Although this little island when crossed 13 kilometers from Cancun is a much more rustic and peaceful destination in itself, it doesn’t mean that there isn’t a lot to do, either for a few hours or during a short stay.
A short ferry ride from Puerto Juarez in the Hotel Zone brings you closer to the land of warm, turquoise waters. While there is no shortage of beaches in Cancun, here they have a quieter and even more indigenous pace. If you wish to explore different spots, you will depend on renting a golf cart or a motorcycle, the preferred methods of transportation.
Some of the must-sees when you visit:
A 10 minute walk from the ferry terminal takes you to Playa Norte, the most popular beach on the island. The white sand and water in different shades of turquoise and green make a great landscape, but the warm, calm and shallow beach makes it ideal for swimming or just cooling off. The water is so clear that it’s easy to spot the occasional turtle and fish. On the way you’ll see small restaurants serving local delicacies and potent margaritas.
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The southeast end of the island is where the first rays of the sun are seen in Mexico and at that point a temple to the goddess Ixchel, deity of the moon and fertility, was erected. Several hurricanes have affected the state of the ruins, but it is a very beautiful place with a refreshing breeze. On a clear day you can see the Hotel Zone clearly and, if it’s turtle season, you can easily spot them from the cliff.
On the way to the temple there are expressions of modern art in the form of colorful sculptures that are part of the Punta Sur Sculpture Garden. Mexican and international artists participated in this exhibition that dates back to 2001. A lighthouse and a souvenir and snack shop are located in the area.
We found the best hostels in Isla Mujeres
If the waters of the Mexican Caribbean are delicious to swim in, it’s an incredible feeling to glide miles above them. Garrafon Reefs Nature Park offers a variety of water and adventure experiences, including zip-lining along the pristine coast. You could spend a good portion of the day in the park with the possibilities of snorkeling, kayaking and biking, or just lying in hammocks and enjoying the breeze.
In the 1980s a group of fishermen founded the Tortugranja, a place to protect turtles and their eggs and provide rehabilitation for sick or injured turtles. The sanctuary lacks great sophistication, but there is much heart and desire to help these little animals. The tanks contain hawksbills, green turtles and loggerheads, which can be seen up close and will be released after their recovery. Occasionally a dolphin is found in their outside area, where larger turtles live, recovering from a boat strike or ingestion of garbage.
Turtle eggs are cared for and released immediately upon hatching. The institution releases about 125,000 turtles each year, but it is estimated that only a thousand survive. The Tortugranja usually releases baby turtles into the sea between July and November, check with the administration to see this spectacle.
At some point during the day you will crave an ice cream, soda or margarita to combat the heat and you will find what you want on the main street of the centre. This pedestrian street is a succession of bars, Mexican food restaurants and other gastronomies and shops with a relaxed and very colorful atmosphere. This is where the somewhat quieter nightlife of Isla is concentrated (the last ferry leaves at 11:30 pm) and where you can get any other item. Be careful, if you want to get souvenirs, you have to be prepared to bargain and look for the best price.
Diving and Whale Sharks
Many snorkeling, diving and fishing trips leave from Isla Mujeres. There are two in particular that are very distinctive of the region and should be on the must-do list. One is the Underwater Art Museum (MUSA), a sculpture park consisting of 400 life-size sculptures at about eight meters deep that promote coral growth and host fish and other organisms. The museum is located in a National Marine Park. Only authorized tours, including glass-bottomed boat tours, are allowed in the area.
Another great attraction is the whale shark. Between May and September, these fascinating giant fish roam the warm waters of the Yucatan Peninsula. These giants are very tame despite their size between 14 to 18 meters long. As they feed only on plankton, swimming with them is a popular activity and Isla Mujeres is the closest starting point. Every June the Whale Shark Festival is celebrated with parades, talks and parties. If you can’t swim with these specimens, look for the murals made in their honor around the island.