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Modern inhabitants arrived about 1850.
The island is about 7km in length. The north end sees the most tourist action with the main town area (and the ferry port) whilst the south end of the island is host to mostly private homes and guest houses.
For GRANDPAckers, Isla Mujeres is too expensive. Read on …
A BIT ABOUT THE ISLAND:
In stark contrast to Cancun, Isla Mujeres (Island of Women) is a laid-back, simple and comfortable island where visitors come to relax.
Isla Mujeres reminds me of Labuan in Borneo, Malaysia … but with a decent beach and without the prostitution.
I made my own way from Queretaro to Isla Mujeres via Cancun. This involved a ‘budget airline’ flight from Queretaro to Cancun and a Ferry to the island from there.
A Taxi from the Mundo Maya to the ferry port at Puerto Juarez was MXP40.
So far in Mexico, I have found free internet to be widely available in the restaurants and bars. Your accommodation usually includes free internet too.
TELCEL only cell ‘call + text + data’ packages – most of which provide unlimited calls and texts within Mexico, USA, and Canada. I suggest that you look at either their MXP100 or MXP150 Package.
The MXP100 lasts 23 days and provides 300MB of data. The MXP150 lasts 30 days and provides 400MB of Data. On the face of it, for my needs, the MXP100 Package is better value for money.
You can easily walk around the main tourist area (Playa Norte) on foot.
Trike / Tuk Tuk:
You don’t find things like Trikes or TukTuks in Mexico, so those ‘supercheap’ options are not available to you.
They are definitely worth considering for 1 day to explore the island.
Scooter / Bicycle:
As an alternative to a golf cart, you can rent a moped or pedal bike. Because the island’s traffic is limited, riding a bicycle is relaxed and safe.
Taxis do not use meters and the price should be confirmed first. The guideline is MXP10 for the ‘flag fall’ plus MXP10 / km. Double this at night.
Your hotel can arrange taxis for you; some post their rates on a board in the lobby; taxi hotel rates are usually higher than cabs you hail off the street.
So far, I have found UBER Taxis to be a safe and cheaper option than using the Taxis on the street. But, alas, UBER does not operate in Cancun nor Isla Mujeres.
Prices are pretty standard everywhere … which makes me feel that there is a bit of price fixing going on amongst the vendors.
But, as normal, you will find the odd trader who needs the business and who is prepared to cut prices. Ask around. You should be able to negotiate 33% off these Standard Prices (especially for bicycles).
WHERE TO STAY:
Isla Mujeres is small … you can, literally stay anywhere. But, on a GRANDPAcking Budget, you will struggle.
HOTELS & HOSTELS (Nightly Rates):
If you start your search early, you may be able to find the ‘deep’ discounts that you need or ‘last minute’ deals.
The time of year is very important … expect November through April (Peak Season) to be very difficult.
HOLIDAY RENTALS (Weekly Rates):
If you plan to stay a week or more, another good option is to use TRIPADVISOR.COM to book a Holiday Rental / Vacation Rental.
Holiday Rentals are usually rented by the week. A simple future search on TRIPADVISOR.COM demonstrates this nicely (please note that these prices are in US$s):
Holiday Rental prices are normally displayed INCLUSIVE of taxes.
One small problem with Vacation Rentals, is that they advertise on a number of different sites and they do not, always, keep their availability up-to-date on all of those sites. When you make a booking, you have to wait 24-36 hours to find out if the booking is successful or not. If not, this can prove frustrating. I have been let down on several occasions.
The positive is that Holiday Rentals, usually, offer better quality accommodation than Hotels for a lower price. The lower price can justify you catching a Taxi or public transport to / from the main attractions … and, still, end up with a cheaper overall cost per day.
The cheapest Rental, above, is out of our GRANDPAcker Price Range.
To spend time on Isla Mujeres, GRANDPAckers may need to compromise and ‘go Backpacker’ on their accommodation.
You should be able to get a Double Fan Room with Shared Bathroom in an Hostel in the MXP400-500 price range. Just choose an Hostel that isn’t a Party Hostel and one that is not in the centre of the town … they can get a bit ‘drunken’ and noisy until the early hours of the morning.
I booked 1 week before my arrival.
This was the only Hotel available in September with a Double Fan Room with Private Ensuite for under MXP600 / night.
In September, I paid a discounted rate of MXP470 / night.
My next ‘lowest priced’ option was almost MXP700 / night.
In peak season, I would imagine that the Marcianito is fully booked well in advance.
In Peak Season, you will be hard-pushed to find a GRANDPAcking Hotel for under MXP700 / night.
Have a look yourself:
Hidalgo Street is full of restaurants catering to the tourist crowd and tends to be the most lively and also the priciest, while the central portion of the island is where the locals tend to eat and has slightly lower prices.
Beach restaurants are also plentiful, with options near the ferry terminal being more lively while those on Playa Norte and other beaches featuring a more relaxed atmosphere.
Fish is fresh and bountiful, and dishes like ceviche are popular and delicious. A signature island dish is Tik-n-chik, which is a whole fish marinated in achiote and grilled.
Dining options include everything from an exquisite lobster dinner to a slice of pizza.
Some of the best food on the island comes from carts: taco stands and vendors selling corn on the cob and tamales in the town square. Be aware that eggs, corn, or milk is rarely refrigerated here because of local tradition.
Your average Street Meal will cost MXP25-35.
Prices are very similar.
A simple Breakfast of, say, an Ham & Cheese Omelette with 5 tacos will cost MXP50-70. A coffee MXP25-30.
One of the best cafes in town, and my favourite, is Ruben’s.
Here you can get a good and tasty Breakfast for MXP60-70 (there are several to choose from) and a ‘bottomless’ cup of black coffee for MXP30. MXP90 total.
I tried their Mexican Breakfast for MXP115.
It comes with their own homemade bread.
Here you get your standard selection of local dishes in the MXP40-60 price range. They close at 5:00pm … so, they are not a viable Dinner option.
You have choices galore … a meal from the ‘lower quartile’ of a reasonably priced restaurant will cost you MXP80-90.
There are several well known, value for money places in the centre of the island such as Mangoes.
One of the more up-market places in town is the Olivia. I tried their Spanakopita one night for MXP155 (excluding 15% tips). It was OK, but I thought that there was better value for money to be had elsewhere.
Isla’s nightlife is a lot more laid back than Cancun’s but there are still good options. The livelier nightlife seems to be found on Hidalgo Street, while the beach bars are more relaxed.
Your options are wide and varied. In Peak Season, Hidalgo Street (and many other places) would be ‘humming’.
Like all beach towns in Mexico, it is usually “Happy Hour” someplace with 2-for-1 Cocktails for MXP70-85. Happy hours can start as early as 11am. Most Happy Hours end at 8pm but some continue to as late as 10pm.
Happy Hour beer is less common. What they do instead, is offer 2 Beers with 3 Tacos for MXP85 … which ends up being quite reasonable.
The “beach bars” on the north end have rotating Happy Hours. Try a Michelada, which is a beer mixed with fresh lime juice and a variety of other sauces – the perfect delicious island drink.
YOUR HEALTH & SAFETY:
There is no reason to feel unsafe in Isla Mujeres. But, as always, exercise normal levels of caution … don’t make yourself an obvious target.
I had my cellphone stolen one night because I wasn’t careful enough (or, was I drunk? … I don’t remember! :-)).
There are plenty of Tourist Police around to protect you. If there is a problem, it is usually from rogues coming from off island … tempted by rich western tourist pickings.
The beach is full of fun restaurants and bars as well as several hotels. This is where the majority of travellers will spend their beach time so it can get crowded during Peak Season. Finding a shaded spot under a palm tree is difficult (they are usually all taken), but loungers are available (at a price).
NORTH & SOUTH COASTS:
I only got half way down the island to the central lake. Local houses hug the lake and there is a nice pathway around it … but it is a bit dirty and nothing special.
The west coast, as you enter town, is dominated by the Ferry Terminal.
Playa Sol is at the northwestern tip of the island and is the neighbouring beach to Playa Norte.
Playa Sol is the best location to watch the sunset and is usually a little less crowded than the neighboring beach.
Although it is less crowded, the water is not as shallow and clear as Playa Norte. One other advantage is that drinks are less expensive along Playa Sol.
WHERE TO GO / WHAT TO SEE / WHAT TO DO:
- Whale Shark Tours: From mid-May through mid-September hundreds of whale sharks gather in the waters near Isla Mujeres, with peak season in July and August. Trips can be booked anywhere on the island, but official operators who have agreed to uphold certain standards and implement safety measures to protect the sharks operate mostly out of dive shops and charge a ‘fixed’ price of US$125. But, competition is fierce and you can get a trip for as little as $75 (MXP1,300) from some street venders. Tours will generally include breakfast, snorkeling gear, 8-10 people per boat, a 45-60 minute trip out to the whale shark area, and then 3-4 trips in the water with the sharks for 2-15 minutes each time, depending on the number of sharks (more sharks, more time in the water). The return trip includes lunch, ceviche, and a snorkel at a local reef. All passengers must wear life-jackets in the water unless you have your own wet suit.
- Garrafon Park: The southern side of the island lacks a sandy beach but offers snorkeling where fish abound and the crystal clear water makes for an enjoyable swim. The reef that lies within the protective buoys has been severely damaged by storms and years of careless treatment by snorkelers, but a revamp of the park several years ago has created a healthier environment for the coral, and it thrives more with each passing year. Entrance to the park is expensive with a Full Day costing US$64 and a Half Day US$44. A VIP ticket costs US$94 and gives you access to the VIP area with plunge pool and free food and drinks. Tour boats from Cancun bring hordes of day-trippers who mostly stay within the park, so it can become quite crowded during the peak of the day. A useful tip for those staying on the island is that you can snorkel in the waters adjacent to the Garrafon park for about 60 pesos, and the sea life is still very impressive.
- Dolphin Discovery: Located on the northwest side of the island on the Peninsula of Sac Bajo is Dolphin Discovery. It is a small amusement park with chains in other parts of the Caribbean (including Cozumel) well known for allowing visitors to interact and swim with dolphins in an enclosed area. The park has a list of activities ranging from dolphins to other marine mammals. A basic ‘Encounter” with Dolphins will cost US$109. Pay US$139 and you get a bit more of an ‘Adventure’ and more time with them. Pay US$169 and you will get the full VIP treatment including having 2 Dolphins push you through the water.
- Garaffon / Dolphin Combos: There are several ‘combos’ that put a Garrafon trip together with a Dolphin trip. Some allow you to split these over 2 days in stead of one. As you would expect, the ‘combo’ ends up being cheaper than doing them individually. If you want to spoil yourself, a ‘combo’ is worth considering.
- Scuba diving and snorkeling: Around Isla Mujeres is unforgettable. The Manchones Reef begins just off of Isla’s shore and the Cuevones and Banderas Reefs are close by. The waters are usually calm and clear – perfect for the beginner as well as the advanced diver. If the seas are too rough, the Coast Guard will ‘ground’ all tours for safety. With 50 accessible sites, Isla Mujeres is a great option. Those staying in Playa Norte may enjoy snorkeling in the lagoon next to the Avalon Hotel which has a respectable number of fish in an easily-accessible location.
- Go Fishing: One does not need to shell out the large sums of money to go sport fishing on Isla. Just talk to the local hotel / guesthouse employee and they can set you up with a local fisherman who will take you out fishing. Prices are about US$40 / person for 3-4 hours of fishing. Whatever fish you catch, you can take to a local restaurant and they will prepare the fish however you like.
MONEY / PRICES / SHOPPING:
There are several banks and ATMs around the city centre.
The ‘de facto’ ATM withdrawal limit in other banks is MXP5,000. But some banks (like the HSBC allow yu to withdraw MXP7,000).
The main town is riddled with small shops with slightly higher ‘convenience’ prices.
You will find Tourist Shops with ‘clearance’ sales on things like Tequila.
There is one proper Supermarket about 1/3rd of the way down the west coast from Playa Norte.
You won’t find any ‘real’ Supermarkets in town. There are a couple of places that call themselves Supermarkets … but, they are just big Convenience Stores.
- 1kg Natural Unsweetened Yoghurt: MXP29
- 1Kg Grapes: MXP60
- 4L Water: MXP15
- 3L Orange Juice: MXP17
- Bar Bottle Beer: MXP35
- Bar House Wines / Cocktails: MXP75-85 (2 for 1 in Happy Hour)
I didn’t find any.
WHEN TO GO:
July through October is hurricane season in this part of the world, and the weather becomes more changeable and less predictable during these months.
The rainy season is May through October.
The high season is December through May as these are the months with the most temperate and driest weather.
The problem for GRANDPAckers is cost. Come November, even the Marcianito prices are out of GRANDPAcker range … Marcianito room prices start at about MXP800 / night including tax.
GRANDPAckers will have to come Off Season: June to September. May and October may be possible (if you can still find a good Hotel discount).
From Isla Mujeres I will be heading to Playa del Carmen.
I will tell you more about that in a future post.
Isla Mujeres definitely has something ‘special’ about it with its tranquil and relaxed atmosphere surrounded by a great selection of bars and restaurants.
The problem is the cost of accommodation which, effectively, forces GRANDPAckers to come in Low Season with the ‘unsettled’ weather.
Even in Low Season (paying about MXP500 / night for a Hotel room), GRANDPAckers will struggle to make ends meet on their remaining budget of MXP500 / day.
You can save money at Lunch time by grabbing something from a street cart (budget MXP80 for 2 people including a fruit drink).
A meal from the lower quartile of a budget restaurant including a fruit juice will set you back about MXP120 each.
You still need to pay for other odds and sods – including your cellphone plan and some transportation to get around.
Add all this up and you will be OVER BUDGET.
You will be EXISTING in a nice place in ‘Off Season’ weather on a nice beach … this is not good enough for this GRANDPAcker blog.
We’re looking for places where we can LIVE! For that reason, Isla Mujeres DOES NOT make it into our Holiday Table NOR our Retirement Table.