Whether you’ve already decided to visit the island of whale sharks or are still debating if it’s worth the visit, learning about what to do in Holbox, Mexico will no doubt help with your decision.
I’m happy to know that you’re doing your due diligence—Holbox is a big hop, skip, and a jump from Cancun. It’s not the type of place you can visit in a day before retreating to other beach shores if you don’t like its vibe.
I spent three days in Holbox and will help you navigate the things to do there day and night, rain and shine (more shine than rain, though).
So, grab some tea or tequila, and settle in for this read.
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Things to Do on Holbox Island During the Day (and in Rain-Free Weather)
Holbox Island is a Yucatan destination that’s best to visit in dry-ish weather. It’s also the type of place where rain will grace you with its presence on a whim.
The good news is that the rain usually comes and goes. So, even during the rainy season, you’ll likely get to enjoy breaks of dry weather and sun. When that happens, below are some wonderful things to do on the island.
1. Pitch an Umbrella on the Beach
I know, I know—telling you to hang out on the beach isn’t the most earth-shattering activity, especially when I’m listing it as number one.
But here’s the thing: Beaching it is the best thing to do in Holbox. Having a quiet, large slice of beach to yourself is what Holbox is all about.
You won’t have to deal with countless vendors passing by offering you a massage or people kicking sand onto your beach towel as they carve a path through the piles of tourists sunning themselves.
Sure, you might have to rearrange some seaweed when pitching your beach umbrella. But that’s the beauty of Holbox—it’s a mostly untouched area, so you get to experience nature in its best form.
2. Explore the Island by Golf Cart or Bike
Now let’s talk about what to do in Holbox, Mexico that’s actually an activity.
No cars are allowed on Holbox aside from approved vehicles (construction workers, police, etc.). So, the best way to get around when you’re ready to head out of town is by renting a golf cart or bike.
There’s a long, wide sandy path that lines the beach for miles that you can explore. You don’t have to worry about encountering many bikes, golf carts, or people. But to stay on the safe side, there are periodic stop signs and they use rope as speed bumps.
In case you’re wondering, yes, you can explore the whole island in a day by golf cart or bike. In fact, you can explore Holbox four times over if you wish—it’s only about 2.5 miles long and 1 mile wide!
3. Swim with Whale Sharks
Swimming with whale sharks is one of the most iconic things to do in Holbox.
These beautiful creatures arrive near the island from May – September, although you’ll have the best chance of seeing them in June, July, and August.
For anyone nervous about encountering these almost 40-foot long, plankton-eating creatures, you won’t see them when swimming around Holbox’s shoreline.
Instead, anyone wanting to swim with whale sharks will need to sign up for a tour. You’ll then take a boat ride into the open sea where your driver will spot the sharks and tell you to jump in to snorkel beside them.
Whale sharks can only swim three miles per hour, so you’ll get a thorough look at them before they continue along their swimming path.
Although whale sharks only eat plankton and small shrimp, you should steer clear of their 4-foot mouth (as you should the rest of their body—observing marine life from a distance is always the best policy). One time a whale shark accidentally half-swallowed a woman diver!
In good ‘ole whale shark fashion, it spat her out, and she swam away with a minor hand injury.
4. Kayak in a Mangrove Forest
If you’re wondering what to do in Holbox, Mexico that involves getting out on the water, kayaking is a great option.
Holbox is only partially surrounded by sandy beaches. The other portion of it has a thick mangrove forest. This forest is a beautiful place to kayak for two reasons.
First, the water is calmer so you don’t have to worry about tackling ocean waves. That’s extra comforting since you might spot a crocodile in the water.
Secondly, it’s a great place to view wildlife. It’s an especially ideal area for birdwatching; you might even spot flamingos.
You can either book a kayaking tour in Holbox or rent kayaks by the hour and go at it on your own.
5. Wander Around the Town
Holbox embodies everything a secluded beach island should—cute touristy shops, vendors selling coconut water straight from the coconut, and places to buy fresh fruit smoothies.
You’ll also have plenty of opportunities to pick up some island-themed souvenirs.
If you’re concerned about traveling to Holbox as a vegetarian or vegan, rest easy. There are several restaurants and cafes in town that cater to veggie diets.
You don’t need to dedicate tons of time to exploring downtown Holbox. An hour or two should be plenty, including strolling around the shops.
Things to do in Holbox at Night
Knowing that Holbox is such a small island, you might have it pictured closing down at night. If so, you’re only partially right. Holbox can’t compete with Cancun’s non-stop party vibe, but there are a few things to do there at night.
1. Take a Bioluminescence Tour
Swimming in Holbox’s clear water during the day might seem picturesque enough to you—until you learn that it has phytoplankton that glows in the dark.
That’s right—these microscopic marine algae turn the ocean into a sea of bluish-white stars at night.
That said, there are a few things you need to know to witness this bioluminescence phenomenon. First, it’s best to go during a new moon. If your travel dates don’t fall during that time, the further away you can visit from a full moon, the better your experience will be.
Secondly, don’t expect to see the bioluminescence from your beachfront balcony. The phytoplankton tends to congregate in specific areas around the island, which is why taking a tour is the best way to see them (although you can drive or walk to these spots if you figure out where the tours go).
Furthermore, you’ll need to ruffle up the water for the phytoplankton to activate their light. There are fewer things as magical as swimming in the ocean at night with a sea of light surrounding you as you move your body through the water.
As a word of warning, even if you travel at a time when the moon isn’t full, rain and other weather conditions can impact the experience. So, if your tour ends up getting canceled because of the weather, you’ll be offered the option to reschedule or receive a refund.
2. Head to a Beachside Bar
There’s no doubt about it—your partying options are limited in Holbox.
However, there’s a small selection of bars on a sandy road across from the beach where you can grab a drink and spend a (fairly early) night out on the town. The biggest party scene, relatively speaking, is around the pier.
If you’re traveling during the off-season (winter), you can expect an even sparser nightlife scene in Holbox. In fact, several bars and restaurants close altogether during the low tourist season.
Long story short, if you’re not a fan of the loud, bustling party scene in places like Cancun and Playa del Carmen, you’ll likely love Holbox’s quieter atmosphere.
3. Relax at Your Beachside Hotel
One of the best things to do in Holbox at night is enjoying the beach from your beachside hotel. If you’re not staying on the beach, then snag a slice of sand at someone else’s hotel.
Holbox is far away from major cities. So, you can enjoy seeing a sky full of stars as you listen to the waves gently lapping the shore.
I encourage you to take a beach night walk too. However, just to stay on the safe side, walk within the vicinity of your hotel or other restaurants. Holbox is safe, but you should use standard safety practices that you would in any unfamiliar area.
Things to do in Holbox When it Rains
Holbox receives its fair share of rain. Even the “dry” season is only relatively dry.
You can expect almost daily rain from May – November, with the heaviest rain occurring from September – January. So, you might be wondering what to do in Holbox, Mexico when it rains.
There’s not a whole lot, unfortunately.
If it hasn’t been raining hard on and around your travel dates, this could be a good opportunity to go for a snorkel or dive off the beach. Just keep in mind that the water might be murky if there’s been a lot of rain and waves.
You can also try venturing into downtown where you can find shelter in cafes and tourist shops. There aren’t any museums in Holbox to date, but you could stroll around La Choza de Fito and Balam Art of Feathers, which are both art galleries.
As a word of warning, the infrastructure on Holbox Island isn’t well designed to handle rain.
The roads are sandy with huge potholes that fill with water and then some. Many sidewalks become flooded, and if you don’t have rubber boots, you’ll likely have to resort to walking in 6+ inches of muddy water in some spots if you wish to roam around the town.
During my three-day stay in Holbox, there was a mixture of rain and sun. So, I was shocked by how a hot, sunny afternoon only partially took care of the flooding in town after a few hours of rain.
There’s a small cement factory on the island, and I can’t help but wonder if enough cement dust has mixed in with the sand to prevent proper drainage. That’s just a hunch, though!
For a non-conspiracy theory take on it, locals have struggled with getting the government to repair their drainage system and sewage plant (ew!) for quite some time.
Luckily, things have since gotten better with the sewage repairs, so you won’t have to worry about the horrendous smells and sanitation issues they experienced at the height of the problem in 2018.
FAQs About Holbox Island
Now that we covered what to do in Holbox, Mexico, do you still have questions about visiting the island? I tried to anticipate some of them here.
If you still don’t have the info you need, leave a comment at the bottom of this post, and I’ll do my best to help.
Is Holbox worth visiting?
It depends. Holbox is worth visiting if you like a mellow beach experience and don’t mind the travel time to get there. Seaweed is left mostly untouched, so it has a more nature-oriented feel than places like Cancun and Playa del Carmen. That said, it’s not a good fit if you’re short on time since it takes a bit of legwork to arrive.
What’s Holbox known for?
Holbox is known for several things, but one of the most notable is its quantity of whale sharks. These gentle giants grace Holbox with their presence from May – September. You’ll likely see them in the greatest quantities in June, July, and August, though.
Is Holbox Island safe?
There’s little crime on Holbox. Most crime is in the form of petty theft by people not taking care of their belongings when they’re on the beach. Like in all places, you should stay around main, well-lit roads at night. Also, you shouldn’t stray away from the beach by your hotel or restaurants/bars at night.
What’s there to do in Holbox at night?
Taking a bioluminescence tour is one of the most popular things to do on Holbox Island at night. You can also enjoy a small but lively beachside bar scene.
Is it safe to swim in Holbox?
Holbox Island is usually a safe place to swim. Many parts of the island have shallow water where you can walk out dozens of feet with the water only coming up to your waist. Stingrays visit the area, so it’s best practice to shuffle your feet when wading in the water to avoid stepping on one.
When is the rainy season in Holbox?
Holbox Island experiences rain year-round, but the majority falls from September – January. The driest season is from February – April when the area receives less than two inches of rain per month.
How long should I stay on Holbox Island?
I spent three days (two nights) on Holbox Island and found that to be the perfect amount. There are people who prefer to stay longer and others who are happy with one night there. I’d say the majority of people find that two to three days is a good amount of time.
Debating Where Else to Go in the Yucatan?