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Why These Two Islands Near Cancun Are The Most Magical Vacation Hotspots

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When it comes to discovering the wonders of the Riviera Maya, places like Cancun, Playa del Carmen, and Tulum often steal the spotlight.

However, two small islands located near Cancun are quickly gaining recognition among travelers looking for a unique and relaxed experience: Cozumel and Holbox.

These two little-known islands offer a refreshing escape from the busting mainland, featuring some of the most beautiful beaches in the Riviera Maya and a captivating cultural allure.

Aerial view of cozumel

Furthermore, Quintana Roo (the state that encompasses Cancun) is currently working to add these two enchanting islands to the prestigious magical town list, which is currently composed of Isla Mujeres, Puerto Morelos, and Bacalar.

In a nutshell, the status of magical town (Pueblo Mágico) is granted by the Mexican government to towns that possess unique cultural, natural or historical features.

So, let’s find out why visiting these fascinating destinations promises an extraordinary and unparalleled experience, the potential implications of their inclusion in the magical town list, and more!


Only a few years ago, Holbox was a mostly undeveloped island with little tourism infrastructure, reserved for only the more adventurous explorers. But this is changing quickly.

While most of this small island is still a protected ecosystem, Holbox is on its way to becoming a vacation hotspot for all kinds of travelers—and in a good way.

Sandy beaches, pristine waters, and breathtaking natural scenery – you can now enjoy all of the best things the Riviera Maya has to offer from the comfort of your resort.

As you meander through the island, you’ll be captivated by the lively markets and colorful street art that add a touch of whimsy to this paradise.

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Holbox lobster pizza

If you’re a foodie, you can’t miss the opportunity to try the marquesitas (a sort of Mexican crunchy crepe), and Holbox’s renowned signature dish: the mouth-watering lobster pizza.

When it comes to natural wonders, Holbox doesn’t hold back, as the variety of local wildlife is staggering. You can take a boat to Isla Pájaros (Bird Island) and see flamingos up close in their natural habitat, or go on a tour to swim with whale sharks.

If you’re lucky enough, you’ll be able to witness the awe-inspiring bioluminescent phenomenon on a night swim in the ocean. Don’t pass up the chance to explore the mystical Yalahau Cenote, a hidden treasure nestled in Holbox’s natural beauty.

Flamingos in Holbox


This largely undeveloped paradise is only a few miles offshore of Playa del Carmen and is renowned as a crucial cruise ship port and a must-visit for scuba diving enthusiasts.

In fact, most scuba divers would agree that no other place in the Riviera Maya can claim the title of best diving location other than Cozumel, and for a good reason.

On the southwest side of Cozumel Island, you’ll find the Palancar coral reef. Home to an astounding variety of marine species, divers are able to enjoy the crystal clear waters surrounding the reef, with an impressive visibility of over 200 feet.

Cozumel reef

Yet Cozumel is much more than a scuba diving wonderland. As a visitor, you can indulge in an array of exciting activities such as catamaran sailing, touring the island in a rental scooter, and admiring the ancient Mayan ruins known as ‘El Caracol.’

Cozumel’s quiet and relaxed atmosphere sets it apart from its surrounding destinations like Cancun or Playa del Carmen, making it the ideal choice for tourists seeking a laid-back experience away from the masses.

In terms of accessibility, Cozumel has you covered. The island boasts its own airport, ensuring a seamless journey for visitors. You can also take a ferry ride from Playa del Carmen, which whisks you away to Cozumel in just 45 minutes.

Cozumel Sign

As the Mexican state of Quintana Roo works towards designating Cozumel and Holbox as magical towns, the allure of these islands continues to grow.

The recognition aims to enhance the tourist offerings, foster economic growth, and celebrate the unique charm of these destinations.

The efforts to attain this prestigious status speak volumes about the extraordinary experiences that await travelers on these magical islands.

Cruise Ship Pier With a Boat Next to It and Buildings in the Background In Cozumel, Mexico

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Saturday 3rd of June 2023

Your comment on Cozumel in this article Cozumel’s quiet and relaxed atmosphere..." can be a little misleading. We were there in February, the first time back in 10 years or so. Since there are 2 to 7 cruise ships docked every day at Cozumel from Monday through Saturday, it is not the quiet and relaxed atmosphere it was before the large influx of cruise ships and a thousand, white taxis hit the streets.

Frequent Traveler

Sunday 4th of June 2023

@Rex, we have been there twice in the past six months, both times on a Sunday. It is a very sleepy town with no traffic on Sundays. Even on the Saturday we were there on December 24, the town was very quiet and we did not encounter very many people (we drove around the entire island stopping at multiple beaches).