How to Spend 24 Hours on Isla Mujeres
Most people would probably want to stay home and rest after spending a week in Greece, but not me! I spent the following weekend in Isla Mujeres, a small island off the coast of Mexico’s most famous tourist destination, Cancún. Isla is easy to get to and offers a totally different (and in some ways more authentic) experience from the Zona Hotelera, or Hotel Zone on the mainland.
Anyone planning to spend some time in Cancún should schedule a visit to this charming little island. Although most people only come for a day trip, I would recommend spending one night here if you can. A full 24 hours will give you time to see the island in its entirety without having to rush.
I originally planned on spending all of Saturday and Sunday on Isla Mujeres, but I found that by early afternoon on Sunday I was ready to go back to Cancún, where I explored a bit on foot and enjoyed a leisurely early dinner before heading back to the airport.
Getting to Isla Mujeres by Ferry
As far as I could tell, the only way to travel to Isla Mujeres is by ferry (the airstrip on the island is decommissioned). I’m not sure if there are public, state-operated ferries, but I ended up traveling via Ultramar, a private company offering regular (e.g. every hour or so) trips to and from Isla from morning until evening.
I was surprised to discover that the ferry ride was actually an amazing experience; even if Isla Mujeres doesn’t interest you, this ferry ride is probably still worth the money because it’s a perfect opportunity to see the stunning blue waters that Cancún is so famous for. Just look at these views from the deck!
I ended up departing from the port on Playa Tortugas, pictured below and located here. Ultramar offers advance online booking, but if you do, be sure to print a paper copy of your ticket before you get to the dock! I forgot mine and it was a huge hassle for them to verify my purchase even with a confirmation number and email on my phone. They also offer tickets for sale the day of, and the passenger ferries are large enough that I don’t think they’d ever be fully booked. Expect to pay about 20 USD for a round-trip ticket.
The journey lasts about half an hour and you’ll disembark at the passenger ferry dock on the north side of the island. Once you’ve arrived, it’s time to start exploring!
Parts of the Island
As you can see from the map, Isla Mujeres is a very long and narrow island running from northwest to southeast. In my opinion, the island has three unofficial sections: the northern part, which has the best beach; the central part, where locals live; and the southern part, which is home to a little park.
The neighborhood located on the northern tip of the island is where most passengers arrive, and therefore the nearby town has an abundance of bars, restaurants, souvenir shops, and hotels.
Be sure to check out the Playa Norte, which is the most stunning beach on the island. There is ample space to swim here, and afterwards take a rest at one of the many beachfront bars to dry off and have a drink.
This portion of the island appears to be where most of the locals live, and I would consider it to be the most “authentically Mexican” part of Isla Mujeres.
It may have character, but I have to admit that it’s not particularly charming. However, this is where I ended up booking my Airbnb, and there were a few restaurants nearby that I ended up liking quite a bit.
This cozy restaurant was a perfect place for dinner. They had a large menu with pizza, pasta, seafood, and more, and the shrimp pasta I tried was amazing. Most other diners appeared to be tourists, but don’t let this stop you from checking this place out!
Ice Bar: The Signs Are Misleading!
If you spend a bit of time exploring the island, you’re going to see huge signs for Ice Bar, including pictures of ice sculptures and a bar made out of ice. I can’t say if they ever do have those attractions, but when I visited, they didn’t. It still has a nice enough beach, shown below, but don’t expect everything that’s advertised.
This is the least developed part of the island, but I really enjoyed walking along the road adjacent to the eastern shore in this area. The views of the ocean here are just so pretty, although the water doesn’t look very suitable for swimming.
If you make it all the way down to the very southern point of the island, you’ll have the option to check out the Punta Sur park. It costs a few dollars to get in, but don’t miss out if you’ve already come this far! The park has interesting sculptures as well some beautiful rocky shoreline. This park is also home to the easternmost point in Mexico, which is marked by a sign.
Despite being less urbanized, the southern third of the island is home to a number of bars and restaurants. One bar I liked was The Joint, which had a fun reggae theme as well as a live band when I went. Their watermelon-jalapeño margarita was delicious and refreshing after a long walk from the central portion of the island.
There are a number of other options if you end up getting hungry while exploring the southern end of the island. I stopped into one restaurant on the western shore and tried some oysters, which ended up being quite good. Whether you want seafood or not, you’ll be able to find something to satisfy your appetite if you keep an eye out in this area.
Tips for Spending More than an Afternoon Here
I ended up staying for one night in an Airbnb in the central part of the island. The home itself was very comfortable, but the area looked like it might not be the best to wander around after dark, so I went to bed early after having dinner at Caribbean Brisas. I would suggest those who want to spend a night on Isla Mujeres look for hotels or Airbnbs on the northern part of the island.
Although I ended up exploring the entire island from Playa Norte to Punta Sur on foot, golf carts seemed to be the most common form of transportation. I enjoy walking, but most people would probably prefer the comfort and speed of a rental. I can’t recommend one company over another since I didn’t book one, but there were so many there that I’m sure you could find options online, or even book a rental upon arrival in person; there were salesmen waiting for passengers right at the ferry dock.
If you don’t want to walk in between towns but aren’t interested in renting a golf cart, there are taxis on the island that can be flagged down as they drive by.
One benefit of spending the night on Isla Mujeres is that you’ll get to see the amazing sunset. Since Cancun’s shoreline faces east, the western shores of Isla Mujeres make it the best place in the area to watch the sunset over the water.
This ended up being a pretty short post, but Isla Mujeres is a small and wonderfully uncomplicated place. The Playa Norte and the eastern shore are its most beautiful spots, although the Punta Sur park deserves honorable mention. For travelers looking for gorgeous Mexican Caribbean waters and a truly relaxed island vibe, Isla Mujeres is the answer to your prayers!
Keep an eye out for my next post covering another famous beach destination in Mexico, this one on the Pacific coast. Have any thoughts or questions on Isla Mujeres, or a suggestion on any destination you’d like to see in the future? Leave a comment below and let me know!