Isla Mujeres, Quintana Roo, Mexico
Isla Mujeres (the “Island of Women”) is a slice of paradise located just off the coast of Mexico’s Yucatan Peninsula, and until this point this Island has been our best kept secret in the Caribbean!
We fell so deeply in love with this island in the sun from the moment of our first visit. For us, Isla has ruined all other bucations because it has become the standard to which we hold every future trip to. From the Island’s beautiful beaches to its friendly residents who made us feel like true “Isleno”, there are so many reasons to fall in love with Isla.
Isla Mujeres isn’t your ordinary Mexican tourist destination. In fact, it’s quite the opposite. If you’re looking for the big box hotels and popular chain restaurants of Cancun or the vibrant nightlife of Playa-del-Carmen, Isla Mujeres may not be for you. However, If you’re looking for paradise, in our opinion – this is where you will find it!
Life moves a little bit slower on Isla Mujeres than it does on Mexico’s mainland. This Island in the Fun is littered with unique beachfront properties, charming downtown apartments, a seashell house (LITERALLY!), and boutique hotels unlike any other. The main roads are navigated primarily by golf carts, and the weather always seems perfect.
For those who have visited the Florida Keys, Isla is very similar to this American Paradise in many ways (including in size) to our favorite Florida Key, Key West. Perhaps this is why we love it so much! Isla Mujeres is just over four miles in length and about 2,000 feet wide. Isla’s size and infrastructure make it easy to explore all that it has to offer.
Mexico doesn’t suffer from a shortage of good beaches. However, Isla Mujeres is one of the most fabulous you will find in our opinion. On this picturesque island you will find pristine white sand beaches perfect for sunbathing, snorkeling and scuba diving in the nearby coral reefs, the ruins of an ancient Mayan temple, fishing, kayaking, a Sculpture Garden, zip lining, the chance to swim with dolphins, unique Oceanside bars, beachfront resorts, and a collection of boutique hotels.
When it comes to swimming in the warm Caribbean waters of Isla, we prefer the western side of the Island. This is where most of the Island’s resorts, attractions, and fantastic Oceanside bars are located. From most locations on the western side of Isla Mujeres visitors are able to take in the electric horizon of Cancun.
The eastern side of Isla Mujeres is where Isla’s rocky coastline meets the choppy waters of the Caribbean Sea. However, here is where you will find unobstructed views of Isla’s famous sunsets where the pink sky radiates and the ocean appears to swallow the sun.
Although most of Isla’s residents speak English, there were a few occasions where our Spanish came in handy such as our dinner at the most authentic Mexican restaurant on Isla, La Lomita. However, you could certainly survive a week in Isla Mujeres with little to no Spanish speaking abilities.
The American dollar and credit cards are accepted throughout Isla Mujeres. We never ran into an issue with paying in dollars or credit, and the American dollar seemed to be the preferred source of payment at a number of establishments.
Although the signal was stronger in some spots over others, free WiFi was also available everywhere we visited on Isla. However, don’t forget you are on island time, and there is no real need to worry about e-mails while you are enjoying the best of Isla!
Explore Isla by Golf Cart
The best part of Isla Mujeres is that everything is so accessible without being congested and overdeveloped. The Island’s infrastructure is easily navigated via a multitude of transportation methods. From bicycles to golf carts and taxis, there are so many ways to get around Isla and see the sights. For us, the highlight and most enjoyable part of our trip was renting a golf cart and bar hopping our way around the Island.
We rented our first of many golf carts for a full day which meant we had twenty-four hours to explore Isla. Our golf cart was in excellent condition, and with the majority of other drivers on the roads also having golf carts (again very similar to Key West), it was very easy to navigate our way around Isla Mujeres – however, watch out for “topes” (pretty wicked speed bumps which you will find throughout Mexico). For more on our golf cart adventures in Isla, check out our full review and vlog here.
Punta Sur, the southernmost point of the Island, is a great place to take in the endless views of the Caribbean Sea that will simply take your breath away. Besides some of the most picturesque landscapes, here you will find the remains of an ancient Mayan temple, a one of a kind outdoor Sculpture Garden, and a Caribbean Village packed with a gift shop and restaurant/bar that overlooks the Sculpture Garden. It’s quite a hodgepodge of attractions, but in our opinion – its definitely worth the trip.
The Sculpture Garden is very unique in that it is completely outdoor, leaving the exhibits susceptible to all kinds of conditions, and each exhibit is tucked into the most tropical of settings. As strange as it might seem, it’s almost as if these sculptures have been here all along. From the moment you step onto the grounds, bright colors surround you from not only the landscape but also from the sculptures themselves! The exhibition was created in 2001, and it features amazing works of art from Mexican artists as well as other artisans from around the world!
At the southernmost tip of the Island you can watch as the waves break against Punta Sur’s naturally carved cliffs, but don’t get too close to these rocky overhangs… this popular spot is also home to the Yucatan’s highest elevation, and it is quite a drop down. However, this vantage point allows for some of the best views of the sunset and sunrise in the Yucatan. We have yet to make it to Punta Sur for a sunrise, but we have heard this is the first spot the sun touches when it rises on Mexican soil!
If you are staying in Playa Norte or Centro, you will want to rent a golf cart or take a taxi. We prefer to make a day of it by exploring the entire Island during the day by golf cart, and we end our evening in Punta Sur. For us, that is the recipe for a perfect day in Isla.
If you are searching for the perfect white sand beach, Playa Norte is where you will find it. Honestly, there is nothing like an absolutely striking setting to get our creative juices flowing and with so much natural beauty surrounding us in Playa Norte, we could honestly write about these incredible beaches for days.
As you’ve probably heard us say before, the beaches of Isla are some of the most naturally beautiful beaches we’ve experienced in our travels. These warm shallow waters call our name from the time the sunrises until well after sunset in Isla, and if you are a beach person – this place will be hard to leave!
Playa Norte has become the standard to which we measure all other beaches. Pictures just cannot do this spot justice, and it’s something you must see and feel in person. There is a reason why so many outlets have named Playa Norte one of the best beaches in the Caribbean. The combination of Playa Norte’s soft white sand and the clear blue ocean waters make for the perfect place to unwind.
If you take the time to walk the beaches of Playa Norte, you will find a number of posh beachfront hotels, outdoor beach bars, beach clubs, and restaurants. Pull up a lounge chair or a bar swing, park yourself under a palapa, and order a cervesa from your sand-side waiter.
One thing worth noting is that the beaches of Playa Norte, at least in our experience, seem to be solicitation-free! Unlike a number of other destinations we’ve visited, beach-goers and Island visitors are generally left to their own devices. We’ve never experienced any invasive peddlers selling tobacco, souvenirs, offering tours or illegal substances. We cannot express enough how much this was a refreshing and surprising change for us as so many beautiful destinations have been ruined for us by these unfortunate and unwanted annoyances. To walk down the main streets of Centro and not be bombarded by salesmen and people yelling “take a picture with my monkey” was a real treat! However, we do know Playa Norte does have two wandering salespeople that we know of – the coconut man who makes drinks out of coconuts beach-side and a surape saleswoman who both travel up and down the beach, but they only seemed to approach when asked.
Located just a short walk or taxi ride from the ferry, if you are planning a visit to or a stay on Isla Mujeres we highly recommend you make the trip to Playa Norte to experience its fabulous beaches.
Not far from Playa Norte, Isla’s intimate downtown area is known as Centro. Throughout Centro’s four blocks of gift shops, restaurants, and bars you will find brightly colored buildings and hand painted murals that span entire blocks and statues paying tribute to the Island’s history.
She may be small, but Centro is certainly mighty when it comes to the evening hours. The area may be tame during the daylight hours where you can take in Mass at a Catholic Church, but at night Centro comes alive with dancers and celebrations all around. The energy in Centro in the evening is electrifying. The streets which seem almost empty during the daytime are taken over by pedestrians and street performers in the evening hours.
There are a number of dining options throughout Centro, however (full disclosure) we sadly have not had the best of luck in these establishments. Don’t get us wrong – Centro is certainly a site to see and experience during your trip to Isla. However, when it comes to dining – we highly recommend you try something outside of this area as it tends to be less authentic than we prefer (think of it as a mini-Calle Quinta Avenida in PDC).
What you will find here are the perfect keepsakes from your trip to Isla. There are a number of shops with a variety of goods for sale throughout Centro. If you don’t find exactly what you are looking for, don’t worry. If you keep searching, you will more than likely find it. It wasn’t until our very last day in Isla that we found exactly the right gifts, and we were so glad we kept searching!
The eastern shore of Isla is a harsh contrast to that of the calm blue waters of the west. Here is where Isla’s coastline meets the Caribbean Sea.
This is perhaps the most natural and undeveloped portion of Isla. With it’s close proximity to one of the most popular resort destinations in the world, it’s reassuring to know that there is still so much green (and blue) space left on this beautiful Island!
If you do have the chance to rent a golf cart and explore Isla, there are a number of beach access points along the Eastern side. Although the surf is typically more rough on the eastern side of Isla Mujeres, this spot still offers some of the best unobstructed views of the Caribbean Sea. Take a moment to park your golf cart and walk the untouched Eastern beaches of Isla and take in the unobstructed views of the Caribbean Sea.
There are also a number of stunning ocean-front residential properties (a few were for sale!) that can be found here. During our many road trips around Isla’s eastern coast, we were able to spot a number of posh pads and oceanfront mansions that we’d love to call home some day.
Here are a few of our travel tips for Island life:
- Pack light – Island life is very laid back. Waterproof sunscreen, a swimsuit, and a few pieces of island apparel are all you need
- Don’t worry – Almost everyone on Isla speaks some (if not perfect) English
- Stay hydrated – Stick to bottled water, even when brushing your teeth
- Plastic is fantastic – Major credit cards are accepted
- Money Money Money – American dollars are accepted, and the preferred currency
- More power – Electricity is the same voltage as it is in the States – 120V, and we also brought along our portable power pack to recharge our cameras, phones, and tablets in between our adventures around Isla
- WiFi (although it may be significantly slower than what your used to) is readily available almost everywhere, and if it’s not advertised to you upon arrival – just ask
- Although you can get around by taxi and golf cart, we highly recommend you bring your walking shoes and explore some of the areas that can only be reached by foot.
- Safety was never remotely a concern for us in Isla, but a good rule for any traveler is to always be aware of your surroundings no matter what the location
For us, the constant battle with a beautiful Island like Isla Mujeres is always the decision of where to stay. Fortunately, the Island’s size makes it easily navigable and therefore, regardless of where you choose to stay you won’t be disappointed.
There are a number of charming boutique hotels located near Punta Sur. The only disadvantage to this area is that a golf cart rental or taxi is necessary in order to access areas like Centro or Playa Norte. However, there is something to be said about the private and peaceful environment offered to guests of the Punta Sur region of Isla Mujeres. It’s very unlikely your trip will be effected by roadside traffic or partygoers when staying in this location.
One of our favorite spots in Punta Sur is Casa de Los Sueños. Sueños’ views are absolutely breathtaking from each of their ten impeccable guestrooms. Although Sueños doesn’t have the endless amenities of a big box resort, this tranquil retreat will truly feel like your private home away from home far removed from the hustle and bustle of Cancun. It’s true what they say, good things come in small packages, and this location would be perfect for honeymooners or those looking to escape it all. After all, it’s called the “house of dreams,” for a reason! For more on Sueños, please take a moment to read our review.
Since we love waking up to a good beach we prefer our accommodations along the beautiful beaches of Playa Norte, and there is no place quite like Privilege Aluxes. This is not your typical resort by any means. At Privilege, guests have the option to include or not to include! In fact, from the world-class accommodations and incredible staff to the amazing amenities, this resort has easily become one of our all-time favorites!
Not only does Privilege have everything we were looking for (on a small scale) in our accommodations on Isla Mujeres, but it is also within walking distance to Centro and of the Ultramar Ferry dock. For us, this is the perfect recipe for fun in Isla Mujeres. We highly recommend you take a moment to read our review of Privilege because afterwards, you may want to live the Privilege life too!
The most important thing is that you choose the location that best suits your travel party. Everyone has a different travel style and although we love to be close to the beach and the action in Isla Mujeres, we understand a number of travelers may have other needs they prefer to have met. Do your research and in the interim if there is anything we can help you with, please let us know! Isla Mujeres is one of our favorite topics of conversation, and we truly wish everyone could have the chance to experience this beautiful Island! So feel free to reach out because we are always happy to answer your questions or just help you bounce around ideas!
Some meals are just worth the flight, and we can’t say enough about the incredible food and views of Casa de Los Sueños located in Punta Sur. For a good bite, Sueños’ ocean-side open-air restaurant and bar are open daily. However, for a truly unforgettable dining experience, we highly recommend Sueños’ private dinner on the pier. You can read more about our experience with Sueños in our full review here, but this one will not disappoint!
Centro can be hit or miss when it comes to food. There are plenty of places we can advise you to steer clear of. The main part of town is lined with restaurants and bars that will all fight for your patronage only to serve you less than stellar portions of (in our opinion) Americanized-Mexican cuisine.
Just outside of downtown Centro you will find a few of our favorites:
- West Side: Cockteleria Justicia Social (“Social”) is located across from the Naval Base, and it is the perfect spot for the most amazing tacos dockside. Here you will find a great people watching spot and the absolute freshest seafood in Isla Mujeres. The Cockteleria is operated by the local fisherman’s co-op, and although there are indoor seating options for those afternoon rain showers, dining al fresco is a must for us.
- East Side: For the most authentic cuisine in Isla, we saved the best for last. We made the walk from our hotel in Playa Norte to this gem, and it was worth every step! We highly recommend you try the amazingly intimate culinary experience that is Restaurant La Lomita. You can read more about our full review here, but if you have the opportunity, we highly recommend you add this spot to your Isla Itinerary!
“High Season” in Isla Mujeres is from Mid-December (the holiday season) through April (including Spring Break). The weather from Mid-December through April is said to be the most ideal, and these months have the smallest percentage of rainfall during the year. During these months the Island can become very busy, and you may find difficulty booking accommodations and tours on the Island if you haven’t planned out your trip months in advance.
On our most recent trip to Isla Mujeres, we visited during the first week of September which is over the Labor Day holiday here in the States. We found the weather during this week to be absolutely sublime! Since you are on an island, it is important to remember that a storm can pass through at any time. However, it has been our experience that they tend to pass through rather quickly with the exception of perhaps tropical storm development (hurricane season runs the same as it does here in the States – June through November). During our week in Isla, we had only one somewhat-rainy day where the morning was a bit of a wash, but by the afternoon the sun was shining and we were sunning ourselves on the Island’s beautiful beaches. There were also times during our stay where we were able to see that showers were raining heavily on the Cancun area while the weather was gorgeous on Isla.
However, this is technically the beginning of the “off-season” for Isla Mujeres. Isla’s Off-Season runs from September through December. Therefore, a number of establishments close their doors (from restaurants and bars to various accommodations) since they benefit more by closing their doors than remaining open during slower months. We did not experience any issues with the closure of any of the establishments we wanted to visit. In result, we found what some may term as the slower season to be very welcoming. The beaches were not overly crowded, the water was calm, and although there were a number of large wedding parties staying at our hotel we never felt cramped. In fact, we felt quite the opposite. At times it was as if we had an Island paradise all to ourselves. Aside from all of this, we also saved quite a bit of money by booking during the Off-Season which may be something worth considering.
They say its the journey, and not the destination. For us, this has never been more true. Getting to this little slice of paradise also known as Isla Mujeres is half the fun.
The closest international airport to Isla Mujeres is Cancun International Airport. From the airport, guests can take a number of modes of transportation to the two ferry docks that service Isla Mujeres. You will want to decide between public transportation (ADO Bus), hiring a private car (limousine) service, or taking a taxi.
Whether you plan a day trip or an overnight stay in Isla Mujeres, we highly recommend you add this fantastic Island In the Fun to your itinerary for your upcoming visit to the Yucatan Peninsula.
Now that we’ve let you in our best kept secret in the Caribbean, are you planning an upcoming trip or have you visited Isla Mujeres? Are there any other secret islands you’d be willing to share with us? We’d love to hear your thoughts!