I hope you enjoy my guide to Isla Mujeres, Mexico, a tiny island with a lot of character off the coast of Cancun, just an hour north of Playa del Carmen.
Filled with colourful buildings and friendly people, Isla Mujeres is a twenty minute ferry ride from Puerto Juarez (140 Pesos return, or $12), a port just north of Cancun’s downtown. Ferries also depart from the hotel zone in Cancun. In high season, especially over Christmas and new year, the island is overrun with tourists, but up until Mid December, it still retains a laid-back Caribbean vibe.
Playa Norte, the beach at the northern end of town, is absolutely spectacular – clear blue, shallow water flanked with fine white sand.
To the east of Playa Norte, near the Avalon Reef Club, is small, shallow bay which is great for kids (big and small!).
North of the ferry terminals is a lively stretch of beach called Playa Sol where locals gather to eat, swim, buy and sell goods, play volleyball and chat. It’s a great spot in the late afternoon to watch the sunset over Cancun, casting a beautiful orange glow over the entire beach.
Hotels and guest houses
I have visited Isla Mujeres twice. The first time, we stayed at Sundreamers, which are lovely, brightly coloured apartments with a small kitchen, A/C and balcony. During low season, you can get a discounted rate of about US$32 per night, and monthly rates are also available. They are located on a lovely street, Avenida Juarez, though in the evenings there is a small amount of noise from the live music played on the main street nearby.
The owner Sabina hails from Germany but has made her home on the tiny Island. She is also a wedding planner.
The second time I returned to the island, it was high season, and as Sundreamers was booked out, we stayed at the Hotel Francis Arlene. While it didn’t have the same character and attention to detail as Sundreamers, I can still recommend it as a decent budget option.
Rooms were clean and spacious, with A/C, cable television and a coffee maker. We had a large ground floor room with three beds which was US$85 for three people, right in the middle of peak season. The location was good, walking distance to Playa Norte and close to the main town on Avenida Guerrero. In low season, rates start at $50 for fan rooms.
Some friends of mine stayed at Hotel Rocamar on the eastern side of the island, with views of the rugged coastline, and they really enjoyed it.
I inquired at the Que Barbara apartments for our last stay, but they couldn’t accommodate three in one room. This bright, simple building caught my eye on my first visit to the island. They are in a great location on the very quaint Avenue Matamoros. I haven’t seen inside them but you can get more info by emailing the Sea Hawk dive shop on: firstname.lastname@example.org. Sea Hawk divers also have accommodation above their dive shop near Playa Norte, starting from $65 in low season.
While I can’t vouch for the rooms, I can vouch for the location of Poc-Na, Isla’s oldest hostel. With camping (from 80 Pesos, tent not included), dorms (from 145 Pesos) and double rooms (from 350 Pesos), it is the only beach-front hostel I know of.
Things to see and do
A visit to Isla Mujeres is not complete without a golf-buggy tour of the island and a visit to the Ixchel temple located at Punta Sur, the southernmost point. We rented one for four hours for 400 Pesos ($30) in low season, but were looking at a flat rate of 600 Pesos for the day ($50) in peak season. We ended up haggling them down to 360 pesos for two hours, which was more than enough time to get around the island and spend some time at the temple.
You can also catch a taxi to the temple or rent motos.
Entry tickets to the temple are just 30 pesos, which is well worth it for the views alone. Dramatic cliffs plunge into wild turquoise water and stark modern sculptures rise from the vegetation-covered limestone.
Where the cliffs converge at the southern point of the island are the ancient ruins of the temple of Ixchel – Goddess of fertility, medicine and the moon. This crumbling structure serves as a small yet powerful reminder of the sacred history of the island.
It is believed that the island was given it’s current name by the Spanish colonizers who found many statues of the Goddess Ixchel around the temple site. Hence it was given the name, ‘Island of Women’.
A walkway has been constructed along the cliffs below the temple, which leads to the ‘Cliff of the Dawn’, the easternmost point of Mexico and the first place to be hit by the sun’s rays in the morning.
North of the ferry terminals on the western side of the island are some great seafood restaurants. We ate whole fried fish at Picus and I’ve been told restaurant Velazquez further north is also good.
A good, cheap place to eat is the Cocina Economico Pok-Chuc on the corner of Avenue Matamoros and Juarez. The specialty of the house, Pok-Chuc, a marinated grilled pork served with rice, beans and avocado is excellent. It is located on the corner of Avenida Juarez and Abasolo.
Olivia is an up-market Mediterranean/Middle eastern restaurant with a beautiful atmosphere and delicious meals, just around the corner from Sundreamers. The Morroccan style fish served on cous-cous is excellent.
They are open Tuesday to Saturday most of the year, and Monday to Saturday from January to March, for dinner only.
Across the street from Olivia’s, Bobo’s is a lively little bar who do a mean hamburger.
In the evening, at the northern end of the basketball court near the church, is a small food market serving some basic but tasty fare. The chocolate flan cake made by one of the local women is a must.
If you don’t have room for chocolate-flan after dinner, take it home and have it for breakfast the next morning. And no, I did not do this 😉
For breakfast, Barlito specializes in bagels topped with every ingredient imaginable, as has free refills of American coffee. Open Tuesday to Sunday from 8am-3pm.
Alux Cafe on Calle Abasolo does good espresso coffee, excellent chocolate brownies and a delectable apple pie with ice cream. Apparently.
Though we didn’t make it there (unfortunately), the locals rave about Pita Amore, a small restaurant which specializes in meat and veg pita wraps. They are located on Avenida Guerrero in front of the hospital.
All the above places are located around the main town, just ask anyone for directions.