Friends, let me tell you about Isla Mujeres. You need it in your life. I went earlier this year with Mr. Wonderful and was, in one word, relaxing. Sound good? I’ve got an Isla Mujeres guide for you.
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This tiny island is a 20-minute ferry ride from Cancun, Mexico. It’s a breezy ride, and if you’re lucky, you might have some on-board live music (and if you’re really lucky, it might be good).
Isla Mujeres is the place to go when you need to slow down. Sure, you could find some adventure there. But Mr. Wonderful and I planned a kid-free vacation to Isla Mujeres so that we could rejuvenate. I started with an Isla Mujeres Bucket List, and here’s what I learned from the trip:
Research hotels and book based on your vacation goals.
Isla Mujeres is pretty small, but it has a ton of hotel, AirBnB, and resort options. Most will be the center of town on the north side of the island where the most of the restaurants, shops and tour pick-ups are. It’s close to the ferry port and the best beach (Playa Norte).
TripAdvisor is a good place to start your search for Isla Mujeres hotels.
We wanted to be away from the hustle, and while it’s a stretch to call anything activity on the island “hustle” – things pretty much shut down after 8 p.m. – we opted to stay on the quieter south end of the island.
The downside? Nothing was within true walking distance, except for the private beach at the hotel. Which was totally what we wanted, so not a downside for us.
It also meant we had to…
Rent a golf cart
It is cheaper to use taxis on Isla Mujeres, yes, but you don’t get that ocean breeze going through your hair inside a taxi. I recommend renting a golf cart for a day.
We did it for two days, and that was pretty unnecessary in the end. We got most of our sight-seeing done in one day. Still, I loved cruising around in our little cart. If you have a portable speaker, pack it for your trip so you can enjoy music on the drive.
Research where you rent your cart, though. We got ours at the place billed as having the fastest golf carts, but that came with the “expense” of going through two duds before we got one that didn’t die on us.
Eat at these restaurants
For such a tiny island, Isla Mujeres has an abundance of great dining options, especially if you love seafood. The restaurants right on the beach, where you’re literally sitting there with your flip-flopped feet in the sand, are adequate, but the real good stuff is away from the beach.
There are three that were the highlight of our trips. The most memorable, by far, was El Varadero. This Cuban restaurant is on a port that attracts an international yachting crowd, but we arrived via taxi along a nondescript residential street. Everything about this place is the stuff of vacation legends: Off-the-beaten path restaurant with great food, great setting, great live music, and great people watching.
My other two favorites were definitely designed to appeal to Americans looking for something a little familiar but not too touristy: Mango Cafe and Green Verde.
Mango Cafe was a cute restaurant in the middle of the island, away from the super touristy area. The coconut french toast is a must-order, as is the fresh fruit. While you’re in the neighborhood, cross the street to an open-air church and charming lookout.
Green Verde was the only restaurant we visited twice…because the tacos were that good. I never order the same thing twice on vacation, but I had to get the chicken tacos twice in two days. So good. And, it’s a lovely place to relax.
Get a massage…on the beach
You can get a massage, on the beach, for about $30 an hour. It’s a steal.
One caveat? It’s totally not private, at least at the massage tables at Playa Centro… and there’s a good chance music will be blaring since it is a beach and all. The tent probably has a couple tables, and if you’re not there in a two-piece, you’re going to pull some outstanding contortionist tricks trying to undress without flashing the world. It can be done, I promise.
It’s not my ideal setting, and I half-worried about closing my eyes for too long and having my purse walk off. But still. $30 an hour for a professional massage? Yes, please.
Be smart about Avenida Hidalgo
The main drag on Isla Mujeres is Avenida Hidalgo, a pedestrian-only street filled with souvenir shops and restaurants that appeal to tourists. If you’ve been to one like this, you’ve been to them all – the restaurants look inviting but the food is mediocre, the drinks are watered down, and the souvenirs shop employees will call out to you. It can be overwhelming for the uninitiated.
Still, I wouldn’t necessarily say “Skip it.”
My recommendation is to grab a table on the sidewalk and order a cerveza, then enjoy the people watching. Don’t fall for the BOGO offers on drinks, though. In my limited experience, the mixed drinks were disappointing, and I won’t fall for it again.
Another good idea is to go to Avenida Hidalgo early in the day. We had a wonderful, low-key breakfast at Rooster (another one of those restaurants that appeal to Americans for the food, decor and music). We got there early and then walked a few blocks to Playa Norte afterward.
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Need more ideas for Isla Mujeres vacation? Check out my Isla Mujeres Bucket List!
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