Holbox is a small island, located 8 miles off the northern coast of the Yucatan Peninsula between the Caribbean Sea and the Gulf of Mexico. If you want to spend a day or two far from the crowds, this is the place for you. Candles were replaced with electric light less than 30 years ago and there are no paved streets on the island. Time seems to have its own pace. You come for the remote beaches, breathtaking sunsets, wildlife, and to relax, relax and relax some more!
Isla Mujeres is the perfect destination for a day trip from Playa del Carmen. The laid back island has way more to offer than heavenly, Caribbean beaches with white, powdery sand, swaying palm trees and crystal clear water. Swim with the giants of the Sea, discover ancient Mayan history and a wildlife refuge!
About Isla Mujeres
The island gained its name “Island of the Women” because of the many carved images of women the Spanish found when they arrived there. This was because the island was a sanctuary for Ixchel, the Mayan goddess of the moon, fertility, medicine and happiness. The temple was built on the south tip of Isla Mujeres, which happens to be the most eastern point of Mexico. It also served as a lighthouse, to guide Mayan seafarers.
A few hundred years later, the island turned to be the perfect refugee for pirates and buccaneers. It’s said that they kept their women here while they went out plundering the Spanish ships, loaded with gold from Yucatan.
Beginning in the middle of the 20th century Isla Mujeres already welcomed visitors, long before Cancun was discovered by tourism. Since there was no ferry service yet, tourists would signal with flashing their car lights from a make shift dock, for local fishermen to pick them up.
How to get to and get around in Isla Mujeres
Nowadays it’s much easier to visit the island. Puerto Juarez in Cancun has two ferry docks that service Isla Mujeres on a very regular basis. The two docks are a few blocks apart and about 10 minutes north of downtown Cancun.
The easiest way to get around Isla Mujeres is by renting a golf cart or by taxi. Most golf carts are about $45 – $65 USD a day and it makes it easy to visit all the following places!
Welcome to the island’s most popular beach. And there’s a reason for it. Playa Norte is a truly paradisiacal beach, with crystal clear water and white sand, post card like, just as you expect a Caribbean beach to be. Getting off the ferry, you turn left on the main road and walk about 10 minutes until you reach the beach, or take a cab. There are several beach clubs; some have a restaurant and bar service, some just offer loungers and sun umbrellas.
You arrived to Mexico’s most eastern point, where the remnants of the before mentioned temple of Ixchel stand. Although severely damaged by Hurricane Gilbert in 1988, it can still be visited. Besides of the ruins, Punta Sur offers a breathtaking view of the coast line of Cancun. With this view and its steep, naturally carved cliffs, Punta Sur sure is one of the most beautiful spots on the Island, with a lot of wildlife to see. You can walk down a trail to get closer to the water and to a little cave.
El Garrafón Natural Reef Park
The Natural Park just next to Punta Sur is ideal for snorkeling. It’s named after the gorgeous reef formation at its shore, which is home to many different species and guarantees an incredible snorkeling adventure. If snorkeling isn’t your thing, how about swimming with dolphins, zip-lining or kayaking? Or just relax in a hammock, plunge in the pool and refresh with delicious drinks at the bar. The park is open daily from 9 am to 5 pm, and the entrance fee starts at $89 USD. Ask our staff at Playa Palms Beach Hotel to help you with reservations.
Turtle Farm Tortugranja
About halfway to Punta Sur you find this sanctuary for sea turtles. Sadly, sea turtles are an endangered species, which is why at Tortugranja they aim to protect the animals and increase their population, while educating visitors on a very interesting one hour tour. They offer shelter to injured turtles and other animals, and have a turtle nursery. You can walk through indoor and outdoor pools and observe not only baby and adult turtles, but also fish, sharks, sea horses, and crabs. The center opens daily from 9 am to 5 pm and charges a small entrance fee.
Swim with Whale sharks
This is probably the most incredible experience you will have, not only on your trip to the Riviera Maya but in your whole life. Don’t miss out on swimming with the peaceful giants if you happen to visit during the whale shark season, between June and September. Isla Mujeres is one of the best spots world wide to swim with whale sharks, maybe that’s why the island is formed like giant shark! Our staff at Playa Palms Beach Hotel is happy to help you book your tour. More information on swimming with whale sharks.
Despite the Riviera Maya and the Yucatan Peninsula being a famous tourist destination, there are plenty of genuine gems away from the mass tourism.
1 – Isla Blanca
Every city has its best kept secrets, for Cancun this is Isla Blanca. The isolated strip of land between the Chacmuchuc Lagoon and the Caribbean Sea is just a short drive out of Cancun. Make sure to bring your own drinks and snacks, since there are no shops, only a few fruits sellers.
What to do: relax, kite surf, spend an afternoon with friends
How to get there: Drive through Cancun and take the north out toward Punta Sam.
2 – Las Coloradas
The lagoon of this tiny fishing village on the north coast of the Yucatan Peninsula seems taken out of a fairy tale with its water sparkling in the prettiest pink hue. It sure is one of the most Instagram-worthy places on the planet. The color isn’t the product of a magic spell, though; it’s naturally emitted by the red plankton and the high quantity of brine shrimp that inhabits the lagoon. The miles of pristine, secluded beaches make Las Coloradas the perfect magic get away.
What to do: Take many, many pictures, be amazed, relax.
How to get there: By car, via Valladolid and Tizimin towards Rio Lagartos or by public bus via Valladolid.
3 – Rio Lagartos
The sleepy village just a bit West of Las Coloradas is best known for having the densest concentration of pink flamingos in Mexico. The town itself is very charming too, with its colorful fishermen’s houses and the boardwalk along the waterfront. Make sure to bring enough cash, since ATM’s haven’t arrived in this corner of the world.
What to do: Watch flamingos, take a walk through the town, visit the Granja de Cocodrilos Itzamkanac
How to get there: By car via Valladolid or by tour (usually includes Ek-Balam)
4 – Ek-Balam
If you’re looking to get away from the masses Chichen Itza attracts, visit Ek Balam.This surprisingly well preserved archaeological Mayan site close to Valladolid is unlike any other, mostly because of its intricate artistic details. Only the center has been excavated, with several temples, two palaces and one large pyramid, El Torre. El Torre, one of the largest Mayan structures on the Peninsula, is both in size and architecture very impressive.
What to do: Discover ancient Mayan history and marvel at the detailed ornaments and sculptures.
How to get there: By car, public bus (via Valladolid) or with a tour.
5 – Bacalar
Picture rustic cabins instead of big tourist complexes, hammocks dangling over the Caribbean Sea, and pure tranquility. You’ve arrived in the picturesque village of Bacalar and its lagoon of 7 colors. It gets its name because of the many shades of blue of the crystal clear water, due to its sandy bottom..
What to do: Swim and relax in the lagoon and count its colors, kayak, go camping, eat fresh seafood, visit the fort and the Parroquía de San Joaquín.
How to get there: With the public bus or by car (about 3 hours drive south of Playa del Carmen, make sure to have enough fuel since the only gas station between Bacalar and Tulum is in Felipe Carillo).
6 – Isla Contoy
If you are a nature lover, you just found paradise: Isla Contoy, an absolutely breathtaking island of pristine beauty with an abundant wildlife. Daily, only a few visitors are allowed access on this secluded island north of Isla Mujeres, which makes it a very exclusive experience.
What to do: Watch animals on land and under water, snorkel in the reef, eat fresh captured seafood at the beach
How to get there: By tour.
At Playa Palms Beach Hotel we are happy to help you reserving any of the above mentioned tours. Just ask our concierge or at the front desk or send us an email.
Isla Contoy is a must for nature lovers: an absolutely breathtaking island of pristine beauty with an abundant wildlife. Daily, only a few visitors are allowed access. Don’t miss your chance to be one of them!
Its pristine landscape, secluded sandy beaches and crystal clear waters make you feel like you are a part of nature yourself. The side facing the open sea is formed by dramatic rocks, while the opposite side has heavenly white beaches. To minimize the impact of tourism on the islands natural resources, access is restricted to only 200 visitors per day. But with an actual daily average of less than 100 visitors, it makes the tour a very exclusive experience.
The island is a true gem, located 30 km north of Isla Mujeres, measuring about 8,5 km in length and only 500 m in width. It is protected by the Mexican Government since 1961, and 1998 it was declared a National Park.
Over 150 bird species inhabit Isla Contoy and it’s an important nesting place for turtles. The reef is home to many animals, which are easy to observe in the clear and shallow waters. The manta rays living there are curious and approach arriving boats and even swimmers without fear. Apart from its rich flora and fauna, only a handful of biologists live temporarily on Isla Contoy, to monitor and study the island’s ecosystem and guide the visitors.
The easiest way to visit Isla Contoy is to book a tour. Only a few companies are permitted to bring tours to the island, and they only sail out 2 or 3 times per week, usually every Wednesday and Sunday from Isla Mujeres or Cancun. It takes about one to two hours to get there, and it can be a rough boat ride, so make sure to bring some medicine for travel sickness if you have a sensitive stomach. If you rented a boat and want to get there on your own, you need to apply for permission in the park offices in Cancun or Isla Mujeres.
On the island is a visitor’s center with a pier, a museum and a souvenir store, a resting area where you will be served freshly caught fish, a watch tower that offers stunning views over the island and two walking paths to discover the area. You will see lots of animals and lie at the most beautiful beaches you’ve probably been to.
Make sure you bring (biodegradable) sunscreen and repellent when you visit the island, binoculars if you wish to observe its wildlife and your camera of course!
For more information or to book a tour, ask our Concierge Carlos or our staff at the front desk.