Isla Mujeres: The Complete Guide

Scenic View Of Sea Against Sky
Regino Cruz Caballero / EyeEm / Getty Images
Map card placeholder graphic

Isla Mujeres

Isla Mujeres, Q.R., Mexico

Isla Mujeres is a beautiful island just off the coast of Cancun on Mexico's Yucatan Peninsula. It’s a good option for a day trip from Cancun to a more tranquil spot. Or, if you're looking to spend your whole vacation somewhere a little bit more easygoing, you may find it's an ideal destination in itself if you're looking for a laid-back, casual beach vacation. Even though it's located very close to Cancun (just 8 miles off the coast), this small island has a relaxed atmosphere and a laid-back, casual pace that will allow you to leave all your stress behind.

The island is less than 5 miles long and about a third of a mile wide, and has few cars; most people rely on golf carts for transportation. The downtown area is just four by six blocks wide, but there are plenty of activities for travelers to enjoy.

History of Isla Mujeres

In ancient times, Isla Mujeres was a sanctuary for Ixchel, the Mayan goddess of fertility and the moon. The Maya people likely went on pilgrimages to the island, as they did to Cozumel—a tradition is reenacted yearly as the Sacred Mayan Journey. In 1517 a Spanish expedition led by Francisco Fernández de Córdoba arrived on the island and found an abundance of clay figurines depicting women, most probably fertility symbols. They named the island after those figures: Isla Mujeres means "Island of Women." In subsequent years the island became a favored spot for fishermen and a haven for pirates. The buccaneer Fermin Antonio Mundaca de Marechaje built a hacienda on the island, which he called "Vista Alegre," the ruins of which can still be visited today. It wasn't until after Mexico's independence that the island was permanently inhabited. During the War of Castes in Yucatan, refugees came to the island and established a settlement, which was recognized by the government as Pueblo de Dolores in 1850. The island began to be frequented by tourists in the 1970s, and its tourist infrastructure has developed since that time, though it remains a breezy and relaxing island getaway.

What To See and Do

One of the great things about Isla Mujeres is that your getaway can be as restful or adventurous as you like. You could spend the whole day lying in a hammock, walking on the beach, or post up by the swing bar and enjoy the view while waiters bring you cold drinks, but if you decide you want to explore, you'll find there's plenty to see and do. Rent a golf cart for the day and tour the island. Visit the turtle farm "Tortugranja," located on Calle Zac Bajo near Playa Paraiso, where you can see various turtle species from the area and learn about sea turtle conservation efforts. Go snorkeling at Garrafon Park, there is a reef located just a few feet off the shore. Visit a small Maya temple at the southern end of the island dedicated to the Maya goddess Ixchel. 

  • Explore the island on a golf cart. This is the main form of transportation in Isla Mujeres. There are several companies that rent them out; the cost is around $40 to $50 USD per day. If you're going to be visiting during high season such as around Christmas or New Year, it's a good idea to reserve your cart in advance.
  • Hit the beach. There are two main beach areas on Isla Mujeres. The best beach for swimming, especially for kids, is Playa Norte which faces north toward Isla Holbox and the Gulf of Mexico. Here the water is calm and shallow out for several yards into the water. The other beach for swimming is on the western side of the island, facing Cancun. There are several boat docks on this side, but it is also good for swimming. The eastern side of the island has strong currents, so swimming is discouraged there.
  • Explore underwater. There is excellent snorkeling and diving around Isla Mujeres, thanks to its location next to the Mesoamerican Barrier Reef. The Cancun underwater museum, created by sculptor Jason deCaires Taylor, is located off the western coast of Isla Mujeres. The museum was created to take some of the pressure off of the natural reef system from so many divers, and also to promote the growth of more coral reef. 
  • Head to the park. A natural park on the south side of Isla Mujeres, Garrafon Park offers a range of recreational activities such as snorkeling, kayaking, zip-lining, swimming with dolphins, hiking and biking. There are a number of different packages to choose from, some which include ferry transport from Cancun, meals and drinks. All include snorkel gear, life jackets, kayaks, hammocks, pool, and showers.

Where to Stay

  • Zoetry Villa Rolandi is the most luxurious all-inclusive resort on the island and has spacious ocean-front suites.
  • Privilege Aluxes is another all-inclusive with everything you could possibly need, and it’s within walking distance from the ferry. 
  • Hotel Secreto is a boutique hotel located a five-minutes walk from North Beach with an infinity pool with panoramic sea views and stylish suites
  • Posada Del Mar is a more economical option that is located in the heart of the action.

How to Get There

The best way to travel to Isla Mujeres is to take the Ultramar ferry service that runs from Cancun. The trip takes about 20 minutes. There are two ferry docks to choose from: one in Puerto Juarez, and another in the Cancun hotel zone. The ferry runs every half hour between 9 a.m. and 5 p.m. Later in the evening, the ferries only run to Puerto Juarez and not to the hotel zone, so plan accordingly. In the hotel zone, the Ultramar ferry departs from Playa Tortugas, at Kukulcan Blvd. Km. 6.5. You can consult the ferry schedule on the Ultramar website.

If you’re traveling to Isla Mujeres for a day trip from Cancun, and would rather have all the details taken care of, you can purchase a package from a tour company, such as Aquaworld’s Isla Mujeres day trip. The trip includes boat transport between Cancun and Isla Mujeres (with beer and soft drinks offered on board), an optional snorkeling excursion, buffet lunch and drinks, and a stop at the Isla Mujeres gift shops for souvenirs.

Back to Article

Isla Mujeres: The Complete Guide