Coastal Vote: A Beach-Lover's Guide to Isla Holbox, Mexico

Aldea Kuká is an ecofriendly boutique hotel with direct access to a private white-sand beach
Aldea Kuká is an ecofriendly boutique hotel with direct access to a private white-sand beach | Courtesy of Aldea Kuká /
Doug ONeill

Join a yoga session on the sands, dine on fresh seafood and swim with whale sharks on this bohemian car-free island off the Yucatán’s northern coast.

After the heady vibes of some of the tourist-heavy beach towns in Mexico, Isla Holbox may be the laid-back beach hang-out you’re looking for. This small island north of Mexico’s Yucatán Peninsula lies within the wildlife-rich Yum Balam Nature Reserve, separated from the mainland by the Yalahau Lagoon. With no cars and only bikes or buggies to get you around, Isla Holbox goes big on beautiful white-sand beaches, shallow crystalline waters teeming with marine life and pastel-colored wooden casas lining the shores. Here’s how to relax in style.

1. Kayak Center Holbox

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Mangrove swamp on Holbox Island, Quintana Roo, Yucatan Peninsula, Mexico, a unique Mexican destination in the Yucatan Channel
© Jack Cox in Mexico / Alamy Stock Photo

Paddle through shallow, calm waters and winding mangroves on the Isla Holbox Mangrove Forest Kayaking Tour. Your experienced guide from Kayak Center Holbox will explain coastal ecosystems and help you spot flamingos and other wading birds, as well as camouflaged crocodiles, sometimes spotted sunning themselves on the muddy banks.

2. Holbox Whale Shark Tours

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Sideview of a whale sharks head in Holbox, Mexico.
© Kip Evans / Alamy Stock Photo

Meet at the centrally located Luuma bar, inside Casa las Tortugas hotel, for this outing to swim with whale sharks, the largest fish in the world at up to 66ft (20m) long. As many as 800 whale sharks gather in the waters off Holbox from May to September, where they feed on nutrient-rich plankton, krill and fish eggs. Because you care about the fish and not just the photo op, know that this operator is regarded highly for its 10-year-strong, conservation-led approach to snorkeling (no diving is allowed) with the fish in a sustainable, stress-free way.

3. Three Island Tour

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Isla Pasion (Passion Island) off Isla de Cozumel, Cozumel, Mexico, North America
© Michael DeFreitas / robertharding / Alamy Stock Photo

Holbox Travel hosts a half-day three-island tour to a trio of destinations near Holbox: Isla de Pasión, known for its secluded white-sand beaches; Isla Pájaros, a birder’s paradise with more than 35 species to photograph; and Yalahau cenote – a natural swimming hole on the mainland, where guests can also climb up to the observatory for an elevated view of the lagoon and surrounding flora.

4. Bikes Holbox

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Tourists in a street of Isla Holbox, Quintana Roo (Mexico).
© Eduardo Fuster / agefotostock / Alamy Stock Photo

You can cover most of Isla Holbox by bike – a good thing too, as there are no cars. Rent from Bikes Holbox and consider cycling to see the flamingos at Punta Cocos, a palm-lined beach a short walk from the town center. Then tour the side streets and back lanes to get an up-close look at the island’s signature murals, which adorn buildings and give the place the flavor of an open-air art gallery. Hungry? Stop at a local restaurant, such as Roots Pizza, for the specialty: lobster pizza.

5. VIP Holbox

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Bioluminescence occurs when microorganisms release light energy in the ocean, initiating a chemical reaction and creating sparkling phosphorescence (patterns of shining light), best seen at night. On this bioluminescence tour, you’ll kayak – as late as midnight – to a completely dark sandbank with an experienced guide who will explain the phenomenon. VIP Holbox offers tours that depart from Hotel Villas Flamingos.

6. Aldea Kuká

Boutique Hotel

Aldea Kuká boutique hotel
Courtesy of Aldea Kuká boutique hotel /

Marco Z Garcia Marquez’s family-run ecofriendly boutique hotel places equal emphasis on cuisine and comfortable rooms. The two dining options include Kukatch (a fusion of Mexican and international influences) and La Malix (which represents regional cuisines from across Mexico). Tastefully appointed bungalows on the waterfront offer privacy and direct access to the white-sand beaches. The hotel also offers customized tours to Cabo Catoche, the sparsely inhabited island where the Caribbean meets the Gulf of Mexico.

7. Ser Casasandra Holbox

Boutique Hotel

Ser Casasandra Holbox
Courtesy of Ser Casasandra Holbox /

With suite names such as Peace and Serenity, you know right away you’re settling into a calming, relaxing environment at Ser Casasandra. For even more seclusion, opt for either the Silence or Stillness suite on the upper floor. Feel free to indulge, relax, meditate or do yoga on the beach or on your private balcony, which is also graced with a hammock.

8. Hotel Punta Caliza


Chable Yucatan
Courtesy of Punta Caliza / Expedia

Each of the 12 rooms in the cedar-walled, thatched-roofed Hotel Punta Caliza has its own swimming pool, connected to the main pool in the central courtyard of the hotel. The cedar is harvested from the family’s own plantation and the thatched palapas are designed to resemble traditional homes along the Mexican coastline. Minimalism rules in terms of the decor, but there’s no skimping on the food, which focuses on regional Mexican cuisine.

9. Holbox Adventure

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Underwater view of fish swimming at northern reef of the Yucatan peninsula, Cabo Catoche, Quintana Roo, Mexico
© Cultura Creative RF / Alamy Stock Photo

Imagine spending the day snorkeling and fishing, followed by dining on fresh ceviche. This three-hour excursion by Holbox Adventure takes you to Cabo Catoche, about 16mi (25km) from Isla Holbox, and involves a variety of bucket-list activities. You can try your hand at bottom fishing (quite literally, catching fish at the bottom of the water), snorkeling, touring mangroves and birdwatching. Budding ornithologists might see gray pelicans, egrets and cormorants, among other species. The tour guide will pick you up at your hotel.

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