Last Updated on: 26th February 2023, 10:03 am
Are you visiting the paradise of Isla Holbox and interested in a Holbox bioluminescence tour? Or are you looking for info on how to see the Holbox Bioluminescence without a tour?
This post includes everything you need to know before you see the bioluminescence, and it will help you decide whether to go on a tour or see it on your own, plus what to wear, what to bring with you, photography tips, safety tips, and more!
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Holbox Vacation at a Glance
Still need to finalize transportation, tours, or accommodations? Here are my recs to ensure a smooth trip to Holbox.
Popular Holbox Tours (Bioluminescence, Three Islands, Boat Tours, and More)
Magic Night of Stargazing and Bioluminescence (I did this!)
Whale Shark and Snorkeling Adventure from Isla Holbox (On my bucket list!)
Where to Stay in Holbox
While large resorts are popular on the Riviera Maya, Holbox is full of fun hostels, independent hotels, and eco boutiques.
Here are recommendations for where to stay on Holbox for every budget.
Hotelito Villas Holbox Budget Hotel)
Corazon Mexicano Holbox (Mid-Range Hotel)
Hotel Villas Flamingos (Luxury Hotel)
Villas HM Paraiso del Mar (All-Inclusive Resort)
Welcome Pickups (easy transportation from the airport)
Discover Cars (for road trips and independent day trips)
Cruise Critic (Mexico cruise tips)
Odds and Ends
Lonely Planet Cancun, Cozumel, & the Yucatan (guidebook I use)
Flytographer (vacation photographer I use. 10% discount code: HISTORYFANGIRL)
Radical Storage (reliable luggage storage)
Get a travel insurance quote with Safety Wings (I’ve used them!)
What is the Holbox Bioluminescence
While it might be a fancy two-dollar word, bioluminescence can be broken down like this:
Bio (life) + Luminescence (the emission of light) = Bioluminescence (Life that give off light)
It is that simple. And while it might seem magical, anyone who’s seen a firefly has seen bioluminescence in action.
Other examples of bioluminescent creatures include glow worms and some varieties of jellyfish and squid.
The light emitted by these animals is usually blue and blue/green, but there are exceptions like yellow fireflies and red-and-yellow railroad worms.
Water that is full of bioluminescent phytoplankton or bacteria can form a natural phenomenon called “milky seas” or “sea sparkle” out in open water or phosphorescent bays closer to shore.
You can witness this bioluminescence phenomenon for yourself in Holbox, which is home to one of the Caribbean’s best bioluminescent beaches.
Here the microorganisms in the plankton emit blue light when they undergo a chemical reaction caused by being agitated. This agitation can be caused by swimmers, marine life, or even moving water.
The bioluminescent water at Holbox’s Punta Cocos looks like a million blue fireflies are swimming in it.
You can agitate it yourself by walking in the shallow water or going out further and swimming which causes the plankton to go off.
Evolutionarily, the light helps keep the bioluminescent plankton from being eaten, but Holbox’s famous whale sharks love to munch on these light-up snacks.
While Mexico’s Yucatan peninsula might seem like it’s all one big stretch of beautiful beaches and beach clubs, the island bioluminescence is a unique experience and a great reason to visit Holbox.
(As if Holbox island’s hammocks, murals, cenote, and beautiful beaches weren’t enough to entice you)!
You can see a video of the bioluminescence in Holbox here.
Bioluminescence Holbox Travel Tips
Now that you know what it is, here’s what you need to know to see it for yourself!
The Best Time of Year to See the Bioluminescence in Holbox
The summer months are technically the best months, but I went on my tour in February and saw it just fine!
You don’t need to worry as much about scheduling your trip around a “Holbox bioluminescence season” as much as looking at a full moon calendar.
That’s because the full moon lights up the sky so much that it makes it hard to see the lights in the water.
Plan your trip to Holbox so that you are in town as close to the new moon as possible, when the skies are the darkest. If that’s not possible, at least try to skip the full moon and the few days before and after.
If you book with a tour company, they will generally have the full moon days blacked out, but keep this in mind if you plan on going on your own as well.
The Best Time to See Bioluminescence in Holbox
Since the skies need to be as dark as possible, it won’t surprise you that this is one of the most popular Holbox night activities. But the hour that it takes place at night also matters.
The actual tour time will vary according to the lunar phase. My tour left around 11 PM for us to get the best sightseeing conditions.
If you are going on your own without a tour, try to time your visit to when the skies will be the darkest overhead.
However, keep safety in mind, since going without a tour poses more of a safety challenge than visiting with a group.
Good to know: Most tours last about two hours. This means you can enjoy more of Holbox at night and other popular Holbox island night spots before your tour and once your tour is over.
How to Decide to Book a Holbox Bioluminescence Tour or Go on Your Own
Whether you go on a guided tour or on your own depends on what kind of experience you want to have plus your budget.
Benefits of Going on a Bioluminescence Tour in Holbox
Go on a guided tour of the bioluminescence if the following appeal to you:
getting round-trip transportation from your hotel (some tours offer this)
relying on the tour company to decide the best hour to go for visibility and what days will be too dark altogether
having a guide explain the science to you
meeting new people and having a shared experience with other travelers
having the safety of traveling in a group with an experienced guide
getting the guarantee of a full refund or complimentary rescheduling if you don’t see the bioluminescence during your tour
Benefits of Seeing the Bioluminescence without a Tour
Choose to go without a tour if you prefer:
experiencing the water with just your own travel companions
not spending money on a tour
having unlimited time to enjoy this natural phenomenon
photographing the bioluminescence and don’t want to affect the experience of others
not worrying about having a tour cancellation
How to Pick the Right Holbox Bioluminescence Tour for Your
If you do want to go on a guided tour, there are multiple types of tours to pick from.
Traditional Bioluminescence Tour
The traditional tour includes transportation on a golf cart to the beach, explanations of the bioluminescence phenomenon, and time to enjoy the water.
If you are interested in this experience but don’t want to have other travelers on your tour, you can hire a private guide instead.
Bioluminescence Kayaking Tours (and SUP / Stand-Up Paddleboarding)
Bioluminescence Tours with Snorkeling
If you want to see the bioluminescence from under the water, book this tour that includes access to snorkels and masks.
How to See the Holbox Bioluminescence without a Tour
While I chose to go on a guided tour, you don’t need one to have a magical experience. You can choose to see the bioluminescence without a tour.
You will need to get to the bioluminescence beach at the inlet at Punta Cocos on your own. You can walk, rent a bike, or take a golf cart taxi.
The walk from Playa Cocos at Punta Cocos (the famous Holbox sunset spot) is about ten minutes. However, you’ll be walking long after dark, so it may take you longer.
If you walk from downtown, it will take you about thirty to forty minutes.
Of course, if you take a golf cart taxi from downtown, you will get there much faster.
Download the map ahead of time so it’s available offline, as you likely won’t have cell service for some of the trip.
If you choose to walk or take a taxi, don’t bring any valuables with you (other than cash for the taxi).
You should also bring a flashlight. Don’t rely on your cell phone in case it dies on the way back (or falls in the water).
Once you get to the beach, turn the flashlight off so you don’t disturb other visitors.
What to Wear to Swim in the Bioluminescent Water
There’s no official dress code for the bioluminescence tours, but you should wear a swimsuit with a light layer of clothing over it.
The water is quite shallow, so it’s also possible to get in the water without swimming if you prefer to skip the swimwear.
I wore a swimsuit, tank top, and leggings. Others on my tour were wearing t-shirts and shorts over their bathing suits.
For shoes, you don’t need water shoes since there are no rocks at this beach. I wore simple flip-flops with arch support.
If you are walking from downtown, you will likely want sturdier shoes, since the roads are rocky.
Leave valuable jewelry at your hotel.
I lost my Fitbit while on my tour. I took it off because it was emitting too much light, but I forgot to get it out of the golf cart at the end of the tour.
(I did email my tour company to see if they found it, but it was gone baby gone).
What to Bring with You on a Tour or Solo
Bring your cell phone, cash for your tour guide tip or taxi fare, insect repellant, your hotel key, and a drink if you will want one.
Read the next section about photography before deciding if you’ll bring a camera and which one.
How to Photograph the Bioluminescence
I’ll be honest, as a professional travel blogger, it was really weird to do an activity where I knew ahead of time I wouldn’t be able to get good photos.
I’m so used to sharing my travels here on this blog and my social media channels, and it’s really hard to do that without photos from my trips.
But for this experience, I added it to my Holbox itinerary at the last minute and didn’t have the kind of equipment necessary to capture the bioluminescence in a photograph.
My camera could photograph the stars overhead but only got one picture that MIGHT be of the bioluminescence.
If you go on an organized tour, it will be difficult for you to spend enough time getting the photos you want.
Some tours don’t allow cameras because the light from the cameras can disrupt the other group member’s ability to see the phenomenon.
However, if photographing Holbox’s bioluminescence is important to you, it can be done.
Use the settings in this guide to photographing Sea Sparkle.
You will need a tripod, a wide aperture, a high ISO, and a long exposure.
Essential Safety Precautions to Take
Holbox is a safe tourist destination (as is most of the Riviera Maya and Quintana Roo). However, there are some common sense safety precautions you need to take.
I’ve already discussed not bringing any valuables. Petty thieves have been known to hide in the bushes and riffle through the golf carts and bags left on the beach while tourists are in the water.
If you are walking, bring a flashlight. There are no lights in many places.
Have the map downloaded onto your cell phone so that you can navigate without internet access.
If you aren’t going on a guided tour, then go with travel companions. It’s not advisable to walk alone in the pitch black dark.
Don’t go if you’re under the influence. While the water isn’t that deep, it’s a very dark beach.
How to Store Your Stuff if You aren’t Checked into Your Accommodations
Some people come to the island to see the bioluminescence without getting a hotel or accommodations.
Or they end up going on a bioluminescence tour because they missed the last ferry back to Chiquila.
They are open twenty-four hours a day and will keep your stuff safe starting at $5 a day.
Bioluminescence Holbox Frequently Asked Questions (FAQ)
These are the questions travelers ask the most about visiting the bioluminescence in Holbox.
What is bioluminescence?
Bioluminescence is light emitted from living beings.
Is there a difference between bioluminescence and phosphorescence?
Yes, these are different. You can see an overview here.
Is there bioluminescence in Holbox?
Yes, it is located at the Holbox beach at the inlet of Punta Cocos.
Not all Holbox island water has this bioluminescent phytoplankton, so go to Punta Cocos to see the real deal.
What does the Holbox Bioluminescence look like?
The bioluminescence on the island of Holbox looks like blue fireflies or shooting stars in the water.
Is it called the Holbox Bioluminescence or the bioluminescence Holbox?
People use a variety of related nomenclature to refer to this natural phenomenon. This is mainly due to the mix of using English and Spanish.
In Spanish, it’s referred to as the bioluminiscencia Holbox.
This gets translated into English as the Holbox bioluminescence, bioluminescence Holbox, Isla Holbox bioluminescence, and the Holbox Island bioluminescence.
When can you see bioluminescence Holbox?
You can see the bioluminescence year-round except for days near the full moon.
When can you see bioluminescence in Mexico?
You need to know when the sky will be the darkest. This is affected by the lunar phase.
Where can you see bioluminescence in Mexico?
Beyond Holbox, there are other famous bioluminescent beaches in Mexico.
How much does a Holbox bioluminescence tour cost?
Tour prices vary by what’s included and how long the tour runs. If you book your tour online, you can pay in USD.
If you book a local tour in person, you can pay in Mexican Pesos (MXN) or USD. In this case, paying in MXN will probably save you some money.
Is the Bioluminescence safe?
Yes, swimming in bioluminescent water and touching the water with your skin is safe.
What other animals can you see on Holbox Island?
Holbox is famous for its whale sharks and flamingos. You can also see pelicans and other marine birds while here.
Whale Shark tours are another popular Holbox tour.
What other places to visit near Holbox are worth visiting?
You can combine a trip to Holbox with other important stops in Quintana Roo, like Playa del Carmen, Tulum, Cozumel, Isla Mujeres,
Other popular day tours in this region include full-day tours to the Mayan ruins of Tulum and Chichen Itza and the MUSA Underwater Museum.
5 Things to Pack for Your Trip to Mexico
Lonely Planet Mexico and Lonely Planet Cancun, Cozumel, & the Yucatan are available as a paper copy or in a Kindle edition. You typically won’t find major guidebooks once you land, so get yours ahead of time.
I used both of these to plan my last trip to the Yucatan, and I read them cover to cover!
Mosquito Repellant is the single most important thing you’ll want on you as soon as dusk hits. Have enough to at least get through the first night if you’re packing light.
Full-Sized Travel Towel Unless your accommodations provide them, you will want to bring your own. I always bring my own towel to Mexico.
This is the best travel towel in the world. It’s pretty enough for the beach, large enough that you forget it’s a microfibre towel, and quick-drying, which is crucial in super humid parts of Mexico.
A Go Pro for underwater and action photography. Why go all the way to Mexico and not be able to capture some of the most exciting parts of your trip?
A Dry Bag for your stuff when you go on a boat or to the beach. You can get a larger one to use for a group or if you plan on taking a larger camera.
Otherwise, I use small ones with lanyards to hold my cell phone, money, and credit cards so I could take them with me swimming when traveling solo.
You might also want a separate waterproof holder for your passport. I’ve seen people who weren’t allowed to board their flights home because their passports got water damaged.
Mexico Travel Resources
Central America Travel Guides
Will you be exploring Central America after your trip to Mexico? Check out these Central America travel guides: