Can we all just agree that Cancun isn’t really all that great? After all, it’s a man-made vacation destination bogged down by mammoth, cheap all-inclusive resorts with lots of drunk tourists. Having said that, the weather there is great, the beaches are stunning and it’s super easy to get to. With a little extra planning and venturing beyond the main Hotel Zone, a perfect week at the beach in Mexico is absolutely possible!
It’s not far by physical distance, but Isla Mujeres and Cancun are simply world’s apart. Isla Mujeres is sleepy and laid back where Cancun is bustling and “always on”.
Easy Access from the United States:
Cancun couldn’t possibly be easier to get to from the U.S., which is probably why the Mexican Riviera (the stretch of beach starting with Cancun and stretching about 2 hours driving south) is Mexico’s most popular beach destination. The trick to the perfect week on the beach starting with Cancun as a point of entry is to find a destination that is still relatively un-crowded and not over-developed (like Cancun!)
Cancun is serviced by direct flights from a ton of major markets on nearly every major American airline. And it’s fairly affordable to fly to either Cancun or Cozumel. Here are some sample fares for direct flights for early 2014:
Los Angeles (LAX) – Cancun (CUN) $483
Denver (DEN) – Cancun (CUN) $413
Chicago (ORD) – Cozumel (CZM) $447
Atlanta (ATL) – Cozumel (CZM) $635
To get to Isla Mujeres, arrange an airport transfer for the Isla Mujeres Ferry Terminal (Puerto Juarez). This ferry goes every 30 minutes all day, and takes about 20 minutes to traverse the about 4 miles from the mainland to the Island. You can literally feel your stress melting away as the ferry chugs over the island.
Playa Norte (North Beach) on Isla Mujeres is the textbook definition of gorgeous white sand beach. Here you’ll find the shallow, clean sandy beaches for which the Mexican Riviera is known.
Playa Norte is perfect for kids because the beach stays quite shallow very far out, and it is super laid back (read: minimal party scene). Within minutes of landing on the beach my 6 year old was off in full snorkel gear looking at fish and playing in the water, and it was perfectly safe. Playa Norte (North Beach) is the best beach on the island, and it’s also the most crowded (people and a slew of fancy-pants boats parked beyond the cordoned off swimming section, still shallow enough for good swimming).
While there are other beaches on the island, Playa Norte is the main attraction. The other beaches are rougher with overall less beach space. You’ll find some beach clubs on the West side of the island (Zama is certainly worth checking out for an excellent meal!) for a very different, fun vibe.
The background soundtrack on Playa Norte is popular Mexican dance music. Not surprising seeing as no less than half of the beach-goers were locals either from Isla or having come over on the ferry from Cancun, which gives the beach a cool local feel. While there are the usual vendors of the usual necklaces and baskets roaming the beach, there are also a number vendors coming by with nuts, cakes and more (largely targeted at the locals). Having said that, they are not pushy or unpleasant at all.
Because it’s so easy to get around the island, it’s also a great place to run, walk and bike which is a great way to start each day before the Coronas and Pina Coladas (excellent at Ixchel Beach Club by the way!) kick in. The weather in the winter months (Nov – Feb) are best for that morning run through town, as the rest of the year it’s much more hot and humid.
Checking out the island on a Golf Cart (do this early in your trip) is the best way to get a feel for the island. Most golf carts are about $50 per day to rent. Try to organize for your cart the night before to ensure one is available, we had a hard time finding one at 9am when all the rental shops open.
Lodging on the island isn’t straightforward. For us, hotel vs. vacation rental/beach villa is the constant question wherever we travel, and because there are only a few good hotel options on the island we also looked at vacation rentals. There are a number of nice beach villas on Isla Mujeres but none of them have a very good beach (which for us here at A Week at the Beach is a must).
The Ixchel Beach Hotel is a great option. This is part hotel, part timeshare/condo facility. There are 2 twin buildings, each with their own pool and restaurant and both right on Playa Norte. The location is worth the price of admission. Splurge for one of the rooms on the top as these have plunge pools and lounge area on the top of the building. Book the Ixchel Beach Hotel direct here.
You can also book an Isla Mujeres beach getaway through Reefs to Rockies, a Denver-based tour operator who LOVES Isla (they are especially passionate about Whale Shark viewing during the summer months there.)
Have you been to Isla Mujeres? Would love your thoughts and feedback about crafting the perfect Week at the Beach here!