Holbox has been the backpacker’s alternative to Cancun for decades – an artsy little island that time forgot. Now discerning travelers are coming to this little slice of paradise looking for upscale things to do in Holbox.
If you’re a traveler looking for a more authentic experience than an all-inclusive stay in the Cancun Hotel Zone, Isla Holbox may be for you. Keep reading If you crave amazing adventures like swimming with whale sharks, kayaking through mangroves, or splashing in a bioluminescent bay on a moonless night but prefer them with a side of luxury.
If you enjoy strolling through beautiful street art before taking a hot shower in cold air conditioning and eating a fresh and tasty dinner, this is the Holbox guide for you.
Take the Chiquila to Holbox Ferry
To reach Isla Holbox, you must take the ferry from Chiquila to Holbox. Chiquila is easily reached from Cancun by bus, car, or taxi. Once there, it’s a short, 20-minute ferry ride across a sheltered bay to reach this tropical paradise. Boats depart all day from 6:00 to 21:30, practically every half hour. Ferry tickets are reasonable and will cost you less than the taxi upcharge to reach the Cancun Hotel Zone.
Stay in Boutique Hotels in Holbox
Holbox has plenty of hostels and budget hotels, but this hand-curated selection is for the upscale traveler who believes paying a little extra for amenities, location and comfort is worth it. Even though these are the best hotels in Holbox, they’re still a bargain compared to similar properties up and down Riviera Maya. This Holbox guide is an extension of our ideas about finding the less touristy options in the Yucatan.
Our Concierge Choice hotels in Holbox are:
- Las Nubes de Holbox: An eco-chic and luxurious experience at the far end of the island with Mayan-inspired rooms overlooking the ocean
- Holbox Dream Beach Front Hotel: a 48-room boutique hotel just off vibrant central Holbox with direct access to Serenity Holbox Beach Club, the #1 Beach Club on Holbox Island
- Ser Casasandra: An artist’s space and refuge for those who seek spiritual restoration located just off Playa Holbox with a greater purpose of collaborating for collective evolution
- Nomade Holbox: an adults-only 30-room beach heaven that interweaves the natural environment across three layers from Earth to Sky to maximize energy efficiency and waste management
- Aldea Kuká: An adults-only luxury eco-boutique hotel that features a village of different luxury private bungalows
- Hotel Punta Caliza: A water world where thatched palapas open directly onto a private central pool
- Margaritaville St. Somewhere by Karisma Punta Coco: A luxury resort adjacent to Punta Coco with the best sunsets on the island
- Casa Las Tortugas: a beach resort that integrates nature and tropical scenography with wellness & healing programs (temporarily closed as of Spring 2023 due to fire, but hope to reopen soon)
These are just some of the Holbox luxury hotels. Please check out our interactive hotel map for more information, including updated pricing and availability.
Eat at the Best Restaurants in Holbox
Restaurants in Holbox are as diverse as the people who call this island home. You’ll find traditional Mexican dishes as well as classic European and Mediterranean fare with plenty of fresh and healthy options. If you can’t decide, you could always try a taco tasting and cocktail tour or eight stop food tour.
Our Concierge choice Holbox restaurants are:
- LUUMA: Holbox’s number-one Mexican contemporary and fine dining restaurant
- Casa Nostra Roof Restaurant: rooftop dining with classic Italian dishes and fresh seafood
- Painapol: A healthy way to start your day with delicious vegan and gluten-free options
- Le Jardin: a French bakery with the best deserts in Holbox
- El Crustáceo Kascarudo: Mexican, pizza, and seafood- sometimes all three at the same time, like their delicious lobster pizza
- Parador 33: Pizza and pasta in a cozy courtyard
Relax on Holbox Beaches
Isla Holbox is famous for its tranquil island vibe and beautiful beaches. Holbox has six beaches, each one with a little different vibe.
Here is a brief description of every Holbox Beach:
- Playa Holbox: Holbox Beach is the island’s main beach located immediately adjacent to the town. This is where you’ll find many Instagrammable spots like the Holbox Letters (Letras Holbox), murals, and the famous hammocks at Mantarraya Beach Club. The water is blue and clear. The sand is white and soft, and there are many places to sit in a beach chair under a palapa and order a drink.
- Playa Punta Cocos: This is the westernmost beach in Holbox, with the best sunsets on the island. The ocean is shallow here as the water circulates around the tip of the island. You’ll find plenty of spots at the Playa Cocos Beach Club to grab a recliner under the mangroves, swing on the beach, or rest in an overwater hammock while sipping a fresh coconut.
- Playa Mosquito: Mosquito Beach is the first beach you’ll reach heading east out of town. It’s an estuary protected by the Yum Balam Flora and Fauna Protection Area with wide sand bars and deep tide pools. Playa Mosquito is a popular launching spot for kayak tours and kite surfing.
- Punta Mosquito: Mosquito Point is at the far end of Mosquito Beach. Paddlers love to explore the over 1.5-mile channel that crosses through the mangroves to the back side of the island. This is a favorite spot for bird watchers to find a flamboyance of flamingos feeding in the estuaries.
- Sinai Beach: Playa Sinai lies between Punta Mosquito and Punta Cabo Catoche. It’s much narrower than Playa Mosquito, but spear fishers love it for its productive reefs just offshore.
- Cabo Catoche Beach: Cabo Catoche is a popular spot for boat tours for snorkeling and fishing on the Cuevones Reef. Many tours include fresh ceviche from the day’s catch that’s often served in the aptly named Bahia Ceviche estuary.
Swim With the Holbox Whale Sharks
Swimming with whale sharks should be on everybody’s eco-adventure bucket list, and Holbox is perhaps the best place in the world to do it because it has the largest concentration of whale sharks on the planet. Summer is whale shark season, especially from May to September. This is your chance to swim the largest fish in the ocean!
Your Holbox whale shark tour begins by boarding your boat with local guides and searching for these gentle giants and perhaps manta rays and sea turtles. When they spot something interesting, you slip into the water with your guide to investigate further.
On the way back, you’ll stop near Cabo Catoche to snorkel “Cuevones Reef” and enjoy freshly caught ceviche before returning to Holbox.
Take a Boat Tour of Holbox Island
Boat tours are a fun and easy way to enjoy the island’s breathtaking scenery. They depart from the Muelle de Holbox (adjacent to the ferry) but might include hotel pickup. We have Viator and TripAdvisor options for you to shop.
Be sure to look for more than just the price and investigate the package deal. Are you going to Mosquito Beach or just staying in the bay? Are you visiting Bird Island? Is the entrance fee to the cenote included in the package price?
Typical destinations for Holbox boat tours are:
- Isla Pajaros (Birds Island): A nesting place for more than 35 different species of birds
- Isla de la Pasión (Passion Island): A small island with pristine beaches, trails through the mangrove, and an observation tower at the dock
- Cenote Yalahau (aka Fountain of Youth): An open, fresh-water cenote surrounded by jungle perfect for swimming
- Mosquito Beach: wide sand bars with a chance of flamingos
- Cabo Catoche and Cuevones Reef: Fishing and snorkeling tours take you to Cabo Catoche and Cuevones Reef to play in the water and enjoy fresh ceviche
Kayak Through the Mangroves in Isla Holbox
By this point in this Holbox guide, you should be familiar with Playa Mosquito and Punta Mosquito. Playa Mosquito is a pristine beach on the east side of Holbox which takes you to Punta Mosquito, where the estuaries reach the ocean. This section is about kayaking tours through the mangroves on Isla Holbox.
There are sunrise, sunset, and daytime tours available, which leave from the near side of Playa Mosquito. These paddling trips take you along the sandbars and into the miles of channels through the Holbox mangrove reserve. You’ll get closer to the mangrove-dwelling creatures like flamingos, osprey, and pelicans than you would on a motorboat and feel connected to nature, as only human-powered travel can provide and go where bigger boats can not travel. Kayaking in Holbox is a mellow trip suitable for paddlers of all levels.
Horseback Riding to the Punta Mosquito Flamingos
Would you like to trot along the beach and explore the mangroves on horseback? Guided horse rides let you see the island from a new perspective and cover more ground than you would on foot. They include all equipment, riding instructions, and a knowledgeable guide to show you the island’s secrets.
Horseback riding is the best way to see the Punta Mosquito flamingos without a boat.
Experience Holbox Bioluminescent Tours
The warm, calm Holbox waters give rise to one of nature’s most beautiful light shows – bioluminescent algae. Dinoflagellates are tiny marine algae that produce a bluish-green light when disturbed. They do this to expose the fish that feed on algae to predators. The bioluminescence peaks in spring and summer and is best observed on a moonless night, particularly after a good rain.
There are three primary Holbox bioluminescent tours. The golf cart tour takes you to the bay to splash in the water and watch your footprints glow in the sand. The kayak tour takes you into the bioluminescent bay and lets you see the lights glow as you dip your paddles in and travel through the water. The snorkeling tour is the most immersive because the algae literally light up before your eyes
Learn to Fly at the KukulKite Kiteboarding School
Warm tropical water and cool ocean breezes can make more than your spirits soar on Holbox. Kiteboarding schools offer everything from 3-hour courses to full IKO-certified courses. You’ll learn the basics on how to handle the kite and progress as quickly and safely as possible to sliding on the water and flying through the air.
People compare kitesurfing and kiteboarding to riding a bike. It takes a little practice, but once you learn how, it will come naturally. People of all ages and physical abilities are learning to kite surf. Are you next?
Take a Mexican Cooking Class
Food is one of the best ways to appreciate cultures, and everybody loves a good Mexican dish. But nothing connects you to your surroundings like learning to cook a traditional meal. La Puerta Rosa offers morning and evening classes to get you chopping, spicing, and cooking fresh and flavorful dishes that will make your mouth water and your heart yearn for Mexico.
Take a Mural Tour
In 2014, the first International Festival of Art brought graffiti artists to Holbox. Their skills and vision brought even more color and flair to the island. Since then, they’ve returned yearly to continue bringing public art to this island paradise.
Our interactive map in the final section shows a basic self-guided Holbox mural tour. It starts at the bandshell, a canvas for revolving street art for almost a decade. It winds through the streets showing off the best installations. If you love street art, take a guided mural tour to learn the history and find a hidden gem or two with remarkable backstories.
Visit Refugio Holbox Animal Sanctuary
Everything on Earth is connected, and living on an island the size of Holbox makes that truth abundantly clear. The Refugio Holbox Animal Sanctuary rescues, cares for, and re-homes animals from Holbox and the surrounding area.
If you love animals and have ever felt bad seeing stray dogs and kittens on travel, you’ll appreciate this organization. However, you can do more than sending well wishes. The sanctuary welcomes visitors to get involved in loving and caring for the animals they have and helping with ongoing projects. Many people consider walking a rescue dog on a beach one of the highlights of their trip and the sanctuary has dog walking hours in the mornings for 9:00 – 11:00 and in the evenings from 5:30 to 7:30.
Enjoy the Holbox Weather
Holbox weather is one of the island’s greatest charms. Reading through activities in Holbox, you’ll notice that whale watching is from May through September and bioluminescence peaks in the spring and summer. That puts a window around May before the rainy season starts where bioluminescence and whale watching overlap.
May is the hottest time of the year, so you’ll enjoy splurging on a luxury hotel with ice-cold air conditioning and a beautiful pool. Swimming in the cool waters of the cenotes will also feel refreshing during the heat of the day. Every season has its charm in Holbox, from the whale sharks in the summer to the picture-perfect winter weather.
Play With Our Interactive Holbox Map
Are we cheating by putting an interactive Holbox map into our guide? Maybe, but we’ve put every activity from this post onto the map and a few bonus ones to boot (like bike rentals). Since we used native Google pins extensively, you can click around to see crowd-sourced photos and reviews to help plan your Holbox visit.
Once you arrive on the island, you can click on the corner of this map to load it on your phone and enable real-time GPS positioning, which comes in super handy navigating the streets of Holbox or following the mural tour. We’re pretty proud of our map, so if it doesn’t load, feel free to hit the refresh button to bring it up or click this link😀.
Is Holbox safe?
Holbox is exceptionally safe for tourists because it’s a small island community with an entirely tourism-based economy.
Where is Holbox?
Holbox is at the northern tip of the Yucatan Peninsula in Mexico, about two hours from Cancun.
How do you get to Holbox?
The most popular way to get to Holbox is to take the ferry from Chiquilá.
What’s the best time to visit Holbox?
Holbox has the highest tourism score for weather from mid-November to mid-March, but you’ll see the whale sharks from May – September, and the bioluminescence is best during spring and summer.
Wrapping Up Things To Do in Holbox
Some people are saying the best days of Holibox have passed. We disagree. The island is changing from a backpacker destination to a boutique travel center, perfect for discerning travelers. It’s still one of the less touristy options in Riviera Maya. You’re close to diving in Cancun and Chichen Itza but with an island vibe all its own.
On that subject, it’s possible to do some of the Holbox tours from Cancun and Playa Del Carmen, but why would you? You’ll miss out on what makes Holbox unique – sunrise paddles through the mangroves, sunsets at Punta Cocos, starlight twinkling over bioluminescent bays, and all the charming hotels and delicious food!
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