Though Cancun is known for its luxurious resorts and pristine beaches, anyone who has visited this Mexican city knows that there is plenty to explore throughout the region. Beginning in the Hotel Zone – the heart of all activity in Cancun – tourists are able to take tours to Cancun’s rustic downtown area, charter scuba diving, and snorkeling expeditions, and even play golf on championship courses. One of the newest recreation options for Cancun’s visitors is Isla Mujeres, a small Caribbean island just a few miles from the mainland. Since modest development began in the 1970s, Isla Mujeres has been gaining popularity as a day trip destination from the resorts of Cancun.
Isla Mujeres (meaning “Island of Women”) gained its name from Spanish colonizers who landed here in the 16th century. Prior to their arrival, this small island was an uninhabited Mayan province known as Ekab. The Mayans treated the island as a sanctuary for Ixchel – the peaceful goddess of the moon. Upon finding several architectural and sculptural representations of this goddess, the expedition of Francisco
Fernandez de Cordoba christened the island “Isla Mujeres” in 1517. Though the Mayan ruins of Isla Mujeres don’t compare to sites such as Tulum and Chichen Itza, the former site of a temple on the southern coast has recently become an outdoor art museum. Punta Sur, an impressive cliff overlooking the Caribbean Sea, is the site of 23 massive modern art sculptures. Featuring the work of artists from throughout Latin America and select international sculptors, Punta Sur has become of favorite destination of art lovers and adventurous tourists worldwide.
Much like Cancun, there is plenty of natural beauty to experience on Isla Mujeres. Visitors often start their explorations in El Garafon National Park – the island’s popular aquatic sanctuary. Known for its calm waters and colorful fish, El Garafon has become one of the most popular snorkeling destinations in the Mexican Caribbean. The park also features a great aquarium that highlights the most interesting species of the region and some charming cafés and shops.
As visitors flock to Cancun for the white sand beaches, many tourists also choose to visit the beaches of Isla Mujeres. Though the beaches of Isla Mujeres might lack the grandeur of Cancun, beaches such as Playa Norte offer great places to swim and relax. On the western side of the island, lining the Bay of Mujeres, you will find the beaches known as Playa Paraiso, Playa Lancheros and Playa Indios. Besides offering all the amenities and recreation opportunities of larger beaches, this area is also a local hotspot for dining and shopping.
A large part of the expanding tourism industry on Isla Mujeres is devoted to ecotourism, an increasingly popular style of travel devoted to the admiration of natural beauty and the responsible exploration of unique ecosystems. One of the most popular activities for ecotourism is Birds’ Island, located just a short boat ride from Isla Mujeres. As the premier preserve for the Caribbean marine birds, Birds’ Island offers a rare opportunity to witness the region’s most interesting species in a natural habitat.
If your day trip to Isla Mujeres becomes an overnight stay, you can dine and dance in the village of Isla Mujeres. A walk through this charming fishing village will yield several restaurants serving the freshest seafood imaginable and friendly bars popular with the island’s small population of 13,000. You will also notice that the island has a very relaxed feeling in the evenings, as most visitors return to Cancun after completing day tours.
It is easier than ever to experience the unique world of Isla Mujeres as ferries leave the ports of Cancun every half hour for the short trip to the island. If you want to spend some time amongst the peaceful, crystal-clear Caribbean waters when you visit Cancun – make the short trip to the picturesque and historical “Island of Women.”