Last Updated on November 18, 2023 by Nicole
We recently returned from 5 days in Isla Mujeres, a small island 6.8 miles (11 km) off the coast of Cancun. I took my 3 teenagers (15, 16 and 18 years old years old) and my parents (aged 80 and 84 years old). I wanted a beach experience in Mexico that also offered opportunities to explore, have adventures, and feel safe doing so. In addition, I had no interest in staying at an all inclusive resort. I found my previous experiences at all-inclusives to be disappointing. Rather, I wanted to stay at a beautiful hotel with very good restaurants and bars, with more to choose from either a walk or a short inexpensive taxi drive away. Did Isla Mujeres satisfy my goals? Absolutely.
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At A Glance
I know you are busy. If you only have a couple minutes to spare, here are the key takeaways from this article.
- Isla Mujeres is a good vacation spot in Mexico if you want to avoid all inclusive resorts and travel with teenagers and grandparents.
- There are lots of nice hotels, beautiful beaches, and great restaurants.
- It is easy to reach from Cancun, and safe and simple to travel around.
If you can find more time, try to read my full article. It explains my suggestions, gives you details about experiences that you will have, and provides travel tips.
What To Expect In This Article
I am going to discuss the following:
- how to reach Isla Mujeres;
- in which part of the island you might want to stay;
- how to get around the island;
- whether you need a golf cart;
- whether you can use credit cards or require cash;
- which restaurants you may wish to try; and
- activities that I would recommend for your teens.
Where is Isla Mujeres?
Isla Mujeres is Spanish for “Island of Women” and sits where the Gulf of Mexico and the Caribbean Sea meet. The island is approximately 7 kilometres (4.3 mi) long and 650 metres (2,130 ft) wide. You can easily transverse the island by car in approximately 22 minutes.
How Do You Get To Isla Mujeres?
We landed in Cancun and had a private shuttle from Discovery Mundo pick us up. We used them twice on our trip and were very happy with them. They were on time, the drivers were extremely friendly and it was the cheapest service by far that I had found.
I would recommend against using taxis to get to and from Cancun airport. From what I read before we arrived, this would have been a much more expensive option.
We drove 13 miles (21 km) from Cancun International Airport to Puerto Juarez to pick up the ferry to Isla Mujeres. Our flight landed in the evening, so the drive only took us 20 minutes. During the day, this would take much longer.
Once we arrived at Puerto Juarez, I went to the ticket booth and purchased return tickets. They cost $300 MXN or $16 USD per adult, and $250 MXN or $13 USD per child. There are lower fares for locals.
The ferries were passenger only and ran every 30 minutes from 6:00 am to 11:30 pm when we were there (check the schedule here for current sailings). They were operated by Ultramar and were pretty impressive.
The ships were beautiful, clean and sleek with lots of comfortable seating either on the top deck exposed to the sun or below in air conditioned comfort. There were people there to help with your luggage from porters to crew who helped to carry your suitcase from the wharf onto the ship.
On our return trip, we even had live entertainment – a young man playing the guitar and singing.
The ferry crossing took approximately 30 minutes. If you choose to sit on the top deck, you could get splashed if you sit near the front or the back, or close to the railings.
In both directions, the ferries were easy to access for the grandparents. They chose to sit on the main floor of the ferry, in the air conditioning, and avoided the need to climb up or down stairs. The crew immediately took care of their luggage and helped them onboard.
As expected, the views were gorgeous. We could easily see both Cancun and Isla Mujeres as we crossed. Overall, our crossings were uneventful- the ocean was calm and none of us had any seasickness.
For all of us, the ferry across was a wonderful way to start our Isla Mujeres holiday.
Where Should You Stay On Isla Mujeres?
Downtown Isla Mujeres/Playa Norte
The Ultramar ferry arrives in downtown Isla Mujeres, a 10 minute walk to Playa Norte. There are lots of large and small hotels, restaurants, and shops as soon as you exit the ferry.
If you want to stay where the action is, then look no further. You will be able to walk to dozens of restaurants, bars, grocery stores and banks immediately upon exiting the ferry terminal.
On the downside…you are in the middle of the action! Playa Norte is an absolutely gorgeous sandy beach and incredible warm and clean water. However, it is completely packed with people, lounge chairs, boats moored just off shore and beach restaurants.
We spent a couple of afternoons here and it felt we had stumbled upon College spring break each time (it was January!). It’s a terrific spot to people watch, but not relaxing at all.
The same is true around the streets of downtown Isla Mujeres. There are lots of restaurants and shops, but when we walked around exploring, we were constantly bombarded with vendors trying to lure us to eat at their restaurant or shop in their stores.
For us, it was fun to come to downtown Isla Mujeres and Playa Norte, but we also liked it when we left and went back to our quiet and relaxing hotel on the other side of the island.
The Izla Hotel
We stayed at the Izla Beach Front Hotel, a beautiful 5 five star hotel, on the opposite side of the island to Playa Norte.
The Izla Hotel was NOT an all inclusive resort, although breakfast was included when we booked. The hotel did offer a “half board” option, so had we wanted, we could have included dinner at the Izla Hotel each night. However, that was far from what we wanted.
I have stayed at over 8 all inclusive resorts in Mexico over the years. By and large, the quality of the food is often questionable and they are usually much more expensive compared to staying at traditional hotels.
For a more thorough explanation of why I avoid all-inclusive resorts as much as possible and a breakdown of how you end up paying more for all inclusives versus traditional hotels, please take a look at my article – All Inclusive Resorts: Why They Are A Rip Off!
What I liked about the Izla Hotel.
I loved the Izla Hotel. It was small relative to the monster all inclusive resorts that you find in Cancun or Playa Del Carmen. We really got to know the service staff at breakfast and the amazing bartenders at the pool bars.
It had a beautiful large pool steps to the beach with lots and lots of lounge chairs. There was a roof top adults only pool and bar that hosted 2 for 1 cocktails every night from 5:00 pm – 7:00 pm. The views, in particular at sunset, were breathtaking.
The amenities were simple – fitness room and spa – and that was absolutely enough for us. We spent our time by the pool or exploring the rest of Isla Mujeres.
The food and cocktails were delicious and well priced. I am glad that we did not choose the half board as we loved exploring Isla Mujeres and trying different restaurants. However, the food that we did eat at the Izla Hotel (breakfasts, a couple of lunches and one dinner) was excellent.
What I did not like about the Izla Hotel.
I did not like two things.
First, the beach was a little disappointing. It paled in comparison to the huge sandy beaches at Playa Norte. In addition, you could swim in the ocean and safely do so but it had seaweed.
None of this bothered us, even our teens. We still loved the stunning views from the pool and bar, and we took our teens to Playa Norte a couple of times to get our beach fix. In addition, the large pool always had empty lounge chairs available at any time of the day, and that more than made up for the beach.
As for my parents, they really appreciated the pool and the safe and easy entry points into it. They tend to avoid walking on the beach as the uneven surface is tough for them.
Nonetheless, if you want to spend most of your time at the beach or in the ocean, this might not be the ideal hotel or location for you.
Second, there wasn’t really anywhere to walk. You could walk along the beach for a little bit, but not very far. Equally, you could walk along the road in front of the hotel, but there weren’t any sidewalks and really nothing to see except more hotels or condo/residences.
We had a few bars and restaurants within walking distance from the Izla Hotel but for the most part, we hopped in a taxi to go from place to place. Taxis were inexpensive and plentiful, and all of them had the same set prices depending on the zone in which your destination was located.
Everywhere Else On Isla Mujeres
Once we left downtown Isla Mujeres, everything quietened down. There was a smattering of small hotels, restaurants and shops here and there, but there wasn’t another “town” or spot with a high concentration of any of them.
There were a few hotels along the street where the Izla Hotel was located. We also noticed some beautiful homes (some for rent) overlooking the ocean in and around the breathtaking Punta Sur.
On the other side of Isla Mujeres, the side which ended at Guadalupe Chapel, there was a very long and beautiful beach with the occasional 2-3 storey hotel or small inn, and a restaurant here and there. However, that was a pretty untouched part of Isla Mujeres.
Other destinations In Mexico that we have visited with our teens:
How To Travel On Isla Mujeres
There were very few cars on Isla Mujeres. Most people get around by taxi or golf cart. In addition, there are local buses that run on 4 different routes from 7:00 am – 9:00 pm.
Are Taxis Reliable, Reasonably Priced and Safe On Isla Mujeres?
We took taxis everywhere. The main taxi stand was located just next to the Ultramar ferry terminal. It was immediately to the left as you walked out of the building. However, it was easy to get taxis anywhere on the island.
All taxi fares were preset and defined for every destination on the island. We always asked for the price before we got into the taxi. However, the prices were always consistent with the pre-set amounts. The most expensive fare was $5.00 USD from Playa Norte to our hotel.
The drivers were always friendly, although they did not often speak English. Seatbelts in the back seat rarely worked but the roads were pretty empty.
I am usually an absolutely fanatic about using seat belts. I didn’t like that we normally didn’t have any, but at the same time, rarely felt there was anything to worry about.
Taxis were the perfect option for both my teenagers and parents. Neither wanted to walk too far and they were easy to get. This made choosing restaurants very easy. We simply decided where we wanted to eat and knew that we could easily get the grandparents there.
Taxis only accepted cash.
Should You Book A Golf Cart For Your Stay On Isla Mujeres?
One of the first things that I noticed when we arrived on Isla Mujeres is that golf carts were everywhere. We quickly realized that this was the main choice of transportation by tourists and locals alike. There were so many that I immediately wondered whether I had made a big mistake by not booking one (or two) for our five day stay. However, after investigating further, I realized that I had made the right decision.
A regular four seater golf cart cost approximately $70 USD per day and most places had a four day minimum rental from December 15 – April 1. Once you realize that a “long” taxi drive was only $5 USD one way, you would have to go back and forth across Isla Mujeres around 14 times (7 round trips from Hotel Izla) each day to justify the cost.
Did we do that?
Not even close!
Most days, we went out for dinner and took taxis. If it was the farthest destination from our hotel, we would have spent $5 USD one way or $10 USD return.
There was a couple days that we went to Playa Norte to explore and then, went out for dinner later that night. So, in that scenario, we spent $20 USD return. But that was it!
I really can’t think of a scenario that we (or anyone else that we know) would need to crisscross Isla Mujeres 14 times to justify the $70 USD per day cost of renting a golf cart.
Still, we rented one for the day to sightsee and had a total blast. I talk about that below.
Can You Use Credit Cards Or Do You Need Cash On Isla Mujeres?
Unfortunately, there were lots of situations where credit cards were not accepted at all. In fact, I was a little startled how often we found ourselves in establishments that only welcomed cash payments.
They easily accepted US dollars in addition to Mexican pesos and the exchange rate was usually fair. However, I would say that Isla Mujeres is more cash driven than anywhere else that I have been in Mexico.
Accordingly, I would recommend always having cash on hand when going shopping, or to restaurants and bars. If you realize that you are out of cash or forgot it back at your hotel, you should always confirm that the business accepts credit cards before finding yourself in a difficult situation.
The good news is that there were lots of bank machines in downtown Isla Mujeres.
For those businesses that accepted credit cards, many of them added a premium on top of our bill for the privilege of using it. Usually, it was a reasonable/normal amount – 3-4% of the total cost of the bill. We have often experienced this in developing countries. The business is essentially passing on the charges that credit card companies are charging them.
However, one establishment, a beach restaurant at Playa Norte called Chimbo’s Beach Restaurant & Bar, charged us 10% on top of the cost of our bill for using our credit card. This was the one time on Isla Mujeres where I felt taken advantage of.
Bottom line, if you pay with cash, this won’t happen to you!
We have had many wonderful adventures in Central And South America with our teens. For more information about other destinations and our experiences, please see:
Which Restaurants Do I Recommend?
We tried many restaurants all over Isla Mujeres. For the most part, our dinners were high end International cuisine, but we also ate some amazing Mexican food at lunch.
One consistent problem that we found all over Isla Mujeres regardless of the restaurant was that food often arrived warm, not hot. We realized that they likely did not have the proper warming equipment to keep food warm while they finished preparing all the dishes for the table.
Accordingly, after a couple days, we began to ask that they bring each dish out as it was prepared and not worry about bringing everything altogether. That solved the problem.
Reasonably Priced Options On Isla Mujeres
Oscars Grill – We ate at Oscars on our first night. It was a 10 minute taxi drive from the Izla Hotel. Oscars had delicious GINORMOUS pizzas and cocktails. It was the perfect start to our trip. By the way – It only accepted cash.
Buhos Beach Bar And Restaurant – We ate here after a snorkelling trip. It is located at Playa Norte. The food was Mexican and American and cooked to order. It was delicious but service was slow. Prices were good, but they only accepted cash.
Chimbo’s Beach Restaurant & Bar – This was another restaurant located on the beach at Playa Norte. Food was very good and service was super fast. When we were there, they had a cocktail special where the drinks were double the size for the normal cost of one. It accepted credit cards, but they charged a 10% premium.
High End Restaurant Options On Isla Mujeres
Villa Rolandi – This was a high end Italian restaurant that was expensive but delicious. It was located in the Zoetry Villa Rolandi hotel not far from the Izla Hotel. The views from the restaurant were beautiful. It accepted credit cards.
Lola Lorena – This was an interesting experience. It was a very expensive restaurant where the chef serves around 24 people multiple small dishes over 3 hours using local produce and creating what inspires her that day. She will adapt the menu to allergies or food aversions but other than that, you have no idea what you will be eating that night.
You need to be a foodie, patient (as food slowly comes out) and not have a massive appetite (as servings were small), but a neat experience. Cash on the night or payment via Paypal in advance of the dinner were accepted.
Numa at Izla Hotel – This was the best food that we had during our whole holiday. This was a high end seafood restaurant located at our hotel. Food and service were excellent. Credit cards were also accepted.
Activities On Isla Mujeres With Teens
We only had 5 nights (four full days) on Isla Mujeres. We spent a couple of days taking it easy by the hotel pool but then, our teens wanted to explore and have some adventures. The grandparents were happy by the pool at the hotel.
There area few things to do with teens in Isla Mujeres whether you stay overnight or take a day trip from Cancun. Here are two that we really enjoyed.
Private Half Day Snorkelling Tour
We did an extraordinary half day snorkelling tour. We had a small boat and a crew of two (a captain and a guide for our snorkelling) and met at the Ultramar ferry terminal in downtown Isla Mujeres.
From there, we snorkelled near reefs and in underwater museums filled with giant sculptures (MUSA). We also explored a sunken shipwreck.
The water was warm and crystal clear. We saw lots of fish, including turtles and enormous barracudas.
At the end of the tour, the boat dropped us off at Playa Norte and we spent the rest of the afternoon sitting at the beach, drinking cocktails, and exploring downtown Isla Mujeres before hopping in a taxi to return to the hotel. The whole experience was fantastic.
Day Rental Of Golf Cart
In high season, it may be difficult to find a business that has a golf cart available for a one day rental, but we found one. For $70 USD, we rented for the day and had an absolute blast.
We went to Punta Sur which is a beautiful park set just above the ocean with gorgeous walks and art work scattered about.
Afterwards, we explored the rest of Isla Mujeres. We toured neighbourhoods where locals lived and then, followed the long beautiful beach from Punta Sur to Guadalupe Chapel.
Then, we crisscrossed the small side streets in downtown Isla Mujeres looking at shops and restaurants. Finally, we took a dip in the ocean at Playa Norte and did a little bit of shopping. It was a really fun day and our teenagers really enjoyed it.
Overall Impressions and Recommendations For Isla Mujeres Vacation With Grandparents and Teens
Notwithstanding all of our different interests, physical fitness levels, and opinions, the grandparents and my teens all had an amazing time in Isla Mujeres.
It was beautiful, easy to get around, with great beaches, inexpensive and delicious restaurants, and fantastic hotels. You can hang out and do very little, or be a little adventurous snorkeling in the underwater museums, or touring the island by golf cart.
It suited both the temperaments of my teens and my parents, both of whom wanted a slow pace with lots of conveniences. When my teens wanted a bit more action, it was easy to find it, and my parents were safely and happily left at the hotel.
Isla Mujeres was a wonderful Mexican destination for our multigenerational family trip. It offered some of the best small beach towns in Mexico. It was easy and inexpensive to get to and from Cancun International Airport. Moreover, we always felt safe and enjoyed the food at the many restaurants that we tried.
We loved our hotel, the Izla Hotel, and appreciated not having to stay at an all inclusive resort. It was easy spending the day relaxing by the pool or enjoying the crystal clear and warm waters of the ocean at Playa Norte.
We enjoyed snorkelling in the ocean and renting a golf cart and exploring Isla Mujeres.
All in all, Islas Mujeres was an amazing destination that everyone in our family enjoyed.
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