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Isla Holbox: Mexico’s Dog-Friendly Paradise

Discover why this little-known rustic Mexican island is a pure gem for dog lovers who want to travel somewhere tropical with their furry best friend.

By Krista Halling DVM CCRP DACVS

River and I have just spent a few days exploring Isla Holbox (pronounced “ees-la hol-bosh”), a small, serene dog-loving island off the Yucatan Peninsula’s north coast. This off-the-beaten-path destination is not only a paradise for sun-and-tropical-sea-seekers but also a delightful destination for dog owners looking to share their adventures with their furry friends. 

Here’s our guide to help you and your dog get the most out of dogpacking on this charming Mexican island.

About the island

Located a short ferry ride from the port town of Chiquila at the northern tip of Quinta Roo, Mexico, Isla Holbox is a lovely, small (1.5km x 41km) rustic island where many locals have lived all their lives. The locals are some of the friendliest people you will ever meet, and happily share the island with numerous pet dogs and street-dogs. While the island is off-the-beaten path, its village is peppered with tourists from around the world.

Despite the tourism, this tropical island is still quite rustic, in a charming Gilligan’s-Island-meets-Airbnb way. The roads are unpaved, and seem to be a mix of clay and sand – some with large ruts which explain the beefed-up taxis on the island.

Taxis, motorbikes, golf carts and bicycles are the main modes of transportation, plus on foot. The village is small and most of the island is undeveloped, offering plenty of natural habitat for pelicans and flamingos.

The real dogpacking gem of Isla Holbox is how dog-friendly it is. River was allowed on any beach within walking distance of town (they do have some pet-restrictions in their nature reserves) and in almost all stores and restaurants, especially open-air ones.

Keep in mind that the island’s climate is hot and humid, so vacation-wise it is best suited for water-loving dogs. And due to the heat, any dog will need to be able to retreat into the shade, the water or air conditioning during the hottest part (usually 11am-3pm) of the day.

Dog-friendly accommodations

Isla Holbox is home to a variety of hotels and vacation rentals that warmly welcome four-legged guests. Be sure to check in advance, and you’ll likely find many options for both you and your dog to relax after a day of exploration. We recommend booking a location in or near the centre of this quiet town, since everything will be very walkable with pet-friendly beaches nearby.

Pet-friendly activities

Explore the island’s beauty with your pup by taking a stroll through the quaint streets of Holbox Village or along the vibrant murals that decorate the town. Additionally, consider renting a golf cart, a popular mode of transportation on the island, allowing your dog to join you in exploring its hidden gems. Here were our favourite activities:

Beach bliss for pups

One of the best attractions of Isla Holbox is its gorgeous sandy beaches. The beaches are long and the water is largely warm, shallow and clear. Luckily for dog owners, many parts of the island allow dogs to frolic in the sand and surf, street dogs included. In fact, River shared a fun swim with a golden retriever.

Three-Island Tour

Boat tours are one of the highlights of visiting Isla Holbox since they take you to a few beautiful locations which are inaccessible by foot. The 3-hour three-island tour is the most popular and many tour operators offer it.

On the beach we met a lovely boat tour organizer and longtime resident of the island, pictured below wth River, named Sol who goes by Better Call Sol. Sol happily agreed for River to come along, so $500 MXN pesos later and River’s floatation device in place, we were on our way to visit nearby Yalahau, Passion Island and Mosquito Point.

Yalahau as we had expected does not allow pets beyond the entrance since it is a nature reserve, but we posed for photos (no crocodiles observed), hung out with the boat captain and enjoyed watching large fish swim adjacent to the mangroves. When the rest of the passengers returned to the boat, we left for Isla Pasion (Passion Island) where awaiting us was warm water wading and a beautiful expanse of sand.

River enjoyed the motor boat ride and then took full advantage of our time there, swimming in the sea and running around on the sand with her toy. I kept her on a 15-foot lead so that she didn’t run up to the other boat-goers who were equally enjoying their time wading in the warm water and looking for seashells.

The final stop was Punta Mosquito (Mosquito Point), a popular section of Isla Holbox known for its warm clear waist-deep waters and lots of pelicans. A flock of brown pelicans floated nearby in the water, unphased as they watched River happily swim around with her floating toy.

Rent a bike (fruit basket likely not included)

Being a small flat island (elevation is generously reported at 1 meter, I am told), renting a bike is a great way to explore the streets and go beach-hopping. If you have a small dog, the front basket may suffice for transporting your friend. otherwise you might be able to buy a plastic fruit crate (shown below, with River in it) from a fruit seller. You would then need some sturdy cable tiles to secure it to the rear rack, and some cardboard or a towel for padding. Since the basket floor’s surface area extended beyond the underlying rack, I placed a stiff cutting board (bought at a grocery store) under River’s padded layers, to create stiffness and to better distribute her weight. If your dog has never been in a bike basket before, Isla Holbox’s rental bike may not be the best place to start it.

Rent a golf cart

Golf carts are dog-friendly and fun to drive. We rented one for a day on Isla Mujeres, but they are available on Isla Holbox as well. The caveat being the roads are a bit rough, so I suggest walking around the village to scout the road condition before investing in a golf cart rental, especially if it has recently rained. Interestingly, there are no actually traffic signs on the island; rather they go slowly and use common sense. Seems to work.

Dining with your dog

Dogs are allowed in (almost) all restaurants. Most establishments on Isla Holbox are open-air have outdoor seating where you can enjoy a meal with your furry friend. The island’s laid-back atmosphere extends to its dining scene, making it exceedingly likely for you to find pet-friendly options. Almost all of my “Can my dog join me?” inquiries were met with a puzzled look and “Claro!” (“Of course!”).

The best was having dinner and margarita at one of the many dog-friendly beach bars, while treating River to an endless game of fetch with her squeaky toy and the sea.

Veterinary services

It’s always wise to be prepared for any unforeseen circumstances during your travels. Isla Holbox has a few veterinary clinics, offering basic services. However, it’s recommended to carry a basic pet first aid kit and be aware of the nearest veterinary options, just in case.

Refugio Holbox Animal Sanctuary

Founded by Holbox local Morelia Montes, this is a wonderful non-profit rescue organization for injured or orphaned cats, dogs and local wildlife. They also encourage visitors to the island to visit their sanctuary and to take the dogs for a walk. This helps them with exposures and to find homes for the dogs and cats. See below for a link to their website and embedded video about their program.

Getting there

When planning your trip to Isla Holbox, consider the logistics of getting there with your dog. Since taking a plane, a car and then a ferry are required, the size of your dog will affect how easy and stress-free the travelling will be.

The most direct way is to fly to Cancun, then you will need to either take a taxi (we paid $1800 MNX pesos each way) to Chiquila or rent a car point-to-point from Cancun to Chiquila (the locals say this is much less expensive than a taxi, and that you could rent a car in Chiquila and drop it off in Cancun for your return trip). There is also a public bus, which (to date) does not accept pets.

From Chiquila, take the Holbox Express ferry, which runs every 30 minutes for this 25-minute crossing. Dogs are currently allowed on the ferry, but there is a “no pets” sign posted, so the policy may change again at some point. Best to check the ferry’s website (listed below) for their pet policy before visiting.

Before you go, ensure that your dog is comfortable with the chosen modes of transport and the expected temperatures, and as a matter of routine we suggest carrying all necessary documentation, including health certificate and proof of vaccinations (which also needs to state when your dog is next due for their boosters).

River and I had a fabulous time on Isla Holbox. While small, it offers a delightful escape for dog owners seeking a tropical paradise that welcomes both two-legged and four-legged guests. With dog-friendly accommodations, beaches, activities, and dining options, this Mexican gem is an ideal destination for a memorable vacation with your beloved pup especially if you are looking for something less well-known and less highly-travelled. Pack your bags, bring your furry friend, and embark on an adventure filled with sun, sand, and wagging tails on Isla Holbox.

Additional resources

About the authors

Krista Halling is a veterinarian board-certified with the American College of Veterinary Surgeons and co-founder of Dogpacking.com.

River is a mini goldendoodle and Chief Treat Tester for Dogpacking.com.

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