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.
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.
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.
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.
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.
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.