Published on July 13th, 2014 | by Mark Chesnut
Cancun Day Trip: Top 8 Things to Do on Isla Mujeres, Mexico
During my most recent trip to Cancun, I finally did what I’ve been meaning to do for years: spend the day on Isla Mujeres.
Located three miles off the coast of Cancun, Isla Mujeres is a five-mile-long Mexico vacation paradise, graced with white sand beaches, turquoise waters, a relaxed vibe but also plenty of activities. The ferry ride, which costs U.S.$19, is fast, comfortable and scenic (our trip over even included a performance by a live singer).
The Spanish conqueror Francisco Hernandez de Cordoba certainly couldn’t have predicted what Isla Mujeres would become when he landed here in 157. He was looking for new slaves, but instead found a bunch of statues of women in the island’s many Mayan temples — that’s why, the story goes, he named this place Isla de Mujeres, or Island of Women. This lovely spot of land was sacred to Ixchel, the Mayan goddess of childbirth and medicine. Today, it’s also worshipped by travelers seeking a relaxed Mexico beach vacation.
After just one visit (and lots of advice from friends), we came up with a list of the top 8 things to do on Isla Mujeres, Mexico. And we can’t wait to get back to do even more.
1. Rent a Golf Cart: Considering the compact size of Isla Mujeres, these small vehicles are the most logical form of transportation. They’re also the most fun way to get around, as they allow for wide-open views and lots of fresh Caribbean breezes. Traffic is hardly a concern on Isla Mujeres, so you’ll be able to take your time admiring the scenery, and pulling over wherever you like. (We loved snapping photos of the beaches and natural beauty, as well as the interesting architecture of the vacation homes on the island.)
2. Enjoy the Mexico Beaches: Several stretches of sand await visitors, including Playa Norte, where the calm waters are perfect for swimming, and the bounty of beach chairs and open-air eateries make it easy to relax for an entire day. We enjoyed swimming here, taking photos and enjoying drinks and refreshments under an umbrella on the beach.
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3. Visit the Sea Turtle Conservation Farm: You can learn more about these fascinating creatures, and the attempts to protect them, at this small facility. The Isla Mujeres Turtle Farm is located on Sac Bajo and is federally protected and funded by the Mexican Government and donations.
4. Admire the Ancient Ruins — and Modern Art: At Punta Sur, the southernmost point of the island, you’ll find a lovely little park that juts out dramatically into the sea. Ancient Mayan ruins contrast with the eye-catching modern sculptures that dot this windswept piece of land.
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5. Go Underwater for More Art: Unfortunately, we didn’t have time to do this, but it’s on my must-do list for next time. The Museo Subacuático de Arte (Museum of Subaquatic Art, or MUSA) is a truly unique attraction. Opened in 2010, it features the work of British sculptor Jason deCaires Taylor, in one of the largest underwater artificial art attractions in the world. In collaboration with marine biologists and other experts, the sculptures are designed to become artificial reefs and are constructed special materials that are friendly to marine life.
6. Swim with Dolphins: Dolphin Discovery offers a variety of programs for anyone who’s dreamed of swimming with these intelligent marine mammals. See photos (and read my review) of my own dolphin swimming experience at Dolphin Discovery here!
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7. Explore the Reefs: Garrafon National Reef Park offers snorkeling, swimming, sea kayaking, bicycle touring and even zip lines, against the beautiful backdrop of the warm Caribbean waters.
8. Eat Lots of Seafood. It makes sense that Isla Mujeres is an ideal spot to enjoy fresh catches. You’ll find lots of restaurants, especially downtown, at various price points. We asked locals to recommend their favorites, and enjoyed a tasty seafood dinner right on the beach.
WHAT’S NEW IN ISLA MUJERES:
• A handsome new ferry terminal built on Isla Mujeres will provide more space for passengers.
• Cancun is now officially marketing Isla Mujeres. A recently revamped marketing campaign has, in fact, added several new destinations to the Cancun portfolio: Puerto Morelos, Isla Mujeres, Isla Holbox and Isla Contoy. That means you’ll be hearing even more about how to combine Isla Mujeres vacations with Cancun vacations — and it should be easier than ever to find out about things to do on Isla Mujeres (see below for the link).
• Villa Rolandi, a 35-room luxury hotel, will become the Zoetry Villa Rolandi Isla Mujeres on December 15. The newly renamed resort is part of AMResorts, which will operate 26 all-inclusive resorts (including Secrets Resorts & Spas and Dreams Resorts & Spas) by the end of 2014. To get a taste of the AMResorts experience, read my review of Secrets The Vine, the upscale, adults-only Cancun hotel where we stayed when we made the day trip to Isla Mujeres.
MORE INFO: Visit the Isla Mujeres travel section of the Cancun Convention & Visitors Bureau site.