If you’re planning a trip to Mexico’s Caribbean coast, chances are you’ve considered Cancún, Playa del Carmen, and even Tulum. However, if you’re looking for something a little less touristy, head to Isla Holbox — one of the Yucatan Peninsula’s best-kept secrets. This car-free island is nestled right between the Caribbean Sea and the Gulf of Mexico. Isla Holbox is part of the Yum Balam Nature Reserve, which tries to maintain the natural landscape such as unpaved dirt roads. As such, guests are treated to pristine views, laid-back beach bars, and incredible adventures. So escape the crowds and hoards that flock to Cancún, and plan a trip to this stunning island with this Isla Holbox travel guide.
The Ultimate Isla Holbox Travel Guide
Isla Holbox, in its entirety, stretches 26 miles long and 1 mile wide. With approximately 2000 full-time residents on the island, the area welcomes a fraction of the tourists that normally opt for Cancún or Cozumel. Traveling to Isla Holbox will give you a peaceful, less crowded experience of Mexico’s white sand beach and turquoise blue waters. It’s a great alternative destination especially if you’re hoping to travel safely for the rest of 2020 and beyond. Here’s some general information you need to know before visiting Holbox island:
The closest airport to Isla Holbox is the Cancún International Airport. From there, book a car service or take a taxi 2 hours north to the port of Chiquila. For a more budget-friendly option, you can take an ADO bus from the downtown Cancún ADO bus station to Chiquila for $118 Mexican pesos (a little under $6 USD).
Once you’ve arrived at the port of Chiquila, board the Holbox Express Ferry that will take you to Isla Holbox in just 20 minutes.
Knowing some Spanish will be incredibly helpful during your time at Isla Holbox. Although it’s located on the tourist frequented Yucatan Peninsula, it is still less touristy compared to Cancún. Which means knowing a little Spanish will definitely come in handy.
The currency in Isla Holbox is the Mexican peso. Be sure to have cash handy before arriving on the island. There aren’t a lot of ATMs around and not every business accepts credit cards.
For the most part, the temperatures on Isla Holbox range between 70 and 90 degrees Fahrenheit. The best time to visit Holbox island is during the dry season from December to April. Whereas May through October is typically when the island sees the most rainfall.
Isla Holbox is a car-free island. One of the best ways to get around is by biking. You can rent one for $20 mxn an hour (which is approximately .90 cents usd). However, the preferred mode of transportation on Isla Holbox is via a golf cart, which is also available to rent for approximately $1000 mxn ($50 usd) for 12 hours. You can also rent them by the hour. Just ask your hotel or any rental place in the center. And in case you’re wondering, you don’t need a license to drive a golf cart.
What to Pack
If you’re planning on spending a lot of time out on the beach, be sure to pack reef-friendly sunscreen and a sun hat. For day and evening wear, pack light breathable fabrics. I also highly recommend packing a bottle of bug spray, and don’t forget your bathing suit!
Best Things to do in Isla Holbox
Isla Holbox, which means “black hole” in Maya, is a place for travelers to truly disconnect and discover nature. With no paved roads, laid-back beach bars, and beautiful natural landscapes — guests would be treated to a peaceful, relaxing getaway free of modern-day distractions. But don’t let the lack of connectivity fool you, there are plenty of experiences to enjoy on Isla Holbox. Such as:
Discover the Island on Bike
Isla Holbox is best discovered by bike, so rent one for a day for approximately $150 MXN ($7 USD). Some of the best spots to stop by include Punta Cocos, where you can take a break and float in the crystal blue water. You can also snap a photo in one of the overwater hammocks, or take a stroll on the perfect white sand.
See the Flamingos
There’s nothing quite like seeing a flock of wild pink flamingos set against the turquoise blue of the ocean. Don’t be fooled — these flamingos aren’t like the ones you’ll find in Aruba as they are wild and won’t let you get close. However, it’s still worth the journey out to Punta Mosquito. If you’re lucky, you’ll be able to spot a few flamingos anytime throughout the year. But the best time to see them in large flocks would be between April to October.
Go Diving with Whale Sharks
Did you know that Isla Holbox is one of the best places in the world to go swimming with whale sharks? You don’t have to travel all the way to the Philippines to experience this incredible encounter. The ethical nature of swimming with whale sharks can definitely be a concern for visitors, however, whale shark boat tours at Isla Holbox do limit the number of people allowed per interaction. If you choose to go swimming with these gentle creatures, the prime migration season occurs between June and September. Whatever you do, research and book a trip with an ethical company that puts the safety of the animals and guests first.
Take in the Street Art
Wander around town and you’ll be treated to some of the most impressive street art and murals. The most well-known street art on the island is a beautiful mural of a kid that’s painted with so much expression, it looks just like a photo. And interestingly enough, Holbox participated in the first-ever International Public Art Festival in 2014. The event brought a group of international artists to Isla Holbox who painted several murals around town.
Kayak through the Mangroves at Yum Balam Preserve
Kayaking through the mangroves at the Yum Balam Preserve is a must for outdoor enthusiasts. Not only is this a great way to experience Isla Holbox’s natural beauty, but it’ll also allow you to observe the wildlife that calls the area home. While you’ll be able to spot flamingos, osprey, and other birds, you might be able to spot a crocodile peeking through the mangroves if you’re lucky (or unlucky). Most hotels will have kayaks available for rent for guests and non-guests. And if you don’t want to run into an awkward encounter with a crocodile on your own, many hotels have kayaking group tours that you can book as well.
Experience Bioluminescence at Punta Cocos
Yet another reason to visit the southeastern tip of Isla Holbox. Punta Cocos is the best place to observe the bioluminescence that emits a beautiful bright blue light on the surface of the ocean. Since the water at Punta Cocos is knee-deep, going for a night swim in the magical blue light would be an experience you won’t forget. The bioluminescence is caused by a natural phenomenon, meaning this spectacle can only be experienced when the conditions are right. To see it in its brightest, most impressive state, head out on the darker nights between late-March through mid-December.
Pro-tip: the darker the night, the more visible the bioluminescence. If experiencing this phenomenon is high on your list, do not visit during a full moon. Or for ease, book a bioluminescence tour through a local tour company for $400 mxn per person ($20 usd).
Where to Stay in Isla Holbox
Although Isla Holbox is a small island, there isn’t a shortage of great places to stay. From hostels to boutique hotels, and Airbnbs in between — lodging on Isla Holbox is plentiful and will suit any budget. Here are some great places to consider:
This boutique beachfront hotel features a minimal, natural design that embraces its surroundings. In fact, the design of the hotel is inspired by the 5 most important concepts of Isla Holbox, which includes the sea, organic elements, and Mexican architecture. Every room and suite at Mystique Holbox upholds environmentally-friendly practices. Additionally, most of the rooms feature unobstructed ocean views.
Guests can enjoy amenities such as WiFi, an in-room safe, and full bathrooms with rain showers. Mystique Holbox has an on-site restaurant that offers guests a unique dining experience. Dine at the Fresco Bar and Grill, or get involved with the process with Fresco Artful Cuisine. Through the experience, guests can select from their choice of meat, seafood, and vegetables, allowing the chef to surprise you with a dish using your selection.
Average price per night: $100 USD
Special discount code for my readers, enter “SEA2020” for 20% off your stay.
Casa Las Tortugas
This ultra chic hotel has been featured in several publications from Architectural Digest to Elle. Every room at Casa Las Tortugas features natural light, air conditioning, and a minimalist natural decor style. This hotel takes barefoot luxury to a whole new meaning with amenities and servies such as ecological toiletries, a balcony or terrace, and a wide breakfast menu served at their beach restaurant included in your reservation.
During your stay, stop by the Agua Spa for a traditional healing experience, sound healing session, or a full and new moon cacao ceremony. And for a great meal, visit any one of their three on-site restaurants.
Average price per night: $192 USD
Holbox Casa Punta Coco
Holbox Casa Punta Coco is the perfect location for couples looking for a little escape. With private beach access, this boutique hotel encourages guests to disconnect and embrace the Holbox way of life. Sunbathe on their private beach, enjoy a relaxing massage, or go on a market tour — Holbox Casa Punta Coco has everything you need for a comfortable and relaxing stay.
Average price per night: $208 USD
Hotel Punta Caliza
Punta Caliza is a small, family-owned hotel located along the shores of Playa Holbox. Guests checking into Punta Caliza will spend their time in a sustainable A-framed cabin. The interiors are minimally decorated, further accentuating the natural beauty of the surrounding landscape. Service tends to be laid-back and every guest will be treated to a complimentary breakfast at their on-site restaurant.
Average price per night: $130 USD
Where to Eat in Isla Holbox
No travel guide is complete without a list of best places to eat. While dining at your hotel’s on-site restaurant is a great choice, nothing quite compares to exploring the local food scene.
A La Chingada
For the best ceviche in town, head to A La Chingada. This is a really local place located a block away from the main square in downtown Holbox. If ceviche isn’t your thing, you can’t go wrong with their fish tacos.
There’s no better way to start your morning than with a delicious smoothie. Head to Tierra Mia and cool down with an iced-coffee, smoothie or one of their healthy juices.
Mandarina Restaurant & Beach Club
For an unforgettable dining experience, head to Mandarina at Casa Las Tortugas for dinner. The setting is magical as you dine right on the beach while enjoying the Mediterranean fare featuring incredibly fresh seafood.
This rooftop pool bar is the perfect place to take in the sunset. Alma Bar is located on Punta Mosquitos and can be quite a bit of a walk from the center of town. While you can enjoy unobstructed views of the ocean from one of their daybeds, there is a catch: each person has to order 2 cocktails. If you don’t care to drink that much, you can still enjoy the rest of the bar without ocean view front seats.
Add Isla Holbox to Your Bucket List
Isla Holbox is definitely worth a visit, especially if you want to beat the crowds. While it isn’t exactly an undiscovered destination, it’s a nice change of pace from the popular spots like Cancún or Cozumel. One thing to note prior to booking your trip is to check the weather in advance. Although I enjoyed my time on the island, there were a few days where rain and bad weather made getting around a little difficult. But rain or shine, you most definitely should add Isla Holbox to your Mexico bucket list.