Isla Mujeres, Caribbean Luxury at Mexico Prices!

Mexico     Destinations, Sea Turtles, Tropical Beaches, Unexpected Gems
So close to Cancun, yet soooo far.
So close to Cancun, yet soooo far.
Consistently rated one of the top beaches in the world, this is an easy tropical beach destination. Here's your quick guide to the best of Isla Mujeres.
You won't believe how close this little gem is to Cancun yet it only sees a tiny fraction of the people that it's giant tourist-attraction neighbor does on the mainland.

From the port in Cancun, it's only a 25 minute ferry to Isla. Some people go there on a day trip but I don't see the point. Skip Bubba Gump Shrimp and Señior Frogs and stay on one of the top beaches in the world!

The island is small at only 4 1/2 miles long and 1/4 mile wide. The tallest building is 5 stories and most are no more than 3. I'm not talking super-cheap remote small fishing village here; there is plenty of tourism, but it's a world away from the bustling Hotel Zone in Cancún. There are not many tourist attractions, but if you enjoy spending a few days chillin' on an amazing tropical beach that's easy to get to from the US, this is a fantastic place.
This was taken on a busy weekend at Playa Norte. Even with the people and boats, it's still wonderful.
This was taken on a busy weekend at Playa Norte. Even with the people and boats, it's still wonderful.
Playa Norte, the beach spanning the north edge of the island, really does look just like the photos and in my opinion is the only place to stay. The water is clear, warm, calm, and shallow and you can stay in it all day long.

If you are not staying at a hotel that provides chairs and umbrellas, you can either rent them, spend a few dollars on drinks or food at a place that then lets you use their chairs, or just plop down on the sand. If you tip the waiters well and use your charm, you can even get beachside drink service so you barely even have to leave the water. :) :)

Getting Around

Walking

The entirety of downtown / playa norte area is very walkable. You can even walk down to the Soggy Peso by the airport strip if you are motivated enough by their happy hour and margaritas.

Public Bus

There is a public bus system that runs around the island for almost nothing (4 pesos = $.20). It's more for the locals than tourists, but you can walk to most places from along the bus route.

Taxi / Rickshaw

Taxis and rickshaws abound and are not too pricey. You'll pay around 40 pesos ($2) in town to 88 pesos ($4.50) to the end of the island.

Golf Cart

Golf carts, toting around (often drunk) tourists, and are great for getting around the small island since you can see the entire island in a single day. Golf cart rentals are everywhere and they all have the same prices. $60/24 hours, $40 day, or you can talk them down to 1,100 pesos/day for multiple days which includes petrol.

What to Do

There's not a whole lot to do on the island but I've never minded that. There's a turtle farm that helps rescue sea turtles, a ruin at the southern tip, and a ridiculous tourist trap Garrafon Reef Park. There are whale shark tours and other tours that are on the pricey end of things and definitely take a bit of haggling. There are ATMS and many many tacky souvenir shops all selling the same junk. (There have been problems with fake ATM covers stealing people's info so only use the ATMs at the banks.)

The main drag, Hidalgo is full of International cuisine, bars with live music, and souvenir shops. It's not bad for a stroll but be prepared for every restaurant and shop to ask you if you'd like to see what they have for sale. And it's always almost free for you today!

A small crowded cemetery sits directly behind Play Norte at the North end of Hildalgo. I have a thing for cemeteries. They can be an interesting look into a local culture.

Get a massage on the beach. The prices will range from $30 - $40/hr with a cooling facial. I have found the best prices right next to ChiChi n' Charlies (Isabelle and Marisol are amazing) and out on the beach in front of Privilege Aluxes.

There's a pretty little protected bay area over by the Mia Hotel and sometimes has some fish under the pier. It's worth having a walk down the beach to check it out, it's not far. From there you can continue over the rocks and through some small beaches on the ocean side until you get to the Malecon that doesn't have much other than a colorful photo-opp Isla Mujeres sign.

Otherwise just plan on spending a lot of relaxing time on the beach and in the water.

Where to Eat

There is a grocery store in the Playa Norte area at the end of Hidalgo and also a huge Chedraui grocery (sort of like WalMart) further down the island accessible by golf cart or taxi. Cava del Duero Xpress liquor store is behind the Playa Norte supermarket and there are a couple of places right on Hidalgo to buy cold beer (mini-marts called Six).

There is a lot of seafood served in the restaurants along the water by the ferry and the main drag Hidalgo is full of tourist restaurants that are pretty much all terrible and all overpriced.

A few recommendations are:
  • Ruben's

    - Consistently decent Italian and Mexican food and good steak at reasonable prices and run by Ruben who also hosts charity events for local children. Very sadly, Ruben passed away from COVID in September of 2020 but the restaurant is still open in his honor.
  • Loncheria Alexia y Geovanny

    - Across from Ruben's - fresh local breakfast or lunch for under $3!
  • Cafe Mogagua

    - A popular tourist place with great Chilaquiles for breakfast and good coffee.
  • The Soggy Peso

    is a cute little bar on the bay on the West side of the airport. It's (somewhat) walkable and has a great vibe. They serve one food item each day for happy hour (along with a handful of other bar food items) and the locals crowd in 5 minutes before they start serving.
  • Sometimes in front of the supermarket and now at the north end of Hidalgo there are

    street vendors

    . Street tacos and fresh hot churros are pretty awesome.
  • Pita Amore

    - Super tasty pitas stuffed with flavor. Unfortunately this place has closed.
Waiting at one of the ports in the hotel zone for the Ultramar ferry. Each port has a bar with cold beer! :)
Waiting at one of the ports in the hotel zone for the Ultramar ferry. Each port has a bar with cold beer! :)

How to Get There and Back

The Ultramar ferry will take you between one of the 4 ports in Cancún and Isla Mujeres ($15-$21 round trip). Which port you leave from and how you get there, all depends on the size of your group and where you're starting from.
See The Best Way to Get To and From Isla Mujeres for full details.

From the Airport

The cheapest way to get from the airport to Isla Mujeres depends on how many people you have. If you have more than a few, then book a private van (before your arrival) to Puerto Juarez from Happy Shuttle ($35 OW, $57 RT) or from eTransfers ($29 OW, $50 RT). Otherwise you can take the ADO bus to the bus terminal ($5 each) then take a taxi from there ($5) or colectivo ($.50 each).
See The Best Way to Get To and From Isla Mujeres for full details.

On the Island

Once you arrive on the island, you can easily walk to Playa Norte from the ferry dock or you can take a taxi for 40 pesos. It's about 1/4 mile.

Getting Back from Isla Mujeres to the Airport or Hotel Zone

The main thing here is NOT to take transportation from within the ferry area. By simply walking across the street, the prices drop by 50%. See The Best Way to Get To and From Isla Mujeres for important details.

Where to Stay

From high end to hostels, Isla has it all. In short, you want to stay either on, or as close to Playa Norte as you can. See Isla Mujeres Budget Accommodation for the best options, but here is a little bit about some of the places I've stayed.

I have stayed in a rental house on the East side of the island but it's very windy and rough and it's not even possible to go in the water. I have also stayed at

Privilege Aluxes Adults Only

on the North West but even then (with possibly the best pool on the island) I wished I had stayed directly on Playa Norte.

Ixchel

is in a fantastic location and most rooms have a view of the water. Their prices have gone up though and they are certainly not considered budget accommodation at $150+. But if you have a group of people, they have some very nice 2 bedroom units with a full kitchen.
For Ixchel, you are better off finding a private owner or booking company outside of the hotel itself (VRBO, AirBnb, or other private renter) that allows you to choose exactly which unit you'd like. But make sure that your confirmation paperwork specifies the unit number and you have it on hand at check-in. Although all their rooms are nice, the hotel will try to give you the same "type" of room but not the exact one you chose to book and you might not get exactly what you were expecting.

We had booked a very specific penthouse suite with a swing bar in the new building but when we got there, they tried giving us a penthouse in the other building with a spiral staircase (which I loathe). A few tears later and the fact that our paperwork we had printed out showed the unit number, we got our room but not without wasted time and hassle.

Cabanas Maria del Mar

is a good choice. Their prices are reasonable ($80/night), they have a pool, the property is on the water but only some rooms have an ocean view, they supply free drinking water, and Buho's Bar is on the property. Even though they're on the beach, guests do not get free use of beach chairs.

For more of a budget, you can find some nice little boutique hotels in town. There's even a hostel near the beach! Again, see my list of

Isla Mujeres Budget Accommodation

and also check

other hostels, cabañas and camping on Booking.com

.
Privilege Aluxes has the best pool.
Privilege Aluxes has the best pool.
Ixchel is our favorite place to stay (non-budget).
Ixchel is our favorite place to stay (non-budget).
The East side of the island is super rough and windy.
The East side of the island is super rough and windy.

Why Do I Like It?

It's more expensive than the places I usually visit but you can cut down the cost with very little effort. It's also so surprisingly close to Cancun where you can get some good flight deals from the US / Tijuana. It's an easy place to bring my friends from the US who prefer a more Westernized vacation and they are all blown away by how incredible the beach is.
Extra tip: During the summer, giant sea turtles come up on the beach to nest and lay their eggs at night right in the Hotel Zone in Cancun! Sometimes I stay one night in the

Royal Caribbean

to see the turtles nest on the mainland, then head out the next morning to the island.
Extra tip: Cancun city (not the Hotel Zone) can be a fun place to stay. There are inexpensive hotels and you will not even know the Hotel Zone is near by. Stay near the

Parque de las Palapas

where you can spend the evening with local families and eat greasy street food. You'll also be right by the bus terminal for onward travels and there's a large grocery store within walking distance. There are various hostels and one of my favorite places if I'm sharing with someone is the Xblamque.
Even at sunset the water is still a beautiful turquoise! (look near the shore)
Even at sunset the water is still a beautiful turquoise! (look near the shore)

0 Comments

Submit Your Comment
Thank you! Your comment has been received. :) It will be posted as soon as I get a chance to read it first.
Sorry, don't know what happened. Try later :(
Your email will not be shared or spammed in any way. It is only as extra assurance that you are a real person! ;) Leslie's Travel Snacks reserves the right to delete any comment that is abusive, self-promoting, nonconstructive, mean, or otherwise not in the spirit of this website.