuga Petit Beach Hotel and Spa are some of the options.
16. Try yummy Pizza at La Pinsa
If you love pizza, stop at La Pina! This small restaurant offers a wide selection of pizza, and I was even able to find a delicious Margherita pizza with vegan cheese, spinach, and cherry tomatoes. Yum!
17. Snap a picture with a Holbox sign
When you are in Holbox, it’s hard to miss the colorful Holbox sign along Playa Holbox in front of the pier. Grab a camera and snap a few photos with this tourist staple.
Many places in Mexico have colorful letters with the name of the city or village, but the Holbox sign is unique because it misses the letter “L” in the middle. You can stand right in the middle when posing for photos.
18. Learn kite surfing
Gulf of Mexico provides perfect conditions for kite surfing thanks to the shallow waters and plenty of wind. This Is one of the best things to do in Holbox for adventure lovers. Kite surfing is pulling yourself along the water with the help of the wind while holding onto a huge kite.
Remember that kite surfing requires specific weather conditions with plenty of wind. If you have never tried kite surfing, you shouldn’t do it your first time on your own. During a kite-surfing lesson, an instructor will go over the basics so you could stay safe and have plenty of fun. You can also take a full course if you stay in Holbox longer.
Book your kite surfing lesson here.
19. Visit Los Coloradas
Los Coloradas is home to salt mines on the northern tip of the Yucatan Peninsula.
Many visitors come to Los Coloradas to take photos of the incredible pink salt mines. Los Colorados is not the cheapest tour from Holbox due to the longer distance, but you can still visit it with one of the tour companies in Holbox.
PRO TIP: As an alternative, I suggest visiting Los Coloradas from El Cuyo, a small town that sits just to the southeast of Holbox across the Gulf of Mexico. If you take a trip to Los Coloradas from El Cuyo, you will pay a lower price and have a shorter distance.
20. Hang out in Holbox beach clubs
During your time in Holbox Island Mexico, visit one of the beach clubs where you can enjoy the views and try some yummy food. Club De Playa Punta Caliza gets very good reviews for its ambiance, friendly staff, and reasonable prices. Other popular Holbox beach clubs are Carolinda Beach Club and Maruva Beach Club.
Maruva has great food, drinks, and also vegan options. It’s a perfect elegant beach club in a quiet setting where you can relax and enjoy a great atmosphere.
21. Explore Holbox street art
The streets of Holbox are home to many colorful murals. Here you will find anything from graffiti featuring Frida Kahlo to various animals native to this part of Mexico like turtles, jaguars, and flamingoes. Take your camera and spend some time wandering the streets of Holbox in search of cool street art!
Taking photos in front of colorful murals is one of the best free things to do in Holbox 😊
Best restaurants in Holbox:
- La Pinsa – is a great casual restaurant with yummy pizza and comfort food
- Artesano – is one of the best vegan restaurants in Mexico! It boasts a beautiful setting, delicious plant-based meals, and super-friendly staff
- Habits – a small plant-based with good brunch options
Where to stay in Holbox
The best hotels in Holbox Island are in Zona Hotelera (Hotel Zone) which runs from downtown toward Punta Mosquito. Here you will pay the most money, but if you travel on a budget, you can also stay in one of the hotels in downtown Holbox, which are considerably cheaper. The western side of Holbox also has some hotels, to get away from the hustle and bustle and parties.
Best hotels in Holbox
Budget: Alcobas Del Mar – This chic boutique hotel is known for its excellent service and great location. Albocas Del Mar is a fun choice for those on a budget. You will be a five-minute walk from downtown Holbox and the beach, so you don’t need to rent a bicycle.
Mid-range: Spirit Holbox – a great spot for a getaway. This eco-conscious fifteen-room hotel was built on a nature reserve along the Caribbean. Enjoy the rooftop infinity pool and sunbathe with a view of the island.
Luxury: Casa Las Tortugas – This beachfront hotel gets its name from the thirteen turtles that arrived at its shores days before opening. Casa La Tortugas feels like a luxurious island paradise. There are also options for wellness and relaxing at the full-service Auga Spa. It also has several on-site restaurants.
Hostel: El Barco Verde – El Barco Verde features 10 rooms. The rooms come with a private bathroom. Guests can also arrange a vegetarian breakfast. You can reach downtown Holbox by a quick walk.
Most frequently asked questions about Holbox Island Mexico
How many days to spend in Holbox?
If you are visiting Holbox Island for the first time, stay at least 3 days for your trip. Ideally, plan between 3-5 days for your trip. Five days is a perfect amount of time to enjoy some of the best things to do in Holbox like kayaking, seeing the bioluminescence, and enjoying Holbox beaches.
How to get around Holbox?
The best way to get around Holbox is by renting a bicycle. It’s much cheaper than a golf cart and you will get around quicker. Holbox is a small island, and you can walk pretty much anywhere. Many blogs say that there are no cars on Holbox, but it’s not true! There are some cars on Holbox, just very few and most of them are used by businesses for transporting things.
Can I pay with a credit card in Holbox?
Holbox is a small island, and not all services are readily available at times. While many restaurants and businesses accept credit cards, some don’t. Many local tour operators accept only cash, so you need to have some Pesos in Holbox.
Is there an ATM in Holbox?
If you do a quick search, you will quickly find a lot of misleading information about ATMs in Holbox. While some say that there are no ATMs in Holbox, it’s NOT true! There are several ATMs scattered throughout Holbox Island, you just need to know where to find them.
Be prepared that some of these ATMs might charge you higher than normal fees (the lowest ATM fee I’ve found in Mexico is 34 Pesos at Santander and Banco Azteca).
The most reliable ATM in Holbox is at CIBanco near the ferry terminal. The ATM is open 24 hours.
Punto San Telmo ATM is the closest ATM to the beach is near Punto San Telmo restaurant. This ATM gives out only US dollars.
Is Holbox safe to visit?
Yes, Holbox is safe to visit! Always use common sense though. Don’t walk alone on the beach at night, be careful when sharing your personal information with others, and keep a low profile to avoid trouble.
What is the best time to visit Holbox Island?
If you are looking for perfect weather, the best time to visit Holbox Island is from late November through March. During this time Holbox has clear skies and no rain. It’s also the busiest time in Holbox, and prices are higher than during the low season which is from June through September when the area gets the most rain.
The rainy season also has some sunny days, and the rain tends to be sporadic. Summer is a great time to save money on tours and accommodations in Holbox if you don’t want to deal with high prices and big crowds of the high season.
Is Isla Holbox worth a visit?
Yes! Isla Holbox is one of the best places to visit in the Yucatan Peninsula. It offers a good break from the busy mainland thanks to its slow pace of life, uncrowded beaches, and amazing wildlife. If you are looking for a perfect getaway, look no further than this island!
Best things to do in Holbox Island Mexico: final word
Home to some of the best beaches in Mexico, Holbox Island is also an adventurer’s paradise. It’s a great place to kick back with a margarita in your hand, paddle in a kayak, and watch wildlife. I spend five days in Holbox and extended my stay before continuing to other places!