For some, it’s a bucket list experience, for others, it comes as an unexpected but unforgettable surprise. Whatever the case, beaches in Holbox, an emerging tourist hotspot north of Cancun, are increasingly popular thanks to a natural phenomenon: bioluminescent beaches.
This naturally-occurring wonder may seem out of this world, but it has a very scientific cause: tiny bioluminescent dinoflagellates (plankton) react with oxygen, producing a beautiful, radiant glow in the dark. Although Holbox has been making the headlines recently thanks to its sargassum-free beaches – the island’s mangroves and sand dunes offer it natural protection from the pesky seaweed – the popular destination is now trending thanks to its beaches which are rich in a type of algae that glow in the dark.
Originally going viral on social media platforms such as TikTok and Instagram, word about the spectacular phenomena has quickly spread among visiting tourists. Combined with the island’s top-notch beaches and excellent hotel scene, tourists are flocking there for a taste of Caribbean paradise.
This naturally-occurring light show is best seen during the months of May to September, officials say, coinciding with the whale shark’s feeding period. Each year, hundreds of whale sharks make their way to Mexican Caribbean waters to feed on plankton and small shrimps. The waters off of Holbox are especially rich in these specimens, which then wash up on shore and produce the highly sought-after effect, illuminating beaches in a blue light.
Due to growing demand, Holbox, which has fewer large resorts due to its focus on small, local properties, is seeing hotel occupancy skyrocket to record levels. The island only has 5% of its hotel rooms left for the peak of the summer season, as visitors look for alternatives to Cancun and Riviera Maya, which have struggled to contend with massive quantities of sargassum this summer. This translates to a daily visitor number of around 3000 – a considerable amount taking into account that the island only has around 2000 residents.
According to Guadalupe Camps Tah, Holbox’s tourism manager, people are rushing to the island to witness its bioluminescent beaches. However, there’s no guarantee that the phenomena will be visible, so if you’re interested in seeing it, make sure to visit when it’s not cloudy or rainy. The island is home to hundreds of beaches thanks to its extensive coastline, so there’s no need to worry about overrun beaches.
To cope with high demand, the municipality is ramping up efforts in both security and cleanliness. More cleaners have been hired to maintain the island’s beaches – many of which are rather remote – in pristine condition. Safety is also a big issue, and although the island is generally safe, break-ins are known to occur in holiday rentals. Lastly, municipal leaders want to ensure sustainable growth in tourism to protect the island’s delicate ecosystem, which includes species like flamingos.
How To Reach Holbox From Cancun
Holbox is a small island that sits on top of the Yucatan Peninsula, around 45 miles from Cancun International Airport. The easiest way to reach this tropical island is to take a car, taxi, or bus (ADO, 3h) from Cancun to Chiquilá, a port town just south of Holbox. From there, you can take a ferry to reach the island, which only takes 15 minutes and costs around $7, with departures approximately every half hour until 11 PM. If you’re willing to splurge, there are direct private flights from Cancun airport to Holbox for around $470 per person, which is obviously the quickest option but at a price. There are also day trips and tours to the island, with departures from Cancun and Playa del Carmen.
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