Isla Mujeres has both rocky coastline facing the open ocean and tranquil, protected beaches with sugary soft white sand. On a map, the island looks like a narrow-bodied fish pointing southeast, with a lower fin trailing down and a northernmost tail.
Outside of the tourist zone, much of the coast is dotted with private residences. Beyond the ferry dock there is a military base, dolphin discovery marina, turtle farm area and aqua park called Garrafón.
On the tail end of the island (north), you’ll find the most beautiful and popular beaches. The southern tip is hilly, with a rough, jagged shoreline.
Along the especially scenic western side of the island (facing Cancun’s Hotel Zone), the water displays the most vivid hues of blue. There are a few beach clubs here among the mangroves and lagoons, and the snorkeling is absolutely fantastic.
Up and down the island’s eastern side, you’ll see powerful waves crashing against the rugged coast and deep blue ocean as far as the eye can see, stretching towards Cuba. The water here is virtually un-swimmable, with strong currents and sharp rocks and coral protruding from the ocean floor. Any beaches are rocky and hard to reach.
At the southeastern tip is a lighthouse and remnants of a Maya temple, with paths along the ocean’s edge. This is a scenic spot, and Mexico’s easternmost point.
Playa Norte [North Beach, also known as Playa Cocos and Nautibeach], is the most popular beach on the island and is easy to get to. You simply walk or drive west until you hit the beach. It wraps around west from the ferry dock up north to the butt end of the island. Fishing boats are moored along the sheltered coast but start to thin out as you move west.
TIP: It sounds confusing to walk west to get to North Beach, but you’ll notice that the reason for this is that the coastline curves. It’s impossible to miss this beach, just walk from the ferry dock, keeping the water on your left! Sun tanning, water sports, fun and frivolity–the rest is up to you.
Along this wide stretch of paradisaic beach, you can rent water toys, kayaks and snorkeling gear, as well as lounge chairs and beach umbrellas. You can also find shade beneath clusters of palm trees. There are several palapa (thatched roof) restaurants and bars that will bring drinks and snacks to you on the beach. Just flag down a passing waiter.
The aqua water is crystal clear and stays shallow for a long time. The waves are virtually nil. Playa Norte owes its pristine perfection to its sheltered location, tucked away from rough ocean currents and winds. This is a spot you might want to just hang out at all day!
PLAYA TIBURON, PLAYA LANCHEROS AND PLAYA INDIOS
Along the sheltered western coast you’ll find the odd beach club open to the public, nestled between private residences and scattered hotels. If you’re driving, watch for signs off the main road leading down to the beach.
Many of the snorkel tours bring their guests to these beach clubs for lunch or dinner as part of their excursion. But during most of the day these beaches are wonderfully uncrowded.
Several of these gorgeous spots have open-air beachfront restaurants and gift shops. They offer snorkel gear, lockers, change rooms, kayaks, canoes, beach toys, etc., for a reasonable fee. There is often a swimming pool and sandy beach area available too.
Playa Lancheros has the iconic pier stretching across the glassy water, with a palapa gazebo at the end. Playa Tiburon has delicious fresh grilled fish and the added perk of swimming with nurse sharks. Playa Indios has beach volleyball and several artisan souvenir shops at the entrance.
TIP: Driving southeastward from town, the order of beaches you’ll come across is Playa Tiburon, followed by Playa Lancheros, and Playa Indios.