D.I.Y. Isla Mujeres Tour
It’s easy to arrange your own Isla Mujeres tour, but be warned. If you’re going to rent a vehicle, it probably won’t have windows or doors. Most visitors to the tiny Mexican island travel via golf cart. Even if you do manage to rent a regular vehicle, you won’t be able to drive it very fast – thanks to all the speed bumps on the roads. All this aside, a do-it yourself Isla Mujeres tour is a great day trip from Cancun or Riviera Maya and something we have done on several occasions while visiting the area. Here are some tips to help you do it right.
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Where is Isla Mujeres?
Isla Mujeres is a Mexican island located 13 km off the coast of Cancun that makes a great day tour. The island is small – just 4.22 square kilometers in size. It’s a short 30-minute ferry ride from Cancun to Isla Mujeres, but despite the close proximity, the two places couldn’t be further apart. While Cancun is abuzz with night clubs, shopping, bars and hotels, Isla Mujeres is the kind of place where time seems to stand still and anything important can wait until “mañana” (tomorrow).
Related: Check out our post 5 Do-It-Yourself Riviera Maya Excursions.
What to Bring on Your Isla Mujeres Tour
Make sure you bring a water bottle, sunscreen and a sun hat on your self-guided Isla Mujeres tour. You’ll also need a bathing suit and water shoes. I always bring a lightweight day pack to hold my stuff on day trips. I also recommend bringing your own snorkel set. Guided snorkel tours will provide equipment, but I prefer to have my own mask and snorkel when possible.
Getting to Isla Mujeras
The Ultramar Ferry offers regular ferry service from Cancun to Isla Mujeras. There are four ferry terminals in Cancun – three of which are in the hotel zone. The ferry ride takes about 30 minutes.
Transportation for Your Isla Mujeres Tour
We’d highly recommend renting a golf cart. When we were there, we wandered around the town first and explored some of the little shops. Golf cart rentals are right beside the ferry terminal, so it’s easy to tour Isla Mujeres on your own.
The Mayan Ruins of Ixchel
We drove our golf cart to the southern-most tip of the island. At Garrafon Reef Park, the cliffs rise dramatically above the turquoise sea. An ancient Mayan temple honouring the Moon Goddess sits at the island’s highest point, which also happens to be the highest point on the Yucatan Peninsula. It’s the place where rays of the rising sun first touch island soil. It’s also one of the most beautiful spots on the island. According to legend, Mayan Gods took care of the Caribbean Sea at the Mayan Ruins of Ixchel.
Punta Sur Sculpture Garden
The Punta Sur Sculpture Garden is also found at this site. The sculpture garden contains 23 sculptures by different artists designed to display the spirit of the Mayan civilization. Some are colourful modern art compositions, while others like the giant iguana and the large statue of Ixchel, the Mayan goddess of midwifery and medicine, are more literal interpretations of Mayan culture.
Capitán Dulché Museum
The next stop was to tour the only museum on Isla Mujeres. The Capitán Dulché Museum is dedicated to Captain Ernesto Dulché Escalante, the founder of Isla Mujeres. It is maintained and operated by one of his descendants. There are interesting photographs, maritime tools and paraphernalia, and the largest collection of model ships in the Mexican Caribbean. There are also two films. One film helped us understand the significance of Captain Dulché and the other focused on the explorations of Jacques Cousteau and Ramon Bravo, a famous Mexican diver.
Capitán Dulché Beach Club
There are many wonderful beaches on this tiny island, but we settled on a visit to Capitan Dulché Beach Club and Marina. Located on the south side of the island, this little spot has a lovely beach with shady palapas, reclining chairs, an onsite restaurant and bar, beautiful gardens and a small museum. The restaurant and bar near the beach club are excellent. The dining area sits in front of a replica sailing ship with a full-sized sail. The menu includes great Mexican specialties like ceviche (fresh raw fish in lime juice and spices), Tikin Xic (Yucatan fish), margaritas, and chips with fresh salsa. Relaxing on the beach, touring the museum, and dining at the restaurant are more than most people do in a single day on Isla Mujeres.
Mar-Bella Raw Bar & Grill
For those who love fresh seafood, the Mar-Bella Raw Bar and Grill is the place to go. It’s one of the best fresh catch restaurants in the region. And the beachfront atmosphere can’t be beat.
Manchones Reef and the Cruz de la Bahia
We’d highly recommend you book a snorkel tour on Isla Mujeras. There are several great snorkeling and diving spots just off the shores of the island. Of these, Manchones Reef was a highlight for us. This mile-long reef has clear waters, calm currents and abundant marine life and is an ideal spot for beginner snorkelers and divers.
A good place to begin an exploration along this reef is just above the Cruz de la Bahia (Bay Cross), a submerged bronze cross sculpture by Honduran-Mexican artist Enrique Miralda Bulnes. The sculpture was planted into the reef in 1994 to pay tribute to the men and women of the sea. Every year on August 17, divers celebrate the founding of Isla Mujeras in 1854 with a mass dive near the cross.
Tour the Underwater Art on Isla Mujeras
Isla Mujeres is known for its underwater sculptures and our next snorkel destination was the island’s Underwater Museum, which also happens to be the world’s largest underwater museum. Started in 2009 by artist Jason deCaires Taylor, the underwater art museum now contains more than 500 permanent life-sized sculptures that are designed to become artificial reefs that promote the growth of marine habitat. Snorkelling above the submerged statues is an interesting experience. The older sculptures are already beginning to become covered with coral formations and marine life.
Snorkeling with Whale Sharks
From early June to mid-September, Whale sharks can be found in the waters around Isla Mujeres, Contoy and Holbox. If you come in Whale shark season, you’ll need to book your snorkel tour in advance. It’s one of the best things we have ever done anywhere. Is it a little scary? Yes! Whale sharks are huge and you feel like they’re going to accidentally swallow you when they are coming towards you with their mouths open. Fortunately, they have no desire to swallow a human. They’re after much smaller prey – plankton and krill.
Why You Should Do Your Own Isla Mujeres Tour
There’s no place like isla Mujeras. As I stood on the windswept southern tip of the island in the place ancient Mayans believed was most sacred, it was hard not to feel a special kind of serenity. Perhaps the speed bumps on the roads do more than just slow down the traffic. They are a reminder to everyone on Isla to slow down and start living the island life.
Related: Thinking about getting married? Check out our post, Planning Affordable Beach Weddings.