On this small and lovely Caribbean island, there’s a surprising variety of things to do. Its proximity to Cancun makes it easy to get to and enjoy, whether just for a day or even longer. Its size makes it easy to get around and do whatever you may be interested in.
Like most destinations in the Mayan Riviera, Isla Mujeres is pretty much sunny and hot year-round, offering a plethora of fun outdoor activities. It’s a beach lover’s dream getaway, with white sandy beaches surrounded by aqua blue water and beautiful coral reefs.
Unlike Cancun and Playa del Carmen, Isla has no major nightlife. It’s still a fairly sleepy town, and most places close up shop not long after sunset. There are a few bars and restaurants in the tourist zone downtown that do stay open late. Some have live bands performing weekly (mostly during high season). Stroll down the pedestrian walkway that stretches a few blocks (called Hidalgo Ave), and find your favorite spot.
TIP: This is not the place to come if you’re into the all-night party scene! Rather, it’s a great destination for relaxation with a fun, local flavor. However, during national holidays, Isla Mujeres really lights up and does not disappoint! There are parades, performances, and pageants, during Carnaval (before Lent), Independence Day (September 16), and at New Year’s.
SNORKELING AND DIVING
Isla Mujeres is a great place for family snorkeling. There are numerous boats and guides at the docks (along the western coast downtown), to take you out. All equipment is provided, including life-jackets. Lunch/dinner is also included in many of the tours. Tours average three hours in length. This is a great option if you are a beginner snorkeler.
Snorkeling for the Avid Snorkeler
Don’t waste your time with any of the tours offered by the guys at the docks. These tours are geared towards passive family fun. If you want to do some really good snorkeling, go to a dive shop in town.
Make sure if you do not want a lunch/dinner included that you specifically book a tour without it.
TIP: Currents are pretty strong around the island so be prepared to do a lot of swimming.
Isla Mujeres is an internationally-known diving location with lots of dive shops, tours, a hypobaric chamber, and lots of visiting divers from around the world. It has a shallower, lesser-developed reef system than you’ll find in nearby Cozumel, but there are still some beautiful and fun dives to enjoy.
With shallow reefs and warm water year-round, Isla is perfect for both the beginner as well as the advanced diver. You can obtain your PADI certification here if you do not already have it.
Here you will find Grey Nurse Sharks, barracudas, sea turtles, blue and green parrotfish, grunts, porcupinefish, jurel, huge yellow jack, snapper, midnight parrotfish, lobster, starfish, shrimp, and a large variety of soft corals. There are also hundreds of submerged statues with various stages of coral growth.
Popular dive sites:
Cave of the Sleeping Sharks
This cave is at a depth of 60-70 feet, and it’s where Nurse Sharks can be found having their “siesta”. Nurse Sharks are harmless, but it’s still an exhilarating experience to swim near them! Bull, Blacktip, and Grey Reef Sharks are also commonly sighted in this area.
TIP: Hurricane Wilma (2006) damaged this site and it is now rarely visited by dive operators.
This reef is just a 10-minute boat ride off Isla’s shoreline, and is probably the most popular dive site near Isla. At a depth of about 40 feet you’ll find the Cruz de la Bahía [Bay Cross – a bronze memorial placed as a tribute to the men and women of the sea]. Cuevones and La Bandera Reefs are close by. Part of the Cancun Underwater Museum project, there are dozens of submerged statues and sculptures near this reef. Visit this site for a unique look at this eerie underwater art!
Navy Shipwreck & Shrimp Boat Wreck (Hondureño)
These impressive wrecks can be found at a depth of about 70 ft. The reef here is home to green moray eels, Nurse Sharks, rainbow parrotfish, schools of cobia fish, stingrays, amber jack, snapper, stone fish and lobster. With the proper diving certification, you can explore the inside of the Navy Boat wreck. Punta Sur is located off the southern tip of the island, where the Gulf of Mexico merges with the Caribbean Sea. It is a favorite playground for dolphins and sea turtles and has the remnants of an old shipwreck with a 400-year-old anchor. Be alert, this dive site has strong currents and is for advanced divers.
Tavos Reef is a small reef at a depth of about 35 feet. There are unique lime stone formations here with lots of crevices and tunnels, some of which are large enough to swim through. The site attracts Gray and Whitetip Reef Sharks.
Media Luna is on the Caribbean side of the island and is a nice shallow dive (at a depth of about 30-40 feet). Here you will find an interesting variety of colorful coral, with arches and ridges, as well as large sea anemone, spiny sea urchins, and lobster.
The fishing around Isla Mujeres is consistently good and there are lots of tours to take you out [you can also fish from shore]. Just go to the docks and make your inquiries for a fishing tour or boat charter.
Among the many types of fishing to do, there is lobster fishing, spear fishing, and deep sea fishing. Catches vary but the waters are abundant in sailfish, dorado (mahi-mahi), blue and white marlin, grouper, octopus, barracuda and beyond.
From Isla Mujeres it’s possible to take a boat excursion to this tiny uninhabited island. Isla Contoy is under 9 kms (4 miles) long and only 20 meters wide at its widest point. It has been a federally protected area since 1961, and in 1998 was declared a National Park. It is renowned for its flora and fauna, particularly its bird species. It happens to be a great place to swim with gentle whale sharks as they migrate past the area.
This beautiful island is sanctuary to about 152 birds, including large nesting colonies of brown pelicans and magnificent frigate birds, along with roseate spoonbills, double-crested cormorants, herons, egrets, terns, kingfishers, and even the occasional flamingo. Four species of protected sea turtles also find refuge nesting on the island’s beaches.
TIP: Only 200 tourists are allowed to visit the island daily. Tour companies require special permission to take visitors there. If you go, bring mosquito repellent, and beware of the boa constrictors and small crocodiles that live in the island’s ponds.
Unfortunately, Isla Mujeres has only one diminutive archaeological site. It is located at the most easterly point on the island, where the rising sun first touches the country of Mexico.
It is thought the structure may have been a temple dedicated to the Ixchel, the Mayan goddess of love and fertility. It may also have been used as an observation post, lighthouse or a communication point to signal the mainland.
TIP: Ravaged by hurricanes and the passage of hundreds of years, there are only remnants of a structure left. It looks like little more than a jumble of stones. Don’t be expecting an impressive building like you’d see in Tulum or Chichen Itza! This site offers incredible ocean views and cliff walking trails, though. Watch for iguanas basking in the sun.