Holbox (pronounced hole-boshe) is a tropical, car-free and carefree island off the northern coast of the Yucatan Peninsula, Mexico. It’s not your average island; hammocks gently float atop the turquoise water and in lieu of paved streets like in Cozumel or Isla Mujeres, you have sandy roads navigable only by bike, foot, or golf cart.
But it’s got all the other island stuff too, of course. White sand beaches are aplenty, colorful cocktails adorn the beachfront tables and chairs, palm trees wave in the breeze, and there are enough mosquitoes to go around the island twice! You name it, Isla Holbox probably has it—except maybe for fast wifi (island internet tends to cut out)!
Holbox island is basically a beach bum’s paradise. And did I mention there are epic outdoor activities to do as well? Think snorkeling, swimming with whale sharks, and splashing around at midnight to illuminate the bioluminescence!
So if you’re wanting to travel to Holbox and enjoy the best things to do there, then read on!
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Here is my ultimate Isla Holbox travel guide, including the best things to do, mistakes to avoid, when to go, how to get there, where to stay, and more!
Practical Tips & Resources for Isla Holbox:
✈️ Find affordable flights to Cancun, Mexico on KAYAK from $99+
🚗 Rent a car from Cancun to Chiquila Ferry Port on Discovercars.com
🏠 Stay at one of these cute, top-rated hotels on Holbox
🛡 Insure your island adventures with SafetyWing, the global travel medical insurance for nomads ($40/4 weeks)
🎟️ Book with GetYourGuide for fun activities & tours in Holbox
Top 10 Things to Do in Holbox, Mexico
Let’s start with the top ten things to do in Isla Holbox! Read further down for things to avoid when visiting Holbox that are important to keep in mind when planning your trip.
1. Hang out on the beaches at Punta Mosquito (east) and Punta Coco (west)
When you visit Holbox chances are you’re going to hit up the beaches! After all, you are on a wild, tropical island! The best beaches in Holbox are at Punta Mosquito to the east and Punta Coco to the west.
Punta Mosquito is a nice escape and has a long stretch of beach and sand bar and tranquil, turquoise water. The road to get there is long, however. From downtown Holbox, it takes over an hour walking and a good 20+ minute golf cart ride (or more depending on the road conditions).
You could also rent a bike for the day. In any case, visiting Punta Mosquito is worth it! Sometimes you can spot flamingos at Punta Mosquito. Here you’ll find iconic Holbox hammocks hanging just above the crystal clear water.
Punta Coco is the best place to catch a famous Isla Holbox sunset and this is also where you will be able to see the bioluminescence (more on that in a bit). You can also see flamingos here if you go early enough in the morning and in-season. If you wander around the coastline, you might find some fun swings or hammocks out in the shallow water.
Tips for visiting both: Bring bike locks if you rent a bike since you can’t take them on the beach with you. It’s also wise to bring some repellent (preferably natural and non-toxic) as there are mosquitos and even pesky sand fleas.
2. Rent a bike and explore the island
There is so much to see in Holbox, more than just the beaches. Getting around Isla Holbox can be a real pain, especially when it’s crowded because there are only a limited number of golf carts “taxis” and renting your own is more expensive than renting a bike.
Bikes are just more fun, anyway! You can reach places faster this way too. It costs around $250 pesos to rent a bike in Holbox for the day.
3. Witness the bioluminescence at night
Weather permitting, you can see bioluminescence in Holbox and it’s definitely a unique experience! But don’t set your expectations too high. The bioluminescence isn’t as bright as you might think and the island really hypes it up by offering pricey bioluminescent tours. You can visit them on your own if you know where to go. You can follow another golf cart to the location or ask your hotel/campground for the best spot which is usually somewhere at Punta Coco.
The conditions have to be right (dark sky, clear night, no rain) for you to really see them. You have to shut off all lights and wade in the water to activate them.
If you move your feet and hands around you can see the bioluminescence light up like sparkles! It’s fun and interesting, and worth experiencing while in Holbox.
4. Volunteer at the Refugio Holbox Animal Sanctuary
The Refugio Holbox Animal Sanctuary is a local animal shelter that takes in and cares for unsheltered domestic animals as well as injured or sick wildlife on the island. Many dogs, cats, birds, and even raccoons are sheltered here and receive care from the volunteers.
If you love to give back to the communities you visit and if you are an animal lover, consider stopping by to lend a helping hand! There are several ways to get involved from walking animals, giving hugs, masonry, training, graphic design – all sorts!
Address: Calle Tintorera, Holbox, Q.R., Mexico next to the regional airport.
5. Swim & snorkel ethically with whale sharks!
Holbox is home to lots of wildlife, including whale sharks! Whale sharks frequent the island during the peak season between July-September, so if you’re traveling in Mexico over the winter holidays (as many are), you might miss them.
But if you’re in Holbox during this time, consider booking a tour. It’s so important to book with an eco-tour, though, as many companies mistreat and disrespect these gentle giants. VIP Holbox is one of the best tours to experience whale sharks ethically and responsibly. The guides are well trained and will guide you on how to stay safe while practicing mindful tourism. They even provide biodegradable sunscreen in case you don’t have any!
6. Lounge in a Holbox hammock… or swing!
Holbox is so tropical and laidback that it makes you just want to bask in the sun from the seat of your hammock! Hammocks in Holbox are typically found a few feet into the shallow, clear water. They are extremely popular so it’s not guaranteed you’ll find an empty one.
Playa Holbox has several, Punta Coco, and Punta Mosquito has a few as well. Alternatively, most of the beachfront boutique hotels will have their own version of a lounger, hammock, or cabana where you can chill out while still being in reach of bar service. Otherwise, Holbox has random hidden water swings, like this one!
7. Shop & eat your way around downtown Holbox
Downtown Holbox is the hub of activity in Holbox and for good reason! Plenty of boho shops and trendy restaurants line the streets and central square in Holbox.
Prices for shops and even restaurants range anywhere from frugal to luxury so the best is to just explore around to see what’s there! Support local shops and handmade items first before diving into the mass-produced souvenirs. More on where to eat in Holbox below!
8. Hike across the sand bar to the Yum Balam Protection Area
The Yum Balam Flora and Fauna Protection Area is prized as one of the best places to birdwatch in Holbox with over 420 bird species. But you have to go early when the tide is out! To get there you have two options: walk or take a boat tour.
We decided to walk and it was awfully beautiful traversing the crystal clear water. However, the tide rises by late morning and we found ourselves having difficulty navigating back. It was actually pretty exhausting, and not a great idea for traveling with large groups. Nevertheless, the stretch of the coastline is beautiful. Walking there and back will take several hours, so go prepared with water and snacks!
9. Boat tour to Cabo Catoche
Cabo Catoche is where the first European settlers touched land! It sits east of Isla Holbox where the Gulf of Mexico and the Caribbean sea meet and is the northernmost point of the Yucatan Peninsula.
If you’re up for the task, a boat tour to Cabo Catoche is a great way to see the water from a different perspective as most tours offer snorkeling expeditions in their Cabo Catoche tour package. Book your tour with VIP Holbox here!
10. Jump in the refreshing Yalahau Lagoon
The Yalahau Lagoon is a freshwater spring (not a cenote) great for refreshing off in cool, teal-colored water. While the Yalahau Lagoon isn’t on Isla Holbox at all (it’s across the bay on the Chiquila side), the best way to get there is with a boat tour from Holbox.
You could also take a tour from Chiquila I suppose, but when we inquired at our hotel it cost too much and we also ran out of time. The 3-island boat tour from Holbox covers Passion Island, Isla Pajaros (bird island), and the Yalahau Lagoon.
What NOT to Do in Holbox (Mistakes to Avoid)
For a long time, Holbox has been the destination where people go to escape the crowds and conundrum along the Riviera Maya. But not for long… Holbox has seen a surge in tourism over the past few years and that’s only expected to rise.
With that being said, we took away a few lessons from our trip to Holbox over the Christmas holidays that I want to share with you here!
Don’t rely on the taxi golf cart guides!
There are places that welcome you with warm hospitality and sadly, Holbox didn’t leave that impression on us. As soon as we stepped off that boat from Chiquila, golf cart drivers were shouting and waving everyone to form a line. If you didn’t know where you were going right away or didn’t accept their going price, you got skipped. And they overcharge.
Not only that, but these golf carts are limited in number and over the holidays (we were there for New Year’s), lots of the golf carts stop service because the drivers want to be with their families. This left us waiting for hours (literally hours) for a taxi to pick us up from our campground just so we could go hang out in downtown. Our campground was only a 2-mile drive away, but with the flooded roads and potholes, it took a cart at least 30-45 minutes roundtrip. And we needed 3 golf carts since we were traveling with a large family.
But the worst bit was on our final day when golf cart drivers promised to go pick up the rest of our family. Except they never did! And without phone service to reach them (plus the campground didn’t have wifi), we relied on trusting the golf cart drivers to go pick them up and come back. It took us over 3-4 hours to get our family back together. I can’t explain the toll this took on everyone. It was nightmarish just to get anywhere with a golf cart in Holbox.
Don’t wait to book your trip or reserve a restaurant
We thought Holbox was going to be easy-going, as in you didn’t need to reserve way ahead for anything. Restaurants are jam-packed, and all the best places to stay are booked quickly. Hence why we ended up at a campground in the first place, despite booking 6 weeks in advance.
Don’t just eat the Holbox lobster pizza 🙂
Lobster pizza has become a Holbox staple. And restaurants know that tourists want to try it! While you should definitely explore your taste buds, there is more to Holbox’s food scene! Lots of the traditional Mexican dishes get overlooked, so consider supporting small by eating at local food stalls for a meal or two.
Don’t overpay for golf carts or tours
You need to sharpen your negotiation skills because Holbox has sharpened theirs.
Most prices from golf cart taxis are overpriced, so try to haggle a little (but not too much). Likewise, tours can be extremely expensive. Consider finding another group to team up with to reduce the cost for everyone. Instead of 4, combine it to make a group of 8, and you’ll probably end up with a discount. And if you do pay full price for a tour, at least make sure you are booking with a responsible company that makes safety and respect for the environment a priority.
Don’t approach or encounter wildlife irresponsibly
Holbox Island is home to lots of land + sea species that deserve our respect! Please don’t touch underwater sea creatures, disturb local fauna and flora, or pick up baby turtle hatchlings.
Report any injured animal to the Refugio Animal Sanctuary. Also, I know I said this before but please consider using biodegradable, reef-friendly sunscreen!
Final Holbox Island Travel Tips
Best Time to Visit Isla Holbox
With Holbox gaining in popularity, visiting over the peak season (November/December – April) is going to become more crowded. But is that when it’s best to visit Holbox, anyway? It all depends on what you want to see and do.
For example, if you’re really wanting to swim and snorkel with whale sharks, know that you won’t be able to do this unless you travel to Holbox between late June and September (varies). The weather is probably the best from December on, however, as it’s the dry season (that didn’t prevent the flood we had for New Year though). The rainy season in Holbox lasts from May through to October.
How to Get to Holbox
Getting to Isla Holbox is pretty easy. You just need to drive to the town of Chiquila and then take a short ferry ride over to Holbox Island.
Nearest airport: Cancún or Mérida (check for cheap flight deals here)
Chiquila remains a remote, local town. So don’t expect loads of restaurants and amenities. It’s a cute town and the locals have quickly set up homemade micro-businesses by safekeeping tourists’ cars in their backyard parking lots while they visit Holbox.
Parking in Chiquila costs around $6 USD per day per vehicle.
Where to Stay on Holbox Island?
We stayed at the Balam Eco-Camping and while it’s great for the sustainable traveler, it’s not great for traveling to/from downtown or for traveling with families or large groups.
Holbox Island has so much to offer, see and do, so make sure to get out and enjoy it! Here are some final tips for visiting Isla Holbox.
As I said, Holbox is a beach bum’s paradise. The weather stays tropical year-round so you’ll hardly need a sweater except for those chilly nights. Pack several swimsuits and a micro-fiber towel for quick-dry. You won’t need much in your suitcase, and if fact, travel with only a backpack if you can. The sandy roads aren’t ideal for strolling a suitcase.
Catching the sunset
The island has many beaches but one of the best places in Holbox for sunset is at Punta Coco. To the left of the pier is a semi-private beach with hammocks in the trees and with bar service. There was hardly anyone when we went and we got to snag a couple of hammocks!
Tipping in Mexico is a pretty big deal, and Holbox Island is no exception! It’s common to tip at least 15-20% like in the States. You don’t have to tip the golf cart driver, though sometimes if they were really honest and courteous we did give a tiny bit more.
Recommended places to eat
Holbox has a boho style and feel, and with that comes hippie-style bars, restaurants, and cafes. Roots is a delicious pizzeria serving up some fire-roasted dough with specialty drinks (and yes, they serve lobster pizza!) If you want sushi and seafood, head to Tamashi.
Fancy a French-style breakfast? Le Jardin is made for that. And Las Panchas is great for Mexican fare plus fresh ceviche.
Getting a golf cart taxi
You have to queue at the corner of the central square downtown to grab a taxi. It is based on a first-come-first-serve basis so if the weather turns sour, the line can get long pretty quickly.
Shop and eat at the local market
The Mercado Municipal in Holbox often gets overlooked by tourists because it’s a very local place tourists wouldn’t think to eat at. But actually, coming here for breakfast is quite the local thing to do and a delicious one at that!
We ate at a family-run bar next to a juice stand and the sweet lady whipped us up some of the best quesadillas and empanadas we had on our entire trip. Everybody ordered seconds. And it was extremely well-priced at a typical local rate.
Taking the ferry from Chiquila to Holbox and back
The ferry from Chiquila to Holbox is pretty straightforward. There are two ticket counters in front of the port that offer the same ticket. The ticket counters just alternate every hour or something so it can seem confusing. The price one way is around $150 and a ferry goes every half hour.
Isla Holbox is a beautiful, tropical destination in Mexico that’s not to be missed! It’s very different from the other island vibes on the Riviera Maya and it’s worth the extra effort to get there, as not everybody does (despite the increase in popularity).
I hope this guide to Holbox, Mexico helps you plan your stay! If you have questions about visiting Holbox, feel free to drop your thoughts with me below or shoot me an email. Thanks for reading!