While the craziness of Cancun may only be a hop across the bay, Isla Mujeres feels light-years away from Mexico’s party capital. Here you’ll find the ultimate in tranquillity thanks to pristine white sand beaches and crystal clear ocean waters. Grab your snorkel and take a dip or go one further and try your hand at scuba diving – there is so much to explore.
If you’re really lucky you’ll be able to tip your cap at the huge amount of sea turtles that populate this beautiful island. So what else is there to know? Here’s the lowdown on holidaying in Isla Mujeres.
An unspoilt paradise
There are a number of options for visiting Isla Mujeres. Many base themselves in Cancun and hop on the ferry for a daytrip, but this would not allow you to truly appreciate the natural beauty of the island. The land is considered sacred by the Mayans and believed to be the home to Ixchel, the Maya goddess of childbirth and medicine.
There is a small reminder of this bygone era with remnants of Maya temple at the southern tip of the island which was severely damaged by Hurricane Gilbert in 1988. Despite its diminutive size, it doesn’t mean there aren’t plenty of things to do during your stay. However, your first stop will no doubt be the beaches.
Playa Norte is considered to be one of the best stretches of shoreline in Mexico. This palm tree-lined slice of paradise can boast soft white sand and an ocean so blue and inviting that you’ll never want to leave. Head to the southern part of the island and you’ll find Garrafon Park, an incredible natural reef park perfect for snorkelling and kayaking.
Then, of course, is the playful amniotes of La Tortunga Granja (The Turtle Farm). Here you’ll meet hundreds of baby sea turtles which are protected during their early lives before being released back into their natural habitat. The farm is also home to a range of sea life including tropical fish, seahorses, lobsters, crabs and a few baby manta rays.
You can’t leave Isla Mujeres without visiting the Hacienda Mundaca. This monument once covered 40 per cent of the island and was built by Fermin Mundaca in 1858 after he “retired” from pirating. It is surrounded by beautiful gardens including a solar clock garden known as “The Rose of the Winds”.
Why go to Isla Mujeres?
Despite being separated by just a small stretch of the Caribbean Sea, the contrast between holidays in Cancun and Isla Mujeres are night and day. Isla Mujeres offers the perfect tonic to the crazy nature of the recognised tourist destination.
Here it is all about relaxation and you can spend your days letting all the stress melt away as you watch the world go by. Everything moves at a much slower pace here and you will come back feeling more refreshed than ever before.
Everyone wants to spend time on their own Caribbean island and holidaying in Isla Mujeres will make that dream come true. The ‘Island of the Women’ lies off the coast of Cancun and is a little slice of paradise you simply must visit. Perfect for a day trip or holiday destination in its own right, it is a quiet and affordable option in this part of Mexico.
Hacienda Mundaca: As much a botanical park as it is a structural sight, this 19th century Hacienda was built by a Caribbean pirate named Fermin Mundaca. And on top of the lush gardens, you'll see monkeys, crocodiles and exotic birds all within the Hacienda's grounds.
Punta Sur: Actually rather like two attractions in one, this site of Mayan ruins is also home to a small sculpture park. Being placed in a scenic setting looking out to the sea, the ruins take on a majestic air, and the symbolism of the sculptures becomes even more powerful. Unfortunately the ruins (a temple dedicated to the goddess of fertility) have been further reduced to rubble due to the severe hurricane Mexico suffered in 2005. The site is still well worth a visit on your holidays in Isla Mujeres, if only to take pictures of the many iguanas and immerse yourself in the stunning natural landscape.
If you’re ever going to try snorkelling or scuba diving then this is the place to do it. The Manchones Reef lies just off the shore while the Cuevones and Banderas Reefs are also not far away. All this means that it is ripe for underwater exploration. There are a host of diving schools dotted around Isla Mujeres to show you the ropes and get you kitted out with all the right gear.
Every summer the island welcomes back some familiar friends and it would be a shame if you didn’t pay them a visit. These are, of course, whale sharks. These graceful animals gather in their hundreds in the waters around Isla Mujeres. Book on a boat trip from mid-May through September and see this incredible event taking place for yourself.
It is not just whale sharks that call this Mexican island home; Isla Mujeres also has its very own turtle farm. Founded in the 1980s, the tortugranja is a sanctuary for endangered sea turtles and every year around 125,000 baby turtles are released into the wild from here. Visitors can watch the mesmerising release programme each evening.
Travel to the southern end of Isla Mujeres and you’ll find the glorious oasis of Garrafon Park. Named after one of the longest reefs in the hemisphere, it is a beautiful natural expanse creating an excellent ambience. Grab your snorkel and take a dip in the warm waters of the Caribbean, swim alongside dolphins, hike through the hills or kayaking down exciting rapids – you can do it all here.
Isla Mujeres isn’t all snorkelling and whale sharks as you will find out if you head to Panta Sur. The highest elevation in the Yucatan region is home to an ancient temple dedicated to the Mayan Goddess of the Moon – Ixchel. The area is considered sacred by the Mayans and women would come here on annual pilgrimages to seek the wise words of the goddess. You can visit the site today for a small fee.
Isla Mujeres may be small in stature but there is plenty to do on this idyllic island.
Isla Mujeres’ undoubted jewel in its crown is Playa Norte. Recently voted among the top 10 beaches in the world by TripAdivsor it is what makes the island such a paradise. A cluster of palm trees flap in the breeze, small fishing boats calmly bob along nearby and the sun beats down on this beautiful white-sand shoreline. Snorkel in the crystal clear waters, top up the tan on shore or sit and watch the world go by with a fresh mojito in hand. This is true bliss.
Take a step away from the tourist hotspot of Playa Norte and head to the west of the island to discover more secluded beaches. Pull up a chair at the beachside restaurants of Playa Tiburon and enjoy delicious seafood as you while away the day. Wander along the iconic pier of Playa Lancheros and pick up a souvenir or two at the market stalls of Playa Indios.
The beaches of Isla Mujeres ooze a Caribbean vibe. Soft white sand is perfectly contrasted with ocean waters so blue they make the clear skies look pale. The most popular beaches are located on the island’s northern tip while the more rugged stretches of shoreline are found in the south. They all have their own unique charm, whether you’re looking for snorkelling or sunbathing.
Enjoy fine dining with a view at Villa Rolandi’s. Considered to be among the best restaurants in Mexico you can indulge in gourmet cuisine while admiring picturesque ocean vistas. If you’re looking for a little more rustic experience, then visit its sister restaurant Pizza Rolandi’s. Here you can taste some of the best pizzas on the island, each of which is perfectly complimented with a specially selected wine.
Try something a little different at Bamboo on Isla Mujeres’ main street. It may look a typical tourist bar with chilled-out music and live sport playing on the big screens; but it serves simply sumptuous Thai food. Watch the world go by and tuck into its speciality of pineapple lobster and classic Pad Thai and wash it down with one of its signature cocktails.
If you’re looking for a little home comfort while in Isla Mujeres, then Bobo’s Fish and Chips is the place for you. This American-themed restaurant has a great selection of chicken wings, burgers, salads and, of course, locally sourced fish and chips.
Dine under the stars at the vast array of restaurants in Isla Mujeres. The island is home to a wide range of eateries which will suit every possible palate. Sample a slice of authentic Mexican cuisines at Don Chepo on Hidalgo Avenue. This island favourite serves a host of local dishes ranging from classic tacos and salsas to mouth-watering meat dishes such as a flank steak known as ‘arrachera’.
As night falls, Playa Norte is the place and thanks to its diminutive nature you can hop from bar to bar with relative ease. Embrace the Caribbean vibe and swing by Buho’s where you can enjoy a cocktail in a hammock while admiring the sunset over one of the world’s best beaches. If you’re looking for a more traditional affair then head to Jax Bar & Grill to watch live sport over a couple of beers.
You can’t visit Mexico without whetting your whistle with a few tequilas. You’re in luck as Adelita Tequileria has over 150 different types perfect for forming the base of a cocktail or enjoying with the classic lime and salt. Keep the night going and head to Bar OM for a couple of hours of smooth jazz, good company and the smell of Cuban cigars – it couldn’t get more Caribbean than this.
Isla Mujeres is often seen as a daytripping destination from the party resorts of Cancun and Playa del Carmen across the bay; but the island can certainly hold its own when it comes to nightlife. Granted, it can’t match the sheer quantity of bars and clubs than its bigger neighbours, but there is a surprisingly big choice for an evening’s entertainment.
You will find a host of interesting products at the markets and boutiques including Oaxacan black pottery and Talavera ceramics made in Puebla. Pick up handcrafted jewellery or maybe treat yourself to a piece of artwork penned by local and international artists.
One thing you must remember is be prepared to haggle, it’s pretty much the done thing here and you can get yourself a great bargain in the process.
Locals and visitors alike simply love shopping in Isla Mujeres. The island is home to numerous quaint shops selling a range of authentic Mexican products. Head to the downtown area and discover the range of gifts that will make great souvenirs inspired by both the Latin and Caribbean lifestyle.