Isla Mujeres - Dos and Don’ts
Thursday while at work, G texted me and said “lets go to Mexico”. Obviously I love visiting Mexico for quick retreats, but within the next couple of hours we researched last minute flights and hotels available for a weekend vacation. There are so many great places in Mexico to visit, but the idea of a small island off the coast of Cancun known for crystal clear water, snorkeling, delicious seafood dinners and easy island living hooked us. We had a flight for Friday at 11am. Vamenos!
The weekend was filled with a perfect getaway vibe that went by way too quickly, and since we were staying on the island (unlike most people who take the 20 minute ferry from Cancun for a day trip), we got to know the ins and outs of this tiny gem in the middle of the Caribbean ocean.
DO Eat at these restaurants
Javi’s Cantina - We are big live music fans, and the locals say this is the best spot in downtown for it! We personally met Javi and were so pleased to see him greet everyone with love and welcome them to his well known restaurant! We stopped here, ate fajitas and margaritas while enjoying some fun live music surrounded by a cozy Spanish back patio.
Bally Hoo - The best lunch spot in downtown! Nestled right on the docks that cater to small day adventure charters is a charismatic ocean front lunch spot. The music is loud, the drinks are strong and the food is fresh and tasteful. We loved how central this lunch spot is, and the view was exactly what you picture when searching for ocean front dining. I ordered the fish tacos and loved every bite!
Caribbean Brisas - My favorite restaurant of Isla Mujeres! This night was magical! We rented a scooter for the weekend and used our maps to direct us through the wavering streets of this small but familiar island. It is extremely safe to venture off the main grid of downtown, and I would highly recommend doing so! Caribbean Brisas is in the heart of the island and an authentic Mexican dinner right in the middle of all the locals’ homes. Live music is also a specialty here, and we enjoyed singing along to the Spanish versions of music we know and love.
Drinks here are made to order, and if I can tell you you’ve never had a homemade mango daiquiri like this one, I mean it. We ordered mango and strawberry daiquiris back to back, I can’t preach enough how delicious and fresh they were. No strawberry simple syrup here, they only serve the real stuff. Next, we ordered lobster quesadilla (that ended up being the best quesadilla I’ve ever tasted), coconut shrimp (also the best coconut shrimp I’ve ever had) and calamari dinner. Everything was presented beautiful and tasted better than it looked. This restaurant took my favorite place because of my love for live music, delicious and fresh food (healthy yes!), and an authentic cuisine when traveling abroad.
DO try a golf cart or scooter
Upon arriving we grabbed a Taxi to take us to our hotel, about 10 minutes from the ferry. It cost 100 pesos ($5.21 USD) and the entire first day we took Taxis wherever we needed to go. THEN, we noticed all the golf carts and scooters and found out that the best way to get around is these little fun toys! Not only does it save money if you’re moving around quite a bit, but it’s also very convenient and extremely fun. The island is small enough that these are friendly and get you anywhere you need to be! Our scooter (that comes with a brief training session and two required helmets) cost 550 pesos for 24hrs ($28.72 USD). We had a blast (and a couple scares) on it! Be sure to look for speed bumps!
DO stay on the island at Izla Hotel
There are many options when visiting Isla Mujeres that are closer to downtown for hotels, but only a 15 minute scooter ride away is Izla Hotel, where it is close enough to the party, but far enough so you won’t hear it. Built only 1.5 years ago, this gem is ocean front and secluded with the best staff and cozy rooms. Everything is modern, and they have the most beautiful ocean front cabanas, dock to retreat into the ocean, and rooftop infinity pool that overlooks the Mexican sunsets. Next door is a hot spot for food and the end point to many day adventures like boating, snorkeling or tours of the island. There’s fun music, good food and you can walk straight into the water for an afternoon refresher. We loved their complimentary breakfast, modern rooms, rooftop infinity pool with a full bar, beachside cabanas, customer service and especially their recommendations of what to do. We can’t wait to be back!
DO Take a boat out for snorkeling
One of the best things to do at Isla Mujeres is take a day adventure to all of the snorkeling hot spots. The lighthouse is the most popular with schools of fish surrounding you as you swim by. The tours are guided and provide you with life jackets. All you have to do is bring your oxybenzone and octinoxate free sunscreen to protect the coral reefs and you’re set! (pro tip: Here’s a list of safe coral reef sunscreens you can buy! )
DO Visit Playa Norte for a beach day
This is the #1 most visited spot on the island, so prepare for tourists! With access to the stunning large shallow beach, yachts line up this side of the island to enjoy music, food, sun and a beautiful coastline of perfect ocean water. While this was a bit busy for us, it still didn’t disappoint. Our Taxi driver took us to the least busy side where locals hang (closest to MIA hotel), and I recommend doing it too! A beach day here is as beautiful as it gets, just bring a towel, water and hat!
DO Go shopping in downtown on Hildago St
Shopping in downtown is fun and walkable with prices you can’t beat! There are plenty of fruit stands and little shops to explore while your lunch digests and grab some souvenirs. Don’t try to grab stuff at the airport, this shopping will have the lowest prices and some of the coolest stuff from women’s clothing, hammocks, jewelry, home decorations, photo ops and fun handmade things. This is also a great way to support the locals!
DO Go out and dance
Hildago St is also known for turning into a great nightlife where you can bar hop nearly next door to each other. Our top spots to go dance were Pugna, El Patio and Coconuts!
DON’T Visit the Turtle Sanctuary
While I don’t fully agree with their practices and personally don’t enjoy visiting this sanctuary where turtles are also held in captivity at not so ideal standards, this is a place you can visit if you feel it would be beneficial. The purpose of this sanctuary is to release turtles into the wild which is great! The problem is they aren’t necessarily really fulfilling “sanctuary” while having thousands of tourists come interrupt these turtles captive enclosures. Overall, if you wish to see some turtles, this is a better option. But if you head to Hawaii for your next vacation, you will see turtles all over the island, protected. They are wild too! This is what I hope for with Isla Mujeres, to protect their species and make it illegal to fish them. If they do that, this sanctuary will have no great purpose!
DON’T Visit Dolphin Discovery
While Isla Mujeres is a gem with so many things to do, I highly recommend supporting actives that are fun and meaningful. Supporting Dolphin Discovery means supporting dolphins who are torn from their families in the wild to live in a isolated enclosure, forced to train and learn tricks, and live in captivity for a sad life. These dolphins are tortured to maintain dominance on the trainers behalf, and by paying to “swim with a dolphin” you are supporting this sad entertainment tactic. Dolphin Discovery is a sea life zoo, and these animals behind the spotlight are held in unacceptable circumstances and treated poorly. Please read this detailed article on why kissing dolphins and swimming with dolphins is something we need to end now! (Never Swim With Dolphins)