Just off the coast of Cancun sits the island of Isla Mujeres. It is where the Caribbean sea and the Gulf of Mexico meet. Each morning, it is the first piece of Mexican land that is kissed by the rays of the sun.
There’s a different feel to this magical island paradise. The moment you step foot on its shores, you can feel new energy flow into you. At first, the people who I took to the island thought I was crazy for saying so, but once you’ve been there, you will understand. There is just something about Isla Mujeres which you cannot quite put your finger on.
Why go to Isla Mujeres?
If you are looking for a quiet space, with friendly locals and just enough to do, the island paradise of Isla Mujeres is definitely the place to go. Whether you are looking for a luxurious stay, to be in the buzz of downtown, or a quiet escape, you will find the right space here.
Typically, I am not the kind of person who will book into a luxurious or all-inclusive hotel. But, you can find these kinds of accommodation on the Northern side of the island.
Getting around on the island is really easy. You can simply take a taxi, rent a golf cart or bicycle, or walk to almost anywhere on the island. This little treasure of an island is only 7 kilometers long, and less than a kilometer wide!
How I Discovered that Isla Mujeres Exists
After working nonstop for over six months, I finally had a chance to take a week off. Not only did I need a physical break from my work routine, but I was mentally exhausted as well. All I wanted was to be in a quiet space where I could be completely alone and anonymous. I wanted to eat great food, sleep in peace, see something new, and relax on the beach.
So, I started looking at places that are close to Cozumel where I was working at that moment. Playa del Carmen and Cancun are two easily accessible destinations, and I could always visit the Mayan ruins. But I didn’t feel like being in a party space like you would find in Playa del Carmen. Cancun city was just too big and crazy for me at that moment. And, that week I didn’t feel like backpacking or hiking through Mayan ruins that week.
Looking at the map, I noticed a small stretch of land just off the coast of Cancun. A small stretch of land called Isla Mujeres – “Island of the Woman”. It didn’t take long to convince me that this was exactly where I should be going this week.
Taking the First Trip to Isla Mujeres
When the time came, I packed my bag and got on the ferry from Cozumel to Playa del Carmen. From there I took the ADO bus to Cancun central. I walked to the main road that leads to Cancun’s hotel zone and jumped on a 15 peso bus ride. I didn’t have a clue where I was going, so I got off the bus too soon and had to drag my luggage a few kilometers before reaching the hostel where I was staying that night.
The “hostel” wasn’t at all what I expected. I thought I would have a simple private room and that there would be many other travelers on the property. Instead, I entered a luxurious space in what felt like a restored mall building.
Crossing Over to Another World
After a good night’s sleep and pedicure, I crossed the street and had breakfast on the ferry pier while waiting for the next ferry to take me to Isla Mujeres.
A ferry ride in Mexico is one of my favorite things to do. I love being on the water, feeling the wind in my face, and seeing how you move further away from where you’ve been.
After about 15 minutes, the ferry came to a halt at the Isla Mujeres pier. There was a sudden buzz as travelers scrambled through the terminal. I passed through the terminal building and I walked onto the street. It immediately felt like I’d just entered a whole new world.
Just across the street, I checked into my hotel and went in search of food. The rest of the day I explored the area, walked on the beach, and ate fresh seafood.
As you walk down the main street towards the Northern tip of the island, you find the most beautiful clear waters with local fresh seafood eateries right there on the beach.
The waters are calm, clear, and warm. It is quite easy to spend your entire day relaxing on the public beach. Rent a chair with bar service, or pick a spot to lay down your towel. Enjoy a massage, bask in the sunlight, and soak up the energy as you float in the comforting sea.
Right in the center of downtown is the town square where you can relax on a bench, feed the pigeons, explore the church, and do some people-watching. There’s a small grocery store right across the street from the square. Simply grab some snacks, have a seat, and soak up the Isla Mujeres lifestyle.
Just a street or two inward from the public beach on the Northern point, you will find a typical Mexican cemetery. As I mentioned in my post on the Mayan City of Uxmal, I have this strange fetish for visiting graveyards. There’s just something about the untold stories here that captures my imagination. The Isla Mujeres cemetery definitely did not disappoint.
Over the last few years, the Mexican “Day of the dead” got a lot of exposure. And, walking through a cemetery anywhere in Mexico confirms how much family means to their culture.
The Best Food in Town
There is no shortage of restaurants in Isla Mujeres. As you walk from the square towards the North point, there is a narrow street called “Miguel Hidalgo”. The entire street is filled with restaurants and souvenir shops.
You can find anything from traditional Mexican eateries to upscale restaurants along Miguel Hidalgo. The street is always buzzing with life as tourists and locals gather to explore, shop, and eat.
One of my favorite eating spots is a little restaurant called Morgan’s. This restaurant has a cozy atmosphere, live music, and great food. And, it’s not too busy or noisy, so you can actually have a conversation and meet new friends.
For the best breakfast in town, visit Café Mogagua. This relaxed corner café has a great atmosphere with interesting decor and fun, personalized merchandise. It is the perfect spot to soak up the morning sun with smoothies and fresh, healthy food.
Exploring Punta Sur
The most popular way to get around in Isla Mujeres is by renting a golf cart. Coming from South Africa, we drive on the left side of the road, and I’ve had a run-in with a scooter when renting a car in Cozumel. So, I decided it would be wiser to either walk or take a taxi this time around.
On my first trip to Isla Mujeres, I jumped in a taxi early morning. It took me to the Punta Sur (South Point) where you pay a small entrance fee. There are a few buildings where you can read up about the history of pirates on the island, and come face-to-face with a statue of Ixchel. Punta Sur also has an open-air restaurant with a relaxed atmosphere where you can enjoy fresh seafood and a local beer.
Just past the restaurant, you venture into a flat, open plain with winding paths leading past strange metal sculptures scattered all across the point. At the very tip of the South Point stands the ruins of a temple of the goddess Ixchel.
I really enjoyed exploring Punta Sur. There aren’t many attractions, but it is a peaceful walk with spectacular views. Punta Sur is the perfect place to spend some quiet time and soak up a strange combination between nature and oddly placed man-made structures.
The Time I Got Lost…
How do you get lost on such a small island? Well… On my first visit to Isla Mujeres, I only had a simple hand-drawn map of the Island’s attractions. After finishing at Punta Sur, I decided not to take a taxi back. Instead, I thought I would explore the island on foot. It is only 7 kilometers long, right? Yeah… Right!
I’d heard about this ice bar, so, with map in hand, I started the walk in search of this cool space. I passed by some beautiful properties as I walked along the long road. But, the infamous ice bar was nowhere to be found.
I came across what seemed to be a lake with boats, and then, a little further down, a random floating house.
After walking for about 5 kilometers and not seeing anything that looked remotely like I was getting closer to downtown, I eventually gave up and flagged down a taxi. It turns out that the island splits in two along its length. I had, of course, walked down the wrong side.
On another visit to Isla Mujeres – this time with my parents – we visited a turtle sanctuary called Tortugranja. It was a nice (but very touristy) experience. The good thing is that the sanctuary is walking distance from Punta Sur, so you can fit in two experiences within a couple of hours.
Where to Stay when Visiting Isla Mujeres
As I mentioned before, you will find all kinds of accommodation on this beautiful island. Isla Mujeres offers exclusive hotels, more relaxed apartments, self-catering accommodation, and hostels.
Hotel Bahai CHAC Chi
On my first visit, I stayed at Hotel Bahai CHAC Chi which is very close to the Ultramar Ferry pier. This hotel was definitely not a good match for me. Only after checking in did I find out that it was a completely non-smoking hotel. I could not enjoy the view and a cigarette from my hotel balcony without receiving written warnings from the “hotel management”.
Now, I do respect the rules of the places where I stay, and I will always take other lodgers into consideration. But, I found them to be quite hostile. And, when booking the hotel, their very strict non-smoking policy was not advertised on the website.
If you are a smoker, this is not the place for you. If you don’t smoke, then hey, this may just be your little piece of paradise! Besides this little hiccup, the rooms were really comfortable and clean. And you have a great view of the ocean and the downtown area.
Maria’s Kan Kin
On my second visit to Isla Mujeres, I was looking for an even quieter space. So, I found this place that said: “no children allowed”. Seeing as I was teaching and living with my students in a “big brother” type of setup, this seemed like the perfect match for me at the time.
Maria’s Kan Kin is like a little piece of private heaven close to the Southern tip of the Island. Their rooms may not be the most modern, but they are extravagantly spacious. And, you are right on the beach so you can enjoy a drink from your balcony while staring out at the ocean. Or, simply stroll a few meters outside of your room to feel the beach sand under your feet or have lunch at their private restaurant.
Maria’s Kan Kin felt a little under-managed though. Checking in took a while as there was nobody at the reception. And, while I was relaxing on the beach, I was harassed by children who thought it would be fun to splash the tourist with water while she sunbathes. So much for it being an “Adult-only” experience. It is also quite secluded, so you need a taxi if you want to go to downtown or the shops. But, if you’re looking to stay in one place and enjoy a quiet, isolated space, the Maria’s Kan Kin is the place to go.
Hotel Boca Iglesia
The last time I stayed in Isla Mujeres was at Hotel Boca Iglesia. We just had an insane week in Cuba and only spent one night on the Island. I really loved staying at this hotel.
It is close to downtown, but still far enough away to enjoy some quiet time. You are also only a few meters away from the beach on the less populated side of the island. The rooms are cozy, the reception is friendly and efficient, and it’s a really comfortable and safe stay. Definitely a case of “third time lucky”. I would highly recommend staying at Hotel Boca Iglesia.
Other Accommodation options
Walking from the Ferry side of the island straight across, it only takes minutes before you reach the other coast of Isla Mujeres. Right on the beach, there is this hostel called “Poc-Na” that I would still love to stay in. Every time I passed, there were lodgers enjoying a game of volleyball on the property’s private beach section. At night, there is music booming and people dancing and socializing. This hostel will definitely be my next spot to crash when I get to visit Isla Mujeres again.
There are also many self-catering accommodation options available on the island. If you are planning to stay a while, I would definitely recommend getting an apartment where you can stay, relax, and prepare your own food.
The One Place I’ll Always Come Back To
If I could pack up my things right now, and move to anywhere in the world, Isla Mujeres would be my first choice.
The island is filled with hidden gems. There are bars, restaurants, shops of all shapes and sizes, beautiful beaches, and an interesting mix of people. I would love to permanently experience Isla Mujeres’ energy and a relaxed lifestyle. And, if you get bored, just take the ferry to the mainland. Cancun and the rest of the Yucatan Peninsula are right at your fingertips.
Moving to Isla Mujeres is a topic that constantly comes up in conversations with my partner. If opportunity knocks again, I will be on that plane without hesitation!