It’s often referred to as Mexico’s “best-kept secret”, but where is Holbox Island, and what exactly is there to do? With no cars, streets lined with sand, and a swathe of palm-fringed beaches, the 41-kilometre-long island is the perfect getaway from the tourist traps of the Yucatan Peninsula.
“Holebosch”, as it’s pronounced in Spanish, is a long and thin barrier island separated from Mexico’s mainland by 10 kilometres of shallow lagoon - home to flamingos, pelicans and many other bird species.
In fact, the whole island is rich in wildlife, part of the Yum Balam Biosphere Reserve Holbox is best known for its giant summer visitors - whale sharks.
As with any island off the coast of Mexico’s Quintana Roo state, there are idyllic beaches, amazing coral and underwater life, and tempting cafes and restaurants around every corner.
Add to that an immodest collection of street art, a lack of modern distractions, and the fact that Holbox lies within a huge national park, and you have a good idea of why it's worth visiting.
Holbox is still an off-the-beaten-track destination in Mexico; it’s what Isla Mujeres was like 20 years ago. Holding onto its rough-around-the-edges charm with unpaved sandy streets, golf buggies instead of cars, and a host of affordable eateries and bars.
Although you could easily do a day trip to Holbox from Cancun, you’d be missing out on what makes this island special. Its remoteness means it's a great place to unwind and disconnect from modern life. Most travellers spend between 3 to 5 days in Holbox, but the longer you stay the more relaxed you will become.
For digital nomads, something worth considering is the lack of good WiFi on the island - it’s a big part of the reason it's such a great place to relax. If you do need to connect you will need to pay a little more to stay in one of the best hotels in Holbox or buy a local Telcel sim card - the only network that covers the island.
Weather-wise, it’s best to visit Holbox in the dry season, between late November and February. There’s an abundance of clear skies, warm weather, and temperatures of around 29 degrees Celsius.
The Yucatan Peninsula is hit by tropical storms during the rainy season, beginning in May and continuing on until early November.
However, the peak of whale shark season is late June to early July, so go then if that’s the reason you’re visiting Holbox.
There’s a 15-minute ferry from Chiquila to Holbox leaving every 30 minutes, it starts at 5 am and stops running at 8:30 pm (the schedule is split by two companies, 9 Hermanos and Holbox Express - both are good). You can see the current timetables on the Holboxeño website.
Ticket prices are:
Adults: $220 pesos
Children: $180 pesos (Children under 2: Free)
From the ferry port, it takes around 10 minutes to walk to the main square and the central hotels. Or, if you’ve packed too many bags, you can hop on one of the island's golf-buggy taxis for a small fee.
A 2-hour private shuttle is the easiest way to get from Cancun airport to Holbox Island, pre-book and there will be a driver waiting for you at the airport or to pick you up at your hotel.
There are also shared shuttles that are easy to hop on at the airport or public buses, like ADO, that have a good reliable service all over the Yucatan (the ADO bus costs $286MXN and takes between 2:20 to 3:30 hours).
Or you can make your own way, from Cancun it’s just two hours by car to Chiquila. If you have already hired a car you can park at one of the locally owned car parks in Chiquila for around 100 pesos a day.
Make sure you have enough cash ready as there’s only one ATM on the island and only a few of the more established shops take credit cards - all part of the island's unkempt charm.
There are plenty of stunning Holbox beaches to spend your time on. The best beaches in Holbox tend to be next to trendy beach clubs like Capitán Capitán, Villas Flamingos, or the slightly more hidden away Carolinda Beach Club.
Another (slightly more rustic) spot is Playa Punta Cocos at the western tip of the island, with a simple fruit juice stand and beach hammocks stretched out over the lapping ocean waves - it’s not a bad place to spend the afternoon.
But the place really comes to life at night when tiny microorganisms light up the beach in mesmerising displays. The bioluminescence in Holbox is one of the biggest draws to the island for nature lovers.
Although it’s possible to see it year-round, the best months to fully experience this phenomenon are from April to November. Take a guided tour with Kayak Holbox for an unforgettable evening out on the waves.
Holbox is known as one of the best places in the world to swim with whale sharks. These majestic creatures feed on plankton and other small marine life and are completely safe to swim amongst.
Whale sharks can be spotted in Isla Holbox during the summer months, they migrate every year and can be found all around the Yucatan Peninsula. Whale shark season in Holbox runs from May to September, with the best time to see whale sharks being in late June to early July.
Make sure to take a responsible whale shark tour and read the official whale shark encounter rules to help look after the wild population.
A group of international artists came to paint beautiful murals all over Holbox Island in 2014. It was all part of the International Public Art Festival, but street art has since developed into a part of the island's identity.
You will also find boutique shops with local artisans and live music throughout the town in the evenings. The food is pretty good too, grab a snack from one of the local street carts or head to a beachside restaurant for a sunset meal with sea views - there’s a good mix of Mexican and international cuisine available.
Back on the mainland, but still within the Yum Balam Nature Reserve, is the Yalahau Lagoon. Also called the Ojo de Agua cenote, like many others in the Yucatan, it offers clear fresh water for a cool dip on a hot day - make sure to use biodegradable, reef-safe sunscreen as it’s prohibited to swim with harmful lotions.
Boat trips from Holbox offer a chance to see dolphins swimming in the surf, as well as stops at the uninhabited Passion Island, and Isla Pajaros - a birders paradise with flamingos, pelicans, and a whole array of birdlife.
Although one of the more touristy things to do on the island, these tours are a great way to meet other travellers and get useful insights from local guides.
The Yum Balam Flora and Fauna Protection Area is home to 90 per cent of the endemic birds of the Yucatan Peninsula as well as crocodiles, whale sharks, jaguars, tapirs, monkeys, and turtles. According to a recent study; “Yum Balam's mangroves and sea grasses prevent 38.5 million tons of carbon dioxide from escaping, equivalent to the greenhouse gas emissions of 9.4 million Mexican people".
The 152-thousand-hectare site is made up of mangroves, reefs and coastal dunes that you can visit by renting a kayak and heading to the Holbox ecological reserve. Another option is to walk to Punta Mosquito on the island's north coast.
It’s free to enter, just head to Hotel Las Nubes along the main road from town, and keep going until you reach the river. A sign marks the start of the protected area just beyond.
Although you cannot go past the sign for conservation reasons, you can see plenty of wildlife from the sandbank - just watch out for mosquitos and crocodiles!
The best bet is staying near the beach in Holbox town, there are so many accommodation options here and you can get around easily by walking or by bike. Casa Mech offers great value accommodation in the centre of town, with an outdoor swimming pool, a garden and a terrace.
The eco-friendly El Corazón Boutique Hotel takes sustainability seriously with bamboo mattresses, biodegradable and organic products, and a 0% policy on plastics consumption.
For the Isla Holbox all-inclusive experience, Villas HM Paraiso del Mar is a great option, while rooms at the Arte Sano Vegan Hotel Holbox include vegan breakfasts and freshly prepared veggie dinners.
Mexico's Yucatan Peninsula is full of things to see - from the UNESCO-listed wonder of the world Chichen Itza, to the beachside hotspots of Tulum, Playa del Carmen, Akumal, and Cozumel.
A little further afield you can explore a completely different side of Mexico. In the capital, Mexico City, experience the drama of lucha libre, head to Grutas de Tolantongo or take part in the annual Day of the Dead celebrations in Oaxaca.
Last Updated 8 March 2023