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Everyday Travel

Places To Visit: Isla Mujeres – Cancun’s Hidden Paradise

Oh how I love visiting Mexico! It’s absolutely beautiful. One of my favorite places to visit.

Cancun has long been known as a destination for those who want to party under the hot Mexican sun. With its miles of sandy beaches, clear turquoise waters, huge resorts and unbeatable nightlife, it’s one of the most popular destinations in Mexico, drawing thousands of tourists every year.

What few of those visitors realize is that just a few miles away, across the bay, you’ll find a respite from the hustle and bustle of Cancun. Isla Mujeres, a narrow strip of land just eight miles from Cancun, is a former fishing village that draws visitors who want to catch a glimpse of old Mexico, relax on quiet beaches in the shade of swaying palms and explore some of the natural beauty of the Mayan Riviera.

A World Away

Although Isla Mujeres (“Island of the Women”) is fast becoming a popular daytrip for visitors to Cancun, many visitors are choosing to make the island the home base for their vacation. Accessible only by boat, a ferry leaves from Cancun several times each day, bringing visitors to shop, eat and explore the island. Accommodations range from full-service beach resorts on the northern end of the island to private beach cottages and haciendas on the more remote southern end.

Because Isla Mujeres is only about four miles long and less than half a mile wide, there are few vehicles most people get around on foot, or via taxi, golf cart or scooters. In fact, there are more scooters than all other forms of transportation. Most visitors rent carts or scooters for the day. There is also limited bus service in the downtown area.

Exploring the Island

Getting around Isla Mujeres isn’t the problem that most visitors face when they arrive it’s deciding what to do first. Most visitors start their visit in El Centro, the major shopping and dining district. The vast majority of shops and restaurants can be found along Hidalgo Street, the main thoroughfare, but don’t hesitate to explore the side streets and neighborhoods throughout downtown. Along the cobblestone streets lined with colorful buildings you’ll find restaurants offering everything from steaks to traditional Mexican fare, but unlike across the water in Cancun, you won’t find any American chain restaurants. Seafood is naturally the most popular type of cuisine; the local catches are prepared in traditional Yucatan style with native ingredients.

Outside of town, there’s no shortage of things to do and see, but many visitors spend at least some time on the beach. One of the most popular beaches is Playa Norte, the prototypical Caribbean beach with soft white sand, clear water and palm trees. While you could spend an entire day lounging under your umbrella soaking up the sun some of the beachside restaurants will even deliver food and drink right to your towel the beach also offers access to snorkeling, diving and kayaking. For more secluded beaches, head to Playa Indios, Playa Lancheros or Playa Paraiso on the west side of the island. These beaches also offer plenty of activities, including the chance to get up close and personal with the nurse sharks that live in the pens off the coast.

Snorkeling and scuba diving are also popular on Isla Mujeres, thanks to the extensive coral reefs off the coast. However, out of a desire to protect the fragile reefs, a local artist, Jason deCaires Taylor, worked with local conservationists to create the world’s first underwater art museum. MUSA features more than 400 sculptures submerged just off the southern coast of the island; divers and snorkelers are welcome to explore the museum and the aquatic life that thrives there.

Garrafon Natural Reef Park is also prime snorkeling territory. Part natural park, part amusement park, here you can snorkel, dive, swim with dolphins, zipline over the water or hike along a coastal trail to Punta Sur, the highest point on the island, where you can explore a sculpture garden and the remains of an ancient Mayan temple to the goddess Ixchel. The park is also home to a sea turtle rehabilitation and breeding center, where you can catch a glimpse of these endangered creatures.

With so much to do and see on Isla Mujeres, it’s not uncommon for visitors to make plans to return for a longer visit after a day trip from the mainland. As you search for Cancun resorts, choose one that offers easy access to this relatively unspoiled paradise, where you can catch a glimpse of the Mexico of days gone by.

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