An aerial view of Isla Mujeres, Mexico
travel guide

Isla Mujeres, Mexico: reefs, relics and whale sharks

Planning a trip to Isla Mujeres? Stay at Nomads Hotel and book a snorkelling tour to explore the underwater museum and Manchones Reef.

Situated just off the coast of Mexico’s Yucatan Peninsula, Isla Mujeres is a place steeped in history. The small island was significant to Mayan civilization - it was dedicated to Ixchel, the goddess of the moon, love, and fertility.

The name ‘Women Island’ comes from relics resembling the female form that were found on the beach, left by ancient worshippers. When the figures were discovered by the Spanish in 1517, Captain Francisco Hernández de Córdoba named the island Isla Mujeres.

Though many of the relics and Mayan temples have since been destroyed by storms, the island still retains its charm and mystery.

Visit the sculpture park at Punta Sur to learn more about the island, or for something completely different, explore the statues and deities at the underwater world of MUSA. The island also has a prime location on the Mesoamerican Barrier Reef, making it an excellent base for visiting the second biggest coral reef system in the world.

Playa Norte Beach in Isla Mujeres, Mexico

Is Isla Mujeres worth visiting?

Many choose to visit Isla Mujeres as a day trip, but I would argue that if you are looking for peace and quiet, Isla Mujeres is a better choice to base yourself than Cancun.

Cancun is the gateway to the Yucatan peninsula, full of all-inclusive resorts, great nightlife and plenty of things to do. However, Isla Mujeres has one thing Cancun doesn’t: tranquillity.

Add to that pristine white sand beaches, beautiful snorkelling spots and cosy restaurants and you have a reason to stay in Isla Mujeres for more than just one day.

When to visit Isla Mujeres

The tropical climate in Isla Mujeres means there isn’t much of a temperature difference year-round. The cooler months of November to April have average temperatures of between 23°C and 26°C. As the weather is dry and relatively cool, this is the high season for tourists to the island.

March to September temperatures can get as high as 32°C with the most rainfall between May to November. Hurricane season is also something to be aware of - it peaks in the height of the wet season between September and October.

For snorkelling, water temperatures average 26°C between the months of January to March, and 29°C between July and September. Isla Mujeres is a great place to visit throughout the year and has a similar climate to much of the Yucatan.

A scooter outside colourful buildings on Isla Mujeres, Mexico

How to get to Isla Mujeres

Just a short 20-minute ferry ride from the coast of Cancun, Isla Mujeres is the perfect destination for relaxation, palm fringed beaches, and world class diving and snorkelling in turquoise waters.

To get to the island from Cancun, take a short taxi ride or a public bus to the Puerto Juárez ferry terminal and buy your tickets at the Ultramar ferry dock. A round-trip ticket costs around 300 pesos and boats run every 30 minutes.

There aren’t any big roads on Isla Mujeres, so golf carts, mopeds and motorcycles are the main ways of getting around. Public transportation is available with a bus service running the length of the island and taxis can be pretty much everywhere.

Where to stay on Isla Mujeres

If you want to be close to all of the best Isla Mujeres restaurants as well as some of the best beaches, Playa Norte is the best area to stay in Isla Mujeres. For an all-inclusive hotel on Isla Mujeres try Privilege Aluxes, a five star adults only beachfront hotel with two outdoor pools and a spa.

For those on more of a budget, Nomads Hotel & Beach Club is set on its very own private stretch of beach. Offering hotel rooms, hostel style dorms and a beach club, it caters to a wide variety of visitors.

The south of the island is much quieter and a great place to stay in Isla Mujeres for families. Casa Azul Maya offers a peaceful retreat just a short walk to El Garrafón National Park.

Statues in the Museum of Underwater Art in Isla Mujeres, Mexico

Things to do on Isla Mujeres

For ocean lovers, snorkelling and diving are the top things to do in Isla Mujeres. Visit MUSA, the Museo Subacuático de Arte, an underwater art installation with over 500 life size sculptures that provides a home to marine life. Other dive sites include the Cave of the Sleeping Sharks, Machones Reef, and the Navy Boat Shipwreck.

For a more land-based activity, visit Escultura Diosa Ixchel, a sculpture park on Punta Sur located on the site of a Mayan temple dedicated to the goddess of fertility, Ixchel. Wander the rocky shoreline at sunset for some of the best views of the island.

Take a day trip to the protected Isla Contoy, located 30 km north of Isla Mujeres. The islet is a wildlife reserve and bird sanctuary and was declared a National Park in 1998. You will be able to spot nesting seabirds and sea turtles on the beach from a scenic boat trip around the island.

Whale sharks near Isla Mujeres

One of the biggest attractions for visiting Isla Mujeres are the gentle giants that visit the warm waters every year. From June through to September you will have the chance to swim with whale sharks, hundreds gather here to take advantage of an abundance of plankton and fish spawn created by the joining of the Gulf of Mexico and the Caribbean Sea. Make sure to stay at least two metres away from them at all times and take a responsible tour to help preserve this natural spectacle.

Colourful boats docked on a beach on Isla Mujeres, Mexico

A day trip to Isla Mujeres

Organised day trips to Isla Mujeres tend to include a sailing trip, snorkelling, lunch on the boat, and a quick stop at the island to see the major sites. If you want to get a better feel for this beautiful spot, visit independently instead.  As mentioned above, regular ferries run between Isla Mujeres from Cancún centre throughout the day and well into the night. Here are some recommendations on what to do when you get there.

Some visitors could happily spend the whole day relaxing on the popular Playa Norte, a soft white-sand beach lined with palm trees. But there are other ways to spend your time. Visit Isla Animals to play with puppies and walk stray dogs. The rescue centre accepts volunteers every day from 10:00 am to 4:00 pm, no appointment is necessary.

For lunch, head to Mercado Municipal for the best fish tacos and empanadas on the island. Then, in the afternoon take a cycle tour or hit the shops for some local souvenirs. Make a stop at the Sea Wall Murals or hire a golf cart to explore the island further.

In the evening visit the Zocalo on Isla Mujeres to find Mexican street food vendors and their local delicacies, as well as music and sometimes dancing. For sunset, why not take a catamaran cruise around the island? Sip cocktails while enjoying the many beautiful views of this part of the Caribbean.

Clear water and palm trees on Isla Mujeres, Mexico

Places to avoid in Isla Mujeres

Try to avoid attractions that treat animals poorly, unfortunately the very sealife that attracts visitors to Isla Mujeres is often exploited for cheap entertainment. Never touch the whale sharks/turtles/coral and do your research in advance to book a tour that supports the conservation of the species that live here.

The Tortugranja or “Turtle Farm” has been embroiled in scandal and is no longer open to tourists. It’s also best to avoid Garrafon Natural Reef Park, which is an entertainment centre that uses captive animals to entertain tourists, housing them in small enclosures.

Where to next

Many visitors will head back to the mainland by ferry to explore the other sights of the Yucatan. No trip to the area is complete without a visit to Chichen Itza. Even though the Mayan site is one of the most visited New Seven Wonders of the World, it is still a mesmerising place to explore.

In the north, the state capital of Merida has several other Mayan sites to uncover, as well as being a beautiful town to stay in for a while. Touristy Playa del Carmen and the divers paradise of Cozumel is a little further down the coast; explore cenotes, wide open beaches, and coral caves under the ocean currents.

Closer to the border with Belize is the digital nomad hub of Tulum, with its white sand beaches, trendy shops, and global restaurants, it’s no wonder so many expats settle here.

When it's time to leave the easy life of the Yucatan make sure to make a stop in Mexico City. The country's capital is jam packed with archaeological sites like Teotihuacan, a lively local culture like the Lucha Libre shows, and some of the best street food in Mexico

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Jo Williams

Author - Jo Williams

Jo Williams is a freelance writer with 10 years' experience working in travel and tourism. A Brit who got fed up with the 9 to 5 corporate life, she sold everything to become a full-time wanderer.

Jo has travelled to over 70 countries and worked throughout Europe for a major tour operator. She hopes to inspire you to work less and travel more.

Last Updated 27 January 2024

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Situated in North America, Mexico is famous for its warm weather, sunny beaches and fascinating history.