Places to go

Isla Holbox: Mexico's unknown beach paradise

White sand beaches, fantastic food, and unique nature experiences. Isla Holbox is Mexico's best-kept secret.


Adrian Møller Haugan

"Are you ready?"

Captain Carlos asked me in Spanish. It was just past eleven o'clock in the morning, but we had already spent several hours out at sea. The goal is to experience the world's largest fish, whale sharks, up close. After a few hours of sailing, we finally found a herd of several sharks.

The whale shark swims towards me

Captain Carlos, a cheerful and burly Mexican with a big moustache and an even wider smile, has asked me to get on the gunwale so that I'll be ready to jump into the water as soon as the massive fish is close enough. It doesn't take many seconds before I get a signal in the form of an appreciative nod from the captain, and I plunge into the warm ocean in my diving mask and snorkel.

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imageCourtesy / Wikimedia Commons

Once in a lifetime experience

One of the big attractions on Isla Holbox is swimming with whale sharks.

The water is warm. I lift my gaze just in time to see a whale shark swimming towards me with its giant mouth open. For a few hundredths of a second I am afraid that plankton and small fish will be replaced by a pale-skinned Norwegian, but before it can collide with me, the whale shark dives even deeper and glides gracefully past through the crystal-clear water.

Swimming with whale sharks isn't exactly everyday fare, and after a few magical minutes in the ocean, and when I'm back in the boat and Carlos asks if I want to go out again, I'm quick to answer yes.

Isla Holbox - a beach paradise

Isla Holbox (pronounced Hol-bosch) is a tiny island on the northern tip of the Yucatán Peninsula in Mexico's Caribbean coast, about two hours by car north of Cancún. From a quiet and little-visited fishing village, the tiny island has grown to become a popular holiday destination in the last 10-15 years – thanks in large part to stunning photos shared on social media. It's not hard to understand why: White sandy beaches, azure water, and varying Wi-Fi quality (ironically enough) have made Isla Holbox the perfect place to disconnect.

imageNathan Cima / Unsplash

Sandy white beaches

Isla Holbox is the perfect place to enough the best parts of Mexico.

The best way to explore the island is on your own

Here, you will find (almost) no cars - only mopeds and golf carts. In fact, much of the 42-kilometre-long and one-kilometre-wide island is a nature reserve, affording excellent opportunities to experience flamingos, pelicans and other birds and animals in their natural habitat.

The best way to explore the island is on your own, for example by renting a bike. That way you can easily find your own favourite beach. Lunch and drinks are served at one of the many beach bars or restaurants on the island. Here, the only thing you need to do is relax completely.

A good tip is to make sure you bring enough cash with you. Although most hotels accept credit cards, not all restaurants, bars, and shops do the same. There is also no bank on Isla Holbox, and only a few functioning ATMs - which are not always stocked with cash.

imageThe Free Birds / Unsplash

Isla Holbox centro

There are no paved roads on Isla Holbox, and the best way of getting around is either walking or taking a bike.

How to Get to Isla Holbox

The easiest way to get to Isla Holbox is to take a ferry from the village of Chiquilá at the northern tip of the Yucatán Peninsula. The journey itself takes 15 minutes and there are two ferry companies that sail over to the island, 9 Hermanos and Holbox Express. Both have several departures a day, and the ticket price is the same. The only real difference is that they follow different timetables.

If you are a big group of travellers, it may be worth checking out the possibility of taking a private boat taxi across. Most hotels will help organise this.

If you really want to arrive in style, it is possible to rent a private jet to the island. Although the island does not have a big airport, there is an airstrip that accepts the occasional plane. A flight from Cancún takes about 30 minutes. AX Transporter is one of the companies that offers private jets to the island, and the flight gives you and your companion a fantastic view of the entire are

imageMarco Boldrin / Unsplash

Fishing at Isla Holbox

For many years fishing was the main source for the people living on Isla Holbox. Even thou tourism have taken over as the main source of income, fishing is still a big part of everyday life.

Things to do on Isla Holbox

Besides pure relaxation with a book and an ice-cold Pacífico beer or a cocktail in your hand, Isla Holbox is known for two activities in particular: snorkelling with whale sharks and kiting.

The former takes place exclusively between mid-May and September, when whale sharks migrate to the waters off Isla Holbox. There are several operators that offer whale shark tours but be sure to find one that is approved by the authorities. Although certified operators may be more expensive, they respect the animals and try to make the experience as humane for them as possible. The price should be 3,000-4,000 MXN per person. This (usually) includes all your snorkelling gear and lunch, and hopefully also self-caught fish that is then transformed into the freshest ceviche you've ever eaten, and drinks.

imageAhtziri Lagarde / Unsplash

Relax at the beach

Isla Holbox is the perfect place to relax and chill out.

Perfect for kiting

For those who have always dreamed of learning kiting, Isla Holbox is the perfect place. There is shallow water and a lot of space in the waves. This, combined with good windy conditions during the winter months, makes it ideal for beginners. There are a number of kite schools and many places to rent gear on the island. 

Otherwise, your days are mostly spent working on your tan, enjoying good conversation and swimming. If that gets too boring, there are several companies that offer kayak tours to experience the nature in the area up close.

Another must when visiting the Yucatán Peninsula is to swim in a cenote. A cenote is an underground river or sinkhole, which can be found almost everywhere on the Yucatán Peninsula. The largest ones are several hundred meters deep, and many were used by the Mayan Indians as sacrificial sites, as evidenced by the human bones archaeologists have discovered inside them. Today, many of them are open to the public, some with changing rooms, others more basic. The nearest cenote to Isla Holbox is Yalahau, located on the mainland, about 30 minutes away by boat.

imageJared Rice / Unsplash


The Yucatán peninsula has become know around the world for it´s cenotes.

Restaurants on Isla Holbox

Even the most discerning should have nothing to fault when it comes to the food served on Isla Holbox.

Most of the restaurants are located in the centre of Isla Holbox - centro / Playa Holbox. Unsurprisingly,  seafood dominates the menus around the island, but that doesn't mean there's a shortage of other options.

Casa de asadores/ Martin & Santos , for example, serves high-quality Argentine beef. Simple yet fantastic tacos can be found at Barba Negra, accompanied by delicious cocktails. The fish taco is highly recommended.

TacoQueto also offers classic Mexican street food in unpretentious surroundings. Their Tacos al pastor are legendary on the island. 

Los Peleones Holbox offers a rooftop terrace, homemade pasta with a local twist and delicious beer.

imageKelsey Curtis / Unsplash

Eat well at Isla Holbox

There is no shortage of good restaurants and dining experiences on Isla Holbox.

Lobster pizza

A local speciality that you need to try is lobster pizza. The combination of seafood and Italy's proud invention may sound strange to some, yet it has become the unofficial signature dish of Isla Holbox. Several restaurants offer a version, but the best one is perhaps to be found at Roots Pizza a Leña. Here, you get homemade pizza cooked to perfection in its stone oven.

If beach bars and plastic chairs are not the place for a romantic evening, it is also possible to find hip and good restaurants at Isla Holbox. At the Hotel Casa del Tortugas you will find the restaurant Luuma. In a relaxing garden, you will be served delicious tapas dishes inspired by local food traditions and made with local ingredients. The restaurant also serves as a bar, has an extensive wine menu, and serves up tasty cocktails.

Roberto Solís is one of Mexico's most renowned chefs and the man behind Ser Esencia Restaurant. This fusion restaurant aims to take its guests on a culinary journey through Mayan and Mexican cuisine, but with a modern twist. The restaurant is part of the luxury Hotel Ser Cassandra, and reservations are recommended.


imageCourtesy / Casa las Tortugas

Luuma restaurant

Good food and perfect cocktails are what you are gonna find at Luuma restaurant.

Hotels on Isla Holbox

After having been Mexico's best kept secret for many years, the hotel capacity at Isla Holbox has increased as more and more people have caught wind of the beach paradise. These days you will find accommodation in all price ranges – from simple family-run hotels to larger chain hotels. Note that some of the hotels are exclusively for adult guests.

Hotel prices can be high, especially in high season and if you choose to stay luxuriously right by the beach. Things quickly become less expensive if you go for a hotel located a little further inland. Fortunately, the island is not very large, and the beach and sea are never more than a few minutes’ walk away.

Punta Caliza

If you prefer minimalist, subdued and traditional architecture, you should choose Hotel Punta Caliza. The hotel is designed and owned by a Mexican architect and his family, and all the building materials were sourced in Mexico. All 12 rooms have direct access to the communal pool, while it is also possible to stay in private seclusion.

If pool life is not your thing, it's possible to reserve a spot at the hotel's own beach club, which is a four-minute walk away.

imageMatej Rieciciar / Unsplash

Beautiful sunset

The sunsets in Isla Holbox are a sight for sore eyes.

 Casa del Tortugas

One of the island's most renowned hotels is the family-run Casa del Tortugas. Legend has it (according to the hotel's own website) that the owners hadn't yet decided on a name with just a week to go before opening. But just a few days before the first guests arrived, 13 turtles happened to crawl past the hotel's door – and voila, they had their name: Casa Del Tortugas (The House of the Turtles).

Located on the beach, this hotel is the perfect place to experience the best Isla Holbox has to offer. Besides fantastic rooms, Case del Tortugas offers both spas and yoga, and is generally very helpful in arranging excursions. The hotel also has one of the island's best restaurants and cocktail bars, Luuma (mentioned above).

imageCourtesy / Casa las Tortugas

Hotel Casa las Tortugas

At Casa las Tortugas the main focus is to try and relax as much as possible.

Villa Margaritas Holbox

Affordable, clean and close to the beach, are keywords to describe the hotel Villa Margaritas Holbox. The hotel is located about 600 meters from Holbox town centre, has a pool, free Wi-Fi and a simple roof terrace where you can enjoy stunning sunsets.

imageCourtesy / Villas Margaritas Isla Holbox

Villa Margaritas Holbox

Hotel Villa Margaritas is an affordable and a good alternativ to many of the other more expensive hotels on Isla Holbox.

El Corazón Boutique Hotel

About 100 metres from the beach and ten minutes' walk from the city centre, you will find one of Isla Holbox's nicest hotels, the El Corazón Boutique Hotel. This small hotel has only 11 rooms and welcomes exclusively adult guests. Some rooms have a private terrace/balcony, but there is a communal roof terrace. Breakfast, Wi-Fi and beach towels are included in the room rate.

In addition, the hotel has a strong focus on sustainability. The hotel's electricity is sourced from solar panels, hygiene products are made from biodegradable materials, and most of the furniture used is made from recycled materials.

imageCourtesy / El Corazón Isla Holbox

El Corazón

El Corazón means the little heart in Spanish, and has only 11 rooms. It is an adults only hotel with an amazing view.

Ser Cassandra

17 fantastic rooms, a beach villa and 1.5 kilometres of beach right outside the door are among the ingredients of the luxury hotel Ser Cassandra. The hotel was founded by Cuban artist Sandra Perez Lozano and her husband. Originally, the property was the couple's private house, but they felt more people deserved to experience Isla Holbox, and opened their doors to guests.

Since then, the property has been expanded and has a pool, complete with a pool bar, and its own beach club and restaurant. They also offer both a spa and yoga.

imageCourtesy / Ser Cassandra

Luxury hotel

Ser Cassandra is one of the many exclusive and luxury hotels on the island.

Dinner on Isla Holbox

Back in the boat with Captain Carlos, my trip is coming to an end. After swimming in the water with the whale sharks for a while and a lovely ceviche with self-caught fish for lunch, it's time to enjoy the rest of the day with my legs firmly planted in the sand, my bum in a deck chair and a cold beer in my hand.

Should I have lobster pizza for dinner tonight?

It may be a simple and quiet life on Isla Holbox, but if there is one thing that's certain, it's that the island gives every visitor memories for life.