Isla Mujeres is a beautiful island just off the coast of Cancun on Mexico's Yucatan Peninsula. If you're looking to make a day trip from Cancun to a more tranquil spot, it's a great choice. 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 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 the Island
In ancient times, Isla Mujeres was a sanctuary for Ixchel, the Mayan goddess of fertility and the moon. It's likely that the Maya went on pilgrimages to the island, as they did to Cozumel -- that tradition is recreated 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 Anonio 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 relaxed island getaway.
What To 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 choose a spot 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.
Exploring the Island
The main form of transportation in Isla Mujeres is golf carts. 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 (particularly around Christmas or New Year), it's a good idea to reserve your cart in advance.
Isla Mujeres Beaches
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.
Snorkeling and Diving
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.
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.
How To Get There
Take the Ultramar ferry to Isla Mujeres
The ferry service that runs between Cancun and Isla Mujeres is operated by Ultramar, which also offers ferry service to Cozumel Island. The trip takes about 20 minutes. There are two ferry docks with ferries departing to Isla Mujeres from Cancun: one in Puerto Juarez, and another in the Cancun hotel zone. The ferry runs every half hour between 9 am and 5 pm. 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. See the ferry schedule on the Ultramar website.
Purchase a Day Trip Package
If you would rather not worry about the details yourself, you can purchase a day trip package from a tour company, such as Aquaworld. The day 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.
See other options for day trips from Cancun.