If you’ve been looking for an island paradise, then look no further. Isla Holbox is the one.
Isla Mujeres is usually on top of the list when travellers are looking at which islands to visit in Mexico, but we think that Holbox beats Isla Mujeres without any effort.
Holbox has somewhat remained the hidden gem of Yucatan, managing to maintain a bohemian and laidback island vibe that entraps visitors for weeks.
This idyllic island has everything you could ask for – picturesque sunsets every evening, white-sand beaches, wildlife and cute rescue dogs that you can walk to return some love to this paradise island.
Dancing salsa on the streets
There’s never any need to rush on Holbox, which is part of its appeal that allows you to escape reality. By day it’s a tranquil place, but by night the streets come alive.
And by this, we really do mean the streets! Once the sun has set, everyone grabs a drink and heads to the streets to salsa the night away as the bars play their music onto the streets.
We honestly can’t rave about Holbox enough and it probably has to be one of our favourite places in Mexico!
And despite being such a small island, there’s plenty of things to keep you busy. Here are our top things to do in Holbox:
To help make your trip to Holbox perfect, we’ve put together an compact Holbox Travel Guide to help you decide where to stay, where to eat and how to get around Cancun.
#1 Embark on the 3 island boat tour
Nearly everyone who goes to Holbox will do the 3 island boat tour. It’s offered by most accommodations and lots of stalls around the town, so you won’t struggle to book it.
You’ll spend the day visiting 3 islands (as the name suggests) – Passion Island, Isla Pajaros and Yalahau Spring. The tour takes around 3.5 hours and costs from 400 MXN ($20), but it really depends on your haggling skills.
What to expect from the 3 islands tour
See here a quick overview on what to expect from the three islands:
Isla De La Pasión – you’ll find a number of birds and if it’s the right season, flamingos feeding in the shallow waters.
Isla Pajaros (bird island) – this small island is also home to a variety of bird species and has a great lookout hut across the island.
Yalahau – the best stop on the tour. Here you’ll visit a crystal blue cenote filled with fish that you’ll get to swim and relax in.
If you’re lucky, whilst you’re moving between the islands you may even get to spot a few dolphins!
#2 Explore the island of Holbox by bike
Renting a bicycle isn’t just a practical way to get around the island, it’s also a great way to spend the day.
Some ideas of where to visit during your bike trip are Punta Cocos and Punta Mosquito. Check out numbers #6 and #7 on this list to find out why these two are great places to visit.
For Punta Mosquito, you can only go up to a certain point, but it saves you from having to walk quite a long distance. Other than those two places, just cycle around and get lost!
You can rent a bike by the hour for around 20-40 MXN ($1-2) or for the whole day from 100 MXN ($5).
#3 Admire the bioluminescent plankton in the ocean
If you’re looking to add some magic to your life, this experience definitely will!
It’s quite a sight to see. The sea lit up by glimmering lights from the plankton, all whilst thousands of stars are reflecting in the water.
The best time to see the bioluminescent plankton is during the same season as you can see the whale sharks (see next thing to do), between June and September. Also try not to do it on a full moon. The darker the night, the better.
You can opt to head to the beach yourself and hope to find the plankton or alternatively join a tour. The tour should cost around 300 MXN ($15) and last around 3 hours, starting at midnight. The tour also includes pick-up from your accommodation in a golf buggy.
Holbox is considered one of the best places in the world to swim with whale sharks.
You’ll need to plan your visit to Holbox accordingly though, as the whale sharks are only in the area between June and September, with July and August being the 2 best months to see them.
Whale sharks’ favourite dish is plankton and for that reason, they will only show up in the season when the water is full of plankton.
Is swimming with whale sharks on Holbox ethical?
Compared to some less ethical whale shark destinations in the world, the situation in Holbox is a lot more controlled. In order to protect the whale sharks, a limited number of people are allowed to visit them each day as well as the number of people in the water.
Another way Holbox has tried to keep the experience ethical is by not feeding the whales. When looking into swimming with whales, avoid anywhere they feed the whales as this can disrupt their natural habits and can result in reliance on humans.
For this once in a lifetime experience, you can join a tour that will cost you around 2000-3000 MXN ($100-200). This can be a pretty popular activity, so to make sure you don’t miss your chance to swim with the whales you can book the experience online in advance.
If you’ve ever wondered what it feels like to walk on water then Punta Mosquito can get you pretty close to this feeling.
Punta Mosquito is a huge pristine sandbank that runs along the coast of Holbox. You’ll find it by passing the Las Nubes de Holbox hotel, within the Yum Balam Flora and Fauna Protected Area.
The best time to explore the sandbank and crystal waters is during the morning as the tide begins to come back in early afternoon. Trust us, you don’t want to get stuck out on the sandback. Wading back is not the easiest of tasks!
Aside from relaxing on the sandbank and bathing in the shallow waters, it’s also possible to see flamingos. Flamingo season on Holbox is between April and October, but if you’re really lucky, you may still be able to catch a glimpse outside of these months.
#6 Take a stroll to Playa Punta Cocos
Punta Cocos is a beach situated on the southwest point of Holbox. The walk from town takes around 30-40 minutes and is the perfect opportunity to see a bit more of the island (or take a dog for a walk). Another option is to hire bikes and cycle down to this beach.
Once you arrive at the Punta Cocos, you’ll be greeted by the iconic swings in the water and a serene pier that stretches out into the sea.
The beach is predominantly untouched and a nice place to either relax or take a stroll along. There are a number of beach bars as well that serve great food and drinks.
We’ve written this compact Holbox guide to show you the best areas to stay, restaurants you don’t want to miss and many more tips for your visit to Isla Holbox!
#7 Watch the sunset with your fellow islanders
Watching the sunset on Holbox isn’t just ‘watching the sunset’, it’s an event. As the time for sunset approaches, everyone gathers outside La Cruz Grill with a beer to say goodbye to the day.
There’s something special about sunsets. Peace seems to settle for those few minutes, but Holbox takes it to a whole other level.
Another bonus, it’s free to enjoy!
#8 Visit Painapol for the best breakfast/lunch of your life
If there’s one restaurant you need to visit on Holbox, it’s Painapol. Ask anyone on the island and they’ll recommend it to you. No wonder it’s always busy there.
There’s no half-hearted portion sizes. You will leave Painapol full, or asking to take your food away. Plus it’s really reasonably priced for how delicious the food is.
Painapol is the perfect breakfast and lunch spot offering smoothie bowls, eggs done every way you can think of, sandwiches and a selection of refreshing juices.
It’s the kind of food that leaves you feeling satisfied and rejuvenated.
#9 Kayak through the mangroves
Holbox is thriving with wildlife, and one of the best ways to see it in its full glory is to kayak through the mangroves.
You can join a tour which takes around 2 hours and costs from 400-800 MXN ($20-40), depending on the inclusions and of course your haggling skills.
Along the trip you’ll be treated with sights of a number of bird species and if you’re lucky even a crocodile.
You’re on an island paradise, so it’s completely acceptable to just spend your days lounging on the beaches and soaking up the rays.
Grab your towel and find a perfect spot on the white-sands of Holbox, or if you’re looking for a bit more comfort, you can indulge in one of the many sun loungers that line the beach.
Some of the sun loungers charge a fixed price, but a good tip is to find a beach bar that offers consumption to cover the cost of the chair. This means you just have to buy some food or drinks from the bar and the sun loungers are included for free. It’s a win-win situation!
#11 Dance the night away at Hot Corner
By day Holbox gives the appearance of a sleepy, laidback island but as soon as the sun sets the party people come out.
There aren’t that many bars on the island, but the advantage of this is that everyone converges in the same place. This almost guarantees a good crowd no matter the day of the week!
The place to go on Holbox is undoubtedly Hot Corner. You can choose to take a seat inside the bar, but most people just gather on the street to dance. The bar is open-air, so as soon as the music filters out to the street, the dancing begins.
The party continues on late into the night until most people move on to the only club on the island, Salma.
#12 Learn a new skill: kitesurfing
Holbox isn’t somewhere you’d initially associate with kitesurfing, but it has the ideal characteristics to learn to kitesurf. The shallow waters and strong winds provide the perfect environment.
The best conditions are between the months November and May, but if luck is on your side, you might also be able to surf outside of these months.
There are a number of schools on Holbox that offer lessons for all levels including Holbox Kitesurfing School and Kukulkite. Prices for a full 9-hour course, that should allow you to ride independently, start at $600.
Alternatively, you could just dip your toe in the water and take a taster session for $130.
#13 Walk a rescue dog and gain a new best friend
If you’ve had to leave your beloved dog at home, then this will help to fill that hole in your heart.
Refugio Animal Holbox rescues animals in need and nurses them back to health. This includes mainly dogs, but also cats, birds and raccoons.
How to get involved
The centre welcomes visitors to come and see the animals, but best of all, to walk the dogs! All you have to do is turn up at the gate and ask to take a dog on either a long or short walk.
You’ll then be given your new best friend to explore Holbox with. Despite potentially not having the best start to life, the dogs are well behaved and friendly. They’re all in really good health, so there’s no need to worry about catching anything from them either!
Also, it’s not expected, but as the centre is a charity, it’s a nice gesture to give a donation once you’ve walked one of the dogs.
#14 Watch the moon set (what???)
This doesn’t just happen in Holbox, but it is really a thing.
You can witness it from any of the beaches on the west side of Holbox, but La Cruz is one of the most popular places to admire this Phenomenon. Here you’ll have one of the best spots on Holbox to watch the moon disappear from the sky around 1 am.
The whole process can take up to an hour, but it’s a phenomenal sight to witness as you sit under the glistening stars.
This adults only hotel offers suites and apartments rather than just rooms. Most of which come with balconies overlooking the nearby lake. If you opt for an apartment, you’ll also be able to enjoy kitchen facilities.
Scattered throughout the hotel there’s plenty of places to chill, from hammocks to sun loungers and little sun decks. La Casa del Alux is like a little oasis situated on the outskirts of Holbox town.
Holbox is an island where you just want to enjoy and relax. The rooftop pool and terrace of Corazon Mexicano is the perfect place to do this. You could spend all day up here overlooking the ocean and surrounding mangroves.
The rooms are vibrantly decorated with splashes of colour and all include a private bathroom and air conditioning.
Want to stay at a great location on Holbox and within walking distance to everything you need? Restaurants, bars, supermarkets and of course the most important, the beach, are all on your doorstep when staying at Casa los Abuelos.
All of the rooms include a private bathroom and a small kitchenette if you want to do a bit of cooking. Casa los Abuelos is a great, affordable option on a somewhat more expensive island when it comes to accommodation.