A 15-minute ferry ride from its more famous neighbor, Cancun -- but a world away from crowded beaches and mega hotels -- lies Mexico's own Caribbean paradise.
Welcome to Isla Mujeres!
Upon arrival, the rules of the road set the tone for getting around: few cars (save for taxis) are allowed on the island so it is best traversed by rental scooters, golf carts, or by foot.
From the main arrival point at the ferry terminal, island visitors need only take the 10-minute walk to reach the Isla Mujeres' main thoroughfare.
Hidalgo Street is packed with quaint hotels, souvenir shops, and trendy bars and restaurants (yes, the main drag is also where all the action is, should you also feel the need to party into the night.)
During the morning and afternoon, Hidalgo Street also serves as 'day trip central' where you can book fishing trips, whale shark tours (mid-May to September) or a memorable scuba diving trip to the Museo Subacuático de Arte, one of the world's most unusual underwater sculpture parks.
Sunsets from the Garrafon lookout.
If you're not feeling particularly ambitious, only a few minutes walk from Hidalgo Street is the main draw of the island. Here you will suddenly discover a wide stretch of white Caribbean sand -- sleepy Playa Norte beach -- for which Isla Mujeres is justly famous.
Rent a beach chair and umbrella, or simply sit yourself down anywhere under a shady palm tree. Order a drink or snacks from one of the eager beach attendants, and then relax the day away.
At dusk, be sure to make your way to the fishing port a few blocks away for a choice of open-air seafood restaurants serving the fresh catch of the day.
And, remember to pick your table facing West for a spectacular sunset.
If you've timed your reservations just right, you can pair the dessert course with a golden sun slowly going down over Cancun.
Although a short day trip from Cancun may be the popular way to see Isla Mujeres, hire a taxi or rent a golf cart (US$50-$60 per day) and hit the road to explore the rest of the island and linger awhile.
Posing for the camera at the giant sea turtle farm.
From Playa Norte, follow the Rueda Medina where signs point the way to Tortugranja, the giant sea turtle farm to see how the Mexican government is helping protect this endangered species. You might even be lucky enough to show up to watch the island childen place the baby turtles on the sand and cheer them to the ocean at a turtle release.
Further south, Garrafon Natural Reef Park also awaits for lounging in the infinity pools quiet grottoes, relaxing in the tree shaded hammocks, kayaking, snorkeling, and zip-lining. The buffet is impressive and included in the price of admission. Most opt for the VIP pass that includes half a day at the park and half at Dolphin Discovery. The half day goes quickly while natural Caribbean waters embrace you and your new dolphin friends. Entrance fee to take advantage of all these activities can be quite steep, but few complain after playing and eating the day away.
Just past the big Garrafon park entrance, down a rocky street behind a new view blocking condo complex... those in the know find the hidden little Garrafon park. No glitz, just a small cove filled with gentle water and brightly colored fish who expect you to bring a snack. Have your underwater camera ready and rent some snorkeling gear for the easiest tropical fish snorkel pictures you'll ever take. The entrance offers a more affordable (50 pesos, ~ $5 US) way to enjoy the waters at Garrafon without breaking the bank. Seating and shade on the sand is limited, but there is plenty of space up higher where you can still get a good view of the smiles below. Little Garrafon is wonderful for little snorkelers who just want to get their toes wet!
A statue honors the island's most
famous natural inhabitant, the iguana.
Finally, it's only a few minutes by foot, golf cart or taxi from Garrafon to the most southerly point on the island, Punta Sur, where visitors can finally discover how Isla Mujeres, or "Island of the Women" got its name.
On the way, you will be sure to stop at Garrafon lookout for one of the most breathtaking views in the Caribbean. You can't help it. You will see the view and stop. Spend a few minutes in awe and then head around the curve to Punta Sur.
Looming at the very southern tip of the island is an ancient Mayan ruin which once served as the sanctuary for Ixchel, the Mayan Goddess of fertility and healing. Modern couples find the spot perfect for destination weddings. The Maya kept a light burning in the temple at all times.
The modern lighthouse that stands at the entrance to the sculpture garden makes that unnecessary, but the ruin has been patially restored. Take the stepping stones path down behind the ruin for some more eye popping views of the reef and the Caribbean beyond the rocky edge of the land. It's worth the climb! Keep a lookout for sea turtles, dolphins and rays swimming by.
The site also has the distinction of being the country's most easterly location -- and the first spot in Mexico kissed by the sunrise each morning. Today, the historic landmark is also home to a modern sculpture garden surrounded by a seaside promenade taking more of Isla Mujeres' most breathtakingly beautiful scenery.
More about Isla Mujeres around the Web:
Welcome to Isla Mujeres - Check out the online guidebook to everything you ever wanted to know, including where to eat, stay, and play around the island, including practical travel tips, suggested day trips, weather information, maps and photos.
Isla Mujeres Mexico - The island awaits with travel essentials, photos, maps, feature stories, and an active message board.
Isla Mujeres - Wikitravel - Discover a great overview with suggestions on where to go and what to do, recommended hotels and restaurants, shopping itineraries and day tours.