Isla Mujeres

Tranquil Paradise Just Minutes from Cancun

[history] [description] [location & directions] [where to stay]

Isla Mujeres invites you to chill, relax, do nothing, chill, relax, do nothing. You get the picture! Even though it is just a few miles off the coast from Cancun, it is a world apart.

Isla Mujeres is perfect for those who want a laid-back Mexican beach experience in what used to be a small fishing village. Cobbled dusty streets, beach shacks, powdery white beaches, great snorkeling, picnicking and freshly grilled Tikin-chik (achiote-marinated fish grilled over charcoal) on the beach await you.

It is a fabulous one-day mini-escape from high-energy Cancun. For those who want to linger a little longer, the vibe changes when the day trippers leave in the late afternoon. As the pace slows down, mosey over to the beach bar on the North shore and catch the sunset to end yet another day in paradise.

You can easily get around the island on bicycles, scooters or golf carts.


Its name means Island of Women and is the site of the first Spanish landing in Mexico. It is believed that when Spanish Francisco Hernandez de Cordoba pulled up on the shores in 1517, he discovered figurines of Mayan goddesses on the island. And thus its name.

Historians believe that it was a stopover for Mayan women on the way to Cozumel to make offerings to Ixchel, the goddess of fertility. It may also have been a stop for the Mayan coastal trade.



Turtle sanctuary
Six species of turtles pull up to Isla’s beaches to lay their eggs. Favored for their meat and eggs, fishermen would kill them in large quantities.

Efforts by a local fisherman in the 1970s to stop this practice led to the founding off this sanctuary. Wire cages are placed around breeding grounds to protect the eggs. Hatchlings live their first year in three large pools on the grounds before being tagged and released. This increases their chances of survival as the tortugita (little turtle) is most vulnerable in the first few months.

So far, 30,000 turtles have been released. The sanctuary is funded by private donations and with increasing development on the island, this eco farm is needed more than ever. There are guided tours in Spanish and English.

"Talk to the hand."
Whale shark with diminutive friend off Isla de Mujeres

Whale Shark Tours
A fairly recent occurrence, every July-September, hundreds of whale sharks migrate to a small plankton-rich area just north of Isla Mujeres. While these are normally solitary creatures, in this area covering around 7 miles wide. the whale sharks tend to congregate in groups of around 20. Trained guides lead 2 snorkelers at a time and some offer scuba-diving tours as well.

The Whale Shark Festival
This marine festival, the first of its kind on the Isla, will be held from July 15-19 2009, to showcase the art of local craftsmen and to raise consciousness about the surrounding eco systems. Part of the proceeds will go into marine conservation efforts.

Garrafon Park
With a reef close to the shore and extremely calm waters, this marine park is great for beginner snorkelers. For a shot of adrenalin, try zip-lining from the side of a hill to the beach; otherwise kayak, swim in their infinity pools or snooze in a hammock.
Mayan Temple
Damaged by Hurricane Gilbert, this temple, which may have been a watchtower, has been restored to its previously ruined condition.

It is located in Punta Sur, which every proud inhabitant of Isla Mujeres will say is the first place in all of Mexico to catch the rays of the rising sun.

The windblown rocky promontory is impressive – close your eyes, listen to the pounding surf and imagine ancient canoes pulling up to land.

Punta Sur Sculpture Park
Follow a cement path from the Mayan temple. Striking works of modern art by well known Mexican artists such Jose Luis Cueva are displayed here. There is a modern lighthouse close by.

Hacienda Mundaca
Once a mansion built by a reformed Basque pirate on land that covered most of the island, Hacienda Mundaca is now a park and small zoo of Yucatan animals. But this domesticity cannot dispel its romantic legend.

It is said that the old pirate had mended his ways, and, retiring to Isla Mujeres, fell in love with a young (very young, they say) beauty who is known only as La Trigueña. But she, no doubt prudently, rebuffed his advances, and he withdren to his hacienda to live out his days alone.

Isla Contoy
This uninhabited bird sanctuary is 45 minutes by boat from Isla Mujueres. It is one of the prime areas for birding in the Yucatan and a nesting area for pelicans, frigrates, egrets, terns and cormorants. Flamingoes flock here in April and from June through August. You can arrange a trip through the fishermen’s cooperative. There is a chance to snorkel midway.


Location and directions

Isla Mujeres is 8 miles off the coast and an hour door to door from Cancun international Airport. Ferries and catamarans at Playa Linda pier run from Cancun’s hotel zone to the island. Downtown at Puerto Juarez, there are two ferry services. The Gran Puerto ferry is newer and runs till later in the evening and makes the trip in 15 minutes. Car ferries leave from Punta Sam


Where to Stay

Na Balam is known its free yoga and meditation classes and a beautiful beachfront location.

Hotel Secreto is a drop-dead posh and sexy boutique hotel with only 9 suites. Click here for our review and photos.

Hotel Francis Arlene. Located downtown, the family-run Hotel Francis Arlene has comfortable, neat rooms with kitchenettes built around a garden courtyard.


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