Isla de Mujeres: 10 Things to See and Do

Isla de Mujeres:  10 Things to See and Do

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Just off the coast of downtown Cancun is a 5 mile long island you might or might not have heard of: Isla de Mujeres.

In booking a vacation at the last minute (a week before leaving), all I knew was that I wanted to go somewhere with a beautiful beach, culture, good food, and where I could venture to see the Mayan Pyramids and ruins.

Isla de Mujeres, while never having been, seemed to fit what I was looking for. So, I booked it and a week later we were off!

Having been to both a resort in downtown Cancun and small towns in Central Mexico, Isla de Mujeres seems to be the perfect blend of tropical vacation and an interesting cultural destination.

Turns out, that was correct! You can relax the whole day on the beach while being served margaritas in coconuts and then walk down the street to a small restaurant to eat authentic Mexican food. It gives you both the feeling of the tropical getaway while not forgetting where you are which can so easily happen in most resorts.

Or maybe you are staying in Cancun or the surrounding area and just want to make a day trip out of visiting the island. You can easily take the ferry over for the day, just a short 30 minute ride, or book a catamaran trip to the island as an excursion. Just keep in mind, the last ferry back to the mainland leaves at 11:00 pm. Ferries leave from three locations in Cancun, but we only used the Puerto Juárez terminal.

Following are 10 suggestions for things to see and do in Isla de Mujeres!

1. Playa Norte

This was probably the most beautiful beach I have ever been to. From the crystal clear turquoise water to the white sand, this is what I picture in my head when I think Caribbean Island. For the most part, the water was pretty calm with some waves coming in sporadically.

We learned that for the chairs and umbrellas on the beach, you just had to go sit in an empty one and the waiters from the closest bar would come let you know the prices to rent ($300-$400 pesos per day where we sat). Once rented, you could order drinks and food through your waiter to be delivered to you.

If you’re thinking you don’t want to pay that money, just remember the sun is very hot! Fair skin or otherwise, you will probably need some breaks from the sun and heat during the day. It’s well worth the money.

And don’t miss the sunset! The sets directly over the water for some breathtaking views.

2. Punta Sur

This was one of our last stops on the morning we were leaving and we should have given more time for it.

Located at, yes, the southern tip of the island, there was far more to see here than I expected! I would plan at least an hour and a half to explore this area (more than our ten minutes!).

At the far end, for $30 pesos a piece, you can visit the island’s oldest Mayan ruins. Due to limited time we weren’t able to do this unfortunately.

There was a beautiful outdoor restaurant featuring different seafood dishes along with several small gift shops and ice cream.

We enjoyed the beautiful views!

3. The Women’s Bead Cooperative

I learned about theWomen’s Bead Cooperative by, how else, reading someone’s blog! They didn’t lead us wrong.

The Cooperative was started in 1995 by the Red Cross and is located centrally on the island. It is filled with beautiful fine beaded pieces and the women are actually sitting and beading at a table in the shop!

Each piece is labeled with the name of the woman who made it. She receives 80% of the commission while the remaining 20% goes towards purchasing materials. A bracelet as seen below was about $250 pesos (about $16.60 in dollars).

Their jewelry is much more beautiful than what you will find in the tourist shops and what is sold by vendors on the beach.

4. Take a Walk on El Malecon East (or El Malecon West)

One day we thought we could walk to the beach from our hotel. Being New Yorkers who walk everywhere and barely bat an eye at a two mile stroll, we thought we could do the same here. We ventured towards the east side by the cliffs to walk up the Caribbean roads that runs along the water.

We quickly found that we were wrong due to extreme heat and sun and were able to wave down a cab, but in the meantime we made a beautiful discovery on the east of the island.

El Malecon East is where the sidewalk veers off towards the cliffs and the views are amazing! There’s benches for sitting and watching the waves come in and you’ll probably even see a wild iguana or two (I didn’t manage to get a picture because they moved very fast!). There is also an El Malecon West (yes, on the west side).

5. Eat Some Local Food

Most of the best food recommendations we got came from our cab drivers! The downtown area offers different types of food selections from Mexican to Italian to various Asian food selections, but we tried to stick to traditional Mexican food.

While we tried many places, the best were El Poc Chuc and La Lomita both locates in the downtown area.

El Poc Chuc

La Lomita

Also, if you’ve got a sweet tooth, ask a cab driver to bring you to a local panaderia to pick up a few pieces of Mexican bread (conchas).

Panaderia Emmanuel

6. Browse the Shops

There are so many shops in downtown! Whatever souvenirs you are looking to bring home you will most likely find in one of the many shops from colorful Beach wraps to t-shirts, you could spend hours just browsing. Most shops are open until about 9pm in case the daytime sun is too hot for you to shop in!

7. Visit the Isla Mujeres Sign

Just steps from Playa Norte, you will find the Isla Mujeres sign. I suggest not going in the morning as we did as the sun is behind you and will cause all pictures to be pretty dark. We went at about 9:30 am and it took some serious photo editing to brighten up the picture below.

8. Chat with the Locals

You’ll find that even though you are outside of the resorts of Cancun, most people working here are bilingual (Spanish/English), even many of the kids! While it’s helpful to know Spanish here, it’s not mandatory.

We chatted up just about every cab driver and what came with it, aside from excellent service, was tips about all of the best places to eat, information about the island itself, actual tours of different places on the island, and more! The cab drivers for the most part are very friendly and excited to share about the island.

On our final morning, our favorite driver was nice enough to bring us to the last few places we hadn’t seen yet and waited for us at the car while we explored (we were only out of the car 5-10 minutes and tipped him to compensate the time).

While on the topic of cab drivers, there was a cab station directly next to the Puerto Juárez ferry terminal where you could easily get a cab to wherever you needed to go on the island. All of the cabs are red!

9. Get Out and Explore!

My biggest suggestion would be to just get out, walk around, and explore. There’s many hidden gems on this island and, even after a week, there’s many places that we want to return to explore on this 5 mile long island.

Another option is to rent a golf cart. Even if only for a day, this seems to be the best way to get to all of those little places and to just enjoy exploring. We didn’t have the time for this option, but many others did!

We opted to walk and cab it! He’s a few looks at what we found. From colorful wall murals and mosaics to a locals’ basketball tournament in the town square, every twist and turn had something new to see.

10. Go on an Excursion

The island is so beautiful, but there are many things to see and do around the island and the neighboring mainland! From snorkeling to fishing to cultural tours, there’s plenty to keep busy.

You can very easily book these excursions through your hotel and if that option is not available then downtown in the island, just off of Playa Norte and next to the North Lighthouse, there is a stand through which all excursions can be booked. Expedia also offers the option to book excursions.

We were able to book two excursions:

-4×1: Tulum, Coba, Cenote, Playa del Carmen

-Chichen Itza, Cenote

Both excursions featured a buffet lunch at a Mayan reservations where we were able to try traditional Mayan food and, at the second, were entertained by traditional Mayan dancers.

A few last tips…

If you are seriously considering a trip to Isla Mujeres, I recommend staying in a hotel located near Playa Norte in the downtown area. That way most places are in walking distance including the ferry terminal if you happen to book any excursions on the mainland. You won’t have to worry about cabs either.

We stayed in a more central located hotel and, while we got to see more of the island and stay in a quieter location, it was slightly inconvenient having to always take cabs back and forth.

All inclusive is great when on vacation, but the food here is really delicious so, even if you do opt for all inclusive, try to get out and sample the local food as well!

Do not underestimate the sun here. I know that sounds obvious, but sometimes we all need a reminder! Wear lots of sunblock, bring a hat, even bring an umbrella (black or a dark color). Bring a bottle of water or two everywhere. You want to enjoy your vacation, not get so burnt that you can’t move for two days.

If you are looking to visit Isla de Mujeres to swim with whale sharks (which I’m told are very gentle and friendly), that season is only July and August so book accordingly!

I hope this post is helpful if you are looking to travel to Isla de Mujeres!

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