By: Rebekah Mullinix
In June of 2021, I personally took the following tours in Holbox.
I was very excited to do the bioluminescent excursion. I booked with Airbnb because I was doing it the night I arrived and I didn’t want it to be sold out. However, there are many tour providers on the island.
When to See Bioluminescence?
Holbox is a small island, with minimal light pollution, so it is a prime location to see the bioluminescence. Time of the month and day are also important factors. I decided to go on the tour during a new moon, to eliminate as much light pollution as possible. We met our guide at 8 pm. The sun doesn’t set until around 7:30 pm so the later the tour the better you will be able to see the bioluminescence.
Can I Take Pictures on the Bioluminescence tour?
Yes, this is allowed, but ineffective because cameras do not have the capability to take a picture of the dim light. I brought my camera anyway and was determined to take pictures, but there really is no point. Enjoy the moment and the magic of bioluminescence.
As it got darker and darker, the bioluminescence became more visible. It is actually always present, but you cannot see it during daylight. As we kayaked, our paddles lit up the water. When I moved my fingers in the water I could see a faint glow. Once we made a stop at the sand flat, we did some activities which helped our group experience bioluminescence more fully.
First we dug in the moist sand to see the bioluminescence against the sand. It was much brighter than in the water. Second, we got together with a partner and were given a thin towel. We folded it up and placed it in the water. Once in the water, we opened the towel and slowly brought it out of the water. I could see thousands of tiny sparkling plankton. It looked like stars in the sky! It was absolutely incredible. Then we put on goggles and put our face in the water. The guide moved his hands around quickly in front of our goggles so I could see all the plankton swirling around me. I felt like I was in outer space! After that we created a human net and we “went fishing.” We linked together and all ran forward to scare the fish. As the fish swam, we could see the bioluminescence glowing around the fish. It was crazy! It was so fun to run through the water and chase the glowing fish. We also had some free time to splash in the water and see the bioluminescence glow on the sand flat. It was so magical. The sand flats make the experience even cooler, because you can walk along the moist area of the sand flat and you will leave behind sparkling footprints.
Before we headed back to the town, our guide showed us some constellations visible that night and we even got to see Mars. It’s a great place to stargaze because of the lack of light pollution.
Swimming With Whale Sharks in Holbox
Swimming with the Whale Sharks is the main reason I wanted to come to Holbox. The Whale Sharks follow the plankton and the season is May to August. The reason they stay around Holbox is that many fish lay their eggs nearby. You can also do this tour from Isla Mujeres and Cancun. If you are lucky to come during this time, I highly recommend this tour.
We got picked up at our hotel around 6:30 am and met up with the crew at 7. We were provided a small breakfast there and took off to the site of the Whale Shark Reserve. The boat was tiny and we hit the ocean, full throttle. Everyone from Holbox, Isla Mujeres, and Cancun were racing to get to the reserve first. The ocean was not kind to us, and it was an incredibly bumpy 2-hour ride. I was very sore the next day. I would suggest taking Dramamine if you are prone to seasickness.
Once we arrived at the reserve, there were around 7 other boats already there. There were huge manta rays swimming around the boats. I saw the biggest manta ray I have ever seen jump out of the water. It was mind-blowing! When It was time to swim with the sharks, we could only enter 2 at a time with the guide. When it was my turn, me, guide, and my husband put on our face masks and flippers and sat on the edge of the boat. We drove around looking for manta rays and when we saw one we jumped in the water. When I looked down in the water, I could see nothing but blue. It’s the deepest water I have ever swum in. I looked to my right and saw the white face of a huge manta ray looking at me as if to say “Who are you?” He swam away pretty quickly so we got back on the boat and started looking for more sea life. All 8 of the boats have a radio, so when one person found a Whale Shark, they would alert the others and everyone would race to the coordinates.
When we found some Whale Sharks, again we put on our face masks and flippers and got ready on the boat. As we were circling the sharks trying to find the best spot to jump in, we’re sitting on the edge of the boat. Then when the right moment happens, the guide says “Go, go, go!” and we jumped in. I opened my eyes once in the water, and I came face to face with a Whale Shark. I couldn’t believe what I was seeing. As the Whale Shark swam by I pumped my legs as fast as I could to keep up with the animal. They appear to move slowly and they do, but because they are so large, it is still hard to keep up with them. Depending on how the animal behaves, you could have 30 seconds with them or 5 minutes.
Our guide told us that the ones we saw were all young males. Everything moved so fast. From jumping out of the boat to trying to keep up with the shark, you are on sensory overload. It is totally surreal. The experience was absolutely indescribable. After my two jumps, I was totally exhausted and excited to head to a small fishing camp for a snack and free time.
Snorkeling in Holbox
About an hour and a half back towards Holbox, we stopped to snorkel a little bit. The sand is so fine, similar to silt, the water is pretty murky and it is difficult to see clearly when compared to the Caribbean Sea. However, it is a shallow area where you can see some corals and fish.
Cocolita De Gaby After a short snorkel session, we headed right over to a small fishing camp that caters to tourists on the tours. I tried their ceviche, which was actually my first time and I was pleasantly surprised. There are benches, hammocks, and of course the beach. After relaxing there for a while, we headed back to Holbox.
3 Island Tour – Holbox, Mexico
One of the most popular tours on the island is the 3 Island tour to see various species of birds. There are two tours daily at 10 am and 2 pm. The tour lasts around 4 hours. The three stops include Isla Pájaros (Bird Island), Yalahau Lagoon, and Passion Island. We got on a small boat that holds a maximum of 8 passengers and 2 crew members, so the ride was a little bumpy.
Isla Pájaros Our first stop, Isla Pájaros, a bird sanctuary. You are not allowed on the protected island, but there is an observation area. I am not very good at identifying bird species, but my favorite one I saw was a red egret. There were also white egrets and pelicans. I could see many other birds flying above the island and nesting in the trees.
Yalahau Lagoon We headed to the Yalahau Lagoon, which is actually a freshwater lagoon that comes from an Ojo de Agua, a natural freshwater spring in the ocean. It is said that the pirates fought over this freshwater source. When we arrived at the island we had to pay 50 pesos, 2.5 USD, to enter. We were allotted 1 hour in this area to spend as we pleased. There is the lagoon of course as well as an observation tower, and a restaurant, with a bathroom. When we got to the island I was pleasantly surprised to find many kinds of crabs inhabiting the island. There were fiddler crabs, blue crabs, and mango crabs. I was so intrigued! After watching the crabs for a while, I went up to the observation tower, where I got an amazing view of the lagoon and the rest of the surrounding plain. Then I enjoyed my first Michelada, a beer cocktail, at the restaurant. After relaxing for a while, we headed back to the boat.
Passion Island The third island, Island Passion, is where flamingos often are, however, we did not get to see any. Our guide said the flamingos move often, so their movements are hard to predict. Holbox is a hotspot for flamingos, because of the presence of the algae they require. I went up to the observation tower and got to enjoy more birds. I spotted some nests and got to take some great pictures. Then we headed back on the boat to Holbox. Click here for the post on getting to Holbox.