The colorful serenity and conspicuous lack of spring breakers on this laid-back island can be an effective antidote to the bacchanalia, grinding bodies, and bottomless drinks ubiquitous in Cancun’s Hotel Zone during spring months. The small island—less than five miles long and one mile wide and visible from Cancun’s main drag—soon becomes a tantalizing mirage that beckons you to cross the unfathomably blue Caribbean.
A mere twenty minutes by boat, Isla Mujeres is a worthwhile daytrip if you’re staying in Cancun. Another plus is that the ferry leaves from two different spots in the hotel zone. It costs $22 for one round-trip ticket. If you want to arrive back in the hotel zone rather than in the city center, you will need to catch the last ferry that leaves Isla Mujeres at 5:15 pm.
Even though you’ve left the party, festivity of a more authentic variety—the mariachi singer—is as easy to come by as tacos and cerveza. Our ferry ride across the Caribbean was enlivened by the familiar yet eternally heart-wrenching melody of “Cielito Lindo.”
As you leave the ferry, you will soon find yourself on the main street–Rueda Medina, where you’ll be awash in vibrant colors—the quintessential palette of Mexico. The predominant mode of transportation here is the golf cart, so you will want to rent one soon as you step off the ferry at the north end of the island. Some can be pretty pricey, but if you head in the direction of Playa Norte, Info Tours, run by the very lively and friendly owner, Bart, has reasonable rates—roughly $15 per hour. Once you have secured a cart, head to the southernmost tip of the island, Punta Sur.
A nice side trip on the way to Punta Sur is the sea turtle hatchery and sanctuary—Tortugrania. For a mere $3 you can see turtles in their various stages of development before being released into the sea.
At starkly beautiful Punta Sur, you’ll find the ruins of an ancient temple honoring the Mayan goddess Ixchel, known as the goddess of the moon and fertility. While spring breakers often remain willfully ignorant of centuries of Mexican history and culture, you can at least feel you’ve dabbled in a bit of Mayan civilization, even if you if you can’t make the more arduous trips to the spectacular ruins at Tulum or Chichen Itza. By the ancient temple at Punta Sur, you will also find “Cliff of the Dawn,” the first part of Mexico to be graced by the sun’s rays each morning.
While many flock to Playa Norte on the opposite end of Isla Mujeres, Playa Indios is my pick to experience beach-day nirvana. It’s much quieter—ideal for a party of one or two who want to kick back in a hammock with a side of fresh guacamole and cerveza—not to mention a front row seat to admire the shifting turquoise hues of the Caribbean.
While a day suspended in the safe cocoon of a hammock is perfect for the risk-averse, those with more adrenaline coursing through their veins would be wise to try some zip lining at Garrafon Natural Reef Park, practically next door to Playa Indios. With over twenty activities to choose from, including snorkeling, biking, hiking, and swimming with dolphins, you can easily satisfy your inner outdoor enthusiast at this stunning slice of turquoise heaven on the south end of the Island.
After a day exploring Isla Mujeres, swimming in the translucent sea, there’s no more freeing feeling than riding around in the golf cart, bikini-clad, as the wind dries your skin while your eyes drink in miles of unadulterated turquoise.
Okay, maybe there is a better feeling –finishing your day with a cerveza at Playa Norte where the mariachi music is plentiful and the expression on any vacationer’s face seems to relay the same sentiment: “I am unabashedly single-mindedly pursuing one soul objective—letting go of every inhibition and having the time of my life.” That is Mexico. Even on this sweetly subdued island off the coast of Cancun, fun is pretty much a guarantee.