A small island off Cancun, Isla Holbox couldn’t be farther away from the noise and the crowds of the party city. With this ultimate guide to Isla Holbox, discover why the island is Yucatan’s best-kept secret + the best things to do in Holbox, how to get to Holbox and Holbox best restaurants and accommodations.
Isla Holbox is Paradise. You’ve never heard of it? Well, imagine a happy island with no roads, white beaches fringed by palms, flamingos, breathtaking sunsets and colorful cocktails sipped on a hammock. This is Holbox, Yucatan’s best-kept secret… that without a doubt, should be in your Yucatan road trip itinerary.
They say Isla Holbox is going to be the “next Tulum”, but I really hope they’re wrong. As much as I love the hippie-chic vibe of Tulum, what makes Holbox so special is the lack of crowds, of all-inclusive resorts, and that chill atmosphere that reminded me of beach towns in Southeast Asia such as Phi Phi Island and Koh Tao.
But now I want to give you all the info you need to plan your own trip to Holbox… just sssshhhh! Keep it a secret!
HOW TO GET TO HOLBOX FROM CANCUN, PLAYA DEL CARMEN, AND OTHER DESTINATIONS
Getting to Holbox Island: Isla Holbox Ferries + Bus / Shared Shuttle
If you want to travel independently and/or you are on a budget, your best option is taking a bus or shuttle to the Chiquilà port and then a 30-minute ferry to Holbox Island.
➤ There are a few companies that offer a bus transfer to the Chiquilà port: ADO, Mayab, and Oriente.
Check out here a full timetable with all the bus options from Cancun, Playa del Carmen, Tulum, Merida and Valladolid. I always recommend to check on the bus company’s website for the correct schedule, though, as the buses tend to change their schedule rather frequently.
➤ The shared minivan service is another great and cheap option. The ride takes about two hours from Cancun and there are multiple departures per day.
From Chiquilà, take a short ride by ferry to Isla Holbox (cost: about US$10). There are two companies running the Holbox ferry to and from the island, Holbox Express and 9 Hermanos, they are both fine.
If you need to go from Holbox to Cancun airport, you can easily transfer from Cancun city to another bus to the airport, they are rather frequent. Check out the ADO website for the schedule.
Private Transfer: Cancun to Holbox and Playa del Carmen to Holbox shuttle
If you’d rather go with a private driver and want a door-to-door transfer, you can get a private transfer for about $90-140 per person. The transfer will come and pick you up at your hotel, will bring you to the Chiquila ferry, and once you get off the ferry there will be a golf cart taxi waiting for you to bring you to your hotel. This might be the most convenient way if you are coming from Mexico City to Cancun by plane, and want to transfer to Holbox directly from the airport.
There are several companies offering the service. I do not recommend going with MosquiTours, as they were two hours late for our transfer and gave us 3 different versions as an excuse.
The best transfer option I found is this Private Luxury Transfer from Cancun Airport to Holbox, which costs $149 per group of up to 3 passengers. Considering most companies I checked out offer the same service for $90-140 per person, this is by far the best rate.
Private Flights to Holbox from Cancun, Isla Mujeres, Playa del Carmen, and Cozumel
AeroSaab offers private flights to Holbox in case you have not much time or you want to combine the transfer with amazing aerial views of the island. A private plane will cost you $700 from Cancun or Playa del Carmen, which is not that bad if you are sharing it between 5 people. However, I don’t recommend this option because we all try to be green, right? Let’s try and respect the environment!
ISLA HOLBOX TOURS FROM CANCUN, PLAYA DEL CARMEN AND RIVIERA MAYA
If you don’t have enough time to spend a few days on the island, you can still tour Holbox by joining a Holbox Island tour from Cancun or Riviera Maya. For a day trip to Holbox, I suggest these two tours:
– Holbox Island Tour with Transfer Options: this super popular Isla Holbox tour from Playa del Carmen includes transfer to the island, swimming at Yalahau Island, and a visit to Isla Pájaros and Isla Pasion, plus lunch at a beachside restaurant and a tour around the island in a golf cart.
⇒ BOOK IT HERE
– Holbox Island Discovery Tour with Transfer, which features the same program than the Holbox day tour above, but with pickup from Cancun and Riviera Maya. ⇒ BOOK IT HERE
HOW TO MOVE AROUND ISLA HOLBOX
The best part about Isla Holbox? There are no cars, or paved roads. Transportation in isla Holbox is limited to golf carts, the occasional ATV, or bycicles.
Taxi in Holbox
When you get off the ferry, you’ll probably need a golf cart taxi ride to your hotel; the ride shouldn’t cost more than 30-60 pesos depending on the location of your hotel. The golf cart taxis are always readily available around the town center in case you need a ride somewhere; most rides cost 50 pesos.
Rent a bike in Isla Holbox
Renting a bike in Isla Holbox is one of the best way to get around Isla Holbox, as the island is small enough that you’ll be able to go everywhere by bike. Rentinga bike is easy; most hotels provide guests with bikes, or go around the main square and ask around.
Renting a bike will cost you 20-40 pesos an hour ($1-2) or 150-200 pesos for a whole day ($7-10).
Holbox golf cart rental
Look, a bike can be fun, but a golf cart? Insanely fun to drive around for one day. Ask your guesthouse or any rental place in the center (there’s plenty of them). A rental for 12 hours (8am-8pm) costs approximately 1000 pesos ($50), but you can also rent it by the hour or haggle a price. You don’t need to have a license and it’s very easy to drive, so anyone can do it!
THE BEST THINGS TO DO IN HOLBOX, MEXICO
Holbox isn’t a big island, but there are quite a few things to do in Isla Holbox. Here are the most popular ones.
Walk to the flamingos in Holbox
Part of the Yum Balam Nature Reserve, this place is as Caribbean as it gets in Mexico. An idyllic white sandbank in the middle of the ocean brings you right to Punta Mosquito, where if you’re lucky you’ll be able to spot the beautiful flamingos. Don’t expect anything like the Aruba’s flamingos though – these are wild animals, and won’t let you get very close to them. Locals say you can find some all year round, but officially the Holbox flamingo season is between April and October.
Getting to the flamingos in Holbox isn’t super easy, but the walk is beautiful. Park your bike or golf cart at Las Nubes de Holbox hotel (you can’t go any further) and get ready for a 1-hour walk. From the beach, walk towards the sandbank which is easily visible and just keep following the sandbank till you get to the tip. You will walk through water but it’s usually ankle- or knee-deep – it’s a good workout!
Just beware that the tide goes up in the early afternoon. You won’t drown if you stay longer but if you have electronics with you it might not be the smartest idea. We did indeed get stranded with the drone and had to cross a crocodile-infested lagoon… but that’s a story for another day. Don’t be like us!
Relax at the beach in Holbox
Duh! What did you come to Isla Holbox for? Wherever you are staying, you’ll have easy access to the beach (max a 5-minute walk). Any spot on Playa Holbox is pretty nice, but most of the beach is private-owned and you’ll have to get a drink/food in order to use the facilities.
If you’re feeling a bit more adventurous, drive your bike or golf cart to Punta Cocos. Bring beers and stay for sunset, you won’t regret it!
Look for Isla Holbox street art
Photo by Raphael of Journey Wonders
Isla Holbox is small but packs lots of cool street art. I loved the street art in Mexico City and Puebla, and murals in Isla Holbox are everywhere! Just walk around the town and find your favorite. Probably the most famous is the one of a kid so expressive that it almost looks like a photograph (photo above).
Holbox in 2014 participated in the first ever Festival Internacional de Arte Publico (FIAP) or, International Public Art Festival, and a group of international artists came to the island to paint all these beautiful murals.
Kayak in the mangroves
Isla Holbox personally made me lazy, but if you are wondering what to do in Isla Holbox that doesn’t involve laying down at the beach and soak up the sun, consider kayaking in the mangroves. I didn’t personally have the time to try this, but it’s possible to either join a tour or simply rent a kayak and kayak through the mangroves in Isla Holbox. Most hotels have kayaks for guests but will also rent them to non-guests.
Enjoy a cocktail and a dip in the pool
Hipster and trendy bars that remind me a bit of the boho chic ones in Tulum are springing up overnight, and they provide a nice alternative to the beach clubs if you feel like something different. My favorite one was Alma Bar, which boasts great cocktails and a nice pool with hammocks and a view of the ocean. It’s located on the terrace of Hotel Villas Tiburon.
Other popular bars include Hotel Arena Lounge (at the 7th floor, it’s the highest point in Holbox where to admire the sunset too), Mandarina Rooftop Bar at Casa Las Tortugas, and Blue Bar at CasaSandra.
Take some Instagram shots in the water hammocks
People lounging on the colorful water hammocks is probably the most famous photo of Isla Holbox. If you are on Instagram, I’m sure you’ve seen it in your feed at some point.
You can find the hammocks in front of Villas Flamingos hotel. I was afraid they would always be busy but I went in the middle of the day and had no problem having them all for me. You can also find water hammocks in front of Villas Tiburon.
Another super instagrammable spot you need to take a photo at, are the water swings located in front of Ensueño Holbox [at the corner of Calle Caguama and Calle Charal] or Carolinda Beach Club [Calle Charal].
Swimming with whale sharks in Holbox
Isla Holbox is considered one of the best places in the world to see and swim with whale sharks, together with La Paz in Mexico. Despite their name, these giant animals are harmless and I’ve been told that swimming with them is a humbling experience. Unfortunately, when I visited Holbox in December it wasn’t the right season to swim with the whale sharks.
Tours by boat to go and swim with the whale sharks usually cost $100-150 per person.
Now, let’s talk about the ethical side of the experience. Is swimming with whale sharks in Holbox ethical? I will say right away that there is not a univocal answer. I’d like to tell you it’s black or white, but most ethical dilemmas aren’t such.
When I visited the Philippines, it was the right season to swim with whale sharks in Cebu. However, after much reserach, I decided not to do it. Tour operators feed the animals in order to attract them, making the scene look like a zoo more than the animals’ natural habitat, and the spot is overcrowded with boats and tourists. I’ve repeatedly seen photos of tourists touching the sharks, and I’ve read that the migration patterns of the animals have been changed by the existance of this tourist attraction. Don’t get me wrong, I would have LOVED to go, but it just didn’t feel right.
In Holbox, it’s a little different. There are stricter regulations regarding the number of people who can visit everyday, and the rules regarding the encounters are strictly enforced. Only two people are allowed in the water with a guide at the same time, and there is no feeding the whale sharks. The animals are there because they would naturally be there.
At the same time, though, swimming with whale sharks in Holbox is becoming more and more of a popular day trip from Cancun. The increase in the number of tourists visiting the animals everyday is becoming alarming, and I sure hope that this won’t become a case of over-exploitation. Swimming with these giants is a dream for many, but plese let’s remember that the well-being of the whale sharks comes first.
Do your own research before going, and decide if it’s right or not for you. If you decide to go, make sure the tour operator you are going with adheres to the official rules which include maintaining a certain distance from the animals, a maximum number of people in the water, and so on. Don’t be afraid of asking the details to the tour operator you are ooking at, any reputable business will give you all the answers you need.
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What to do in La Paz, Mexico: Beach, Whales, and Food
Watch the sunset in Holbox
The sunsets in Isla Holbox are something really special. One day the sky becomes as pink as cotton candy, and the next day it’s on fire and all shades of red and orange. The most popular places for sunset in Isla Holbox are Punta Cocos and the pier. Bring some beer and a snack and be ready with your camera out.
Swim in the Yalahau Cenote
Cenotes are amazing! With over 6000 cenotes in the Yucatan peninsula (my favorites ones are the Tulum cenotes and the Playa del Carmen cenotes), it isn’t strange that there is one close to Holbox. Yalahau Cenote is a fresh-water cenote urronded by the lagoon with the same name.
The cenote is only accessible by boat (30 minutes boat ride), which makes it hard (and expensive) to go there on your own. Most tours that visit Isla Pasion and Cabo Catoche also include a stop at Yalahau cenote, so joining one of them is your best option to get there. Simply walk around the town center and ask to one of the many tour agencies and try and haggle the tour price!
WHERE TO EAT IN ISLA HOLBOX: ISLA HOLBOX RESTAURANTS
Isla Holbox is pretty small, but this doesn’t mean finding a good variety of food is difficult! New places are opening up every month, and you can find anything from fancy dining options to street food and budget eateries. Here are the most popular places.
Great tacos, quesadillas, and tortas at cheap prices. If you are looking for traditional Mexican food without any fancy touches, don’t miss this spot. The specialty are the tacos al pastor.
Raices Beach Club and Marina
Right on the beach, here you can eat fresh fish cooked at the moment in a wooden oven. The service is slow, but there is often live music that makes that wait better.
La Isla Del Colibri
Impossible not to notice this bright pink house in the middle of the town. Famous for its breakfasts, La Isla del Colibri is where you go for eggs and fresh fruit juices, but also for tacos and other Mexican food. [Porfirio Diaz 80]
ROOTS Pizza a Leña
Famous for its lobster pizza but not only for that, they say this is where you can find the best pizza in Holbox. The crust is thin and crunchy and the pizza is cooked in a wood oven. There is often live music too. [Calle Porfirio Diaz]
Mandarina Restaurant & Beach Club
One of the best locations in Holbox, the setting is quite fairytale-like at night. You eat right on the beach, and the gourmet dishes are good and well presented. The prices are higher than most other places in Holbox, but you pay for the location. [Casa Las Tortugas, Av. Damero 310]
Basico is one of the trendiest places in Holbox, and it’s obviously more expesnive than most (they accept credit cards). The fish is fresh and the recipes very gourmet. Great design, lounge music and a nice atmosphere, you can come here for a meal or some swanky cocktails. [Calle Tiburòn Balena]
Not a fancy one, but this delightful all-American diner transports you back in the 50s with its milkshakes and burgers. Padded booths, a jukebox… – it’s fun for kids and adults alike. A great alternative when you’re tired of tacos and fish. [Calle Palomino]
NIGHTLIFE IN ISLA HOLBOX
Holbox is small and quite chill, but it doesn’t mean you can’t have some crazy fun. Now, if you want to party like crazy till the wee hours, you should probably stay in Cancun (check out here what to do in Cancun!), but if you’re looking for a relaxed vibe and cocktails on the beach, this is the right place.
Start your night at The Hot Corner [Av. Pedro Joaquin Coldwell], a palapa, Caribbean-style bar; the cocktails are good and judging from the crowds it looks like this is THE place to be. If you’re a girl and in Holbox on a Thursday night, lucky you! All the mixed cocktails are free for girls 8pm to 10 pm.
Bar Tribu Hostel [Av. Pedro Joaquin Coldwell] has something going on every night, and cocktails are as cheap as they get on Holbox. They also often have a promoter going around the town center who gives out 2×1 cocktails voucher, look out for him/her! Also, shots are free for girls on Thursday night from 7pm to 10pm.
Raices Beach Club is where the late night action is, when there is some. This easy beach bar complete with hammocks and swings is where the party is in Holbox.
WHERE TO STAY IN ISLA HOLBOX
Isla Holbox might be small, but surely you won’t run out of choices when it come to deciding where to stay in Holbox. Check out my favorite choices and book your accommodation in the map below ⬇
Boutique & Design Hotels
Hotel Puerto Holbox: I fell in love with this ocean-front, colorful boutique hotel. Keep scrolling for a full review! Check out prices and availability for Hotel Puerto Holbox.
Casa Sandra Boutique Hotel: A private beach with cabanas, delightfully decorated rooms, and bath tubs to dream of. Check out prices and availability for Casa Sandra Boutique Hotel.
Hotel Punta Caliza: Next time I’m staying here. This adult-oriented hotel is the only design hotel on Holbox, and is an architectural jewel. Gor-ge-ous. Check out prices and availability for Punta Caliza.
Luxury For Less: <$100 a night
Tierra Mia Boutique Hotel: Beautiful rooms with a mix of a traditional Mexican feel and design accents. One minute to the beach. Check out prices and availability for Tierra Mia Boutique Hotel.
Holbox Dream Beachfront by Xperience Hotels: Hammocks everywhere and a beautiful swimming pool. Check out prices and availability for Holbox Dream Beachfront Hotel.
On a Budget
Casa del Viento: for less than $50 a night, you can have a beautiful, deisgn room where white is the main color… and you get a hammock in the room! Check out prices and availability for Casa del Viento.
Mapache Hostel: Traveling solo? This hostel is cosy and a great place to meet fellow travelers. Check out prices and availability for Mapache Hostel.
Not what you were looking for? Find the best prices for hotels in Isla Holbox.
HOTEL PUERTO HOLBOX: A FULL REVIEW
Months ago, when my friend Raphael and I were planning the itinerary for our Mexico trip, I had already spotted photos of the water hammocks and the tropical paradise that is Isla Holbox. Just a few days later, Hotel Puerto Holbox invited us to the island to stay at their property. Could we ever say no? It was destiny!
Located right on the beach, just a 5-minutes walk to all the main restaurants and cafès, Hotel Puerto Holbox can boast an eviable location. The rooms are large and comfortable, and I loved the bright colors of the interiors. I stayed in one of the Deluxe Double Rooms with Sea View, which feature two double beds and a private terrace where it’s nice to sip a cocktail and lounge. From there, it’t no more than 30 steps to the ocean, which to me is a special bonus.
If you want some extra space, book one of the junior suites that feature a spacious living room and kitchen and sleep up to 5 people.
Puerto Holbox Hotel was recently acquired by the same group that owns Villas Flamingos hotel, and is being renovated with new features added. El Velero Beach Club for example is a super new addition (opened in November 2017), and it’s beautiful with the white tents and the loungers.
Hotel Puerto Holbox also features a restaurant that’s open from breakfast until 6,30 pm everyday. The food is very good (you definitely need to try either the lobster sandwich or the lobster cooked with butter!! Yummi!), albeit the service is a little slow so bring some patience with you…after all, you didn’t come to Holbox to be in a rush, right?
If the weather isn’t the best and it’s too windy to swim in the ocean, you can relax at the pool. I had some fun times with my inflatable swan!
Looks quite good, doesn’t it? Check out prices and availability for Hotel Puerto Holbox here.
WHAT TO PACK FOR ISLA HOLBOX
Bikinis, beach coverups, flip flops and a dress for the night are all you’re going to need for your stay. The vibe in the island is very informal, and lots of people go barefoot even at night, so don’t worry about packing fancy clothing.
Bring a hat – it will protect you from the strong, Caribbean sun and add an extra touch to any outfit. Try this fedora hat from Hat Attack (which I adore!).
There are a few things you should bring with you though: sunscreen and mosquito repellent are way more expensive on the island than on the mainland, so pack those. You’ll need a lot of mosquito repellent all year long because of the unspoilt vegatation (one of the downsides of paradise!), and it gets even worse during mosquito season (May-June).
Bring with you all the money you’ll need and email in advance your hotel and ask if they accept payment by card. There are 5-6 ATMs in town, but everyone will tell you not to rely on them because they don’t work more often than not.
BEST TIME TO VISIT HOLBOX ISLAND / HOLBOX WEATHER
January through March are the best months to visit Holbox: the temperature is nice and it’s usually dry, although this is the highest season and prices will be higher.
November and December are great months too and a bit cooler, but as this is the end of the rainy season, you might get a little wet during your stay. I was there at the beginning of December and while there were a couple of showers at night, the weather was great in general.
Try and avoid the summer months: it’s not the best time to visit Holbox Island, it’s hot and very humid, and the mosquitos are especially hungry. However, if you are coming to Holbox for the whale sharks, keep in mind that the whale shark season lasts between June and mid-September.
And there you go! Now you have all the information you need for your trip. I’m so jealous you are heading to Isla Holbox! This island is one of my favorite places in Mexico, and I’m sure you’ll love it too!