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Isla Mujeres, Mexico Travel Guide
 
Last Updated: Nov-08-2011, Hits: 11,898, Rating: 4.00, Reviews: 1, Votes: 1 Bookmark and Share
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Cancun, Mexico Travel Guide
 
Location: Mexico & Central America
Geography: Island, Beach
Vacation Type: Relaxation, Adventure
Popularity: Off-the-Beaten Path, Moderate Tourism
Costs: Budget
Attractions: Historical Sites, Scenery, Ecotourism, Fishing, Scuba & Snorkeling

Facts and Stats:
Population - 13,500
Government - Federal Republic
Time Zone: Central Time - GMT -6
Telephone Area Code: 998
Country Dialing Code: 52
Languages: Spanish
Electricity: 110v

Introduction:
Isla Mujeres (Isle of Women) defines the phrase "diamond in the ruff". Located just off the shores of Cancun, Isla Mujeres offers a funky, laid back alternative to the party atmosphere of Cancun. Despite being a small island, there are numerous attractions and ecotourism to check out while here as well as good lodging and dining options. Isla Mujeres makes for an excellent day trip or the final destination for your vacation.

Geography:
Isla Mujeres is located 8 miles off the coast of the Yucatan Peninsula (Cancun) and is only 5 miles long by a half mile wide. Isla Mujeres has a prime location in the Caribbean sea and is ringed by white sand beaches, and abuts the largest coral reef in the Caribbean Sea. The main settlement is located at the northwestern end of the island and is only about 10 blocks long by 5 blocks wide. The highest elevation on the island is 45 feet which is located at the seaside cliffs on the southern end of the island.

Brief History:
During the times of the Mayan civilization, Isla Mujeres was used as a sanctuary for the goddess Ixchel, who was the goddess of fertility, medicine, reason, and the moon. A temple which doubled as a lighthouse was erected on the southern end of the island and a replica of this structure exists today. The mayans, who periodically visited the island to harvest salt, also constructed many statures and idols of Ixchel.

In 1517, Francisco Hernandez Cordova sailed from Cuba and discovered the island. He also noticed the many female statues and named the island Isla Mujeres, or Isle of Women. Until the 1800's the island was mostly uninhabited save for the occasional fishermen or pirates. After the Mexican War of Independence ended in 1821, a fishing village was established on the island. Don Miguel Barbacano, the governor of the State of Yucatan, named the village Pueblo de Dolores in 1850.

In 1858, Fermin Anonio Mundaca y Marecheaga, arrived on the island and began building an estate called Vista Alegre that would eventually cover 40% of the land. Mundaca had become rich selling Mayan slaves to Cubans. It is also believed that he was involved in pirating. Mundaca flaunted his wealth to gain the attention of a woman, who eventually married another man. Legend has it that Mundaca went insane shortly after and later died. The ruins of Vista Alegre can be visited today and there is a small zoo located there as well.

For the most part, tourism didn't exist in Cancun until the 1970's after the touristy Hotel Zone was built. While Isla Mujeres had occasional tourists prior to Cancun, the birth of Cancun shifted the focus on the island from fishing to tourism, although plenty of fishing still occurs. In recent years, the population of the island has grown dramatically. It doubled in the last 16 years growing from 6,700 in 1990 to 13,500 in 2006. During that time, new resorts, restaurants, and bars, have opened, but the laid back, slow paced style of the island has remained.

Ecotourism:
For such a small island, there are a number of interesting eco-tourism options available. Some right at the island, and others a short trip away. In the 1970's Jacques Cousteau discovered the "Caves of the Sleeping Sharks". For the adventurous, a dive tour will take you down 80ft to the caves where sharks are known to rest for hours at a time. This is for experienced divers only and you may encounter nurse sharks, Caribbean reef sharks, blue sharks, lemon sharks, and bull sharks. For more information about this phenonmenon, read this.

For people who are not insane, there are plenty of other ecotourism attractions. Be sure to check out Garrafon, an aquatic and recreational natural park dedicated to preserving the natural ecology of the reefs. This park offers excellent snorkeling in a large protected reef, sea kayaking, tyrolean rapelling (zip lines), and SeaTrek. Seatrek allows you to wear a dive helmet supplied with oxygen via a hose. You can walk along the ocean bottom to a depth of 13 feet, 25 feet out from the shore. Perfect for those who wish to have a scuba diving experience without knowing how.

At Dolphin Discovery you can create the memories of a lifetime by swimming with dolphins. It is a truly magical experience getting to know these gentle animals up close and personal. If you like turtles, the Tortugranja (turtle farm) is a good place to see these creatures up close. This farm raises the turtles and releases them into the wild. They also rehabilitate injured ones.

Outside of Isla Mujeres are many other ecotourism opportunities. Isla Contoy is an uninhabited island 18 miles north of Isla Mujeres. In addition to its pristine white sand beaches, it is also a natural park that is home to as many as 150 bird species. Other attractions include Xcaret, Xel-Ha, and Aktun Chen. More information about these can be found in the Attractions section of our guide.

People/Culture:
Most of the people on Isla Mujeres are Mexican, some Mayan, and a few tourists that decided to make the island their home. Many remnants of the Mayan past can be seen on the island and several restaurants serve traditional Mayan dishes.

Although only 8 miles apart, the differences between Isla Mujeres and Cancun are profound and cater to 2 completely different crowds. While Cancun is known as a party/spring break destination, Isla Mujeres is a place to relax, unwind, and immerse yourself in Mexican culture. On Isla Mujeres you will find yourself in "real Mexico". There are no American fast food joints or stores, the pace is considerably slower, and the surroundings are colorful, funky, and charming.

Depending on where you stay, the locals will most likely be living among you in Isla Mujeres. The people are as laid-back as they are friendly, but it is important to remember that you are sharing space with them. If you came to Isla Mujeres to party, you probably won't like it, but more importantly, they probably won't like you. Unlike Cancun, they don't go home to an area far away from the madness, and your neighbors may very well be people that have to get up and work the next day - possibly serving you. This is not to say that there is no nightlife on Isla Mujeres, but remember to be respectful and quiet when leaving the bars and returning to your hotel.

Most of the people on Isla Mujeres speak English, but this is a great place to practice your Spanish and the locals will appreciate the effort. Most will be very accomodating and try to help you learn. You will likely find yourself hanging out with the locals and learning more about life on this wonderful island.

The locals are very proud of their island as has been evidenced in a couple of recent events. After Hurricane Wilma, the locals banded together to clear streets and repair damage. Within just a couple of months, they had restored the island, and reportedly made it even better. Unlike other stricken parts of Mexico, there was very little looting. In May of 2006, locals rioted with police in protest of Cancun's trash being dumped in a pit on the island.

As for safety, I always say that one of the safest places you can be is on an island (unless it is Haiti). Petty crimes such as theft certainly do occur on Isla Mujeres, but this can be avoided by protecting your valuables. It is probably a good idea to avoid walking in dark places at night, or walking alone period. Muggings and police shakedowns have happened in the past as they do everywhere in Mexico. Overall Isla Mujeres is a very safe place. If you do have a problem, you should file a report at the police station downtown. If for some reason medical services are needed, there are English speaking doctors on the island.

Food:
Obviously, the main types of food on Isla Mujeres are Mexican and Caribbean, although there are other options such as seafood, French, and Italian restaurants. The seafood is very fresh and for those that go deep sea fishing, several of the restaurants will prepare your catch for you. Whether it be a hole in the wall restaurant, or a fine dining establishment, the food on the island is quite good. Make sure you try the local specialties, particularly Mayan dishes, as you may not be able to find them elsewhere.

As anywhere in Mexico, the tap water can make you sick. Most of the hotels have purified water for their guests and stick to bottled water the rest of the time. In Isla Mujeres, you may want to ask about the ice. In Cancun, it is made from purified water, but we don't know if that is the case in Isla Mujeres.

Money/Costs:
Just like the rest of Mexico, Isla Mujeres uses the Peso for currency and you will need to convert your U.S. dollars to get by on the island. There are ATM machines conveniently located around the town, in fact, there is one right next door to the ferry landing. You will typically get the best conversion rate by using ATMs. The HSBC Bank is the only one on the island and it is open Monday through Friday from 8:30am to 6pm, and Saturdays from 9am to 2pm. Credit cards are pretty hit and miss. Hotels accept them as do some restaurants, but you will need cash for shopping and other incedentals.

Lodging in Isla Mujeres is a little strange as there isn't much in the way of mid-range options. The cheap hotels run between $20-$100 per night and the expensive resorts run between $160-400 per night. There isn't much in between. Don't be fooled by the prices. Many of the less expensive hotels are quite nice, particularly for those who came to the island to get away from crowded beach resorts. The more expensive hotels are the larger and newer resorts, which are comparatively way overpriced.

Restaurant prices are very reasonable at all levels and could potentially put less of a dent in your wallet than your booze. Tipping of 15% in restaurants is customary, but be sure to make sure that the wait staff hasn't already added it to your bill.

Isla Mujeres is a good place to shop and you can get some good deals on certain things. Haggling is allowed, but remember that these people are trying to earn a living.

Getting There and Around:
While Isla Mujeres does have an airport, it is very small and only has flights to/from Playa Del Carmen. The best way to get there is to fly into Cancun's airport and take a ferry ride to the island. The main ferry terminal is located at Puerto Juarez which is about 10 minutes north of downtown Cancun. If coming from the airport, you can take a bus or cab to the ferry terminal. It only costs about $3.50 each way and takes about 15 minutes to get to the island. The ferries depart about every 30 minutes between 6am-8:30pm and one final trip at 11:30pm. About 5 miles north of Puerto Juarez is Puerto Sam which has a car ferry to the island. There are also several boats that leave from the hotel zone at Playa Linda, Playa Langosta and Playa Tortugas. These boats are more expensive, have far fewer departure times, and their schedule can be unreliable, however, they are more convenient in many cases.

Getting around on the island can be a lot of fun. When downtown, you can walk anywhere you need to go, however, if you want to explore the other parts of the island, you will need transportation. You can certainly hire a cab, but it is much more fun to rent a golf cart (seats 4), moped, or a bicycle. You will need a valid driver's license for golf carts and mopeds. Car rentals are not an option on the island, and bringing a car over via ferry is more hassle than it is worth.

Entry Requirements:
To learn about entry and re-entry requirements for U.S. citizens, click here. If you are from another country, chances are a passport will be fine, but you should check with your local consulate to be sure.

Weather:
The current conditions in Cancun, are shown below:



Hurricane season runs from June 1 through November 30. The table below shows the average highs, lows and number of days with rain.

Month Avg High Avg Low
January 81 67
February 82 68
March 84 71
April 85 73
May 88 77
June 89 78
July 90 78
August 90 77
September 89 76
October 87 74
November 84 72
December 82 69

Water temperatures range 80-82 degrees from April through November and 78-79 degrees from December through March.

Services:
  • Police - The Police station is located on the main square and you can call them at 988-877-0082.
  • Office of Tourism - This office provides information and brochures to visitors. The office is located on Av. Rueda Medina #130 and their telephone number is 998-877-0307. Visit their web site here.
  • Medical Care - There is a hospital located on Av. Rueda Medina at Ojón P. Blanco - about a half mile south of town. Their phone number is 998-877-0001. There is also a Naval Hospital at 998-877-0001, and the Red Cross at 998-877-0280.
  • Internet Access - There are a number of internet cafes in town and several of the hotels offer this service.
  • Post Office - The Post office is located near to the main market on Av. Guerrero at Lopez Mateos. Their phone number is 988-877-0085.
  • Consumer Protection Agency - Profeco consumer protection agency has a local branch on the island. Their phone number is 998-877-0106.


  • Tips and Additional Information:
  • While harsh to blame the victim, most victims of theft and other crimes bring it on themselves. When you go to Mexico, do you really need to have your $10,000 wedding ring or Rolex watch with you? Do you need to wear expensive clothes and keep a lot of cash in your wallet? Is it smart to leave your valuables on the counter in your hotel room? Should you walk down a dark alley at night? These are common mistakes that people make that lead to their victimization. Use your head and you will be safe in Isla Mujeres.
  • If you visit Isla Mujeres as a day trip and miss the last ferry, it will turn into an overnight trip.
  • Just because the island is small and the road speeds are relatively slow, doesn't mean that safety while driving should be taken for granted. We had a close call when a truck that was too tall drove through the overhead power lines which came crashing down on the road in front of us. The power lines were live and arcing. There will be cars, bicylists, pedistrians, mopeds, and golf carts to keep your eye out for.
  • Playa Mujeres is the only golf course on the island and just opened in June 2006. It was designed by Greg Norman and portions of it border the Caribbean Sea.
  • Playa Norte at the north end of the island is a huge and popular beach. It is also nude friendly.
  • When shopping for a hotel, consider its location. Most of the nightlife, restaurants, shopping, and the best beaches are at the north end of the island (downtown). Several of the higher priced resorts are located toward the southern end of the island. You may think this is a good way to avoid the crowds, but large resorts tend to be crowded anyway. More importantly, you will need transportation everytime you want to go eat, drink, or shop outside your hotel. To some degree, you will also miss out on immersion in the culture of Isla Mujeres. When staying in town, you will only need transportation to visit the couple of attractions on the south side of the island.





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    User Reviews (1)




    Reviewed by: sloshed
    Review date: Mar-07-2009

    Isla Mujeres is a funky little island with a lot of character and charm. Unfortunately, we were only there for 1 day. I would love to go back and spend an entire vacation there and we didn't even see the beach at the north end of the island that is supposed to be spectacular. The turtle breeding facility was very cool and worth checking out. The one thing I would pass on is the Hacienda Mundaca. First of all, the reason this guy didn't get the lady is because the house he built is a piece of crap. Second, the "zoo" is depressing because the animals are not well cared for and look sickly. Everything else about the island was great.. 

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