Isla Holbox Travel Guide +
7 Things to do on Isla Holbox
Isla Holbox Travel Guide + 7 Things to do on Isla Holbox was originally published in July 2022
Isla Holbox ended up being the highlight of our trip around the Yucatán Peninsula in April 2022, a region I hadn’t revisited in 20 years (it’s weird to be old enough to say that and vividly remember the trip!). We realized we’d made a colossal mistake on the first full day we were in Tulum (we’d booked 4 days in a hotel there) as it had become crystal clear that it’s just a vapid, overpriced, Instagram backdrop (more on why we loathed Tulum later). Granted, I’m spoiled- I had just wrapped up leading yet another expedition island hopping in the Socotra Archipelago just a couple of weeks before and have gotten to visit other little beachy gems like Hormuz Island in Iran, Lampesuda in Italy, Croatia’s Lastavo, and island hopping in Palau.
So needless to say, I had Isla Holbox on my shortlist of places to visit on this Mexico trip but hadn’t committed- until I realized Tulum offered nearly none of the things that I would find enjoyable on a more beachy tropical vacation. We decided to cut our losses and leave Tulum for Valladolid to go see nearby cenotes and the big hitter Chichen Itza before making the final trek to the north of the peninsula to catch a ferry to Isla Holbox. It was the best way to end our trip on the Yucatán.
So in this Isla Holbox travel guide, you’ll find practical information on visiting the Yucatán’s island gem as well as the best things to do in Isla Holbox (or not do- doing absolutely nothing in Holbox is a worthy venture), how to get to Isla Holbox, our favorite food, where to stay, and more.
- A Little About Isla Holbox
- How to get to Isla Holbox (and Back)
- Getting Around on Isla Holbox
- Things to do on Isla Holbox
- Visiting Isla Holbox as a Day Trip
- Best Time of Year to Visit Holbox
- Where to Stay on Isla Holbox
- Our Favorite Restaurants on Isla Holbox
- What to Pack for Isla Holbox
- Where to get a Covid test (if you might need one)
- Other Important Things to Know Before You go to Isla Holbox
A Little About Isla Holbox
Isla Holbox, which is actually pronounced hol-bosch, is a long skinny island situated 10km off the north coast of Mexico’s Yucatán Peninsula. Its name is rooted in the Yucatec Mayan language, translating out to black hole, though from what I saw on my visit there I couldn’t find anything black hole-ish about it.
Isla Holbox is the largest of the barrier islands that comprise the Yum Balam Biosphere Reserve in addition to the coastal wetlands that border the Yalahau Lagoon. Yum Balam is famed for its wildlife populations including flamingos, whale sharks, jaguars, tapirs, manatees, turtles, palms, and mangroves.
How to get to Isla Holbox (and Back)
Getting to Isla Holbox is pretty easy. We took the ADO bus from Valladolid and caught the Holbox Express ferry to get there but there are other options.
First things first though, you’ll need to get to the town of Chiquila in order to get to Isa Holbox unless you take the flight which you’ll see details on below.
How to get to Chiquila
Chiquila is located right on the coast of the Yucatán Peninsula about two hours drive from Cancun (the nearest international airport). You can get there by bus, colectivo, or taxi.
We took the ADO bus from Valladolid which cost $244 MXN per person for the roughly 2 hour 30 minute ride. You will also find direct buses to Chiquila from Downtown Cancun, Cancun Airport, Playa del Carmen, and other popular destinations around the Yucatán Peninsula.
Another option is to take a colectivo which is more or less a shared minibus (similar to marshrutkas in Eastern Europe and Central Asia) that depart when full. You’ll need to head to the colectivo stand wherever you’re coming from and ask for the van headed for Chiquila. It will leave when full.
Additionally, you can hire a private taxi or arrange a transfer. You can do this in advance through Miguel’s Holbox Taxi Service. This is the most expensive option- expect a cost of $100 USD/$2,000 MXN for Cancun Airport to Chiquila, though you can have up to 5 passengers for that cost.
The Isla Holbox Ferry
Two ferry companies operate back and forth between Chiquila and Isla Holbox. 9 Hermanos runs on the hour and Holbox Express runs on the half-hour. Both ferries charge $220 MXN each way for adults and $180 MXN for kids, Quintana Roo residents get a discount and only pay $180 MXN for adults. You can purchase ferry tickets directly from either company’s ticket booths at the ferry docks or on their websites. The ferry takes about 15-20 minutes to go across.
The earliest ferry to Holbox departs at 6:00 am and the last departs at 9:30 pm. Coming back to Chiquila the earliest ferry departs at 5:00 am and returns at 8:30 pm.
The Flight to Holbox
Isla Holbox has a small airport with charter flights to and from the island. It’s pretty expensive at $900-1,100 USD to charter the small 5-passenger plane depending on your route (Cancun, Cozumel, and Playa del Carmen are your options). You can book tickets directly through Aero Saab.
Getting Around on Isla Holbox
Getting yourself around in Isla Holbox is pretty easy. The majority of things to do and places you’ll visit are within walking distance. As you’ve likely already read as you’ve begun researching your trip to Isla Holbox you probably already know that there are no paved roads on the island and (almost) no cars- the main vehicle you’ll see zipping about are golf cart taxis.
When you arrive at the ferry dock on Isla Holbox, the first thing you’ll be met with are the golf cart taxis that putt around the island. If you have a lot of luggage you may want to grab one to your accommodation. Going rates seemed to be $50-100 MXN for most destinations on Isla Holbox.
If you want to visit places a little further away such as Punta Cocos independently, you can opt to rent bicycles. There are plenty of bike rentals around town, the going rate seemed to be $200 MXN for 24 hours. Another option is to rent a golf cart, which can be hired for about $50-60 USD per day.
Things to do on Isla Holbox
Don’t laugh but I mostly did nothing while visiting Isla Holbox- but being a blogger/travel writer/whatever you want to call me I can never shut my “note-taking despite being here to relax” brain off- so here are my finds despite skipping most everything on this list 😂 #atleastimhonest
Truth be told this is mostly what I did on Isla Holbox- nothing.
Laid on the beach doing nothing. Sat in the shallow crystal clear waters doing nothing. Mindlessly ate tacos whilst thinking about nothing. And that is something special all in of itself.
Truth be told, I haven’t been on a proper vacation where I sat and did sweet f**k all since probably 2016 (I’m not exaggerating as nearly every trip I have done since then has been in some form or another work, blog, humanitarian, guiding, and/or media-related).
So if you’re looking for a great place to do nothing, Isla Holbox is it.
3 Island Tour
With all the nothing I did, I never found time to spare in my schedule of doing nothing events to make it on one of these 3 Island Tours but at least I thought about doing one. They looked pretty neat and included stops at Passion Island, Isla Pajaros, and Yalahau Cenote from Isla Holbox to splash in the waters and view wildlife… Maybe next time I’ll go on one.
I saw prices advertised around Isla Holbox for anywhere between $500-600 MXN per person on a scheduled group departure with departure times usually listed at 8:30 am, 12:30 pm, and 3:00 pm. Most had signs up advertising these trips with a private option as well for around $220 USD for a tour that could be split amongst up to 6 people.
Isla Holbox Bioluminescence Tour
Since we were outside of the best bioluminescence viewing months and truth be told I’ve seen some f**king phenomenal bioluminescence shows (in Socotra on Arher Beach and Detwah Lagoon as well as on its cousin island Abd al Kuri) I opted not to take a bioluminescence tour. If you’re keen to see them it would be worth going out on one of the nighttime bioluminescence tours you’ll see advertised all over Isla Holbox for $300-400 MXN per person.
If you don’t wanna join a tour you could always attempt to see them on your own- we did make an attempt by riding bikes down to Punta Cocos late one night but didn’t see them out there and another just walking to the main Holbox beach late evening but we didn’t see them out. Realistically you just need to go somewhere dark and without much light pollution and you should be able to see them if there happens to be a cloud of these magical little phytoplankton whirling near the shore.
Kiteboarding and Windsurfing
I used to wakeboard a lot (as in working a bunch of odd jobs through the winter so that I could scrounge up enough gas money to bum around the lake for the short Alaska riding reason and hitch rides from people I knew, or didn’t know at all) when I was younger so I’ve been acquainted with kiteboarding for a while. It looked pretty epic on Isla Holbox and in fact, there were a couple of dudes staying at Kai Boutique Hotel with us that had come to Holbox for the kiteboarding alone so that has got to be a testament to how good the riding here is.
Windsurfing is also quite popular on Isla Holbox, and much like kiteboarding, you’ll find opportunities to take lessons here.
If you’d like to make an advance booking, check out this Isla Holbox kiteboarding lesson on offer.
Beach Hop on Isla Holbox
With perfect sugary-soft white sands and electric turquoise water, it’s impossible to visit Isla Holbox without visiting its world-class beaches (okay maybe it’s possible to visit without going to the beach but I seriously would question why you came here in the first place if you didn’t!). Holbox Beach which is located on the north side of town will likely be your first beach to tick off the list.
Continuing further east along Holbox’s north coast the sand “road” ends at Las Nubes Hotel where you can continue on foot where you’ll eventually reach Las Nubes Playa. You can also just walk along the beach from Holbox Beach to reach Bonita Playa too, just know you’ll be wading in the water the last stretch of it as the resorts here on this end essentially extend to the high tide line.
Out in the water in front of Las Nubes Beach and the east end of Playa Holbox, you’ll find the famous Mosquito Sand Bar– though don’t let the name put you off as there aren’t many mosquitos out here. At low tide, the sand bar is completely exposed but when the tides are a bit higher it makes a beautiful glimmering white streak in the water. This stretch of the beach can be pretty crowded in the afternoon with frolicking families and wannabe Instagram influencer shoots which both can be a great source of hilarity if you’re here to do nothing like I was (but still enjoy a good laugh).
Finally, further northeast on the map I saw Punta Mosquito marked but we did not make the journey out there. I had read on a sign as well as on a forum online that it’s now prohibited to walk out there as it sits on protected wildlife reserve lands. I did however see it listed on a those 3 Island Tour itineraries (I’m unsure which ‘mosquito’ they were visiting- so truth be told I’m still a little confused about the difference between the Mosquito Sand Bar and Punta Mosquito aside from where they’re labeled on a map 🤷🏻♀️.
Last, but certainly not least is Punta Cocos which is situated on the western end of Isla Holbox. It’s a jaunt outside of town at roughly 3 kilometers away so the best way to visit would be by bicycle or golf cart if you don’t mind a long walk. Keep an eye out here for flamingos that can sometimes be spotted out in the lagoon. Another feature that made Punta Cocos famous is its string of hammocks and which sit right on the beach.
A note about those famous hammocks you see on Instagram and on older blog posts:
I read on a forum before arriving that the government had required these hammocks and swings that sat in the water to be removed and could only be placed on dry land. You will still find plenty of hammocks on Holbox Beach but none of them are in the water like you’ve likely seen in old photos. The one I’d say that is closest to the water of them all are the hammocks at Punta Cocos, though they looked to be sat about at the high tide line.
Swim with the Whale Sharks passing by Isla Holbox
Swimming with whale sharks has become a major bucketlister for many travelers and Isla Holbox is a great place to tick it off if you’re visiting in the right part of the year. These docile toothless, yet beautiful giants can weigh up to 30,000 pounds!
Several companies around Isla Holbox offer whale shark tours where they take you out to locations they’re known to pass by. Note that the best time to try and see the whale sharks off the coast of Holbox is between June and September. Most advertised whale shark tours on the island that you’ll see will cost 2,000-3,000 MXN.
If you want to book your tour in advance, check out this highly-rated swimming with whale sharks tour.
Kayak the Isla Holbox Mangroves
If you want to see some of the splendid wildlife and sceneries that Isla Holbox is famous for kayaking the Isla Holbox Mangroves is one of the best ways to experience this.
Check out this Isla Holbox kayak tour that you can book before you visit the island.
Visiting Isla Holbox as a Day Trip
After spending 5 days on Isla Holbox, I honestly wouldn’t recommend taking a day trip to the island just because it’s a bit far from the main tourist centers of Cancun, Playa del Carmen, and Tulum and it is a nice place to relax for at least a couple of days, but alas, not everyone is spoiled with multiple days to spare for Holbox.
There are several outfits offering day trips from other cities in Quintana Roo to Isla Holbox. If wanting to make advance bookings, check out this day trip to Isla Holbox that can be done from Cancun or Playa del Carmen, or this lovely Isla Holbox day trip from Tulum that includes the 3 Islands tour, or this jampacked day tour to Chichen Itza and Isla Holbox from Cancun.
Best Time of Year to Visit Holbox
The best time to visit Isla Holbox is dependent on what your priorities are on the island. If good weather is your main concern the months of November to April are the best as it will be a little cooler, the humidity a bit lower, and coincides with the dry season.
Those that want to see the bioluminescence will have the best luck from June to November, though it is possible to see it throughout the year. Finally, if it’s whale sharks you’re after, the best months to visit are between June and September.
Where to Stay on Isla Holbox
Accommodation prices are unfortunately increasing in Isla Holbox as the island has gained popularity and more and more hotels are opening up shop here but there still is a decent array of options to fit most budgets.
Under $30 USD per night
Budget backpackers will want to check out Mapache Hotel and Camping which offers both hostel dorm beds as well as beds in tents. Another great option is Kin Camping which is located right on the beach and has received rave reviews.
$30-150 USD per night
We were in the midrange category and opted for Kai Boutique Hotel and don’t have much in way of complaints as it was centrally located, comfortable, clean, had friendly hosts, and was a decent bargain. Wi-Fi was slow as expected, the A/C wasn’t super strong, and across the street was a bar playing loud music until late into the night but these are all things that don’t bother me much.
Other midrange travelers raved about the Zomay Beachfront Holbox, which is slightly more expensive but offers the convenience of being located right on Playa Holbox.
$200+ per night
If you’re on a higher-end budget then you’ll have the cream of the crop as far as accommodation is concerned here on Isla Holbox. Beautiful higher-end hotels sat right on the best stretches of Isla Holbox’s beaches with rave reviews including Villa Flamingo, Mystique Holbox, Hotel Las Nubes, and Villas Caracol.
Our Favorite Restaurants on Isla Holbox
There are food options in Isla Holbox to fit pretty much any budget and please any palate. We found that almost everywhere we dined at on Isla Holbox served up pretty good food. Do note that the Instagram *aesthetic* restaurants are inundating the island right now and it appears they’re being slapped up left and right so I wouldn’t be surprised to see the main roads around the square looking like the main hotel strip in Tulum before long (cue eye roll).
For backpackers trying to keep expenses to a minimum, there are several supermarkets and tortillerias around the island to get your fill on the cheap/acquire items to cook yourself. In the evenings you’ll also find street carts around the main square serving up tacos and other popular Mexican fast foods as well as hot dogs and hamburgers for a few pesos (I can never say no to a taco truck… or quesadilla, sopa, tostada…).
El Taco Queto is a great restaurant with cheap eats slinging up delicious tacos that fit a more backpacker budget.
Probably our favorite for good Mexican food that came recommended by locals was La Tapatia which served up a wide array of delicious Mexican and Yucatán dishes.
More Expensive but Still so Good
We popped into Restaurante Playa de Ñaña’s located right on the beach to grab lunch and loved the Japanese-Mexican fusion menu. Prices were on the higher side but was well worth the extra pesos. The burrito was to die for and presented like a sushi roll (we were confused at first what we had even ordered 😂).
Roots we incidentally stumbled into in the late afternoon one day. I had heard good things and Roots definitely lived up to the hype. The Yucateca pizza that is topped with some delicious cochinita pibil was perfect, though Roots is mostly known on Isla Holbox for its local specialty of lobster pizza, however, we didn’t opt for this because I personally don’t like seafood on my pizza (don’t come at me with your tridents, it’s just a weird preference of mine). One thing to note is that this place is really popular so expect a VERY long line if you plan to have dinner here.
Selma is another favorite among visitors to Isla Holbox though I can’t comment on the food as we couldn’t even get a seat here it was so busy when we showed up to try and get in for dinner on our last night on Isla Holbox. So I can’t say if the food was good but I think the fact that we were turned away is a testament to the fact that it must be excellent.
What to Pack for Isla Holbox
The good news is that you don’t need much in Isla Holbox to have a great time! There are plenty of shops around the island catering to locals and tourists alike so you can find a lot of things out here too if you’ve forgotten something.
- Shorts and tanks for bumming around
- A comfy sundress to toss on to head to the beach (or for tacos)
- Swimsuit (duh)
- Flip flops or Crocs for the trek to/from the beach
- Running shoes if you decide you want to get in a morning beach run (I opted out on account of my mantra of nothingness on this trip)
- Sunscreen and aloe vera in case of a burn (you can find them in shops on Isla Holbox too if you run out/forget)
- A wide-brimmed sunhat since the sun can get quite intense during the midday
- Cash because it’s not unheard of for ATMs on Isla Holbox to run out of money
- Camera, phone, (maybe a drone), and charging cables to capture your trip
- Dry bag to keep electronics safe during your beach adventures
Where to get a Covid test (if you might need one)
Since we’re still in the midst of the Covid-era you may need a Covid test if you’ll be departing back home or elsewhere outside Mexico after Isla Holbox. Luckily there is a trailer just off the ferry dock in Isla Holbox where you can get both Covid PCR and antigen tests.
Rapid antigen tests cost $30 USD with results available within 30 minutes (we had our results in our inboxes less than 10 minutes after our tests were administered), and PCR tests are also available at a cost of $100 USD with results usually available within 24 hours.
Note that it’s also possible to get rapid antigen tests at Cancun International Airport too if you leave Isla Holbox and realize you forgot to get a test.
Other Important Things to Know Before You go to Isla Holbox
- Do expect some noise from all the golf cart traffic. I did read a blog that complained of this when we pulled the trigger and decided to visit Isla Holbox. So while it is a blissful island paradise, it’s becoming a popular island paradise and with that comes noise
- If you’re staying closer to town you can expect to hear loud music late in the night
- Pedestrians and bicycles have right of way
- There are a couple of ATMs on the island that dispenses Mexican pesos (one up the stairs next door to the church on the main square and the other at the CI Banco on the main road between the ferry dock and the main square)- we had better luck with CI Banco. There are also a scattering of ATMs that dispense USD and an exchange shop near the main square
- Some restaurants, hotels, and shops will take payments by card but know that usually, this will tack on an additional 5% due to the fees they have to pay to run credit and debit cards
- Wi-Fi and mobile service aren’t the worst I’ve seen but not the fastest either so do be aware that internet speed can be a little bogged down, especially at times of day when lots of people would be online
- Isla Holbox is busiest around Christmas and the week following Easter as these are major holiday times in Mexico so the island gets busy with both foreign and domestic tourists
- The same blog post I mentioned complaining of golf cart noise also complained of lots of trash on Isla Holbox. In my experience I found the island to be pretty clean aside from one empty lot on the main road on the way to the ferry dock. It looked like Isla Holbox is decently well looked after but it also suffers from similar problems with inhabited islands and destinations- people trash it. So needless to say, don’t be a slob and leave trash behind and try to opt for less or no packaging when purchasing items when possible (which I know is easier said than done).
Have any questions about this Isla Holbox Travel Guide?
Ask your Isla Holbox questions in the comments section below.