Road Log: Isla Mujeres|
by Rolf Metzger, Mexonline.com
Located just 8 miles off the coast of Cancun, Isla Mujeres (the Island of Women) is a small and slender sliver of land only 5 miles long and just 400 yards across at its widest point. Legend has it the name comes from the clay images of the fertility goddess found in the old Maya ruins on the southern tip of the island, or from when pirates used to leave their women here when they left on raids. But this little island has a lot to offer to those looking to get away for some peaceful exploration. There is some great snorkeling just off the shore, and the town itself has some great little shops and restaurants. It doesn't have the big resorts or hotels and wild night life of Cancun, but that's exactly why people come here.
I had the opportunity to go there just this past October while I was in Cancun (rough job, someone has to do it), and made sure I took the day off to take pictures in Isla Mujeres. My journey started at the boat dock next to the Xcaret facility, which takes people to the famous water park further down the coast. This particular boat taxi costs US$8.50 one way, and takes about 45 minutes to get to the island. I later found out this was fairly expensive compared to the alternative rides, but it does have the convenience of being right in the hotel district of Cancun.
The boat was large and comfortable, and even though we weren't going to set any over water speed records, Cancun started shrink behind us.
The trip took the full 45 minutes, which would have made for a great Happy Hour tour, but this was still morning. Here, the captain and crew entertain each other by telling stories of some of the more memorable trips to the island.
As we approached the calm leeward shore, a small reef with a light tower sticks out of the water, where boats bring snorkelers to dive. This is a popular place to dive, with all sorts of fish willing to put on a great show in the clear water.
As soon as I arrived on shore, I rented a mountain bike to get around (US$6 for the day) and took a little tour of the island. Rentals also include scooters and gas engine golf carts. After checking out the downtown area a bit, I headed south and came upon the official harbor and the ferry boat that takes cars back and forth to the mainland once a day.
The bay waters of the harbor are also home to private boats tied up at little docks all around its edge. The bay extends into the heart of the island, which forms a lagoon that is also home to a small navy fleet here.
Riding past the actual neighborhood of homes and schools, things thin out and follow along the shore of the lagoon to a few hotels and small resorts. Here there are also old docks and shacks, lending a historic charm to the island.
Just on the other side is a private club with a few nice yachts moored up. Despite my high ranking press credentials, I was not allowed entry.
Along this part of the island, a few hotels offer privacy and clear calm waters right out front. Tourists here can also hire rental boats, dive tours and glass bottom boats to see the reef without getting wet.
Further south there is a turtle sanctuary, set up to protect the local turtle population. Growing turtles are kept in a holding area until they mature, and tourists can get a tour of the compound for US$1 which helps to run the place.
Freshly laid turtle eggs in the sand are protected until the hatchlings emerge, where they are transferred to small pools so they can grow to increase their survival rate. I'm not sure how it's done here, but I have been told that hatchlings need to make it to the water's edge on their own in order for them to return to that same place when it's time to lay their eggs years later.
Back in town, and feeling hot and thirsty, I take a little rest in the shade to see that the shops are in full swing, getting ready for the afternoon tourist rush. The small, narrow streets here are mostly for foot or cycle traffic only, though an occasional car will try to push its way through.
A row of gas powered golf carts, which can go maybe 25 mph or so, wait hopefully for more tourists. This time of year, beginning of October, was fairly slow but there were a few of these carts cruising around the island.
The narrow streets of the town also offer restaurants and cafes to the visitor. Having had my fill, I grab my bike, lower right, and head north to the beach.
A real treat of Isla Mujeres is the wide sandy beach of the island's north shore, where the gentle slope of the bottom stretches far out into the warm water.
On this particular day, tourists from all over Europe were enjoying the great weather, placid waters and the relaxing atmosphere, complete with lounge chairs and umbrella ... at US$5 a pop.
In part because of its relaxed atmosphere and popularity with younger Europeans, this is a top-optional beach, which may account for the name of this particular stretch of sand, NautiBeach.
There are plenty of rental diversions to be found on the beach, with everything from waverunners and small paddle or sail boats, to giant tricycles for casual cruising on the calm waters.
In the late afternoon, clouds swept in quickly to unleash a quick tropical rain. This sent the sun bathers, including myself, running for shelter under the big palapa beach bar. It was time for a few cold drinks and some conversation with students from all over the world.
The rain disappeared as quickly as it arrived, and soon people were out playing in the water again. People of all ages, retired couples, student travelers and young children with their parents were all enjoying this quiet little get away.
Soon, it was time for me to leave this idyllic setting and make my way back to Cancun, by one of the high speed water taxis that shuttle into town every 30 minutes. This one cost just US$2 and speed off to the mainland in just 20 minutes. From there a taxi back to the hotel district, with a few friendly British travelers, completed the trip.
That was my little side trip to Isla Mujeres, I hope you enjoyed sharing the journey with me on the Web. If you'd like to learn more about this destination, be sure to visit our new Isla Mujeres City Guide. 'Till the next adventure,