Things to See & Do on Cozumel, Isla Mujeres & Holbox

Take a break from Cancun on Isla Mujeres, explore the Caribbean playground of Cozumel, and relax on Isla Holbox.

Photo © iStock

Isla Mujeres

This small island is just 4mi (8km) in length, and half a kilometer wide, just 3.7mi (6km) northeast off the coast of Cancun. It's a perfect hideaway from the hustle and bustle of busy Cancun. Isla Mujeres' shallow, calm waters and waves are ideal for snorkeling, diving and fishing. Underwater, see bright, colorful coral reefs and many different species of fish glimmer from the sun's rays.

This island pays tribute to the Mayan Moon Goddess, Ixchel. On the island there is a small ruin in honor of this Goddess – who symbolizes femininity. The temple is located on the southern end of the island, and was once used as a lighthouse hundreds of years ago.

On the northern end of the beach you'll find resorts, restaurants, shops and nightclubs. But, prices are high on this small (and increasingly popular) island, as much as 800 pesos (US $42) for one nights accommodation. For cheaper accommodatrion, ask local restaurants if they have rooms available behind their shop front – you might score one of these rooms for as little as 150 pesos (US $8).

A hidden beach on Isla Mujeres. Photo credit: Getty Images/Fabian Jurado's Photography

Things to Do on Isla Mujeres

Garrafon Natural Park: Go snorkeling, kayaking, zip lining, hiking or play some beach volleyball in this natural park.

Isla Contoy: A sanctuary for birds and home to almost 70 marine species, making this is a great place to go snorkeling. Enjoy freshly caught fish from one of many vendors selling blue marlin and tuna along the beach.

Marine safari adventure: Hop on a boat tour for a diving adventure. Have a close encounter with tiger sharks in the Bahamas or to watch whales in the Sea of Cortez. 

Reef diving: Many who have been to Isla Mujeres have dubbed it “The Aquarium of the World”. It has a wonderful reef formation. Its shallow waters make it ideal for swimming and snorkeling even for kids.

Crafts: At the center of the island, there’s a women’s cooperative that sell crafts like beads and purses. Artistically made and sold at very reasonable prices.

Feeling hungry? Grab a chicken taco salad at Ruben’s, chicken pitas at Pita Amore, home made cookies and muffins at Rooster’s Café and Bistro, or a delicious Italian pastas at Caffe Italia.

How to Get There?

Take a boat from Puerto Juarez, on Jose Lopez Portillo Ave. This option is much cheaper than a boat ride from Cancun.

Cozumel

Just offshore southeast of Playa del Carmen this island is a less frenetic, low-rise version of the mainland resort towns Cancun and Playa del Carmen.

There’s still plenty of resort-style hotel accommodation, but there’s more space, and once you’re outside the only town on the island, San Miguel, it’s very laid-back.

Cozumel bills itself as a destination for romantics and adventurers. Honeymooning couples can get away from the crowds, and family groups can enjoy the activities on offer at the resorts and adventure parks.

It’s also popular with cruise ships which dock at the jetty and disgorge their holidaymakers for the day.

There is an airport but most people get to the island via the ferries that run from Playa del Carmen.

San Miguel and the majority of the activities are on the western side of the island. The eastern side is open to the Caribbean and is windier and wilder – but you will be able to find a secluded spot.

What to Do in Cozumel

Go diving and snorkeling: There are dive shops everywhere on the island, so take your pick of a local diving operator and venture out to some of the best diving sites, Palancar Horseshoe, Barracuda Reef, Santa Rosa Wall, Colombia Wall, Palancar Reef, or the cenote of Aerolito de Paraiso.

Enjoy the beaches: The western shore is rocky and not suitable for swimming. The best beaches have been turned into “parks” or privately operated beach clubs. Some clubs may charge an entry fee, but this covers the price of a chair, umbrella and use of toilets and change rooms. There are restaurants and bars, and the clubs usually offer activities such as snorkeling, diving, and other water sports.

Cruise ships arriving in Cozumel. Photo credit: iStock

Getting Around Cozumel

There’s plenty to do in the vicinity of the ferry dock, so walking is your best option. The western shore beach parks are a little further afield, Paradise Beach is 5mi/8km south of the ferry terminal, but there are taxis to get you there.

Motor Scooter and Jeep Rental

You can rent a motor scooter, known locally as a moto, or a jeep to drive yourself around the island. If you don't have a licence to ride back home, why are you learning to ride in a foreign country? Similarly, if you have limited experience riding one, don't assume you'll acquire the skills while traveling. It's common for travelers to injure themselves by crashing or falling off motorbikes. It doesn't matter if you’re traveling at a low speed while wearing shorts and a t-shirt, you'll still get a horrible gravel rash. Broken bones will end your holiday prematurely – or worse, a fatality.

Tip: Make sure you have a licence to ride a motorcycle. Travel insurers may deny any claims for medical expenses if you are not properly licenced (and therefore illegally riding the motorbike). When the guy who rents you the bike says you don’t need a licence, he's lying because he wants your money.

Isla Holbox

Holbox is a small island paradise located northwest of Cancun. Geographically speaking, this is not a Caribbean island, as it sits on the waters of the Gulf of Mexico.

This island is unlike anything found in Mujeres or Cozumel. You won't find a lot of tourism infrastructure or roaring nightlife. If you're looking for a peaceful environment where you can enjoy solitude, Holbox is perfect.

The most unsavoury characters you're likely to meet are mosquitoes, which are most common in the evenings, so wear long sleeved clothing and insect repellent to keep the pests at bay. Watch out for racoons if you're camping on the island, too.

Watch the sun go down while enjoying a cocktail (or three) at one of the beach bars. Holbox is a small fishing village, so most locals also enjoy a drink on the beach and testing their singing skills at karaoke. Full moon parties also take place on the beach.

On the western tip of Holbox, you'll find Punta Cocos, a bay where you can see dolphins swimming after the sun sets. 

Between March and October, Holbox becomes one of the few places in Mexico where you can see whale sharks. Organise a tour with a local operator to get up close and personal with these incredible creatures.

Get ready to laze about on Holbox. Photo credit: iStock

Getting Around Holbox

On Holbox there are no paved roads or cars – actually, you can walk barefoot around the island. Rent a golf cart for the day to get around, which shouldn't cos you more than 150 pesos (US $8).

There aren't many ATMs on the island, and the fancier establishments will accept payment by card, but it's best to have enough cash to get you through your stay – if there's a power outage, you'll be stuck. Some resorts will exchange US $ or Euros, but don't rely on this – come with pesos to avoid disappointment. Plus, it's perfectly safe to carry money with you around the island.

Staying Healthy

Bring biodegradable mosquito repellent, as Holbox is a natural reserve and you'll be spending most of your time outdoors, especially in the evenings when mosquitoes are most active.

You might find small scorpions, especially if you are staying in a palapa. Always shake your towels, hats and shoes before you use them. While they aren't as dangerous as they are elsewhere, it's always better to play it safe.

Beware of racoons if you're camping. The island is overpopulated with them, and they will destroy anything in their path. Avoid leaving food out or in open bags, that includes anything with a scent, such as moisturiser or sunscreen.

Avoid drinking the tap water at all costs. Pack a re-usable water bottle to reduce your plastic waste while on the island, or boil your water before drinking. Bring purification tablets if you're super cautious.

Health care on the island is poor. In an emergency, it could take three to four hours for assistance during the day, but at night the only way you can reach a hospital is by arranging a boat or a private plane to take you. 

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3 Comments

  • Michael said

    Thanks for the great information. I am debating a trip to one of these islands and love the summary on each island. Holbox seems like a gem.

  • Terrance said

    Um... the subtitle needs serious rewording and correcting. It doesn't make sense and is misleading. Even the main title's "Best" wording is strange since there aren't enough Mexican Caribbean islands to justify it.

    As of Feb 5 2019 it says: "Mexico's best Caribbean islands lie offshore, but not where you'd immediately think. We go beyond the islands of Cancun and Tulum, to take a look at three other islands that'll give you a break from the crowds."

    What's wrong with that wording...
    [] All islands lie offshore.
    [] Cancun and Tulum are not islands.
    [] The 3 most famous islands off of Mexico's Caribbean coastline are highlighted amongst the 4 you mentioned, so not sure why people would ever NOT "immediately think" of them. Even in 2015.

    If the point is truly about unexpected destinations, you'd be better off highlighting "Isla Contoy" as an unexpected destination rather than a place with cruise ships... and maybe adding little known "Banco Chinchorro" as a diving only destination.

    Other than that, I don't know of any more than 5 Mexican-Caribbean islands with enough infrastructure or transportation to visit. Since there are only 4 possible Mexican-Caribbean islands with beaches to choose from, naming all 4 of them in an article titled "A Guide to Mexico's Best Caribbean Islands" doesn't make sense except as SEO click bate.

    Maybe it would have been more useful to name Mexico's Best Yucatan Islands, to include lesser known options on the Gulf side.

  • [email protected] said

    Hey Terrance,
    Thanks for your feedback. Based on your suggestions, we've made a few edits to this (very) outdated article.
    Isla Contoy and Banco Chinchorro definitely look like the kind of places we'd like to feature here – if you're interested in writing for World Nomads please take a look at our current writing opportunities: https://www.worldnomads.com/create/assignments/
    Cheers,
    [email protected]

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