Experiencing island life is a must when you’re visiting the Yucatan. But vacations only last so long, and people in your group may have different interests. So it might get you wondering—is it better to visit Isla Mujeres or Holbox Island?
Here’s some good news: Isla Mujeres and Holbox Island offer distinct experiences.
So, it can help make the decision easier if you know your travel style. On the other hand, some people enjoy the vast differences between these two islands, making the choice even more difficult if time or money only allows you to visit one of them.
I spent two weeks in Isla Mujeres and a long weekend in Holbox Island in the spring of 2021. I’ll share my takeaways here so you can decide which island feels like the best option for you.
Note: This post contains affiliate links. If you make a purchase, we might make a small commission at no extra cost to you.
Isla Mujeres or Holbox Island: An Overview
If you’re busy, this section is for you. The chart below offers a glimpse of the differences between Holbox Island and Isla Mujeres so that you can quickly get a feel for each.
|Easy to get to||Yes||No|
|International airport nearby||Yes||No|
|Best way to get around||Foot, golf cart, or car||Foot or golf cart|
|Lots of activities to do||Moderate||Moderate|
|Hotels||Mostly budget to 4-star||Budget to luxury|
The Big Breakdown
Still with me? Great!
Let’s go over the points in the chart above in more detail.
1. Arriving in Paradise
Holbox and Isla Mujeres share the trait that arriving by ferry is the most popular choice.
In fact, when it comes to Isla Mujeres, going by water is the only option you have; if you wander around the island long enough, you’ll encounter an abandoned airport with a vandalized tower.
However, you can take your car on the ferry so that you can drive once you arrive on the island.
On the other hand, you can fly to Holbox Island. But it’s not a cheap option since you have to rent a private jet.
However, if you fill the plane with the maximum number of people allowed on these puddle jumpers (usually 5 – 7 passengers), the cost isn’t so prohibitive—especially if you’re of the mindset that time is money.
Speaking of time, you’ll need a good dose of it if you won’t be shelling out money for a private plane to arrive in Holbox. It takes about 2 hours to drive from Cancun to the Chiquila ferry port.
From there, you’ll need to wait for the next departing ferry. Luckily, between the two ferry companies that run this route, there are usually departures from Chiquila to Holbox every 30 – 60 minutes. The ferry ride itself only takes about 20 minutes.
Needless to say, Holbox Island isn’t the type of place that you can visit in a day from Cancun (much less other popular destinations in the Yucatan, which require an even longer drive).
However, it’s easy to take a day trip to Isla Mujeres from Cancun.
There are four ferry ports in Cancun where you can catch a ferry to Isla Mujeres. Make sure to check the ferry timetable, as some ports have limited daily departures. Puerto Juarez is your best option if you want to have the greatest number of ferry departures.
The ferry from Cancun to Isla Mujeres takes about 20 minutes. Once you arrive, you’ll be in the heart of the tourist center, located near Playa Norte.
2. Feeling the Island Vibes
Isla Mujeres and Holbox Island have a different feel to them, almost all of which comes down to how accessible Isla Mujeres is from Cancun.
As a result, you can expect to encounter packed streets and beaches in Isla Mujeres during the day. It also has a decent beach party scene, overflowing from Cancun’s massive nightlife.
Furthermore, there are ferries that run from Isla Mujeres to Cancun late in the evening, making it easy for day-trippers to make the very most of their time there.
That said, if you spend the night in Isla Mujeres, you’ll wake up to a peaceful island that you’ll feel you have all to yourself. Although there are early morning ferries that run there from Cancun, the bulk of tourists don’t arrive until 9:00 am – 10:00 am.
In contrast, Holbox Island’s idea of a “packed” beach is being a handful of beach towel lengths away from strangers.
It’s an excellent island for people looking to be in a quieter, more nature-oriented atmosphere. Speaking of nature, the beaches in Holbox undergo little maintenance, with the exception of hotels that might rake the beach directly in front of their property.
So, you can expect to encounter strings of seaweed, driftwood, and some small seashells.
On the other hand, Playa Norte in Isla Mujeres has that pristine, white sand beach that so many people picture when they think of the Caribbean. That’s because of the strict cleanup regimen that Isla Mujeres performs on its most popular tourist beaches.
As a final note, visiting Holbox Island doesn’t mean that you won’t find any nightlife. There are a handful of bars along the beach where people gather in the evening. It just has a quieter vibe than anything you’ll find in Isla Mujeres or Cancun.
3. Booking Your International Flight
Regardless of whether you choose to visit Isla Mujeres or Holbox, you’ll want to book your flight into the Cancun airport.
From there, you can either take a private plane to Holbox Island or travel to either the Chiquila or Cancun ferry ports by land to catch your ferry.
The bottom line is that you need to consider how much travel time you’re willing to dedicate to either of these islands, especially if you’re squeezing in Holbox or Isla Mujeres as part of a larger trip around Mexico.
Yep, that’s all I’ve got for this point.
4. Getting Around
Here’s a fun fact about Holbox: It requires a golf cart to get around if your legs can’t take you there.
That’s right—cars aren’t allowed on the island!
You’ll need a valid driver’s license and an alcohol-free stomach to explore Holbox by golf cart.
Golf carts are a thing on Isla Mujeres too. But you can also drive a car around the island.
If you decide to visit Isla Mujeres, I recommend renting a golf cart and spending the night. The following morning, drive to Punta Sur before sunrise. That way, you’ll witness the first spot where the sun touches Mexico each morning.
Holbox Island is arguably an even better place to rent a golf cart since the island is much larger, at 26 miles long.
When you’re golf carting around Holbox, you’ll get to spot lots of wildlife. You might even see some flamingos hanging out in the lagoon if you’re lucky.
5. Juggling How Much You Want to Drain Your Wallet
I won’t beat around the bush here—if you want a cheap beach destination, head to a place like Playa del Carmen; as is the case with so many islands, Isla Mujeres and Holbox are expensive.
However, of the two, I found Isla Mujeres to be more expensive than Holbox. I think this has to do with the difference in downtowns between Holbox and Isla Mujeres.
For example, the downtown area in Isla Mujeres is where the heart of the tourist center is, as it sits just back from Playa Norte.
On the other hand, Holbox’s downtown has a more local vibe, and you can easily wander down side streets to find cheap, delicious food.
When it comes to Isla Mujeres, all hope isn’t lost, though. I was determined to eat cheaply during my time there and did a pretty good job of it, if I do say so myself.
So, if you decide to visit Isla and are working with a tight-ish budget, check out my guide on cheap Mexican restaurants in Isla Mujeres.
Both Isla Mujeres and Holbox offer hostels. Holbox seems to have more hostels and budget choices, though (assuming you stay in the downtown area—more on this soon).
6. Things to Do When You’re There
The number one attraction of both Holbox and Isla Mujeres is their beaches.
But one can only lie on a beach for so long (or, at least, I can only lie on a beach for so long).
So, what to do with the rest of your time? Below are some suggestions for things to do in Isla Mujeres:
- Watch the sunrise in Punta Sur
- Watch the sunset in Playa Norte
- Rent a kayak, boat, or golf cart
- Snorkel, dive, or take a glass bottom boat to see the underwater museum
And now, these are some activities to do in Holbox:
- Take a bioluminescence tour
- Swim with whale sharks
- Kayak through mangroves
- Explore the island by golf cart
If you want to learn about these activities and more on Holbox Island, I’ve put together a guide on what to do in Holbox to help you out.
In addition to the items listed above for Isla Mujeres, you can also take a day trip to Cancun and explore the nearly endless array of things to do there. That said, it’s far more common for people to take a day trip to Isla Mujeres from Cancun instead of vice versa.
7. Figuring Out Where to Stay
When it comes to accommodations on Isla Mujeres and Holbox, there are several items to consider.
For starters, Holbox tends to have more resorts and upscale hotels than Isla Mujeres. Much of that comes down to Isla Mujeres being a popular day trip from Cancun, where people have their pick of 5-star luxury hotels.
However, it also has to do with Holbox being a place where people typically spend a minimum of two nights, given the amount of time it takes to arrive there.
Another item to consider is location.
In Isla Mujeres, the majority of hotels, including the nicer ones, are clustered around Playa Norte. That means you’ll be in the heart of the tourist area and have access to Isla’s best beach at your fingertips. It also makes for a louder and more people-packed experience.
On the other hand, the nicest hotels on Holbox Island tend to be a golf cart ride away from downtown. You’ll have access to a private beach and among the quietest beach atmospheres that you’ve likely ever experienced. However, you’ll need to hop in that golf cart to get into town.
So, What’ll It be? Isla Mujeres or Holbox?
Isla Mujeres and Holbox both have wonderful qualities, although most of them are different from each other.
I hope this post has helped shed light on which island might be the better fit for your interests and travel style.
Alternatively, my post on Cancun, Tulum, or Playa del Carmen highlights things you should consider if you’re thinking about beaching it on the mainland.
If you still have questions about visiting Holbox or Isla Mujeres, leave a comment, and I’ll do my best to help.
Laura has been wandering the globe for over a decade. She’s an early bird and backpacker at heart and can often be spotted with a dog or ten that she’s befriended along the way. Much of the content Laura writes on A Piece of Travel includes details on wheelchair accessibility, with the support of her brother-in-law and sister. You can learn about their accessibility endeavors here.