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Are you traveling through eastern Mexico and fancy a relaxing beach destination? Then be sure to add Isla Holbox (pronounced “holbosj”) to your itinerary. This small island in the north of the Quintana Roo region in the Caribbean Sea is a wonderful place with a laid-back vibe where time sometimes really does seem to stand still. Here you will enjoy the beautiful white beaches, as well as a fun nightlife. In the summer there is a good chance that during a snorkel tour here you can come face to face with whale sharks.

Holbox is a small island with a small center where you will find several restaurants and cafes. You will not find paved roads here, nor are they necessary at all, as everything is easily accessible on foot. It’s a beautiful destination for nature lovers. The area is characterized by beautiful beaches, mangroves, lagoons and an extraordinary marine life. If you want to spend a day lying on the beach, you can do so on the northern side of the island. In the south are mainly mangroves.

The residents have been working with government for ages to protect the island’s nature. For example, there are measures that minimize the construction of large resorts and encourage eco-friendly initiatives. Also, single-use plastic is used as little as possible to prevent accumulation of waste on the island.

isla holbox mexico
Isla holbox beach Mexico

9 fun things to do on Isla Holbox

1. Swim with whalesharks

Something that makes Isla Holbox so unique is that here you get the chance to swim with majestic whale sharks, which migrate to the waters around the island every year between June and September. These gentle giants are the world’s largest species of fish, and residents are proud that the animals come here. They feel strongly about protecting the whale sharks and the waters and ensure that tourists interact with them responsibly as much as possible.

walvishaai mexico

2. Hike to Punta Cocos

At the very western tip of the island you will find Punta Cocos to which you can walk via the beach. From the center of Holbox it’s about a 30 – 45 minute walk. Along the way you will see several birds and you can take a refreshing splash at several quiet spots on the beach.

Punta Cocos is a great place to watch the sun go down. When it’s dark, you can even see luminescent plankton here! There is a restaurant on the beach at Punta Cocos should you feel like a drink or food after your hike.

punta cocos holboxpunta cocos holbox

3. Spot flamingo’s at Punta Mosquito

Another beautiful hike is to Punta Mosquito, which is located at the northernmost tip of the island. Here you have a chance to spot flamingos. Often from a great distance, though, so if you have a pair of binoculars, bring them with you.

From the center, walk along the beach toward the northeast until you see a sandbar at about this point. During low tide, you can continue your walk along the sandbar with beautiful clear blue water on both sides. The sea comes above your knees in some places, so it is advisable to put on your swimwear.

route punta mosquito

Punta Mosquito looks very far away on Maps, but in reality you can only walk up to about this sandy beach since a fence has been put up to stop people from walking further to protect the birds. It’s about a 45 – 60 minute walk, and I can recommend wearing a cap or hat against the scorching sun.

To get back, you can choose to walk the same way back, but there are sometimes tour or cab boats that can give you an ride back for about 100 MXN (€5). On the sandbar, a friendly boatman walked up to me and also offered a ride to Punta Mosquito as well as back to downtown Holbox. This was a great spontaneous experience where I was able to see several rays and horseshoe crabs during a solo tour.

4. Walking dogs on the beach

On Isla Holbox, thanks to Refugio Holbox Animal Sanctuary, there are almost no stray dogs or cats on the island. This shelter catches the animals and takes good care of them. As a visitor, you can also lend a hand by walking a dog between 8:00 and 12:00 or between 17:00 and 19:00. You can walk with them through the center or take a nice walk on the beach.

As an animal lover, of course I could not skip this and visited several times to play with the dogs and cats and walk with the dogs. You don’t have to pay for a visit, but a donation is appreciated.

hondjes uitlaten op het strand isla holbox
refugio isla holbox

5. Birdwatching during the 3 island tour

The 3 Islands tour is offered all over the island and is a nice option if you want to see a little more of the area. During this 3-hour tour you will visit Cenote Hoyo negro Yalahau and two islands (Isla Pajaros and Isla Pasión).

On Isla Pájaros you have a great chance to spot pelicans, egrets, ibis birds, frigate birds and even flamingos. Isla Pasión is a deserted beach full of bright pink shells. Here, from the observation tower, you have a beautiful view of the lagoon and Isla Holbox.

flamingo's isla holbox

6. Rent a kayak or a SUP

There are not many water sports activities on Holbox, but you can rent a kayak or Standup Paddleboard (SUP) to float around on the sea. You can also decide to paddle partly via kayak or SUP to Punta Mosquito. During low tide the water is a little too low for this, though, so this is a better activity during high tide.

7. Watch the sunset on the beach

Besides Punta Cocos, the beach near Hotel Zomay is also a great place to watch the sun set. Hotel Zomay puts tables and chairs on the beach at the end of the day, allowing you to watch the sun sink into the sea while enjoying a drink. But you can also choose to sit on a towel on the beach or take a seat on the rocks.

zonsondergang isla holbox

8. Try local streetfood at Holbox Central Park

There are plenty of good restaurants on Holbox, from fresh fish to pizza. For a bargain, you can try local dishes at night around Holbox Central Park at one of the foodstalls. Be sure to try the delicious tacos with tender meat at Los Taco’s De Barbacoa. The marquesitas, rolled waffles often filled with chocolate and cheese, are also a must! May not sound very appealing to everyone, but I found them surprisingly addictive.

tacos barbacoa
marquesitas mexico

9. Dance away at The Hot Corner

The center of Holbox is small, yet there are some nice places to dance or have a drink. For example, The Hot Corner is the place to go for a dance. On some days a live salsa band plays here from around 10 p.m. onwards. The street soon fills with dancing people after that time.

Once the bar closes, most move to bar Salma or to a bar further down the beach that is open until late.

Transportation on Isla Holbox

There are no cars on the island, but there are golf carts, quads and bicycles. After a downpour, you’ll understand why a quad bike comes in handy. Many of the dirt roads turn into a slippery mud puddle, making it best not to venture out on a bike either. On foot it’s pretty doable since the sidewalks are paved.

Basically, everything is easy to reach on foot. If you have heavy suitcases, it’s handy to take a quad bike. When you arrive at the port on Holbox, there are plenty of taxi-quads ready to give you a ride.

overstroomde wegen isla holbox
Isla holbox street

How to get on Holbox?

Holbox can be reached from Chiquila in about 20 minutes by ferry. If you have a rental car, you can park it here for >100 MXN per day. Tickets for the ferry can be purchased on the spot. There are two companies that run every 30 minutes to Holbox. Check the departure times of Holbox Express and the departure times of 9Hermanos. A return ticket costs 400 MXN. You can already buy those in Chiquilá, but that also means you can only return with that company.

From Tulum: It’s about 3.5 hours by bus to Chiquilá for €30. The ADO bus goes 3x a day, but there is also a shuttle bus. Read all about Tulum here.

From Valladolid: 2.5 hours by (shuttle) bus to Chiquilá for €15. Then boat for 400 MXN round trip. Better to buy a one-way ticket it seems, since the boat only goes once an hour. Here you can read all about Valladolid.

ferry op isla holbox

Best time to travel to Isla Holbox

Isla Holbox can basically be visited year-round. The dry season falls from December to April. The winter months of December and January are generally the least warm, which is due to regular northerly winds that bring coolness. This can also cause more seaweed to wash up on the island, making the beaches a little less paradisiacal than usual. Fortunately, washed-up seaweed is quickly cleaned up by residents.

From June to October is the rainy season with high temperatures and high humidity that will make you sweat a lot. The tropical rainstorms that fall are often short and heavy. The streets are flooded for days afterwards since there is no good drainage system. These months also offer the greatest chance of hurricanes. Although fortunately these are not very common on Isla Holbox, it is good to take them into account.

The best season to see whale sharks is from March to July.