At the eastern tip of Cancún, a tiny slice of heaven is tucked away from the clamorous city. Isla Mujeres’ five-mile long island on the Caribbean coast is divided with flat, sandy white beaches on one side and elevated with cliffs and ancient Mayan ruins on the other.
Legends say Ixchel, the Mayan goddess of the moon, fertility and medicine, once ruled the island with her court of women, so it was named Isla Mujeres or in English, “Island of Women.”
With a vibrant Latin culture, the island has become a popular retirement choice for Americans. The locals say it’s a foodie haven for mixed cultures, as many restaurants are also American-owned.
Just a 20-minute ferry ride from the mainland, this tropical paradise is a perfect escape. Rather than the all-inclusive, huge resorts found in Cancún, the island is occupied by quaint bed and breakfasts and condos. You won’t get stuck in traffic jams, because almost everyone drives golf carts and mopeds.
Spend the day lounging on the north end where Playa Norte’s tranquil beach meets clear turquoise waters. Or head south to discover majestic cliffs, caves, Mayan ruins and the stunning Garrafon Natural Reef Park.
Punta Sur, at the southernmost point, claims the Yucatán Peninsula’s highest elevation. It’s home to attractions such as snorkeling, kayaking, zip lining and exploring Mayan history, including a temple honoring the goddess Ixchel. Check out Carey Dive Center at the northern tip of the island for boat tours and the chance to swim with whale sharks, the largest fish in the sea.
Although the overall vibe is serene, the south side is quieter and less crowded, while the north side commands the nightlife. Check out Hidalgo Street that closes to cars at night and transforms into a street vendor party with music, dancing and delicious Mexican food.
WHERE TO DOCK
Marina Puerto Isla Mujeres
This full-service marina offers dockage on a protected harbor with 64 slips for yachts up to 80’ and megayachts up to 175’ with a 10’ draft.
Marina Paraíso Hotel
Just a mile from downtown, this upscale hotel, marina and resort offers Caribbean-style suites and a penthouse, along with 42 wet slips.
WHERE TO DINE
Just off Hidalgo Street is this small authentic restaurant with what locals call “dinnertainment,” where a chef/guitarist cooks your meal and plays music while you eat.
This stunning restaurant shares a gorgeous space with a beach club, wedding venue, museum and marina with boat rides and snorkeling.
Rosa Sirenas Rooftop Palapa Bar
Venture through a residential neighborhood to get to this palapa bar atop of a local’s house. Try the homemade sangria and fresh catch.
Explore a rainbow of flavors at this plush eatery that serves Moroccan, Greek, Bulgarian and Turkish cuisines.
Photos by jenn & jon hull