Isla Mujeres is best known for its proximity to the whale sharks that migrate through the nearby Caribbean waters every summer. That is, if Isla Mujeres is known at all. The tiny island is easily overshadowed by its famous mainland counterpart, Cancun.
Most people that have heard of Isla Mujeres know it as a day trip destination from Cancun. They spend the day exploring the island’s tiny town and pristine beaches, returning to mainland Mexico before sunset. And that’s exactly why Isla Mujeres is the perfect place for a relaxing vacation: once the day-trippers leave, the island is a calm, quiet, beautiful place.
But that’s not the only reason the tiny island is worth going to. Here are just five of the many reasons why you should plan your entire trip to stay on Isla Mujeres.
5 Reasons to Go to Isla Mujeres
1. Isla Mujeres is a tiny island — so beautiful scenery is always within sight.
Isla Mujeres is not just a tiny island, it’s a teeny tiny island barely 4 miles long and 2,000 feet wide. That means the ocean is almost always within view. Even from the fourth floor of our hotel the strikingly blue water was visible all around us. And with views like these, that’s definitely a good thing!
One side of the island has calm beaches with hardly any waves — perfect for relaxing in the water. The other side (facing the Caribbean Sea) has rocky shores and rough waves. Both sides are equally breathtaking.
Fun fact: Isla Mujeres translates as “Woman Island” and was sacred to Ixchel, the Mayan goddess of fertility and medicine, in pre-Columbian times.
2. Most people don’t stay in Isla Mujeres overnight — so you should.
The ferries heading toward Isla Mujeres are commonly packed with people, but what’s not common is people with luggage. That’s because most people think of Isla Mujeres as a day trip destination. So before the first ferries arrive and after the last one leaves, Isla Mujeres is relatively crowd-free.
It’s also much calmer than notoriously party-heavy Cancun, so Isla Mujeres has fewer college crowds and bachelorette parties. Double bonus: there’s only one touristy restaurant, Senor Frogs, and it’s easily ignorable. :)
Tip: Getting to Isla Mujeres from Cancun is easy, but schedule transportation beforehand for hassle-free travel. We scheduled a shuttle to pick us up at Cancun Airport to drive us the 20-minutes to the Grand Puerto port (try Go Airport Shuttles or Suntransfers Shuttles) and bought round trip ferry tickets at the port. The ferries run every 30 minutes from 5 am to 8:30 pm. The boat ride is about 15 minutes.
3. The food on Isla Mujeres is amazing — so don’t do All-Inclusive!
Let’s be honest: most people don’t go to the beach for the food. While there are beach destinations known for their cuisine (Key West quickly comes to mind), the Cancun area is not one of them. But every meal I ate on Isla Mujeres was shockingly good. Not good considering where I was, actually wow-I’ll-remember-this-for-years good.
The cuisine on Isla Mujeres is mostly traditional Mexican with heavy doses of seafood and plenty of Cuban and Caribbean influences. There’s also a surprising amount of pizza and pasta places. The restaurants are mostly mom-and-pop shops with attentive staff eager to introduce — and impress — their visitors.
Tip: Even though Isla Mujeres is tiny, it’s packed with restaurants. Here’s where to eat in Isla Mujeres, from brunch to dinner and everything in between.
4. Isla Mujeres is incredibly affordable — even for Mexico.
One of the most pleasant surprises on Isla Mujeres is how affordable everything is, from outstanding hotels to the food. Obviously the exchange rate does Americans a favor, but beyond that I couldn’t believe how inexpensive everything is. The Playa del Carmen region regularly makes the most affordable beach lists, and Isla Mujeres is even cheaper.
Tip: Almost all restaurants and shops on Isla Mujeres are cash only, so bring plenty of Pesos with you. Most will accept US dollars, but they are legally allowed to use whatever exchange rate they want, so many take advantage of the transaction.
5. Don’t take my word for it — trust Travel + Leisure.
Travel + Leisure recently released their Worlds Best Awards, compiling the best of everything travel-related — places, hotels, airlines, you name it. They named Isla Mujeres the number three spot in the Top Islands in Mexico, Central & South America category. The magazine doesn’t go into detail on why, but I’m sure it has to do with its friendly locals, great food, affordability and swimming with those whale sharks.
Tip: If you need ideas on excursions, activities and, yes, even day trips from Cancun, check out Viator’s tours and attractions.
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