Less than 10 miles off the coast of Cancun, Mexico, the tiny island of Isla Mujeres beckons travelers with its distinct island charm. Those who cross the small stretch of turquoise sea that separates the island from the mainland for a day trip will easily find wild cliff-sides, endless stretches of palm trees, a vibrantly colored town, streetside coconut carts and one of the world’s most beautiful beaches.
If you are keen to discover the island on a Isla Mujeres day trip, we’ve included some tips when looking to explore the island.
1. How to Get There
There are three different ferry companies that all leave from different terminals along the same road just outside of the hotel zone in Cancun.
Gran Puerto is the newest terminal. Ultramar is the ferry company that operates from here. It’s best to get the roundtrip ticket, since it’s the same price on the other side and it’s an open return (meaning you can use it anytime). The ferry is only 15-20 minutes to the island depending on the time of day.
Puerto Juarez is the next terminal along, and they charge the exact same amount. The company that operates from this terminal is called Marinsa. While the Ultramar ferries go every half hour, these ferries only go every hour. They also take about 15 minutes and they come into a smaller terminal a bit further away from the center of town.
Punta Sam is the third terminal in the row of terminals along this road, and it is where you catch the car ferry if you want to bring a car to the island.
2. What to Do
Hacienda Mundaca is a ruin, with an interesting history: It used to be the home of a pirate. Back in the mid-19th century he passed through Isla Mujeres and fell in love with a woman, and he built her a mansion to show his love for her. While it was being built, she ran off with another man and the house has remained the same ever since.
Punta Sur is the local lookout point at the tip of the South Coast. This place has incredible views of the rough sea. There’s also a small lighthouse, a few souvenir shops and two restaurants. Plus it’s an easy walk from the rocky beaches along the east coast.
Garrafon Reef Park is the national reef park. Not to be confused with the Garrafon Park, which is the best place to swim with dolphins, this is an amazing place to go snorkeling. You pay a small fee to enter the beach, and you can either rent snorkels there or bring your own. They also sell fish food that you can take into the water with you and watch the colorful fish swarm.
There are tons of places in town that run fishing trips or day trips out on beautiful yachts. You’ll also notice a lot of the catamarans and yachts out during the day. Arguably, the most intriguing part is the fact that you can catch a few fish during the day and bring them to any of the restaurants in town and they’ll prepare it for you!
3. The Best Beaches
It’s an island, everywhere you turn there is sea and sand, but some are a bit better than others.
Playa Norte is one of the most popular beaches in the area. It is at the very tip of the island and there are tons of hotels along this strip. It is the perfect place to watch the sunset.
Playa Central faces Cancun, which also means that it faces the ferry terminal. There are tons of boats that pass along the beach and you can only swim out about 5-meters, as there is a rope to stop you swimming into the boat lane. But, the water here is delightfully blue and it’s really calm if you just want to float. This beach is also where most of the beach bars and restaurants are (like Picus).
Playa Lancheros is much smaller than all of the others and you probably need to take a taxi or golf cart to get here, but it’s much quieter than the other beaches around town. It’s still on the west side of the island so you get to see the turquoise waters, without any of the crowds. The beaches along this part of the island offer some awesome snorkeling, too.
2. Where to Eat
There are tons of great little restaurants all over the main town in Mujeres. While most cater for tourists you will find some serve some of the best Mexican food in the region. Some of the local favorites are:
Cafe Mogagua is a great breakfast spot. The food is reasonably priced and portions are big. They have a nice outdoor seating area and really reliable Wifi – a rarity on the island.
Morgan’s cooks up a mean whole fish for a really reasonable price. Served grilled or fried, with a nice portion of vegetables and ice cold beers, it’s the perfect recipe for a memorable lunchtime.
Kokonuts serves up some seriously good fish tacos. And if there are any sports games on that you want to watch, they’ll put one of the TV’s for you.
Picus is a seafood restaurant bang on the beach. The floor is sand and the dishes are excellent, but the prices fall on the more pricey side of the spectrum.
Rincon Cubano is a quick 5-minute taxi ride from the center of town. Due to its close proximity to Cuba, there are a lot of really great Cuban places in Isla Mujeres. There are two very classic Cuban dishes on the menu.
Taqueria La Cueva is a little three-table restaurant that cooks up some seriously mean fish (try the Veracruzana style) and big plates of ceviche for crazy cheap.
Once sacred to the Mayan goddess of childbirth and medicine, Ixchel, Isla Mujeres was named by 16th-century Spanish conquistadors for the abundance of goddess statues they found there. Today, Cancun and island locals refer to it simply as “Isla”.
This tiny, beautiful, sleepy little island, with its bright blue water, coral reefs, sugar sand beaches, gently waving palm trees, migrating whale sharks, Mayan ruins, and giant iguanas that walk over your foot sometimes when you’re not looking, make it one of the best destinations in the region. If you’re looking for one of the best things to do in Cancun without any of the hassle, Isla Mujeres is a much quieter, sleepier way to enjoy a quintessential Yucatan vacation.