The Best Things to Do, See and Eat in Holbox Island, Mexico
A space to share unity, family moments, to create connections with art and awaken the spirit within
Holbox Island is fast becoming Mexico’s new travel paradise. With pristine beaches and a wide range of activities for the laidback to the more adventurous traveler, this small island certainly has something for everyone to enjoy.
Located on the North Coast of Quintana Roo in the Yucatán Peninsula, Holbox Island is just about 2 hours north of Cancun and Playa del Carmen, and about 3 hours from Tulum. It is part of the Yum Balam Nature Reserve, which aims to protect the wetlands and mangroves and all its associated marine wildlife, such as flamingos and whale sharks.
This quaint island was just a tiny fishing village about a decade ago, accessible only to luxury travelers but in the last couple of years, it has opened its sandy beaches to a bigger range of hotels that accommodate different budgets, and is now competing with the establishments around Cancun.
Nowadays this small paradise is starting to position itself as one of the best places to visit in the Mayan Riviera and we want to share with you how you can explore it and make the most of it.
Take full advantage of our travel guide to find out what the best things to do, see and eat are around Holbox Island.
How to Get to Holbox Island Mexico
If we convinced you already that Holbox Island is a must during your next visit to Mexico, next on the agenda is figuring out how you can get there. The roads on the island itself are still unpaved and cars aren’t allowed, so getting to Holbox requires some fore planning. Luckily it isn’t too much of a complicated affair and there is a range of options for every budget.
Here’s how you can get to Holbox:
Rent a Car
One of the more popular options is to rent a car at the Cancun Airport and leave it at the Chiquila parking docks during your stay at Isla Holbox- remember, no cars allowed on the island! The cost of parking at the Chiquila docks is around 5-10 USD per day.
The best way to get to the island if you prefer to avoid the hassle of a rented card, is the shared transportation service from Cancun to Chiquila. The journey then is only about 2.5 hours long. You can pre-book the shuttle to pick you up from the airport and drop you off at the port of Chiquila where you can catch the ferry to the island.
Private Plane Charter
If you’re in for a more comfortable and faster trip then you should consider this option. It’s possible to fly to Holbox from Cancun as there’s a small Isla Holbox airport. However, keep in mind that unfortunately, these flights are not cheap.
For a transfer on a budget, this is the best option but it is also the option that will take the most time and perhaps the one that requires the most logistics. You will have to go to the ADO Bus terminal in downtown Cancun and then take a bus to Chiquila and then catch the ferry to Holbox Island.
The ADO bus (from Cancun Downtown Station to Chiquila) has six daily departures: 8:30 am, 9 am, 11 am, 1 pm, and 3:30 pm.
Ferry from Chiquila to Holbox Island
Once you have arrived in Chiquila, the only option to get to the island is by ferry; the trip lasts around 15 minutes. The trips start at 5 am and run every 30 minutes. Two ferry boat companies operate in Holbox. And have slightly different schedules which are convenient for all arriving passengers. There is no need for reservations. All you have to do is show up at the port and buy the tickets.
Discover the Rich Culture of the Island and Its Colors
Although small in size, once you set foot on the hidden gem that is Holbox Island you are able to enjoy a rich and colorful culture around every corner. It’s not only the vibrant and crystal-clear waters that surround the island that will catch your attention, or the must-see sunsets, but also the friendliness of the locals, the Isla’s own pace, and the vibrant street art. Isla Holbox is much more than just a beach destination and offers a fully immersive experience for those with an appetite for a bit more than relaxing in the sand.
Here's some of the best experiences you can have on the island.
Take a Tour of the Murals
Street art is pretty common in Mexico and Holbox is well known and appreciated for its colorful murals or street art – which you can admire for free all around the island!. Visitors can appreciate everything from graffiti with Frida Kahlo to various animals native to this part of Mexico: turtles, crocodiles, jaguars, and flamingos. Take photos and immerse yourself in the talented and colorful creations for a couple of hours before returning to equally beautiful beaches.
Rent a Golf Cart
Another great option to tour the island is renting a golf cart. While you can get everywhere on foot or on a bike, it might be a fun activity or just a way to enjoy a more scenic and comfortable view while getting around the island and perhaps go and explore beaches on the far reach of your accommodation. After all, what’s a vacation without a bit of fun exploring?
Enjoy the Sunsets
Holbox is known for having the most beautiful sunsets. Lucky for us, they are to be enjoyed for free, every day. This is because its beaches are oriented in the right direction to see the sun disappear under the sea unlike Tulum, which does not have the same luck. Tourists and residents usually go to the pier on Holbox's main beach to watch the sunsets. If you’re an early bird you might want to consider enjoying the sunrise too but if not, sunsets will leave memories for a lifetime.
Take Fun Photos in the Holbox Letters Holbox
If you’re looking for that Instagrammable moment, make sure you check out the various “Holbox” letter signs around the island. Everyone loves a photo of someone having fun at the beach and the bright colors that are found around the island certainly make it worth snapping a picture or two.
Take a walk on the Sandbanks (Punta Cocos)
When the tide is low, the sandbanks will emerge from the offshore water. This is a great opportunity, as you can walk in the water, to take advantage of the white and softer sand, take photos, or just lounge in the sand and relax. Just make sure you keep an eye on the rising tide to avoid getting yourself or your camera wet.
You should consider taking a wellness journey and connecting with yourself and nature in this beautiful and pristine setting. Yoga Holbox at Ser Casasandra is included for guests. Also offers not only traditional yoga sessions but also ayurveda workshops and courses, essential oils, conscious breathing, meditation, Tantra, Advaita Vedanta, holistic excursions, and tours on board a beautiful sailboat. If you seek to do a wellness-focused retreat, don’t miss out on this opportunity.
Visit the Beautiful Beaches
Who doesn’t love the idea of lazing around at the beach without a care in the world? This is exactly what you should take advantage of during your stay and try out a different beach everyday. As a tropical island, Holbox boasts some of the most beautiful beaches in the Caribbean. With crystal-clear waters and some of the best sunsets in the Yucatan Peninsula, your stay wouldn’t be completed without enjoying as many of the beautiful beaches the island offers.
There are of course many great spots, but here are some of our favorites:
A nice sandbank at the end of the Hotel Zone that appears during the hours of low tide. Here you can take a walk or just relax and enjoy the scenery and the shallow water. It is the ideal place to take photos and videos and show everyone the little slice of paradise you found yourself in.
Playa Punta Coco
Just one mile west of Town, this is an ideal place to enjoy the crystal-clear water, palm trees, and the resident colony of flamingos. Because of the shallow waters, you can stand very close to these beautiful birds, but remember that it's important to respect the local wildlife and avoid touching or feeding them. The best way to reach this beach is by bike.
This is one of the tips of Holbox Island and it marks the continental divide between the Caribbean Sea and the Gulf of México; it’s also the first place where European explorers touched land in 1517. A day tour to Cabo Catoche is a great idea to enjoy sandy beaches and spectacular wildlife, but as it’s a bit far from the town, consider making this a half-day tour so you can enjoy it at leisure and prebook in advance.
Enjoy Slightly More Extreme Activities
If you’re more of the adventurous type, Holbox Island offers many activities to do alone or in a group that will raise your adrenaline levels and keep you coming for more.
Take a look at some of the best activities you can enjoy during your stay, as some of them are unmissable activities to do in the Caribbean.
Swim With The Whale Sharks
This is one of the favorite activities of tourists and it's definitely one of the island’s biggest attractions. If you travel between mid-May and mid-September, it is possible to swim with these gentle giants, although the exact dates might fluctuate yearly depending on migration patterns. Local whale shark tour companies work closely with organizations that protect and monitor the sharks to avoid negatively impacting or putting any unnecessary pressure on these animals. You will swim alongside the whale sharks while keeping a safe distance from them to keep the experience positive for humans and wildlife. Keep in mind adult whale sharks can reach up to 41,000 pounds and up to 33 feet in length, but although mighty in size, they eat plankton and fish, they are not interested in eating humans.
Get on the Three Islands Tour
If you like islands and birdlife in particular, this boat tour is for you. This full-day trip will take you to Punta Mosquitos (Mosquito Point), Isla Pasión (Passion Island), and Isla Pajaros (Birds' Island) before making a final stop at the Yalahau cenote and enjoy a freshwater dip, surrounded by the exuberant jungle.
You will start at Punta Mosquitos, which is a long sandbank just off the island with nothing but sand and sea. Part of a conservation area, it’s the combination of white sand beaches and crystal clear waters that make it such a sought-after destination.
Isla Pájaros is home to more than 140 species of birds. Common species that can be observed on the island are white ibis, frigate birds, white egrets, double-crested cormorants, white pelicans, red egrets, pink spoonbills, herons, gray pelicans, and pink flamingos, among others. During the tour you will have the opportunity to spend time exploring virgin beaches and swimming in pristine waters before heading to your next stop. Isla Pasión on the other hand is a small deserted beach full of bright pink seashells that becomes a great stop for those wanting to relax away from civilization.
Snorkeling in Holbox at Cenote Yalahau
You can just skip the beaches and enjoy snorkeling in freshwater at the Cenote Yalahau, which is surrounded by a lagoon with the same name. The waters of Yalahau – considered one of the best Mexican cenotes, are clear, cold, and fresh. According to a local legend, the spring that feeds the cenote is a fountain of youth with magical powers capable of rejuvenating by 10 years those who immerse themselves in its waters.
This natural cenote is only 30 minutes by boat from Holbox Island but it’s important to note that because it’s a nature reserve, there are no shops or restaurants, on-site. Make sure you bring enough food and water with you.
Enjoy the Kukulkite Holbox KiteSurf School
The Gulf of Mexico is a well-known kite surfing destination thanks to the shallow waters and plenty of wind. If you’re an adrenaline seeker then this activity is for you. If you’ve never heard of it, Kite surfing allows you to “surf” along the water while holding onto a huge kite, but remember that this activity requires specific weather conditions (such as plenty of wind).
If you have never tried kitesurfing, we recommend you take some lessons at the KiteSurf School. A professional instructor will go over the basics with you so you learn a new skill, have plenty of fun and stay safe.
Observe the stars and Bioluminescent Planktons
The bioluminescence of Holbox is one of the most famous in the world. Bioluminescence is a natural phenomenon that occurs when plankton (microorganisms that live in the ocean) produce and emit light. Happily, this phenomenon can be watched almost all year round, but it’s experienced in absolute darkness or outside the full moon phase. This chemical reaction is pure magic and the neon blue color you see on the beaches is almost out of this world. While you don’t need a tour to enjoy the bioluminescence, a guided tour is probably your best option as you will get to experience different parts of the island, where you can see the best levels of bioluminescence. You can do the tours both on land or you can take advantage of some kayak tours and enjoy the phenomenon not far from the shore.
Since Holbox has no light pollution, you can also enjoy a spectacular view of the night sky and the twinkling star above you.
Kayak tour in the Mangroves
One of the best and cheapest ways to explore the island and wildlife around if you’re not afraid of waking up early. Most kayak tours will have you meet your guide and then drive to the entrance of the Yum Balam reserve in a golf cart before taking to the water and gliding through the channels amongst the mangroves. We recommend a sunrise kayak tour as the milder temperatures will make the experience more comfortable and you will have a better chance of watching some wildlife starting your day. During one of these tours, you will likely be able to see numerous species of birds, including flamingos, crocodiles, and more. Since no boats are allowed in the area, it’s a great opportunity to experience a quieter side of Holbox.
There are so many wonderful things to do at Holbox which you can find here, but if you’re looking for some of the top activities that you should consider during your visit, keep reading.
Tour the Fabulous Restaurants on the Island
Small but busy, activities on the Island don’t stop – even when it comes to enjoying the delicious Mexican and international cuisine. For a small island, its culinary passion is huge and you’re almost certain to find a new favorite place every day. If you’re a foodie (or not), when visiting Holbox make sure to include a stop to savor some of the best restaurants on the island.
On your next visit, make sure to try these:
Ser Esencia Casasandra
Ser Esencia is a restaurant located in the Hotel Ser Casasandra. Ser Esencia offers an enriching culinary experience, hand in hand with the fruits of the Mayan land, and in collaboration with Roberto Solís, the creator of the new Yucatecan cuisine.This restaurant has participated in culinary festivals where the main restaurants on the island are presented, such as the Comer, Amar y Contemplar Gastronomic Fair. Also, the New York Times named it one of the best places to eat in Holbox. Ser Esencia opens for breakfast from 7:00 a.m. to 11:00 a.m., and for dinner, from 6:30 p.m. to 10:30 p.m.
Viva Zapata Restaurant
Feast on traditional Mexican dishes including tacos and quesadillas. Their dinner menu specializes in fresh grilled seafood and meats, offering surf and turf platters to share. The restaurant chef Rosendo Avila is a Holbox native who has created a completely original combination of Holboxeño and Mediterranean flavors.
Upmarket restaurant located in the main central area of Holbox. It mixes jungle vibes with top gastronomy. If you want to splurge and spoil the senses, this might just be the place.
A fusion restaurant that brings a unique combination of Italian, Uruguayan, and Argentinian food. Expect hearty steaks, homemade pasta and pizza, empanadas, and more.
The best brunch in Holbox! From smoothie bowls, sandwiches and salads, you cannot go wrong with the healthy and more traditional offerings of this place.