Tulum Vs Holbox Island – Which Should You Skip?

Holbox Island vs Tulum - showing sand bar aerial view

For those looking for a quieter, more authentic Mexican vacation you will want to steer clear of popular budding cities such as Cancun and Playa del Carmen that receive tons of tourists looking to party.

If you’re wanting a more laid back, boho vibe, visiting Tulum or Isla Holbox is a great option for you.

It’s also no secret that we loved Isla Holbox for it’s family friendly atmosphere which allowed us to feel more relaxed visiting with a toddler.

Mexico, specifically the stunning Yucatan Peninsula, has become one of the biggest vacation destinations in North America.

Prized for affordable prices and white sandy beaches with great snorkeling and delicious Margaritas, Mexico is the ideal destination for a relaxing getaway. 

If you are debating on where to book for your next vacation, I’ve listed below everything you need to know about Tulum vs Isla Holbox Mexico. 

Lets start by going over the details of each vacation paradise and then we’ll dive into the major differences and help you pick the best choice for your getaway in Mexico.

Isla Holbox beaches

Quick Comparison Of Isla Holbox and Tulum

1. Which One Has Better Beach Clubs

If you are looking for a great beach club, you’ll be happy in Tulum or Isla Holbox.

Tulum offers many different beach clubs for those looking to party and have fun with friends.

Although there are general similarities between the clubs, they all offer unique experiences that cater to a variety of styles, tastes, and budgets.

Whether it’s dancing till dawn or taking in stunning views while indulging in delicious food (who doesn’t love eating tacos and sipping on delicious cocktails on the beach?!!), there’s plenty of options when it comes to beach clubs in Tulum!

From high energy parties by night and chill daytime vibes by day; there’s something for everyone looking to have some fun under Mexico’s sun!

Be sure to check out these amazing venues if you’re looking for an unforgettable time with friends during your next trip to Tulum!

We’ve even been able to enjoy day passes at very family friendly beach clubs in Tulum.

It’s nice to have the option of getting away from the partiers and having kids run and play in a kid-friendly atmosphere. Our little one really enjoyed the playground on the beach!

Tulum beach club with playground

Holbox Island is home to some of the most stunning beach clubs in the world.

Here, visitors can enjoy all kinds of activities, from swimming in the crystal-clear turquoise waters, to soaking up the sun on powdery white sand beaches. 

Beach clubs offer a wide variety of amenities, including hammocks for relaxing, picnic tables for dining al fresco and plenty of lounge chairs for sunbathing.

Most beach clubs have several restaurants that serve traditional Mexican cuisine as well as international dishes, while some even feature live music or DJs during their summer months.

@togethertowhereve

Shoukd You visit Tulum or Isla Holbox in Mexico?Which Type Of Traveler Fits Each Destination? Tulum, with its luxury, uniquely designed beachfront resorts and boutique hotels, upscale restaurants, and ancient Mayan ruins attracts a more affluent traveler who seeks to experience the area’s rich history while also indulging in its finer things. By contrast, Isla Holbox draws a much different type of traveler, one looking for an off-the-beaten-path getaway with fewer crowds, simpler amenities, and stunning natural beauty all around.#tulummexicovacations #islaholboxmexico #mexicodestination #mexicovacationinspo #travelinginmexico #mexicotraveltip @togethertowhereve

♬ original sound – togethertowherever

The key difference to note is that the beach clubs on the island are not as trendy as Tulum and tend to all be more or less similar in what they offer.

Generally, they are all pretty good for families, couples, or friends looking to have a relaxing time enjoying their day on the beach.

We highly recommend a massage on the beach no matter which you decide to visit!

Tulum day pass at beach club

2. Which One Is Cheaper

Let’s quickly talk about budget for each destination. When it comes to deciding between Isla Holbox and Tulum, budget-conscious travelers should know that Isla Holbox is the more affordable option.

Not only are the accommodations on Isla Holbox generally cheaper than those in Tulum, but there are also fewer restaurants, bars, and other amenities that can drive up prices. 

Additionally, transportation is far more affordable on Isla Holbox because there are fewer options available than in Tulum.

With the only option being walking or renting a golf cart in Holbox, travelers can expect to pay significantly less for getting around.

Furthermore, when it comes to activities, visitors are likely to spend less money on Isla Holbox than in Tulum as well.

There are plenty of free things to do on the island, such as relaxing on the beach or walking on the sand bars.

For those looking for a fun-filled time without breaking the bank, Isla Holbox may be the best bet.

Holbox Island beach clubs

3. Which Has A Better Location

Getting to Holbox Island and Tulum both involve a bit of travel, but they differ in terms of ease and location.

Holbox is an island off the northeast coast of Mexico in the state of Quintana Roo, located approximately two hours away from Cancun (about the same as Playa Del Carmen) by car.

From there, you must take a ferry to get to the island. The ferry ride takes approximately 45 minutes, so all told it can take up to three hours to get from Cancun or Playa Del Carmen to the island.

Getting to Tulum on the other hand is much easier – it is only one hour south of Playa Del Carmen by car, so it could be reached in as little as two hours if you’re leaving from Cancun.

In addition to its closer proximity, you don’t have to take any ferries or additional boats when traveling from Cancun to Tulum.

This is also another factor to consider when choosing between visiting Bacalar or Holbox Island.

Holbox Island golf cart

Geographically speaking, Holbox Island is further north than Tulum – located at the northern tip of the Yucatan Peninsula while Tulum is located further south on the east coast.

As such, travelers should consider their different locations when deciding which destination might be better suited for their vacation plans.

While it might seem “harder” to get to the island, we found it quite convenient and hassle-free, even traveling with a toddler!

Punta Cocos - Isla Holbox aerial view

4. Which Type Of Traveler Fits Each Destination

Tulum and Isla Holbox both have their own distinct charm. In terms of the types of travelers that each one attracts, there is a stark contrast between the two.

Tulum, with its luxury, uniquely designed beachfront resorts and boutique hotels, upscale restaurants, and ancient Mayan ruins attracts a more affluent traveler who seeks to experience the area’s rich history while also indulging in its finer things.

By contrast, Isla Holbox draws a much different type of traveler, one looking for an off-the-beaten-path getaway with fewer crowds, simpler amenities, and stunning natural beauty all around.

Here you’ll find laid back beach bars and unique wildlife experiences like swimming with whale sharks (there’s kitesurfing, too!) – perfect for those seeking an outdoor adventure.

Unlike Tulum, Isla Holbox is far less developed and provides visitors with an unspoiled getaway where they can spend quality time with nature without sacrificing creature comforts like Wi-Fi or air conditioning.

It’s no surprise then that Isla Holbox draws in travelers looking for some much needed R&R away from their daily hustle and bustle lifestyle.

Tulum or Holbox better

Additionally, Isla Holbox boasts some of Mexico’s most stunning natural scenery with its pristine white sand beaches and crystal clear turquoise waters.

It is also one of the few places left in Mexico where you can still find pink flamingos and migrating birds.

With such different vibes present in each destination, it’s no surprise that these two Mexican gems draw in tourists from all walks of life, and for different reasons; the decision to choose which one depends entirely on what kind of vacation experience you’re after!

If we had to pick one, we would definitely choose the island simply for its peaceful atmosphere and beautiful nature!

Holbox resort on the beach

Tulum – Reasons to Visit

Tulum is a Mexican town sitting on the Caribbean coastline about 1.5-2 hours south of Cancun Airport (CUN). It’s famous for its boho style where the jungle meets stunning beaches.

With lots of yoga studios, vegetarian and vegan restaurants, and dream catcher and macrame stylings, you are sure to enjoy the slow paced hippie vibes of the area.

Tulum things to do

Top things to do in Tulum:

  1. The Tulum Archeological Zone: The Tulum ruins, built in the 13th century, is one of the most famous ruins in Mexico for their unique location. These Mayan ruins sit atop a cliff overlooking the stunning turquoise waters of the Caribbean Sea.
  2. Tulum beaches: There are many great public and private beaches in Tulum including one of my favorites: Playa Paraiso. Beaches in the Tulum area are picture perfect white sand and are great for swimming and snorkeling. Keep in mind that some private beaches will have an entry fee so we recommend bringing some cash just in case.
  3. Nearby cenotes: This area of Mexico is famous for its underground freshwater river systems that were worshiped by the Mayan civilizations. Today, a lot of these cenotes (underground caves filled with fresh water) are popular spots to enjoy a refreshing swim, or even try your hand at scuba diving. here is no shortage of cenotes in the area, some of my favorites being Cenote Dos Ojos, Cenote Caracol, and Cenote Manati.
  4. Nearby adventure parks: If you are looking for some adventure mixed into your beach vacation, Tulum has many great options for you. Nearby you will find many large adventure parks such as Xel Ha and Xplor where you can ride down waterslides or zipline through the jungle. Many of the cenotes around Tulum also offer adventure packages that include riding ATVs and ziplining through the jungle.
  5. Take a day trip to nearby attractions: Tulum’s central location makes it easy to take a day trip to many popular areas including Playa del Carmen. You can easily spend some time swimming with sea turtles in Akumal Bay, explore the nearby Sian Ka’an Biosphere, spend the day shopping on Quinta Avenida (5th Ave) in Playa del Carmen and even marvel at one of the 7 Wonders of the World: Chichen Itza.
Tulum beach resorts

If you are looking for one of the best day trips from Tulum, I highly recommend a trip to the Coba ruins located 31 miles/50km from Tulum.

You can rent a bike and travel through the thick jungle to explore the large ruins. A visit to Bacalar Lagoon is also another great option near Tulum!

Tulum beach clubs

Isla Holbox – Reasons To Visit

Isla Holbox (pronounced “ole-bosh”) is an untouched gem of the Yucatan Peninsula. This island paradise is known for two things: white sandy beaches and laid back vibes.

Isla Holbox is a long and skinny island situated northwest of Cancun.

Only 1 mile wide and stretching 26 miles long, this is a great Mexican island to spend a few days, or more, exploring and enjoying a relaxing getaway. 

We suggest visiting Isla Holbox to anyone wondering where to go instead of Tulum, especially families with small children.

Escape the over-hyped tourist trap of Tulum and sail away to Holbox, a pristine beach paradise with its own share of adventure.

Unwind on secluded white sand beaches as you savor cheaper prices than most!

If you find yourself on the island between June and August, be sure to book a trip swimming with the whale sharks who migrate through the area between May and September when it’s whale shark season.

is Holbox worth it

Top things to do in Holbox:

  1. Spend your day at the beach: Holbox is known for its picturesque, white sandy, beautiful beaches meaning a right of passage is spending your day living like a beach bum. Isla Holbox makes it easy with hammocks set up where you can dip your feet in the water while sleeping in a hammock. 
  2. Marvel at the colorful sunsets: If you’re looking for something relaxing to do after a long hard day of sitting on the beach, you will want to head back to the beach to experience one of the most famed parts of this small island: the colorful cotton candy sunsets. Head to Punta Cocos Beach or Alma Rooftop Bar and watch the show as the sun disappears. Because of the island’s loaction, this is one of very few places in the Yucatan Peninsula where you can capture a beach sunset.
  3. Bike through the colorful streets and spot all the great street art: Bike rentals typically run on a 24-hour rental ranging between 150-250 pesos. The island is small and easily bikable. Be sure to keep your eyes peeled as many of the buildings are covered in impressive street art.
  4. Take a night tour to see the bioluminescence: Talk about a bucket list activity, booking a paddle boarding or kayak tour to see the bioluminescence is one of the best things to do in Holbox. Tours leave around 8 pm from Punta Cocos Beach and costs about 300 pesos. 
  5. Visit neighboring islands: Taking a 3 island tour is one of the most popular things to do in Holbox. The tour takes a few hours and costs around 400 pesos and is a must do in the area. You will visit the flamingos of Rio Lagartos and, if you’re lucky, will see some dolphins jumping through the water on your route. Finally, you will dip in the mineralized waters of Cenote Yalahu. 
Holbox beach sunset

Getting To Tulum Vs Holbox

Tulum is a city on Mexico’s mainland with a recent boom in tourism. Getting to Tulum is easy via buses, taxis, or private cars.

To get to Tulum you can expect an easy 81 miles/131 km (between 1.5-2 hours) drive from Cancun and the international airport. This drive hugs the coastline and involves one direct trip on the highway. 

Isla Holbox on the other hand is an island located in the north of Mexico’s Yucatan Peninsula. This lesser known beach paradise is much harder to get to given that it is not connected to the mainland and sees less of a draw for tourism. 

To get to Isla Holbox you’ll be driving for around 87 miles/139 km in total (around 2-2.5 hours depending on traffic), west along Highway 180D and north on Highway 5.

This will take you to the town of Chiquilá where you’ll get on the Holbox Express to get to the island. This ferry starts its route at 6:30 am and ends at 9:30 pm daily with ferries departing every hour.

Tickets cost $220 MXN each way and are limited to around 130 people per sailing.

Once you get to the the island, you’ll notice that there are no cars! So, how do you get around? Well, most things will be within walking distance if you stay somewhere near the beach. 

For those who don’t like walking more than 15 minutes, you can always rent golf carts and zip around the island to wherever you want.

We hired a tour guide who took us to Punta Coco on a golf cart because we didn’t want to walk with our toddler at night to see the bioluminescence.

Holbox vs Tulum

What’s Better – Tulum Or Holbox?

You may be wondering, “is Holbox like Tulum?” Well, yes and no.

Tulum has received a ton of buzz in the last decade with flocks of influencers showcasing the dreamy boho vibes of the area.

This buzz has brought a huge influx of tourists to the area and has made it so the beaches are now studded with large all-inclusive resorts. 

One of the biggest draws to Tulum vs Isla Holbox is its proximity to nearby cities and amenities.

Tulum is nestled in the heart of Mexico’s tourist zone making it easy to spend a day in popular tourist areas such as Playa del Carmen and the Sian Ka’an Biosphere. 

Isla Holbox on the other hand remains remarkably untouched by Mexico’s budding tourism scene.

This is a great spot to visit if you are looking to get away from the tourist scene and escape to pristine white sandy beaches and slow lazy island vibes.

One main difference we noticed from our experience visiting both locations was how accessible the beach was in Holbox.

In Tulum, it feels like the beaches are closed off to guests of the resorts or those spending big bucks at the beach clubs.

While getting to Isla Holbox may seem like a bit of a trek compared to Tulum, once you are there, you will feel more free to enjoy either the beach or the town.

Tulum street

Tulum felt a bit claustrophobic to us. To get to the beach you need to taxi, drive, or bike down a very narrow and congested one way road that is usually slow with traffic.

To get to Tulum town you have to make the annoying trek back. We didn’t feel very relaxed unless we were spending a couple of days just at the resort and not going anywhere.

For those traveling with little ones as a family, we suggest staying in a beach resort in Tulum for 2 to 3 nights to really feel relaxed as we did on our recent trip.

However, you should be prepared to spend quite a bit on accommodations and food. If you want a more hassle-free family vacation, we suggest you visit Holbox.

We stayed there for a few days and loved being able to stay on the beach at a very reasonable price and having the ability to walk to the town for food and shopping.

A feature that Isla Holbox offers that is not present in Tulum (or Riviera Maya in general) is the fact that you can see the sunset over the water.

Because of the geography of the location, the beach is facing slightly west over the Gulf of Mexico so the sunsets are amazing! You just won’t get this kind of sunset in Tulum.

Now if your question “is Holbox worth visiting?” the answer is ABSOLUTELY! That is if you’re looking more for a lazy beach vacation than a go-go-go adventure packed trip.

Regardless if you make Holbox your main destination or just visit for a few days as an add on, I highly recommend the visit.

Tulum boutique hotels

Is Holbox The Next Tulum?

Holbox is often referred to as “the next Tulum” as this tropical haven is growing in popularity and offers an off the beaten track beach getaway.

Tulum rose to fame due to the stunning jungle meets pristine white sandy beach setting that is away from the crowds.

In recent years, Tulum’s popularity has brought a huge increase in tourism and a lot of large 5 star resorts have taken up the majority of the coastline.

Holbox remains largely untouched with that authentic tropical charm.

Tulum vs Holbox? The truth is you really can’t go wrong with either of these amazing Mexican destinations.

Tulum offers a lot in the way of amenities and things to do while still maintaining a lot of authentic charm.

If you are looking to escape the crowds and be a beach bum, I highly recommend booking a trip to Isla Holbox instead. 

We compare Tulum to another famous destination in the Yucatan Peninsula in the following article: Isla Mujeres Vs. Tulum

Use our recommended travel resources to plan your trip:

Isla Holbox vs Tulum

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Hi! We’re Rob and Taiss. We set off to live a life in as many places as possible. To actually live in locations around the world long enough to get to know the locals, the culture, and the food, not just a taste of it.
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