Mexico’s Island of Women

Isla Mujeres has a charm about it that hooks you right from the moment you step foot on the island. Just 12 minutes by ferry from Cancun, it’s hard to believe somewhere so close to tourism-gone-bad can possibly produce anything even remotely close to charming. But the ‘Island of Women’, as the island’s name translates, pulls it off effortlessly. And how could it not, after all it’s home to one of Tripadvisor’s ‘Top 25 Beaches’ in the world for 2014, is a launching point for swimming amongst the largest congregation of whale sharks anywhere in the world, it boasts the most easterly point in Mexico, and the main form of transport around the island is golf cart. What’s not to love?

For such a tiny island there’s actually quite a bit to do and see. With five days to explore the island we thought we had allocated plenty of time. After about an hour on the island however, our mistake was clear. There is a lot to occupy your time, and we were tempted by most of it. Luckily, we were able to squeeze in almost everything on our list, save diving the renowned underwater museum, which I’ve read is fantastic (I think we just wanted an excuse to go back…).

Based on my absolute favourite things we did on the island, here’s a list of what not to miss should you be lucky enough to visit the ‘Island of Women':

 

1. Swim with whale sharks

After about an hour by boat, with no land in sight, somewhere between Mexico and Cuba, you can jump into the ocean to swim with the world’s largest fish, whale sharks. This location boasts the largest congregation of whale sharks anywhere in the world. It sounds scary, but it’s amazing.

DCIM100MEDIA

 

 

2. Visit Tortugranja, the island’s turtle rescue centre

The beaches of Isla Mujeres are used as nesting grounds by turtles during nesting season. Due to poaching and the high number of predators on the island the survival rate of the hatchlings isn’t high. Staff from Tortugranja collect the eggs and provide them with a safe environment to hatch to ensure they have a chance at survival. Once the turtles are strong enough they are released into the ocean. If you’re lucky you may even have the chance to hold a one-day-old turtle.

 

Turtles 3

 

Turtles 2

 

Turtles

 

Turtles 5

 

Turtles 4

 

Playing with turtles, Isla Mujeres

 

 

3. Wade in the shallow, azure waters at Playa Norte

Playa Norte (North Beach) was voted as one of the ‘Top 25 Beaches’ in the world this year for a reason. The beach’s shallow waters are a beautiful place to take dip.

Playa Norte

 

Playa Norte 5

 

Playa Norte 4

 

Playa Norte 1

 

 

4. Watch the sun come up from the most easterly point in Mexico

Be the first person in Mexico to see the sun rise over the Caribbean Sea from atop the highest point on the island. The cliffs that offer this amazing view stand at 66 feet in some areas, providing the perfect viewing point for sunrise. Unfortunately, we didn’t make it for sunrise, but this is a pretty sweet spot to sit and watch the sun come up.

Sunrise viewing

 

Mexico east

 

Mexico east 1

 

 

Mexico east dad 2

 

Mexico east cafe

 

 

5. Hire a golf cart and drive around the entire island

Exploring the island by golf cart is not only a fun way to see the island, you will also find hidden beaches, coastal tracks where you can take in the views across the Caribbean, and even locals selling fresh coconuts in front of their house with some fantastic stories to tell. We stopped to buy fresh coconut water from ‘Jerry’ who was expertly prepping coconuts in front of his house. The warm welcome, open hospitality, and epic tales we received from Jerry sums up our experience in Mexico perfectly.

 

Golf cart 2

 

Isla Cemetary

 

Isla street 5

 

Isla street 6

 

Isla street 7

 

Isla street 9

 

Isla street 12

 

Isla street 15                                Isla street

 

 

 

 

 

Loco 7

 

Loco

 

Loco 4

 

 

 

Our third and final stop in Mexico ended up being our favourite, and was the perfect end to what has certainly been one of my favourite travel destinations so far.

 

More soon. In the meantime, you can find me on Instagram at @sv_images.

 

Sarah V

Local Rowers, Cozumel

Finding paradise in Cozumel

Cozumel has the kind of water almost every traveller seeks out when booking an island getaway. It sparkles a blue that we have come to believe only exists in glossy brochures and magazines, and is so clear you’ll be counting the fish for miles as they swim over to say hello – and they will. The beyond blue water teems with fish of every colour and size. It’s almost as if you’re swimming in a giant fish tank. After all, the former playground of nature-lover Jacques Cousteau is rated as one of the top diving destinations in the world for a reason. Needless to say, the underwater world is magnificent.

Swimming 2

 

As with all things that are seemingly too good to be true, Cozumel has a downside: its popularity. You will have to share the island with the many, many other travellers who are seeking out their own piece of paradise. Thankfully, it is easy enough to get away from the hordes of tourists who crowd the front streets of San Miguel, the main town on the island. Venturing just a few streets back from the water and into the quieter, more genuine Cozumel will do the trick. Here you will find sleepy storefronts every colour of the rainbow, locals offering a friendly ‘Hola’ as they pass by, and a burrito shop that whips up what could easily be a contender for the best burrito of your life.

 

Square on Cozumel    Street scene Cozumel 2

 

Street scene Cozumel 3     Rug shop

 

Pink house   Street scene Cozumel

 

Street scene 2       Street scene 6

 

Street scene 4    Street scene 7

 

Street scene

 

Tequilla

 

When wandering the streets of San Miguel loses its charm you can always forge your own tour of the island by taxi, hired jeep, or scooter. The island boasts endless stretches of beach, some busier than others, a small collection of Mayan Ruins, and a number of lighthouses. Admittedly, though, the majority of the 5 days I spent on the island were spent alternating between relaxing on a beach lounge and swimming in the stunning section of water I was lucky enough to have at my doorstep. Needless to say I had my fair share of peace and quiet.

Apt Cozumel 4

 

Swimming

 

Every morning and every evening a canoe full of locals would row past my apartment. Each night the rowers jumped over the side of the canoe into the water, one after the other, for a swim during sunset. What a way to begin and end each day!

 

Rowers

 

Local Rowers, Cozumel       Sunset swim 3

 

I was lucky enough to see some pretty amazing sunsets over the Caribbean right from my balcony. There is something magical about watching the sun set over water. Watching it, or better yet photographing it, provides a kind of solace to the end of the day.

 

Sunset 5

 

Sunset 4

 

While Cozumel can get a little too busy to be my version of paradise, the apparent beauty of the island is draw enough for travellers to visit time and again. After all, once you’re out of the tourist hot-spots finding your own little slice of Cozumel is easy enough. And spending your days swimming in crystal clear water and relaxing on the beach is a far cry from stressful. In fact, it can be downright relaxing.

 

Tulum Beach 5

Tulum, the Perfect Introduction to Mexico

Tulum is the unassuming, more authentic sibling to Cancun and Playa Del Carmen. Set on the Caribbean Sea in the Yucatan Peninsula, Tulum almost seems like an undiscovered paradise compared with some of the other stops along the coastline. In fact, it could be argued that Tulum’s focus leans more towards nature than the commercial hype associated with some of the other towns, which is evident everywhere from the ‘eco’ retreats that are peppered amongst the upmarket resorts that line the beach, to the ocean-wise seafood you can find in restaurants.

 

If I could describe Tulum in one word it would be rich, but not in the monetary sense of the word. It is rich in natural beauty, history, and culture. The natural beauty that surrounds the town is endless, the Mayan history is plentiful, and locals stress the importance of preserving their culture.

 

Set amidst jungle, the apartment we called home for 10 days in the estate of Aldea Zama was the perfect base for our time in Tulum – scorpions, tarantulas and all. We were perfectly positioned between town and the gorgeous beaches of Tulum. Armed with bicycles we were never far from either a dip in the Caribbean or a stroll through town.

 

There is plenty to keep you occupied in and around Tulum, or you can seek out your own little piece of paradise and just relax amongst it all.

 

Must see

Here are a few of my favourite ways to pass time in Tulum:

Cenotes:

Cenote 6

 

Visit a cenote. There are A LOT around Tulum, some quieter than others. Two of the most popular, and arguably most beautiful, are Grand Cenote and Dos Ojos. Timing is everything when visiting a cenote. Visiting first thing in the morning will reward you with peace and quiet, and possibly a cenote all to yourself.

 

My favourite was Grand Cenote; before the mass onslaught of other tourists descended on us that is. The azure water of this cenote is almost too beautiful to believe. Limestone stalagmites hang from the cave’s ceiling, acting as a racecourse for the tiny swallows that nest in the cave’s nooks and crannies.

 

Once I’d worked up the nerve to lower myself into the chilly water I was greeted by a mass of fresh-water fish and turtles. While the turtles were a little shyer, the fish accompanied me into the darkest depths of the cave. Cenotes are very popular with divers and you will likely encounter at least two descending into the blue depths during your visit. A mask and snorkel will do the trick, though, if you’re not a diver.

 

Cenote 5 Cenote 7 Cenote Turtle

 

Grand Cenote is a short distance from town so we decided to ride out there. While the ride was not at all difficult, the only access is via a main road, which can be a little unnerving when a large truck passes by. It is easy and cheap enough to get a taxi to Grand Cenote, or, rent a car for the day and you can visit some of the quieter, more remote cenotes.

 

 

Ruins:

Ruins 3

 

There are a number of ruins to choose from when visiting the region. My favourite, perhaps for the stunning Caribbean backdrop, was the Tulum Ruins. Surrounded by a protective 5 metre high, u-shaped wall, the ruins are arranged throughout a grassy field 12 metres above the Caribbean.

 

The ‘city’ is said to have been occupied by the Mayans from as early as 564 A.D., however, the city didn’t peak until around 1200 A.D. when it was inhabited by just over 1,000 people and used as the primary hub for much of the trading to the region.

 

Lizard at ruins

 

Ruins 1

 

Lizard at ruins 3   Ruins 6

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

The Castillo is perhaps the most well-known structure here. The building is one of the most impressive at Tulum – towering above the others its height may have something to do with this – with a great deal of its structure still well-preserved. Perched on the sea cliff, the view from atop the Castillo of the Caribbean Sea would have been spectacular. Today, we can appreciate the view from the path that circles it, which is still pretty darn impressive.

 

 

Ruins 8

 

 

Ruins 4

 

A short stroll north of the Castillo is the Temple of the Wind. If the Castillo is the most well-known structure then the Temple of the Wind is the most photographed. The setting is postcard-perfect and irresistible to the lens from almost every angle. The building sits atop a rocky outcrop looking straight down over one of the most beautiful beaches I’ve seen. There is no access to the beach for public use, which only makes it even more beautiful.

 

Ruins Beach 4

 

The beach directly in front of the Castillo is accessible to the public, and visitors certainly make use of it. It’s no wonder, though, considering the sauna-like temperatures in Mexico during the summer months. While the beach is stunning I would recommend visiting early if you want to take a dip to avoid the mass numbers that relentlessly litter the water from 11am onwards.

 

Ruins Beach 1  Ruins Beach 3

 

As the most popular Mayan ruin on the Yucatan peninsula, the Tulum Ruins receive thousands of visitors every day. I recommend arriving as early as possible to avoid the tour buses that start coming in from around 11am.

 

 

Beaches:

Tulum Beach 5

 

The beaches of Mexico are known for being beautiful, one was even voted as part of the Top 25 Beaches in the World last year on Tripadvisor – more on that beach later. Once I set my eyes on the brilliant blues of the Caribbean Sea, and my feet nestled in the powder-white sand, I began to understand why. Tulum and its surrounds have some of the most beautiful beaches in the Mexico, and best of all there are still pockets of sand along the main beach you call your own.

 

If the stunning Tulum beach isn’t enough for you, you can always drive the short distance north to Akumal. Not only is the beach here beautiful, the turtles that patrol the bottom of the ocean feeding on seagrass are some of the most laidback I have encountered. Spending the morning floating in the ocean watching these beautiful animals feed is not a bad way to pass the time.

Hidden Beach

 

Tulum Beach 1   Tulum Beach 4

 

 

 

Must eat

Tulum Beach Bar

 

These were two of my favourite places to eat while in Tulum. The food was always the perfect combination of fresh, tasty, and reasonably priced.

 

Mateo’s:

Mateo's 8

 

Mateo’s has the best fish tacos around – so they claim. Not one to shy away from a good fish taco I was up for the challenge of judging whether this claim is fact or fiction. I must say, the fish tacos here are pretty darn good. The atmosphere at this laid back restaurant/bar is fun and unassuming, despite their claim to fame. If the fish tacos don’t sell you then maybe the rooftop bar with a view that goes on forever in all directions will entice you. This is the perfect spot to watch the sun go down.

Mateo's 7

 

Mateo's 12   Mateo's 1    Mateo's 6

 

 

 

 

Mateo's 10   Mateo's 13

 

Mateo's 5     Mateo's 2

 

Mateo's 14

 

 

 

El Gourmet:

El Gourmet 7

 

 

If you tire of eating Mexican food breakfast, lunch, and dinner the delectable paninis at El Gourmet will fill the void. Owned and operated by a friendly family from Argentina, the clever concoctions – think prosciutto, fresh mozzarella, with homemade pickles, lettuce and tomato, and a sprinkle of oregano – they have on offer make for some delicious sandwiches. A traditional Argentinean desert tops off the meal perfectly – the strawberry shortcake type thingies were my absolute favourite.

 

El Gourmet 1   El Gourmet 2

 

El Gourmet 3   El Gourmet 4

 

Tulum seemingly has everything you could want from a visit to Mexico. It sure has me convinced. Admittedly this was our first stop in Mexico so I may be a little bias towards it considering my affinity to the ocean and my lack thereof for the past 15 months. Nevertheless, what a stunning introduction to Mexico it was.

 

There will be more from my time in Mexico up on the blog soon. In the meantime, you can find me on Instagram at @sv_images.

 

Sarah V