We recently returned from 5 days in Isla Mujeres, a small island 11 km off the coast of Cancun. I wanted a beach experience in Mexico that also offered opportunities to explore 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 inclusive resorts 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.
In this article, I am going to discuss our experiences on Isla Mujeres. In addition, I am going to outline:
- how to get there;
- 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;
- activities that I would recommend.
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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.
Our trip was multigenerational. We took my parents (80 and 84 years old) and our kids (15, 16 and 18 years old) to Isla Mujeres. Notwithstanding all of our different interests, physical fitness levels, and opinions, we all had an amazing time.
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 that I had found by far. I would recommend against using taxis. From what I read before we arrived, this would have been a much more expensive option.
We drove 21 km from Cancun International Airport to Puerto Juarez where we had 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 be longer.
The Ultramar ferry from Puerto Juarez to Isla Mujeres.
Once we arrived, 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 who expected tips to crew who would help 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 may get splashed if you sit near the front or the back, or close to the railings. 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.
Where Should You Stay On Isla Mujeres?
1. 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.
On the downside…you are in the middle of the action! Playa Norte is an absolutely gorgeous beach with beautiful sand 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 entice 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.
2. The Izla Hotel
We stayed at the Izla Beach Front Hotel, a beautiful 5 five star hotel, far away from 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 a waste of money compared to staying at traditional hotels. For a more thorough analysis of why all inclusive resorts are a bad deal, 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 this 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 big beautiful 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 and such. None of this bothered us. We still loved the views and we went to Playa Norte a couple of times to get our beach fix. However, 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.
Accommodation on Isla Mujeres
For accommodation at the Izla Beach Front Hotel or elsewhere on Isla Mujeres, I would recommend booking through booking.com using the amazing interactive map below to find well priced hotels in amazing locations.
3. 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. By and large, that was a pretty untouched part of Isla Mujeres.
How To Travel On Isla Mujeres?
There were very few cars on Isla Mujeres and no local bus system. Most people get around by taxi or golf cart.
1. 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 rarely spoke English. Seatbelts in the back seat rarely worked but other than downtown and other taxis, there was hardly another car on the road. 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. They only accept cash.
2. 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 are everywhere. We quickly realized that this is 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. We never went into Playa Norte for dinner so each taxi cost less than $5 USD, but for the purposes of this calculation, let’s say the fare was $5 USD or $10 USD return. One day, we went to Playa Norte and downtown Isla Mujeres to explore and hang out at the beach. Again, we spent another $5 USD or $10 USD return. However, that was only one day. There really isn’t a scenario that we (or anyone else that we know who is going to Isla Mujeres for relaxation time by the pool and beach) would need to criss cross Isla Mujeres 14 times to justify the $70 USD per day cost of renting a golf cart.
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!
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 away from the 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 Dinner 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.
What Activities Did We Do On Isla Mujeres?
We only had 5 nights/four days on Isla Mujeres. We spent a couple of days taking it easy by the hotel pool but then, we wanted to explore. Here are two activities that we really enjoyed.
1. A private half day snorkelling trip booked through the Izla Hotel
We did an extraordinary half day snorkelling trip. 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 in underwater museums filled with giant sculptures. We also explored a sunken shipwreck. The water was warm and crystal clear. We saw lots of fish, including turtles and enormous barracudas. The cost was $280 USD for 5 people.
The boat dropped us off at Playa Norte and we spent the rest of the afternoon sitting at the beach, drinking cocktails at the beach bar, and exploring downtown Isla Mujeres before hopping in a taxi to go back to our hotel. It was fantastic.
2. We rented a golf cart and explored Isla Mujeres.
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. After we explored the rest of Isla Mujeres. We went into neighbourhoods where locals lived and then, followed the long beautiful beach and watched the untamed waves hit the shores from Punta Sur to Guadalupe Chapel. After, we criss crossed 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.
Isla Mujeres was a wonderful destination in Mexico. It was easy and inexpensive to get to from Cancun International Airport. 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 loved our two excursions 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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