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Like many islands in the region, Isla Holbox is a beautiful tropical paradise located north of Mexico’s Yucatán Peninsula in Quintana Roo State. Holbox is a fishing village where you’ll find wooden houses and streets made of sand. While it’s still a bit of a hidden gem, the word is starting to get out about this special place.
What we like about Holbox is that unlike most destinations in the area, Holbox is a car-free island. Except for a few work trucks, you won’t find cars here! It’s a great way to get away from the fumes and noise of the mainland and sip on a margarita quietly. With almost no cars on the island, the majority of residents and tourists get around by golf cart, bicycle, or moped.
Isla Holbox, Mexico is part of the Yum Balam Nature Reserve which protects the coastal wetlands here for all the amazing creatures that call it home like flamingos, pelicans, and herons. One of the main attractions bringing more people to the island is the incredible whale sharks who hang around this area and you can see them or even swim with them!
Fishing is king in Holbox as it’s the main industry here, with lobster being one of the top catches. You’ll find lots of restaurants on the island offering lobster and other seafood and you’ll know it’s fresh!
Not far from Cancun’s famous Hotel Zone, there is some partying on the island if you’re hoping for a fun night out. But if you want to get away from all that, there is plenty of peace and quiet here, too.
With beautiful beaches, a pristine environment, and an adventurous culture, there are things to do in Isla Holbox, Mexico for everyone. To help plan your trip, here are 21 of the best things to do in Isla Holbox, Mexico!
Things to do in Holbox (on Isla Holbox)
1. Swim with whale sharks
One of the most popular activities to do on Isla Holbox is swimming with the famous whale sharks, who inhabit the waters around the island in great numbers.
Whale sharks aren’t technically sharks. In fact, they’re the largest fish in the ocean – so don’t get too scared! While they can grow up to 45 feet (14 meters) long, they are truly the gentle giants of the sea. Whale sharks feed almost exclusively on plankton and small fish while posing no threat to humans.
I swam with these amazing creatures as part of this whale shark snorkeling adventure tour. Over the course of 7 hours, I was able to snorkel with whale sharks, giant manta rays, sea turtles, and even an octopus! It was such a fantastic experience that I will remember forever.
The tour also includes a light breakfast and fresh ceviche and is an amazing way to learn about the sea with an expert on whale sharks as your guide. The tour is $195 USD per person and can sell out, so book early once you know your travel dates.
Related Read: Swimming with whale sharks is also one of the best things to do in Puerto Morelos!
2. Chill out at Playa Punta Cocos
You can’t visit this beachy paradise without planning for at least one beach day (and hopefully quite a few!) Isla Holbox has a pristine coastline stretching as far as the eye can see just calling for you to grab your beach towel and find a spot to relax.
One of the best beaches in Mexico is here on the island at Playa Punta Cocos. This is a cute local beach that is hidden away in a beautiful area. There’s lots of shallow water to wade in, hammocks for relaxing or you can rent a sunbed. If you don’t have an umbrella, there are some trees and bushes at the edge of the beach for shade, but the beauty of this beach is how wide open it is.
It takes a little more effort to get to, but I found it totally worth it. From the center of town, you can choose to either walk, bike, or take a golf cart taxi to the beach. If you decide to walk, it takes around 30 minutes and is just under 1.5 miles (2.4 kilometers.) I personally love to bike ride there as it only takes 7 minutes!
Although slightly out of town, this beach is worth visiting to escape the crowds and find your own piece of paradise.
3. Rent a bike and explore the island
Renting a bike can be a fun activity for the whole family, and you can burn off those enchiladas from the evening before. Because there are no cars here, bikes are a really convenient way to explore the island or head right to the beach.
Every time I’m on Isla Holbox, I rent a bike. It’s super cheap – usually around 200-300 pesos a day ($10-15 USD). It’s a great way to get around the small town and it’s fun too.
One of the popular bike rental places here is Bikes Holbox. They offer colorful bikes that make for great transportation and photo ops. They are also open daily from 7 am until 10 pm. That means you can return your bike after watching one of the spectacular sunsets on the beach!
4. Relax in the Isla Holbox Hammocks
One of the tourism staples of the island is the famous hammocks that are placed in the crystal-clear shallow water at the main beach in town. Similar to the famous swings in Bali, Indonesia, taking a picture in the hammocks at Playa Holbox is the perfect vacation photo you’ll want on your Instagram feed. Plus, it’s one of the best beaches in the Yucatan area!
Laying in the hammocks is a fun and relaxing activity. You can nap in the hammock, pose for a picture or just hang out for a while. What I enjoyed the most was swaying back and forth in the hammock above the ocean with my book and a drink in hand. You won’t want to leave once you’re laying in one of these!
You’ll find some type of hammock at most beaches on Isla Holbox. Some sets of hammocks will belong to a hotel or beach club, so you may need to buy food or drinks or pay to rent the hammock for about 50 pesos ($2.50 USD) an hour.
5. Go kayaking in the mangroves
Keep an eye out for flamingos and crocodiles as you kayak through the mangrove forest of Holbox. The mangroves here are ecologically diverse environments where wildlife thrives and the perfect way to explore is by kayak.
On this kayaking tour through the mangroves, you’ll hop into a double kayak and gentle paddle through the calm and shallow water. Even if you’ve never been kayaking before, it’s easy to catch on. Kids will enjoy it too!
From inside your kayak, you will be able to see wildlife up close and admire the spectacular scenery. Kayaking gives you the ability to see cool little areas you would normally be unable to see in a larger boat. The tour is $53 USD per person and includes a professional guide who will show you how to kayak and point out wildlife along the way.
6. Boat tour of the island
Going on a boat tour is a fantastic way to see more of Isla Holbox. You’ll cover lots of ground as you get an up-close look at the beautiful coastline and waterways that surround the island.
This three-island boat tour takes you around Holbox to discover hidden little places you can’t get otherwise get to. I really enjoyed our first stop on the tour at a cenote, where we enjoyed a refreshing swim in the natural pool full of fresh water and surrounded by plants and trees.
Then we spent about an hour soaking up the sunshine on Isla De La Pasion. I really enjoyed this portion of the tour because this island is known for having one of the best beaches in Mexico, and it did not disappoint.
Finally, Isla Pajaros was the last stop to see some birds including flamingos, pelicans, and ducks with a beautiful view.
For only $38 USD, this tour was a steal of a deal. I really felt like I got to see some of what makes this part of Mexico so beautiful and enjoy a day out on the water.
7. Rent a golf cart
If biking around the island is not for you, don’t worry! Another very popular form of transportation on the island is the golf cart. Renting a golf cart has been one of my favorite methods of travel while on the island because they are so fun to drive and will get you to your destination quickly.
It’s a tad more expensive, but the roof helps with the shade on the hot, sunny days you’re sure to encounter while you’re here. It’s also a nice way to make sure you aren’t too tired when you arrive at your destination.
You can find rentals everywhere on the island, but a shop I recommend is called Rentadora golfs la Conchita. They are open from 8 am until 8:15 pm every day. You can expect to pay anywhere from 1000-1500 pesos ($50-$75 USD) for a 24-hour rental.
8. Check out the colorful murals around town
I have a love for art, so when I am casually walking down the street, it brightens my day when I stumble across a beautiful mural or piece of street art. It’s so much better than a blank wall and the art here makes Isla Holbox so colorful and inviting.
My personal favorite on Isla Holbox is Himalaya Maya by Jano Jace. This mural is situated in front of a small café called Painapol Holbox and illustrates a Himalayan girl in Mexico and was painted during the Holbox International Public Art Festival in 2014. The artist said he wanted to paint this young girl from the Himalayas who lives in Mexico as a way to break down borders and show how people are all the same.
The art-filled cultures of the Caribbean, Central, and South America have flooded into the streets in the last 10-20 years and are producing some of the most diverse street art in the world. You can’t go wrong with taking a casual walk around town to view the magnificent street art and murals.
While traveling, I am always looking forward to when I stumble across a beautiful mural or street art. Like many places in Europe, Mexico is home to some of the most beautiful murals and street art in Latin America, so make sure to take some of it in while you’re here.
Related Read: There’s incredible street art all over Mexico. Taking a street art tour is one of my favorite things to do in Guadalajara!
9. Take a dog for a walk at Refugio Animal Holbox Sanctuary
If you’re an animal lover like me, it’s hard to pass up the opportunity to help animals in need. There’s an amazing organization here in Holbox called Refugio Animal Holbox that cares for animals found in desperate situations. Some are victims of cruelty, are abandoned, have suffered an accident, or are ill.
This organization has veterinarians perform examinations and provide a diagnosis in order to begin any necessary treatments for these animals in need. Then once the animals have recovered, Refugio Animal Holbox looks to find them new homes or release them back into nature if they are wild animals.
There is so much you can do to help the shelter and these animals while you’re here. You can walk the dogs, bathe dogs, clean kennels, and just play with the dogs. It always feels great to be able to help out the community you are visiting and this is a chance to give back to Isla Holbox, Mexico in a fun and beneficial way.
10. Horseback riding
A fun experience and another way to see beautiful areas of the island is on horseback. It can be a unique family activity or a romantic ride along the beach with your partner if you’re planning a honeymoon in Mexico.
Join this horseback riding tour to peacefully trot along the beach with a knowledgeable guide. While I’m not the biggest fan of horses (thanks to allergies!), if you’re up for it, this can be a really special experience. Plus, this company is known for its ethical treatment of horses – you will see how healthy they all are when you arrive.
The tour is $110 USD per person and all you’ll need to do is show up and relax as your horse takes you along the white sand beach. It may even be one of the highlights of your trip!
While there is plenty of relaxation to be had on Isla Holbox, you can’t go wrong with a bit of partying too! While partying is one of the most popular things to do in Cancun, you can still find some local spots in this small place to have a great time.
I like discovering the unique spots in smaller villages that aren’t as overrun with tourists as the hotspots in the bigger cities. Here on Isla Holbox, there are bar options for any vibe you are feeling.
For a wild night on the town, you can attend bars such as the Arena or Tribu. If you just want to have a few drinks and talk, then head on over to LUUMA or AMA Sushi Bar, where you can find a beautiful terrace looking out over the ocean.
However, my favorite option on the island is ALMA Bar, where you can find a picturesque rooftop bar with a small pool sitting just steps away from the beach. Watch the sunset here from the bar or from the highest lookout tower in Holbox!
12. Go fishing
The fishing is AMAZING around Isla Holbox. Even if you’re not the greatest fisherman, you’re going to catch something and the thrill of the catch is what keeps us coming back.
The Gulf of Mexico is one of the most ecologically diverse bodies of water in the world and, in turn, home to some of the most entertaining fishing. This private fishing tour is a fun way to get out on the water and see if you can get a bite.
Get your group of family or friends together as this tour has a max of 6 people and costs a total of $275 USD for everyone. You will get to fish in the waters off Isla Holbox for 4 hours with a local captain on board, showing you exactly where to find fish and assisting you with anything you require.
Afterward, take your catch to a local restaurant and let them do the magic and create a delicious dinner. We caught a ton of fish and gave most of it to the crew. It’s a great day on the water where you’re sure to make some memories and probably get a suntan while you do!
Kitesurfing is an extreme sport where you use the power of the wind to pull you along the water while you hold onto a large kite. This is so much more intense than flying a kite when you were a kid! In fact, the first time I went kitesurfing, I almost didn’t come back – the wind is so strong!
This activity in Isla Holbox combines paragliding, surfing, windsurfing, skateboarding, and snowboarding all into one! If you’re an adventure-seeker, this should totally be on your list.
I recommend booking kitesurfing lessons, so you have a professional showing you what to do and making sure you don’t blow away! This three-hour lesson will get you out on the water and teach you all the essential techniques you’ll need for a day on the water. If you’re going to be in Holbox longer, you can take the full IKO-certified course, which will take you 3 or 4 days
The lesson is $240 USD and is a great way to start your kitesurfing journey or sharpen your skills if you’ve done this before. You’ll get all the necessary gear as well as transportation to and from your kitesurfing destination.
14. Enjoy delicious coffee at Clandestino Coffee Shop
Mexico is home to some of the most delicious coffee on the planet. The country is known for its coffee production, especially organic coffee. Mexico is the largest producer of organic coffee in the world! Most Mexican coffee comes from beans grown by small farmers in the Chiapas and Oaxaca regions.
If you are a coffee lover like me, then a quick and fun activity to do in Isla Holbox is to go grab a coffee. It’s a great way to get the energy (and caffeine!) you need for a full day of activities.
One of the best places to experience some local coffee is Clandestino Cafe. This delightful little coffee shop and roastery is located near the center of town. They have freshly harvested coffees along with vegan and vegetarian options. If you’re grabbing a coffee in the morning, this is also an excellent breakfast spot. Try the bagels and pastries or one of the smoothie bowls!
Related Read: Head to the source of the great coffee beans that make up these brews with a visit to Oaxaca. Visiting a coffee shop there is one of the top things to do in Oaxaca!
15. Take a photo with the Holbox sign
Similar to many popular tourist destinations from all around the world, Isla Holbox has big letters you can go take pictures beside. Going to view the sign is a free and easy activity to do either before or after a gorgeous day at the beach. If you’re here early in the day, you’re more likely to get the letters to yourself and avoid people photobombing your pictures!
The giant letters are very hard to miss. Located at Playa Holbox on the north end of the beach, take a photo by the large Holbox letters so you can prove to everyone that you have visited this beautiful place.
There are signs like this everywhere you go, but the unique aspect of the Isla Holbox sign is that, unlike others, there’s actually a letter missing … so you have to stand in the spot for the “L” which makes for a fun and unique picture.
16. Swim with Bioluminescence Plankton
Swimming with bioluminescent plankton is one of those incredible experiences in Holbox you won’t forget. It kind of feels like you’re swimming in water full of shimmering glitter!
Plankton is a type of tiny marine organism and the light show they put on helps them find food and scare off predators. These creatures are so small, that even just a single drop of water can have thousands!
The best way to experience this phenomenon first-hand is on a tour like this night snorkeling tour. You’ll be in a small group and spend two hours in the sea and mangroves around Isla Holbox to find and swim with the plankton. While I did hear of people going without a tour, honestly, the mangroves in Mexico are home to crocodiles, so I felt much safer with a guide.
The tour is only $36 USD and includes all the equipment you’ll need like snorkel gear and a wetsuit as well as transportation on the island. If you can’t find any bioluminescent plankton, then you can reschedule the tour, or they will refund your money.
17. Have drinks at a rooftop bar
You can never go wrong visiting a rooftop bar wherever you go in the world. For a nice relaxing afternoon or evening in Holbox stop by one of the island’s trendy and well-run rooftop bars for a drink with a view.
Some of the most memorable bars I have been to in my life have had rooftop patios/bars where you had a panoramic view of the ocean while sipping on a beverage of your choice.
A few of my top rooftop bars to enjoy on Holbox are ALMA Bar, Bar Arena, and Rooftop Restaurant & Bar @ Spirit Holbox. All three of these choices give you a beautiful panoramic view of the crystal-clear turquoise water that surrounds Isla Holbox.
Be sure to go at sunset and get fantastic photos with your favorite drink in hand!
18. Cooking class
One thing I wish I could take back home with me is all the amazing food in Mexico! While I can’t fit the food in my suitcase, I love taking a local cooking class so I can try and create the recipes myself.
La Puerta Rosa offers daily cooking classes for either lunch or dinner. You’ll not only learn some new tips and tricks in the kitchen, but you’ll also get to eat all your creations!
All the classes are 3 hours long and can be booked for 2-10 people. What a fun activity to try out with your family and friends while in Holbox! Plus once you get home and cook these dishes, you’ll be reminded of your trip.
The group classes are $65-85 USD per person or private classes are available for $105 USD per person.
19. Eat fresh seafood
One of the advantages of visiting a place so close to the ocean is its direct access to some of the best seafood in the world. You know when you order seafood here, it’s fresh! Isla Holbox has strong ties to the sea and still heavily relies on the fishing industry.
Eating fresh seafood on Holbox will have your mouth watering and you’ll want to go back for seconds! A few of the popular catches in the area are lobster, mahi-mahi, wahoo, sea trout, snook, barracuda, and more. With such a diverse range of fresh seafood, the restaurants on Isla Holbox have a plethora of fish to serve you.
Mahi Holbox is a cozy place for a meal with excellent ceviche, octopus, and lobster. All the seafood here is caught by local fishermen before Mahi works their magic and delivers it to your table.
Head to El Crustaceo Kascarudo for perfectly cooked lobster, calamari rings, and tuna steak. The restaurant is just a short walk out of the center of town, so it’s easy to get to for a night out. Come early on weekends as tables fill up!
Located near the main beach, Las Panchas is known for its fresh fish and big portions. It’s a favorite among locals!
20. Watch the sunset
There’s nothing quite like a tropical sunset on the beach, it’s truly one of the best things to see in Mexico. One of my all-time favorite, simple and relaxing activities to do while visiting Isla Holbox is to watch the sunset. It’s the perfect way to unwind and savor your time in this gorgeous place.
Sunset is a popular time to head back to the beach or grab a spot at a local restaurant. A few places I love to enjoy the sunset are the pier at Playa Punta Cocos, the Mandarino Beach Club, and Casa Las Tortugas.
Whether you’re simply walking along the beach or enjoying a drink while the sun sinks down along the horizon, the sunsets on Isla Holbox will have you mesmerized.
21. Have drinks at a beach club
There are many reasons to visit a beach club while you’re here – the top among them is that you’re guaranteed a front-row seat to the best views on Isla Holbox! Beach clubs are prime spots for soaking up the sun and you’ll usually find good food and great service.
I also enjoy the social aspect of beach clubs. You’ll mingle and meet with other travelers while enjoying your time together in this beautiful spot.
All three of these clubs are directly off Playa Holbox, which is a 10-minute walk from the center of town.
Where to Stay in Holbox, Mexico
I always have a hard time deciding where to stay on Isla Holbox. One of my favorite hostels is on the island, but as I’ve gotten older, I’ve certainly enjoyed a little more luxury. So, let me share my top three places to stay!
For budget travelers, you can’t pass up the chance to stay at Tribu Hostel. This hip hostel is located right on the beach and has everything you need for an awesome stay. I loved the rooftop yoga and dance parties. Oh, and the staff members are so friendly and welcoming. You can book Tribu Hostel on both Booking.com and Hostelworld.
If you’d prefer to stay somewhere a little nicer, say without the loud parties, I love Hotel Casa HX. This small adults-only hotel is located a little bit back from the beach but in a really quiet and peaceful area. The rooms and suites are beautiful and come with plenty of space. They’re also great for larger groups, as some of the suites sleep up to four people.
For the luxury travelers/honeymooners among us, one of the best hotels is Villas Caracol. This gorgeous hotel is located on the eastern side of the island, which makes it feel as though it has a private beach. They have all the facilities you need, like a large pool, restaurant, included breakfast, massages, and top-quality service.
Travel Insurance is more important than ever right now!
If you’re traveling during these uncertain times, be sure that you have travel insurance!
SafetyWing is our go-to insurance when we are going on longer trips. They offer travel medical insurance that’s super affordable (only $42 USD per 4 weeks!) and even have coverage in case you get that dreaded c-word. The only thing to note is that the insurance must be purchased once you’ve left your home country – we typically buy it as soon as we land at the airport.
We’ve personally used SafetyWing for many different trips, and we’ve been reimbursed for countless expenses when we’ve fallen ill. SafetyWing even covered our flights back to Canada in full when the pandemic first happened (when last-minute flights before the borders closed were super expensive!)
It’s safe to say that travel insurance has saved us thousands over the years!
Thanks for reading!
Isla Holbox is an amazing escape to a tropical paradise in Mexico. It’s a place where you can get away from the busier and more touristy parts of Mexico, but still find all you need to have a great time. I mean those hammocks over the ocean are just calling my name!
Hopefully, these ideas will help you plan your own epic trip to Holbox. If a Mexican vacation is in your future, be sure to check out more of our Mexico blogs and guides: