When it comes to travel destinations, Isla Holbox ― also known as “Holbox Island” ― is one of the best-kept secrets in Mexico. Located north of the Yucatan Peninsula in the state of Quintana Roo, the island is tropical, primitive, and pleasantly far away from civilization.
Holbox is the antithesis of Cancun. You don’t come here for late night beach parties. Instead, it’s a place to kick back, appreciate nature, and enjoy a tranquil pace of life. You can swim at night, with bioluminescence lighting up the seawater, admire sunrises over the harbor, and take in sunsets on the beach, while you sit in the warm, shallow sea. You can also visit the flamingos on Passion Island, or swim with whale sharks when they visit in summer.
I discovered Isla Holbox because I wanted to have the amazing experience of swimming with whale sharks. So, I arrived in early August, when whale sharks start to breed ― which is also the time of year when mosquitoes are reportedly the hungriest.
If you’re allergic to mosquitos, it’s a good idea to bring insect repellant. However, from personal experience, the mosquitos here don’t seem very repelled by bug spray. It’s a good idea to bring some lightweight linens to cover up with. It will create a barrier even the most motivated mosquitos can’t breach.
If you’re flying in from Cancun, it’s a 2-hour drive to the quaint town of Chiquilá. Google Map “Holbox Express” for directions. To the right of the ferry port, there’s a safe car park that charges around 100 pesos ($6 USD) per day. There are no cars allowed on the island, only golf carts.
You have your choice of ferries, depending on what time you arrive. Holbox Express and the 9 Hermanos both take about 15 minutes to reach Holbox Island and cost around $100 Pesos ($6 USD). Check out ferry times here.
As you plan what to Do in Isla Holbox, Mexico, it’s a good idea to decide how you’ll get to the desired destinations. I found it best to arrange a golf cart taxi with a hotel, prior to arrival. Otherwise, when you disembark from the ferry, the golf cart taxis are first come, first served.
The island is relatively small. It’s easy to walk along the beach into town. If you prefer to have your own golf cart, there’s a golf cart rental business about a ten-minute walk straight into town, from where the ferry ports. You can arrange golf cart rentals at Rentadora El Brother, El Cachorro, Glendy, and Moguel. Each hotel also offers complimentary bicycles, providing you with an easy, free way to explore and get around.
Like most islands on the Yucatan coast, Isla Holbox is off the beaten path. The town is small, and there are only a handful hotels on the island. It’s not a wildly popular tourist destination. Consequently, golf cart taxis are hard to come by; book them in advance.
On the bright side, there is a massive sandbar in front of Las Nubes hotel, where you can walk almost a mile out to sea without reaching water that’s above your knees. It’s a perfect place to watch a sunset, and all you need to get there are your own two feet!
I booked a private tour with Holbox Adventure ― an Isla Holbox travel company that specializes in trips around the local area. They picked us up at 7 a.m. in front of our hotel, Las Nubes, and sailed us 1.5 hours to the middle of the Caribbean Sea. I spotted dolphins along the way, as we glided through the turquoise water.
When we arrived, there were a few other boats with tourists aboard. Many of the people were wearing life jackets, which can take the fun out of snorkeling for experienced snorkelers. Unbeknownst to me, the Mexican Government has a strict rule regarding life jackets: If you don’t have a wetsuit on, you’re required to wear one.
Bringing your own wetsuit is the solution. Masks, wetsuits, and fins can be a hassle to pack, but it’s worth the effort when you have the chance to snorkel in Isla Holbox. If you love aquatic life and clear, warm waters, swimming with the whale sharks is one of the best choices for what to do in Isla Holbox, Mexico, on vacation.
If you take a private tour with Holbox Adventure, you can swim as long as you fancy. On the way back from swimming with whale sharks, we stopped at Passion Island to see hundreds of Pelicans and flamingos flocking together.
While on the island, our boat captain made delicious ceviche. We ate, walked the island, and leisurely returned to our hotel when we felt like it. Simply enjoying a slow pace of life in beautiful surroundings is one of the most relaxing options for what to do in Isla Holbox, Mexico.
There’s a certain feeling you get while swimming in the natural habitat of the gentle, giant whale sharks ― that awestruck feeling, as if they are playing with you; that feeling of being so small next to such gargantuan creatures in the vast ocean. This was my first time swimming with whale sharks. I felt safe the entire time, closer to nature, and playful, as I chased them ― and also some giant manta rays ― for hours through the warm water.
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