Last updated on December 22, 2022 by Wandering our World
The two Mexican islands of Isla Mujeres and Isla Holbox are a far cry from the madding crowds of nearby Cancun, and are both idyllic vacation destinations.
Both are located at the northern tip of the Yucatan Peninsula, where the Gulf of Mexico blends into the Caribbean Sea, and are perfect destinations to relax on soft white sand, snorkel in azure seas, and enjoy chili-infused local cuisine.
Isla Holbox, pronounced “ees-lah hol-bosh” and meaning “black hole,” sits off the Yucatan Peninsula’s northernmost shores. Holbox faces the Gulf of Mexico and is around 40 kilometers (26 miles) long and 1.5 kilometers (0.9 miles) wide
Holbox is separated from the mainland by 10 kilometers of shallow lagoon that is home to flamingos, pelicans, and other rich birdlife. It’s an up and coming destination with gorgeous beaches where you can see bioluminescence, and tends to be the better choice for kiteboarders and nightlife.
Isla Mujeres, pronounced “ees-lah moo-heh-rehs” and meaning “women’s island,” is located off the coast of Cancun, on the northwestern tip of the Yucatan Peninsula. The island is approximately 7 kilometers (4 miles) long and 650 meters (less than half a mile) wide, so much smaller than Holbox.
Isla Mujeres sits in the Caribbean Sea and is a little over 10 kilometers (6 miles) off the coast of the Yucataan Peninsula. Like Holbox, this island has stunning beaches but is also arguably the better choice for scuba divers, as well as families due to the wider range of things to do.
Of course this is barely scratching the surface of how Isla Mujeres and Holbox are similar and different. Luckily we know both these islands well, so below we look at how the beaches, activities, and watersports compare, as well as show which is cheaper, better for families and more.
- Which Is Easier To Get To?
- Which Is Easier To Get Around?
- Which Is Better For Beaches?
- Which Is Best For Watersports?
- Which Is Better For Activities?
- Which Is Best For Families?
- Which Has The Best Hotels?
- Which Is More Expensive?
- What Time Of Year Is Best?
- Which Is Better?
Which Is Easier To Get To?
You should find both Isla Holbox and Isla Mujeres relatively easy to get to. For flights, you should look to fly into Cancun International Airport, Mexico’s second busiest airport behind Mexico City’s Aeropuerto Internacional Benito Juárez.
Cancun International Airport is well served by direct flights from many of North America’s biggest cities, a few large cities in South America, and a number of western Europe’s capital cities.
Upon arrival in Cancun, you will then need to transfer across to your island of choice. Reaching either island should be pretty straightforward from Cancun, with Isla Mujeres being slightly easier to reach on the grounds that it is closer to Cancun’s airport.
Whether you are heading to Isla Mujeres or Isla Holbox, you will need to transfer by road to the appropriate ferry port, and then a short boat ride will see you reach your destination.
For Isla Mujeres, the journey is simple and short. The ferry ports to Isla Mujeres are around a half-hour drive from Cancun’s busy airport. There are four different ferry ports from which ferries depart Cancun and make the short twenty-minute crossing to Isla Mujeres.
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Once you know your arrival time at Cancun’s airport, you should check the various ferry ports to see which timetable suits your arrival time best. The busiest port is Puerto Juarez, and it’s usually a good idea to check the departure times from here first.
To get to Isla Holbox from Cancun International Airport is just as simple as heading to Isla Mujeres; it just takes a little more time. The ferry across to Holbox Island leaves from the town of Chiquila, which is a little farther away from Cancun than the ferry ports which serve Isla Mujeres.
The transfer time to the Chiquila ferry port will take around two hours, and the ferry ride across to the island should take around thirty minutes.
If you are not traveling on a tight budget and want to make the most of your time on the island, you can also fly from Cancun Airport to Isla Holbox. A few charter airlines make the short journey; there is a small airstrip called Holbox Aerodrome that can accommodate light aircraft.
You cannot buy individual seats for these flights, but if you are traveling as a family or as a group, you can charter the whole aircraft.
Which Is Easier To Get Around?
As two relatively small islands, getting around should not pose too many problems in either location. One of the great things about exploring either of these two islands is that you can get out and about by hiring a golf cart!
Isla Holbox’s roads are sandy, and the island in fact has no cars. The golf buggy is king on Holbox, and you can rent one to explore the island. Isla Mujeres has some paved roads, and cars are an option there, but with golf carts also available, many opt for this more novel mode of transport.
If you choose hotels within the downtown areas, most restaurants, bars, and beaches will be reachable on foot, but for trips outside the towns, golf carts are the way forward.
On either island, you will need a valid driver’s license to rent a vehicle, be it a golf cart or, on Isla Mujeres, a car.
You can also get around the islands by hiring a bicycle. The roads may be a little better for cycling on Isla Mujeres, but exploring by bike is a lot of fun on Holbox too, where you don’t need to worry about cars.
If you are planning on enjoying an adult beverage or two, you will be pleased to know there are also taxi options available on both islands. For Holbox, these “taxis” will be golf carts, but that all adds to the island vibe.
Which Is Better For Beaches?
As tropical islands, both Isla Holbox and Isla Mujeres are blessed with a selection of beautiful beaches.
We’re going to highlight a few beaches from each island to help you decide which idyllic stretches of sand would be best suited to your vacation expectations:
Isla Mujeres: The Beaches
Playa Norte sits at the northern tip of the island and is the largest and most popular beach on the island. The soft, white sand is lapped by the Caribbean Sea, and there are shallow areas that are perfect for a cooling swim. If you have your snorkeling gear with you, there are some great snorkel spots to enjoy too.
Playa Lancheros is to be found toward the south-west of the island, facing Cancun across the water. Playa Lancheros is a little quieter than Playa Norte and is a great place for chilling in the sand. The beach has a pier, which is perfect to explore from below with a mask and snorkel.
Playa Lancheros is also perfect for a spot of lunch, with it being a great place in particular for seafood lovers to sample the local delicacy Tikin Xic, pronounced “teekeen sheek.”
Hermosa Caleta is oft touted as the best beach for snorkeling on the island. The beach is a little quieter than nearby Playa Norte, and the rocky outcrops and bridge provide shelter for the reef fish to gather.
The beach also has plenty of palm trees providing shady areas, and there are plenty of restaurants on hand for when hunger strikes.
Isla Holbox: The Beaches
Playa Holbox is the busiest beach on Isla Holbox, thanks to its proximity to the island’s town and its natural beauty. The beach’s soft, white sand and crystal-clear water are truly inviting, and with the town’s restaurants and shops nearby, it’s a great spot for a day lazing on the beach.
Playa Punta Cocos is a short walk to the west of the island’s town. The beach is a little quieter than Playa Holbox, and it’s a great place to spot flamingos!
The western tip of the island is also a great place for sunsets, and it’s also the best place to see the bioluminescent plankton on a dark night.
Punta Mosquito is perfect for those seeking out a tranquil spot to relax and enjoy the sun in peace and quiet. The best way to get here is by walking; although it’s a reasonably long walk, the rewards are worth it.
The beach features a large sandbank, which you can explore when the tides are low enough, and is a great place for spotting wildlife such as flamingos and pelicans.
Which Is Best For Watersports?
Islands, by their very nature, are often great places to enjoy the ocean and partake in various watersports, and Holbox and Isla Mujeres both have their opportunities for making a splash and enjoying the ocean.
But which island will be best for you will depend on which type of water-based activity you prefer…
If scuba diving and snorkeling are high priorities for you, then you will probably prefer to go to Isla Mujeres.
As mentioned more below, MUSA, the underwater sculpture museum, is a great place to snorkel on Isla Mujeres.
Diving is also possible on Isla Mujeres, and it’s a great place to try scuba diving for the first time as the water is shallow and clear and the currents are very gentle. Diving from Isla Mujeres can also include day trips to Playa del Carmen or Cozumel, where you can enjoy some excellent drift dives and, during the winter, even dive with bull sharks.
While Isla Holbox isn’t as impressive for scuba diving, it’s probably the better destination for you if you are looking to kiteboard.
Holbox is generally viewed as the top Mexican kiteboarding destination. The sandy beaches with very few rocks make it an ideal place to learn to kiteboard, and there are also some great conditions for more experienced kiteboarders too.
The best time of year for kiteboarding conditions is from November until August, when the wind is blowing from the north and east.
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Which Is Better For Activities?
While both of these delightful islands are a little more low-key than nearby Cancun, Playa del Carmen, and Cozumel, there are still plenty of activities to keep you entertained.
Holbox and Isla Mujeres are both quite small, and although there are a limited number of activities, the ones they do offer are definitely worth checking out.
Here’s the main activities on each so you can work out which one may suit you best:
Isla Mujeres: The Activities
The Underwater Museum of Art (MUSA): The Underwater Museum, or MUSA as it is known locally, is a subaquatic art installation and the largest of its kind in the world. The sculptures are at a maximum depth of 30 feet (10 meters), and you can explore them by snorkeling or scuba diving.
Snorkel With Whale Sharks: Between the summer months of June and September, whale sharks gather in numbers just north of Isla Mujeres to take advantage of the plankton-rich waters and abundant fish spawning grounds created by the convergence of the Gulf of Mexico and the Caribbean Sea. Snorkeling with these gentle giants is a must-do if you’re in town at the right time of the year.
Garrafon Natural Reef Park: For an adventure-filled day, head to Garrafon Natural Reef Park near the island’s southern tip. The park has plenty of activities to do and is perfect if you are traveling with children.
There’s some excellent snorkeling in the park, as well as zip-lining, kayaking, and the chance to swim with dolphins.
Isla Holbox: The Activities
Snorkel With Whale Sharks: Not to be outdone by Isla Mujeres, Holbox is also visited by whale sharks during the summer.
The ocean between the two islands is where the Gulf of Mexico and the Caribbean Sea meet, and it is at this mixing-point of the currents that the whale sharks find a rich source of plankton to eat. June, July, and August are the best months to see them, and tours are run regularly to snorkel with these friendly sharks.
Bioluminescence: Isla Holbox is a great place to see bioluminescent plankton. You can start your evening by heading to view the sunset at Playa Punta Cocos, and then once it gets dark, you can take a guided paddleboard or kayak tour out onto the ocean to view the magical effects of the bioluminescence.
If a bioluminescent-plankton tour is a high priority for you, try to coincide your vacation with a new moon, as this is when the nights are at their darkest and the effect from the bioluminescence will be most visible.
Sunrise Kayak Through The Mangroves: Perfect for early risers, a sunrise kayak tour through the mangroves is a great way to start your day.
The island is part of the Yum Balam Flora And Fauna Protection Area, and as such, you can be rewarded with sightings of the local wildlife starting their days. Flamingos, pelicans, and maybe even crocodiles can be spotted.
Which Is Best For Families?
Of the two destinations, there is a little more to do on Isla Mujeres, and it will probably be the better choice for a family vacation.
While both islands are pretty small and are more geared towards relaxing beach vacations than family vacations, Isla Mujeres does have a few more things to do with the children in tow.
Garrafon Natural Reef Park on Isla Mujeres is the most kid-friendly activity on the two islands and is ideal for a fun-filled family day out.
That being said, if your kids are more inclined to make their own fun, they can be a bit freer to run around on the more spacious beaches on Isla Holbox.
One factor to consider when choosing between these locations for a family vacation is the journey time to reach the islands. Depending on the ages of your children, the two-hour-plus road journey from Cancun airport to Isla Holbox may not be ideal for all families, especially if you have just made a long flight. Whereas Isla Mujeres has a much shorter travel time from Cancun.
Which Has The Best Hotels?
Thankfully in both locations you can find excellent hotels close to the beaches to suit a range of budgetary requirements.
So you know what to expect, we’re going to highlight a few of the best options from each location by budget to give you an idea of what’s available:
Holbox: The Hotels
Best Budget Option: Located in the middle of Holbox Island’s town and with Playa Holbox a mere 100 meters away, Hotelito Villas Holbox is a great budget-friendly option.
The hotel has a tour desk to help you book excursions, and they can make the arrangements for an airport transfer. See photos and rates here!
Best Mid-Range Option: Brisa Del Mar, located 300 meters from Playa Holbox and 2.5 kilometers from Punta Coco, offers comfortable rooms with all modern conveniences.
The location is excellent, and the restaurant next door does two-for-one margaritas and superb pork and octopus tacos. See photos and rates here!
Best Luxury Option: Tierra del Mar is an adults-only property that features a gorgeous outdoor pool and sits right beside the beach.
It’s also close to the town center (a three-minute walk), the rooms feature a clean and modern design, and the service is exceptional. See photos and rates here!
Isla Mujeres: The Hotels
Best Budget Option: Suites Lorens are comfortable and affordable suites located close to the beach and just a ten-minute drive to the popular Playa Norte.
The rooms are well equipped and feature a living room with a sofa, a well-equipped kitchen with a dining area, as well as a microwave, a fridge, and an oven. See photos and rates here!
Best Mid-Range Option: Casa Barco has an excellent location, just 200 meters from Norte Beach and 600 meters from Isla Mujeres Beach!
The rooms at this boutique hotel have sea views, and the resort also offers a car rental service, making exploration of the island very easy. The ferry terminal is only a three-minute walk away too. See photos and rates here!
Best Luxury Option: Casa del Jaguar Beach Hotel is an excellent resort with a prime location at the northern tip of the island, with their beachfront accommodation just a few steps from El Cocal Beach. The island’s most popular beach, Playa Norte, is under a kilometer from Casa del Jaguar Beach Hotel, while Isla Mujeres Beach is 1.5 kilometers away.
Expect celebrity treatment here at a resort that also features an excellent restaurant, outdoor swimming pool, and a bar on site too. See photos and rates here!
Which Is More Expensive?
It can be said that neither Holbox nor Isla Mujeres are backpacker-oriented budget travel destinations. However, it is still possible to keep costs down and have a great vacation without having bottomless pockets.
Overall, Holbox can make it a little bit easier to stay within your budget, but you can still find cheaper accommodation options and food on both islands.
The downtown areas on both islands have some hostels and lower-range accommodations and are great places to stay in both places, as they put you “in the thick of it” with plenty to do.
The downtown areas are also the best places to go if you are looking for cheaper food options, as it’s in there where you can more readily find local restaurants and street food options.
While there are cheaper destinations within the Yucatan Peninsula, such as Playa del Carmen, it is still possible to enjoy a budget-friendly vacation on Isla Mujeres or Holbox. The slightly higher prices are due to the two destinations being islands; the mainland is pretty much always a little cheaper…
What Time Of Year Is Best?
While both Isla Mujeres and Holbox can be viewed as year-round destinations, there are times of the year which may be more appealing, depending on what you are looking for from your vacation.
In general, the peak season for these two Mexican destinations is from mid-December through April. This is when the weather is ideal, and many tourists visit the island to escape the depths of winter in their homelands. Prices for flights and accommodations will be at their highest during these months.
The low-season months are generally considered to be September and October. These are the rainiest months, and with fewer tourists visiting the islands, accommodations and flight prices will be a little lower.
Despite more rain falling during these two months, the weather can still be awesome, but it’s much more of a unknown, and you should expect some rainy days.
If snorkeling with whale sharks is high on your list of activities, then you should schedule your vacation for June, July, or August to maximize your chances of seeing these big, spotty fish.
Holbox vs Isla Mujeres: Which Is Better?
If you’re looking for a chilled beach vibe for your next vacation, either Isla Mujeres or Isla Holbox are definitely worth exploring further.
As two tropical islands, they are both blessed with miles of golden sand, chilled vibes, and great food. As to which one will be best suited to your vacation needs, well, only you can truly decide. If your ideal vacation involves lying in the sand and doing very little, then either location can deliver.
Both Holbox and Isla Mujeres can tick the boxes for those wanting to snorkel with whale sharks too, but avid scuba divers may prefer Isla Mujeres, and kiteboarders may prefer Isla Holbox.
It’s also worth noting that while these two islands can be a great place for your vacation, they can also be visited as day trips or for a day or two during a longer holiday to mainland Yucatan destinations such as Cancun or Playa del Carmen.
Isla Mujeres in particular is popular on a day trip from Cancun, and the island’s population does swell once the first ferries start arriving each day.
The Yucatan Peninsula is a special part of the world, and thousands of tourists have fantastic vacations here every year. Whichever of these two islands you choose to spend your time on, you will be sure to have a marvelous Mexican vacation, and you will not be disappointed…