Isla Mujeres Magic: Insider Tips for Exploring Playa Norte
Isla Mujeres is a small island in Quintana Roo, including Playa Norte, one of its best beaches.
Just 20 minutes from Cancun, you will find this beautiful island with fine sand beaches and clear turquoise waters.
People come here mainly to relax on Playa Norte, considered one of the best beaches in the world, and to snorkel and dive in the world’s second-largest reef (Belize Barrier Reef).
The history of Isla Mujeres dates back to the Mayan Empire, which considered it a sacred and perfect place to worship Ixchel, goddess of the moon, fertility, and medicine.
It is said that the great Mayan warriors were madly in love with her; no one could resist her beauty; she was simply the perfect woman.
Upon arriving in this area, the Spanish Conquistadors found several sculptures in the shape of a woman and decided to give them the name Isla Mujeres.
Where is Playa Norte (Isla Mujeres)?
As its name suggests, it is located in the northern sector of the beautiful Isla Mujeres.
You must board a ferry in Cancun’s hotel zone or Puerto Juarez to access the island.
After you get to the island’s maritime terminal and less than a km to the left, you will find Playa Norte.
TOP hotels in Isla Mujeres
I don’t recommend arriving at Isla Mujeres without a reservation because prices go up easily, and everything fills up quickly.
Here are some of my recommendations for all budgets:
- Privilege Aluxes Isla Mujeres Adults Only is a gorgeous new oceanfront hotel, beautifully decorated, with nice pools, hammocks, a bar, and a terrace.
- Cabanas Maria del Mar is a small charming hotel perfect for a romantic stay in Isla Mujeres at reasonable rates
- Mia Reef Isla Mujeres Resort is known for its unique location on El Yunque Islet. It is surrounded by water and has a private beach, pool, bar, and restaurant. The hotel is less luxurious than the Privilege Aluxes but welcomes children (there is even a babysitting service and a game room)
TOP things to do in Isla Mujeres
Visit the Garrafon Natural Reef Park
Garrafon Natural Park is a must-see on Isla Mujeres, as it hosts a gorgeous place to relax and many activities.
The beaches of Isla Mujeres are usually overcrowded, and the great advantage here is that it offers a much quieter and more exclusive alternative.
It is a small private beach that can be accessed by paying an entrance fee (the basic one starts at 1300 pesos) that gives access to lounge chairs, umbrellas, three zip lines, an oceanfront pool, kayaks, and snorkeling equipment.
You may want to read: Isla Mujeres or Cozumel: Which Will Win Your Heart?
It is ideal for scuba diving since Garrafon park is part of the longest coral reef in the northern hemisphere and is home to a rich ecosystem.
You can also relax in the hammocks among the palm trees where there is a restaurant.
Garrafon de Castilla
Right next to Garrafón Park is its “cheaper” version, much less crowded and quieter: Garrafón de Castilla.
Of course, you don’t come here if you’re looking for luxury, but it’s the perfect option for visiting Isla Mujeres on a budget.
It’s a simple beach club that offers the same great waters for swimming or snorkeling, a restaurant, and the basic facilities you need to have a good time (lounge chairs, lockers, showers).
The entrance fee is about 100 pesos (includes snorkel equipment rental and lockers).
Explore Punta Sur
South Isla Mujeres is Punta Sur, the highest point on the Yucatan Peninsula.
It is a must-see in Isla Mujeres for its magnificent ocean views, its sculpture park with 23 outdoor sculptures, and the ancient temple dedicated to Ixchel, the Mayan goddess of the moon and fertility.
It is accessed through the Garrafon Natural Park, a beautiful path facing the Caribbean Sea.
Playa Norte in Isla Mujeres
Year after year, Playa Norte keeps appearing on the Travellers Choice Top 10 list of the world’s best beaches.
You’ll understand why when you see its white sand and calm, warm, shallow waters!
The water is so shallow that you can walk about 200 meters into the sea without the water reaching above your waist.
This 1 km long public beach has different sections. There is a quieter part with restaurants (instead of bars), which is ideal if you travel to Isla Mujeres with your family.
It is a very touristy beach and fills up quickly in high season, but it is also one of the most expansive beaches in Mexico (100 m wide), so you won’t feel overwhelmed by the crowds like other places.
Watching the sunset at Playa Norte is a beautiful spectacle; for the early birds, the sunrise is also breathtaking.
You can rent lounge chairs with umbrellas (200 pesos for the whole day), snorkeling equipment, and kayaks.
Enjoy the less touristy beaches
Although Playa Norte is the most famous beach on Isla Mujeres, there are others worth a visit, such as Playa El Pescador, Playa Tiburón, Playa Paraiso, Playa Na Balam, etc.
At Playa Pancholo, the sea is rough, so there are few people.
It is ideal for sunbathing on the beach, but not for swimming.
Playa Lancheros is a small beach known for its restaurant serving Tikin Xic fish.
It gets crowded at lunchtime, so it is best to go in the morning or after 3 pm when it is quiet.
Another lovely beach I like a lot is Playa Sol, next to Playa Norte.
Its water is calm and perfect for swimming or snorkeling. It is also less crowded and less expensive than Playa Norte.
Sunbathing at Kin Há Park
This little hidden treasure is much less frequented than in the Playa Norte area.
Few people know about it, and that’s why it’s a must-see on Isla Mujeres.
“El Parque de Los Sueños,” also called “Kin Há,” is a beach club that allows you to enjoy the island to the fullest.
It is a small complex facing the Caribbean Ocean that houses a restaurant with a terrace, an infinity pool with a bar, several areas to relax under the sun, and easy access to the sea.
- Getting to Kin Ha: 15 minutes by cab from the maritime terminal (100 pesos)
- Open from 8 am to 11 pm
- The entrance fee is 400 pesos, of which 300 pesos are refundable for consumption
Stroll through the streets of Isla Mujeres
Of course, Isla Mujeres has a lot to offer beyond its beautiful beaches. If you have time, don’t hesitate to stroll around the island:
- Miguel Hidalgo Street: it is the main street of Isla Mujeres with 3km of stores, restaurants, bars, and live music. You can walk along with it day and night without any problem
- The colors of Isla Mujeres: with its street art and colorful houses (don’t miss the Crayola House), walking through its streets is really a pleasure for the eyes
- Walk along the boardwalk: it is the perfect place to tour the island from north to south in 40 minutes, overlooking the sea. Along the promenade, there are several points of interest, such as the statue “la Trigueña” and the colorful Isla Mujeres sign (corner with Abasolo street), which is the perfect place to take pictures
Snorkeling in paradise
Snorkeling is a must-do activity in Isla Mujeres for two reasons: its transparent waters and its proximity to the Great Mayan Reef, the second-largest in the world after Australia’s.
If you want to snorkel in Isla Mujeres without hiring a tour, you can go near the MIA hotel in Playa Norte.
Keep in mind that taking a tour allows you to see much more!
I also recommend you to go to beach clubs like Kin Ha, Garrafon de Castilla, and especially Parc Garrafon, which provide you with the equipment.
El Farito (5 minutes by boat) is one of the most famous dive sites on Isla Mujeres.
It is the smallest lighthouse on the island, surrounded by a reef with fish, corals, and the submerged statue of the Virgen del Farito, the patron saint of fishermen.
You can get there with a 1-hour tour, but I recommend taking the longer tour that includes part of the Underwater Art Museum at Manchones reef.
Diving at Manchones Reef
There are about 50 dive sites in the area for all levels (from beginner to advanced).
My best recommendation is to go to Manchones Reef, which contains numerous corals and fish and is part of the MUSA, the largest underwater museum in the world with 470 sculptures.
These statues were created to replace corals that have disappeared due to mass tourism and pollution. It is, therefore, a second habitat for the biodiversity that inhabits the seabed.
You cannot dive in Manchones alone as you need the equipment and a boat, so you must hire a tour.
Try the Mayan specialty in Isla Mujeres
A specialty of Isla Mujeres is Tikin Xik fish: a grilled fish with onion, achiote, and other spices.
It is a Mayan recipe I had already tried when I visited El Cuyo Yucatan.
Still, I recommend ordering it at the restaurant at Playa Lancheros or Playa Tiburón.
It is a large sharing dish (about 300 pesos) with rice and salad.
Also, the view is very nice, and the waves are calm, so it’s a perfect place to enjoy Isla Mujeres with kids.
Discover Isla Contoy
Only 30 km from Isla Mujeres is Isla Contoy: one of the most beautiful destinations in Mexico!
This small, almost deserted island is a national park home to the Mexican Caribbean’s most important seabird nesting site.
Access is limited to 200 people per day, and it is mandatory to book a tour to have the opportunity to enjoy its calm beaches and clear waters.
The visit to Contoy includes free time on the beach, a short guided tour of its trails (optional), and a good lunch of Tikinxik fish.
This is paradise on earth!
Swim with whale sharks in Isla Mujeres
This is a great activity to do in Isla Mujeres!
Between June and September, whale sharks come to enjoy the warm waters of Isla Mujeres and Holbox, and this is an opportunity to observe them up close.
Fortunately, they are protected. You can swim with the whale sharks with a guide, respecting certain rules:
- It is forbidden to dive with them, but you can approach them by swimming or snorkeling at a maximum distance of 2m
- It is forbidden to touch or feed them
- It is forbidden to jump into the water from a boat
And don’t be afraid: at 12 meters long, the whale shark is the largest fish in the world, but it’s harmless.
Support local craftswomen
If you want to bring back a souvenir from Isla Mujeres, I recommend you stop by the Cooperativa de Mujeres Artesanas de Isla Mujeres.
It is a tiny place where several craftswomen sell bracelets, earrings, and colorful necklaces.
It is the best way to promote the local economy responsibly and at a reasonable price. Besides, they are very friendly.
Address: La Gloria MZA. 160 Lot 5, Isla Mujeres. Outside you will see a sign “The Women’s Bead Cooperative” and “Artesanías de Mujeres de Isla Mujeres”.
Sailing on a catamaran
Taking a catamaran tour in Isla Mujeres is one of the best ways to enjoy the sun and sea in the Riviera Maya.
It is a day tour from Cancun with music and an open bar (alcoholic and non-alcoholic), perfect for relaxing in a festive atmosphere.
It takes you snorkeling on the reef (1h), with free time on Isla Mujeres, and includes lunch on the beach.
I recommend this catamaran tour to Isla Mujeres from Cancun with pick up at your hotel at an excellent price. Check with your local concierge.
Built by “retired” pirate Fermín Mundaca in 1862, Hacienda Mundaca or Hacienda Vista Alegre covered almost half of the island and was surrounded by beautiful gardens.
He dedicated it to a beautiful local woman known as the “trigueña” to convince her to marry him, but she decided to marry someone else (bummer).
Today you can visit the remains of the hacienda with its gardens, part of the house, some sculptures, canyons, and a pond. There are also iguanas walking around.
Fishing in Isla Mujeres
Although it is possible to fish in Isla Mujeres, both offshore and inshore, there are several things to keep in mind:
It is not easy to fish off the coast of Isla Mujeres: there are many rocks, and besides the swimming and snorkeling areas, you have to be careful not to fish on the reefs, as they are protected.
You can find mainly barracudas and other species, such as yellowtail on the coast.
Offshore you will find dorado, sarda, mackerel, etc.
In Mexico, you don’t need a permit to fish offshore, but you must keep a distance of 200 meters from swimmers.
You need a permit to fish from a boat (even a kayak).
That’s why it is best to go with a guide, either onshore or offshore.
When renting a fishing boat, the captain includes the license in the price.
Fishing in Isla Mujeres implies a certain budget: around 200$ USD for 4 hours or 400$ USD to 2000$ USD for 8 hours of deep-sea fishing (it all depends on the type of boat, etc.).
Visit the cemetery
I am always amazed by the colorful tombs in Mexican cemeteries.
The Isla Mujeres cemetery may indeed be an unusual visit for some, but I enjoyed discovering it with its shades of blue, flowers, candles, and original monuments.
There is also the tomb of Fermín Mundaca (remember the one at Hacienda Mundaca that I talked about above?). It is recognizable by the skull and crossed tibias, a reference to his life as a pirate.
It is actually empty because he died in Merida and was never repatriated to the island.
Admire the turtle sanctuary of Isla Mujeres
The “tortugranja,” or turtle farm, is a place of interest in Isla Mujeres.
It is not a place where turtles are exploited and where you can swim with them, but a preservation site.
There are sea and land turtles and an aquarium with fish and various marine species.
Isla Mujeres is an important nesting site for giant turtles between May and September.
The government now protects them, and their eggs are kept in a safe place away from predators.
The little turtles are placed in tanks, and travelers and youngsters from the island’s schools help them return to their natural habitat.
Participate in a yoga class
There are several yoga studios on Isla Mujeres, but the Treehouse is my favorite, as the classes are held in front of Playa Norte.
It is the perfect place to start the day with the sound of the waves of the Caribbean Sea.
Classes are Monday through Saturday at 7:30 am, and 9:00 am and Wednesday through Saturday at 6:00 pm.
I recommend taking the class in the morning because there is hardly anyone on the beach and it is very quiet.
Isla Mujeres Museum
This is the only museum on Isla Mujeres; of course, it’s a maritime (underwater) museum.
The Captain Dulché museum features explorers Ramón Bravo, Jacques Cousteau, and Ernesto Dulché Escalante.
There are photographs, beautiful model ships, anchors, and various maritime objects related to the island.
In addition to the museum, there is a beach club with a restaurant and bar, a volleyball court, a swimming pool, small cabanas, and deck chairs on the beach.
Getting around Isla Mujeres
The car is not the best way to get around here, as there are few parking spaces on the island.
If you prefer a motorized vehicle, the best options are bicycles, golf carts, and scooters.
The average cost of a golf cart on Isla Mujeres is 850 pesos for the day, from 10 am to 5 pm. You will still need a driver’s license.
There are several rental companies, and prices go down farther from the pier.
Please don’t fall for salespeople when disembarking from the ferry: they take a commission.
The island is relatively small, so it is also possible to discover it on foot.
But the sun is intense, so it is best to start the day early and wear sunblock and a hat.
How to get from Cancun airport to Isla Mujeres
It is easy to get to Isla Mujeres from Cancun airport (Terminal 2 for international flights).
First, you must go to Puerto Juarez to take the ferry. Here are the different ways to get there:
- By cab: the advantage, of course, is that there is no waiting time and the trip is direct, but it is the most expensive option
- By bus: ADO bus lines leave every 30 minutes and go to downtown Cancun (around 90 pesos). Then you have to go from downtown Cancun to Puerto Juarez by cab (about 100 pesos)
- By public transport: colectivos (shared cabs) are the cheapest option, but you have to wait for the van to fill up
Going from Cancun to Isla Mujeres by ferry
To go to Isla Mujeres, you must take the ferry from Cancun.
There are different piers:
- Puerto Juarez: only 3 km from downtown. With 2 docks practically next to each other, the most recent and with better boats is called Gran Puerto. 30-minute trip with Ultramar, departing every 30 minutes from 5 am to 8:30 pm, then every hour until 11:30 pm. The ferry to Isla Mujeres from Puerto Juarez costs 160 pesos one way or 300 pesos round trip
- Cancun hotel zone: there are 3 piers with Ultramar – Playa Tortugas, Playa Caracol, El Embarcadero (Playa Linda). Check with your concierge for prices and schedules
Getting from Playa del Carmen to Isla Mujeres
To go from Playa del Carmen to Cancun, the ferry takes 1 hour. You can get to the pier either by bus or car.
If you don’t have a rental car, you can take private transportation (about 500-600 pesos one way) or the ADO bus that leaves every 15 minutes from the Alternate Terminal in Playa del Carmen for 80 pesos.
Be careful to choose the correct arrival terminal, not the one at the Cancun airport.
Once you arrive at the ADO bus Terminal in Cancun, you can take a cab to Puerto Juarez or a Route 1 bus that passes in front of the station.
Can I bring luggage on the ferry?
Yes, your ticket includes one piece of luggage up to a maximum of 25 kg.
Beware of scams at the pier.
In Puerto Juarez, someone may approach you, saying that the ferry has been canceled (which is not true) to sell you private transport.
Although these private boats are legit, they are much more expensive and take longer than the ferry.
Can you cross a car by ferry?
Yes, you can. Punta Sam is the only place to take the ferry with a car, 8 km from Cancun.
It takes about 45 minutes to get to Isla Mujeres. I recommend arriving an hour earlier.
Isla Mujeres or Isla Holbox?
I am often asked which is better, but they are entirely different.
There are more activities in Isla Mujeres, more restaurants, and stores, so it is an ideal place for friends, couples, and families.
But there are also many more tourists, and there is a lot of hustle and bustle during the day as most visitors come to spend the day from Cancun.
People don’t come to Isla Mujeres to rest in a place of complete peace but to enjoy the sun in a more festive atmosphere.
Although Holbox has developed in recent years, it is still much less touristy than Isla Mujeres.
The streets are dirt roads, and the atmosphere is very relaxed and even a bit hippy, with small hotels.
There are long sandy beaches with few people. It’s magical!
But remember that there are more mosquitoes and the streets get muddy when it rains.
How about money (currencies)?
US dollars are accepted in Isla Mujeres, but the exchange rate is unfavorable: it is better to pay with Mexican pesos.
You can exchange up to 300 USD with your passport at HSBC, Banamex, Banco Azteca, or CI Bank.
Unfortunately, there are cases of card fraud on the island, so I suggest you use your credit card only to pay for the hotel and other trusted establishments.
Several ATMs can withdraw pesos, but it is important to use only bank ATMs.
Is Isla Mujeres safe?
Isla Mujeres is safe, and there is a police presence on the streets, but as with everywhere else (especially tourist destinations), there are expert pickpockets.
So don’t leave your bag unattended, don’t leave valuables (e.g., your camera) in the golf cart, etc.
Best time to go:
- The high season is from November to April: it is dry, and the temperature is around 25C
- The low season is from June to October: risk of hurricanes, more rain, high humidity
- The best time to go to Isla Mujeres is from December to March