Our last real stop in Mexico was the lovely island of women, Isla Mujeres. There’s a few theories on the name, but I’ll leave that to your research.
Isla Mujeres is a 4 mile stretch of land just a few miles off the coast of the Yucatan.
The island is much more laid-back than Cancun, and it’s a common day trip for folks staying in the hotel zone.
The day before we planned to go, I asked the concierge at the Westin for some information on getting to the island. She kindly handed me the UltraMar flyer, and pointed out all the stops throughout the hotel zone. $19 US round trip.
“But wait, this ferry up here is only 146 pesos roundtrip per person…”
(That’s about $8 US.)
“Well, yes, but you’ll have to take the bus to Puerto Juarez, and it’s a long bus ride. The buses can be a bit interesting if you’re not used to them.”
Remembering my morning commute to the worksite in Cusco (not to mention my morning commute on the Green Line), I scoffed at the warning, and promptly decided to go the long way. Besides, we had already taken the bus to dinner last night! How bad could it be? Luckily, my iron grip on the money in my wallet goes hand in hand with my sense of adventure. In other words, I can usually get somewhere much easier for a bit more money. But hey, then I wouldn’t have any good stories to tell!
We got up early, hopped on the bus near the hotel (32 pesos for the three of us), and started our journey. About halfway up the hotel strip, we used our best Spanglish to confirm with the bus driver that this bus actually did go to Puerto Juarez, where the northern-most Ultramar ferry is anchored.
Good thing the girlfriend speaks better Spanish than I do, because apparently we got on the wrong bus. The driver was happy to drop us off on the side of the road fairly close to our destination, where we snagged a combi to take us the rest of the way to Puerto Juarez and the ferry dock. Now, the whole process was old hat to she and I, after doing a few combi trips in Peru; but my son? He seemed a little out of his league, thought he was a good sport throughout. Any public transit in the city is just as crowded as a combi, so we did just fine.
The ferry itself was smooth sailing. Plan to get to the dock early so you can sit inside with air conditioning. If not, bring a good hat and some sunscreen to block the sun on the upper level of seats. The sun is hot. We hopped off onto the island dock, and walked down the main street a bit to rent a golf cart for the island. Everybody does this, you’ll have no problem finding a golf cart to rent. The nicer carts are a bit farther away from the main dock. After that, we motored our way around the island for the day, stopping any place that looked interesting!
First up, the turtle hospital! Man, we got our fair share of turtles this trip, and we loved it. Tortugranja nurses turtles back to health, protects egg nests, and has some small fish tanks filled with interesting local sealife. At only about $15 USD for the three of us, it was worth seeing the turtles and supporting a good cause. You won’t be hear longer than half an hour, but do stop in and chat with the caretakers there, you might learn something interesting!
Tortugranja had young loggerhead and green sea turtles in their pools. The larger turtles were located outside, in a fenced area of the ocean off their dock. All the little guys were kept indoors, I assume to keep an eye on them and protect them from the birds in the area. The tanks seen in the bottom picture also housed a collection of fish, local lobster and some other crustaceans native to the area.
Garrafón Beach and Snorkeling
The actual Parque Garrafón is a bit pricey, but doing a little more research, you’ll find the nearby Garrafón beach club and restaurant. You do have to pay to get in, but you’re not required to purchase food or beverages. It was 60 pesos/person to get in, and we did happen to get beers, at 40 pesos each. The current here was stronger than we anticipated, I suspect due to some strong winds on the ocean that day. The snorkeling was alright, but I imagine it would be great under the right conditions. Due to that current, staying in one spot was a lot of work, and the water was a bit murky from stirred up sand.
The real win here was the sea glass! My son and girlfriend collect it, that’s their thing. It must have been some combination of the current and the location of the beach here, but we found enough sea glass and unique shells to fill up my pockets for the rest of the day. It doesn’t sound like much, but the hour we spent here collecting sea glass made some great memories, not to mention a few great handmade souvenirs out of the sea glass.
The eastern most point of Mexico boasts dramatic cliffs, expansive views of the ocean, and a small ruin to explore. Along the walk to the ruins, there’s a neat little sculpture garden. We actually skipped the ruins here, due to the small size and our limited time on Isla, but the panoramic views of the ocean make Punta Sur worth a visit even without.
Unfortunately, I realize only now that I forgot to take any pictures of the ocean views from Punta Sur…you’ll just have to go for yourself!
El Centro is the main part of town, Isla Mujeres Pueblo, if you will. Find lunch, shopping, and plenty of souvenirs here. We stopped in for some sandwiches at Qubano for some sandwiches. The owner was in, and we had an amazing chat about the current political system in the United States, and also the current state of affairs in Cuba, where she was born. A bit unexpected, but very much enjoyed. The sandwiches at Qubano were absolutely delicious, and definitely filling.
After lunch, we walked up to Playa Norte. Unlike Garrafón or Punta Sur, Playa Norte was incredible for swimming. Just like those beaches at Akumal, it was calm, clear water. We could walk out a good distance, and still see the bottom. The sun was beating down pretty hot by then, and the beach of Playa Norte was a perfect way to end our day on the island.
We caught an afternoon ferry back to the mainland, and hailed a taxi over to Mercado 28. Filling up our bags with souvenirs for family and friends there, we hopped a ride back to the hotel. On our last night in Cancun, we had the opportunity to release a few more tortuguitas into the ocean, and then managed to catch some sleep before hitting the airport the next morning.
That about wraps up our trip to Mexico! One last post will be coming on Friday, discussing some of the details of the trip: budget, detailed itinerary, and the rest of the nerd stuff I like. I hope you’ve enjoyed these posts, and that you’ll spend some time in the Yucatan soon!