Holbox is a not-so-secret island located in the Mexican state Quintana Roo, just off the Yucatan Peninsula Coast. This hidden gem is the perfect place to spend a few days soaking up the turquoise waters, pristine beaches, delectable tacos and bohemian island life.
During my month in Mexico, I met other backpackers who spoke so highly of their time in Holbox, that I changed plans to see what the hype was all about. And it was the best decision I made. After spending 5 glorious days in this hidden paradise, I hope to pass on some tips on how to get to Holbox and the best way to spend your time on the island.
Isla Holbox Sunsets
Without question, my favourite thing about Holbox was the incredible sunsets we were treated to every night. Each evening, Playa Holbox fills with people drinking beers and playing cards awaiting the stunning sunsets. I loved the unity of locals and travellers each night along the waterfront. Although it does get busy, it doesn’t have an overcrowded feel to it. There are a few restaurants along this beach which are the perfect place to enjoy a few cocktails or a nice dinner. Not only are the sunsets incredibly stunning, but the whole atmosphere is buzzing and is the perfect way to kick off your evening.
The Pink Flamingoes
Holbox is home to an abundance of wildlife, including a large flamboyance of pink flamingoes (yep flamboyance is a group of flamingoes!!). These beautiful birds flock to the island between December and April. They’ve – rightfully so – been protected so you won’t be able to see them up close in the same way as in Aruba. So be sure to bring a big zoom camera if you want any photographs.
We were lucky enough to spot them from afar whilst hanging out on the far east side of Playa Holbox. However, there are bird tours available where you should be able to spot the flamingoes from your tour boat.
Whale Shark Swimming
The largest school of whale sharks in the world migrate to Holbox every year. While it’s still largely unknown as to why they gather here, these gentle sea giants can be found between June and mid-September. However, there is year round diving, snorkelling and sunset cruises available throughout the year.
With more than 800 whale sharks visiting each year, there are a number of tour options available to see them. For more information on typical tours on offer, head over to Holbox Whale Shark Tours. Alternatively, you can book whale shark tours via some accommodations or local tour shops on the Island itself.
I visited Holbox in January, and swimming with whales didn’t hugely appeal to me anyway, so this wasn’t something I experienced. Despite that, I wanted to include it into my travel guide as it’s a huge part of the island’s self-promotion, and something often asked about.
Explore the Shops, Cafes & Bars
Wander through the unpaved, sandy streets and enjoy the bohemian vibe the town has to offer. Despite the island’s small size, there are many restaurants, bars, cafes and shops to choose from. With many places spilling out onto the streets and beaches, the atmosphere here is always buzzing.
Playa Holbox has several fun beach bars which are perfect for grabbing an ice cold cerveza and cooling down in the famous swing seats! At night, the strip comes alive with several bars blaring live music and people dancing out in the streets. The relaxed vibe of Holbox allows for people to wear anything from beachwear to nice dresses.
Holbox has numerous types of stores in town, from cheap souvenirs to luxury swimwear. We found some of the boutique clothing stores to be fairly expensive. However, it was still significantly cheaper than the stores you would find by Tulum Beach. So if you’re visiting both, make your purchases in Holbox. If you’re wandering through the town, be sure to bring a camera for the many painted cafe walls and murals dotted around.
The magic phenomenon of bioluminescence occurs in the south beaches on this island. This natural occurrence is when the waters are illuminated at night by thousands of microorganisms. Although this happens throughout the year, its most visible in April and November due to the warmer water temperatures. You’ll see this bioluminescence by touching or walking through the waters at night, and seeing the light trail around you.
The best place to see bioluminescence in Holbox is in Punta Cocos on the western tip of the island. I was fortunate enough to experience bioluminescence in Koh Rong, Cambodia so didn’t experience it here. But I heard great things from fellow backpackers.
Be sure to pack plenty of mosquito spray, as you’ll be eaten alive at night in this area!!
There are several popular beaches on this tiny island, with the most notable being Playa Holbox. A magical pristine beach, with crystal clear waters, white sand, no seaweed and laid-back vibes. Unlike other beaches in Mexico, the beach is completely open to anyone without any pressure to pay for spots. You’ll be treated to quiet parts where you can sit and relax in the sun. Other areas are lively with beach bars, music and restaurants.
The only downside I found here was the lack of sheltered areas from the sun. Other than the bars and restaurants, if you want to have shelter you’ll need to find umbrellas. These are either provides through accommodation in the area, beach bars or a few free spots. So be prepared to pay a small fee to have beds and umbrellas. We got our beds free by purchasing a few drinks at one of the beach bars!
The incredible vibes at this beach continue on into the night, with tiki torches and candle lights everywhere once the sun starts setting.
Playa Punta Cocos
Another pristine beach to visit whilst staying in Holbox is Playa Punta Cocos. Found on the far west of the island, Punta Cocos is perfect for relaxing in water hammocks and renting kayaks to explore further afield. This beach is most famous for its bioluminescence and it’s phenomenal sunset views.
Playa Punta Cocos has three small beach bars serving drinks and snacks. However bring your own water and food if you’re looking for something more substantial. Plus debit or credit cards aren’t accepted here at all, so be sure to carry cash with you.
You can reach this by foot (45 minutes), bicycle, taxi or a rented moped/golf cart if you have one. We cycled, which took about 15 minutes from the town centre, and found leaving our bikes on the beach safe. As the routes to this beach aren’t well lit, it’s important to bring torches if you’re planning to watch the sunsets and travel back in the dark.
It’s also worth noting that mosquitos are rife in this area, so bring lots of spray!
Punta Mosquito & Water Dunes
A highlight of Holbox is the four mile hike along sand banks and water dunes to Punta Mosquito. This unique beach has a shallow strip of beach along the entire coast, creating a sand dune that’s perfect for walking along.
This picturesque walk is best to do in the morning, where you’ll be treated to exquisite sunrises and majestic birds everywhere – including the famous flamingoes. Keep in mind that there are no facilities or shelter along this walk. Pack suncream, water, snacks and hats to protect yourself from the heat of the day.
Rent Bicycles and Explore Isla Holbox
Renting bicycles is the perfect way to explore the island. The lack of cars makes for a relaxing, quiet cycle and is a great way to visit other beaches on the island. There are several shops around the island centre which offer hourly or day rates. Furthermore, most hostels and hotels have bicycles on site that they rent out too. We rented bikes for an afternoon and went to see Playa Punta Cocos.
How to get to Holbox Island
As I started my trip in Mexico City, I caught a direct flight to Cancun and made my way straight to Holbox from there. At Cancun Airport, I bought ADO bus tickets to Chiquila for $286 MXN ($14USD/£10). The ladies at the ADO counter were extremely helpful in explaining the journey for us, however, you can buy these through the ADO app.
Once in Chiquila, there’s a short walk to the pier where you can buy ferry tickets direct to Holbox Island. These cost $200 MXN (single) and the journey took 25 minutes. The catamaran has a sheltered area with seats and air-conditioning. However, we all chose to sit on top to enjoy the incredible sunset. There are two ferry companies operating here, departing every half hour from 6am-9:30pm for the same price.
Holbox is a car-free island, so once you arrive, prepare to walk or get a golf cart taxi to your accommodation. We decided to walk across the height of the island to our hostel, which took about 20 minutes. It’s important to note that the island is unpaved and sandy, which will make wheeled suitcases more tricky to navigate.
How long should you stay in Holbox
Whilst researching the best things to do in Holbox, I came across several posts suggesting day/24 hour trips. I would highly avoid doing this. Even though the journey there is relatively straightforward, it still takes a fair amount of time. By the time you arrive in Holbox and walk to the main part of the island, there would be a limited amount of time before you’d have to head mainland again. If you’re going to make the trip to Holbox Island, you really need to stay at least two nights to enjoy it properly. Although…I’d definitely recommend staying longer!
There are ATMs on the island that dispense both USD and MXN pesos. However, I would highly recommend taking money out ahead of time for your stay. These machines were temperamental and on a few occasions were out of order.
In addition, the WIFI on the island isn’t very good. This is definitely a place to unwind and relax for a few days and not come for work. There were a few cafes where the WIFI was strong enough to properly connect to the internet, but otherwise expect to have a digital detox.
Getting Around Holbox
Isla Holbox is a car-free island! Given its small size, most places are easy to access by foot. However, if you’re wanting to explore the island end-to-end, or visit one of the quieter beaches, consider renting a bicycle. Lots of hostels will rent bikes cheaply. There are also shops dotted around the centre that offer hourly or day rates.
The other way to get round Holbox is by renting a moped or golf cart. Although, these are very expensive and not necessary given how close everything is. Most golf cart rentals charged $1500 pesos ($75USD/£54) to rent a golf cart for 24 hours. Furthermore, in the rainy season these golf carts have been known to get stuck – and you will be charged extra to sort this.
Where to stay in Holbox
Holbox is a small island with limited places to stay. I would highly recommend to sort accommodation ahead of time. For backpackers, this isn’t the place to turn up and hope you find somewhere to stay by walking around – particularly in the busy season. Book in advance!
I stayed at Hostel Tribe. It was a great place to stay in terms of meeting people, organised events, communal space and the lively bar. However the rooms were very basic, dark and constantly covered in sand despite the lovely cleaners coming in multiple times a day to sweep. There is something for everyone on this island, from cheap backpacker hostels to more luxurious hotels.
Related Post: Tulum to Flores – 3 Buses, 2 Borders and A Scam!
Isla Holbox was one of my favourite places to visit in Mexico. It almost feels wrong posting about it as I would hate for it to become overrun with tourists! But I hope this does help anyone looking to visiting this beautiful gem in the future.
Happy Travels x