This eight-kilometer-long (5 miles) by one-half kilometer-wide (.3 miles) wisp of an island sits just 6 km off the coast to the northeast of Cancun. For those wanting a break from the glitz of Cancun, Isla Mujeres is a refreshing throwback to the days before Cancun even existed.
Isla first gained international attention for its outstanding aquatic conditions. Clear, warm water, abundant marine life, reefs and caves attracted Jacques Cousteau who was guided by local dive legend Ramon Bravo. Snorkeling sites are abundant, though those frequented by Cancun party boats can be crowded at certain times of the day. A better choice is the area adjacent to the airstrip, just to the south of the city. Most of Isla’s residents live from diving and fishing. They make very hospitable hosts for both day-trippers and overnight guests.
The tourist ferry dock near the Island’s northern tip is where visitors disembark to enter the island’s main settlement. The town is home to simple shops, a few restaurants, some funky bars, an occasional brightly painted clapboard house, and the Plaza Municipal. Mopeds, golf carts, bicycles and taxis can be easily rented upon arrival. South of town the island’s only road skirts the western coast past mangrove lagoons, an air strip, stunning beaches and relaxed seaside restaurants before looping northbound. The trip to the island’s southern tip takes about 20 minutes. The island’s eastern shore is rugged, rocky, and mostly undeveloped.
Parque Marino El Garrafon is a popular beach and swimming site. Activities include snorkeling and hiking trails, aerial “zip line,” dolphin swim, kayaks, “snuba” and scuba, plus dining, showers, and a nice beach. Occupying the island’s southern tip are two related structures. A modern lighthouse overlooks a small Mayan temple (Ixchel, goddess of fertility) that signaled Mayan sailors and settlements as far away as Cozumel. A colorful Caribbean-style village with shops, a cafe, and an outdoor sculpture garden, now occupy the entrance to this area.