If you want to spend your vacation in the Riviera Maya, you can’t miss its incredible islands: Cozumel, Holbox, Isla Mujeres, and Isla Contoy. It would be wonderful if you get to see all of them but if you don’t have time for this, we’re here to help you choose.,
Have a look at this guide, in which we will go through accommodation, beaches, what to do, and how to get to them. All this so that you can decide, which one of these four incredible islands you want to visit.
All four of them are surprisingly very different, and depending if you’re traveling on a budget or crave a bit of luxury, you might opt for one or the other.
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You will love Holbox, everybody does. It has a very romantic, bohemian vibe and interesting things to see and do.
If you’re staying in Cancun, Holbox will be the most challenging destination to get to. It’s 87 miles (140 km) away, and if you don’t have a car you will need to consider a shuttle or a public ADO bus. Obviously, later on, as Holbox is an island you need to get a ferry.
Although the island is bigger than for example Isla Mujeres, it will seem much smaller to you, as most of its area is a biosphere reserve.
If you want to stay overnight, there are plenty of boutique hotels overlooking the ocean, but if you’re looking for something on a budget, you should opt for an Airbnb in the central area. However, be ready to pay a minimum of $50USD per night, and there is not much to choose from.
To move around, be ready for no taxis or cars. Everyone goes by golf carts, bikes, or… on foot.
The beaches are wonderful. You will find kilometers of white sand beaches, with super calm, and shallow waters. It’s a very kid-friendly environment.
Holbox offers much more to do if you compare it even to a decade ago. It has this hip boho vibe that attracts certain types of business and tourism and it matches perfectly with its natural, original beauty. So what can you do when in Holbox? How about swimming with sharks? Yes, the main attraction of Holbox, but only between May and September, is swimming next to 14-meter-long whale sharks. And between April and November, you can watch the bioluminescence, when microscopic plankton on the beaches illuminates when hit by the waves. Holbox also has one of the best spots for kitesurfing if you’re a sports enthusiast.
Isla Mujeres is a quaint destination where you are forced to slow down but also offers many surprising attractions apart from sunbathing and swimming in the blue ocean.
Isla Mujeres is the easiest one to reach out of the four Caribbean islands, especially if you are staying in or around Cancun. You can catch a boat from any city dock or hop on a ferry from Puerto Juarez.
The island is small, it has an area of only 1.62 square miles (4.22 km2) but it feels bigger than Holbox. To move around, you will also use golf carts and bikes, but you can also catch a regular taxi.
In terms of accommodation, you also have more choices than in Holbox. There are bigger chain hotels, boutique hotels, hostels, and of course private rentals but also, don’t expect to find anything under $50USD.
If you’re a beach fan, Punta Norte, being the number one beach in Mexico according to Tripadvisor, might be enough to make you opt for this specific Caribbean island. The ocean is incredibly blue and very clear. Punta Sur also boasts amazing beaches. Just remember that only the West part of the island is apt for swimming, please don’t try to swim on the east side.
Isla Mujeres also won’t have you bored. Apart from chilling on the beach, you can visit MUSA Underwater Sculpture Park and snorkel among over 500 sculptures. Your kids will love the Garrafon Natural Reef Park as much as you, where you can kayak, try the zip-lines, and fully relax in a Temazcal, a Mayan sauna.
Some time ago, nobody used to visit Cozumel, now it’s one of the most famous destinations in Quintana Roo.
If you stay in Cancun, you will first need to get to Playa del Carmen to take a ferry from there. Anyway, it’s not that difficult to get to Playa del Carmen, and you can hop on public transport, go on a shuttle from your hotel, or rent a car and arrive at Playa in a bit more than an hour. It’s a straight highway, and not complicated to drive.
Cozumel is the biggest of the four islands and has an area of 184.55 square miles (478 km2). It will be very difficult to bike around, and we highly recommend renting a car if you want to get to know all of it.
In terms of accommodation, it’s similar to Isla Mujeres, with all types of options. You will also find more variety just because it’s bigger than Isla Mujeres or Holbox.
Cozumel is not the place to go if all you’re looking for are beaches. The island catches lots of sargassum and the ocean is also quite rough. The east part of the island that doesn’t get the sargassum is rocky and with scarce beach areas. Still, if you enjoy kite surfing, you will enjoy the Cozumel waters. The Cozumel is best known for diving and snorkeling excursions done from the island, but you won’t enjoy it if you want to paddle with your kids in the shallow ocean.
You should also visit Laguna Chankanaab, a small, freshwater lake, and the National Marine Park. There’s an adventure park that your kids will love. You can swim with dolphins and sea lions, see crocodiles and zipline and try treetop climbing. You can also visit a Mayan home and try local delicacies.
The island also has over thirty Mayan sites which you can visit. And if you like strolling around, explore the main square area and have an ice-cream from local stands.
The Contoy island is a hidden treasure of the Caribbean and slightly off the beaten path. Still, it should be a must-see on your list.
The only way to visit Isla Contoy is by booking an authorized boat tour. There are many you can find that depart from various destinations: Puerto Juarez or Punta Sam in Cancun, Playa del Carmen, and even from Isla Mujeres if you want to make a joint visit.
Contoy is definitely the smallest of the Caribbean islands. It’s just a bit over 5 miles long (8.5 km) and has a total area of 1.2 miles (3.17 km2). It’s surrounded by shallow waters and some sources say that this is the origin of its name as the word kom in Maya means “low” and to’oy means “shelter”. The shallow waters that surround the island in the past were used as shelters for seafarers.
You can’t stay overnight on Isla Contoy, so you don’t have to worry about booking a hotel or Airbnb. Just enjoy the day, and walk around through marked trails to discover its fauna and flora. Yes, the island is all about nature and it’s ideal for bird observation. However, you can also meet other animals—iguanas, beach lizards, freshwater and saltwater crocodiles, face snakes, hermit crabs, and many more. Hawksbill, loggerhead, and white turtles swim to the island to lay their eggs there.
As Contoy is at the beginning of the Mesoamerican Barrier Reef, the second-largest barrier reef in the world, snorkeling in the area with all the colorful corals around is quite an experience
If you crave a beach day, Contoy won’t disappoint either. You can sunbathe on white dune beaches and swim in crystal shallow waters.
Have you made up your mind which one of the four islands of the Riviera Maya you want to visit during your vacation in Cancun? A romantic, bohemian Holbox or Isla Mujeres with white-sand beaches and crystal clear waters? Or maybe a bigger Cozumel to spend a few days snorkelling and having a blast in an adventure park? Maybe the small, natural Contoy caught your attention with its local fauna and flora exhibit?
Or maybe you don’t have to choose at all? Why not adding all four islands to your vacation plan and see with your own eyes what makes all four islands of the Riviera Maya so attractive in so many different ways.
Don’t wait too long! Some reservations need to be done in advance, especially if you want to find interesting tours and accommodations on a budget. So book your holiday on Caribbean islands right now to get the best offers!