Perfect 24 Hour Itinerary for Isla Mujeres
Isla Mujeres is a spectacular region of Mexico located in the Yucatán Peninsula where you can enjoy one of the best holidays of your life. Our featured travel writer Katie Miltion lives here and below she shares her top tips on and an Itinerary for how to spend a perfect day in Isla Mujeres...
I was standing in line at the bank the other day and there was an American woman in front of me that could not exchange her money because she had forgotten her passport. After quickly contemplating whether there were any legalities that prevented me from exchanging money on her behalf, I asked if she would like me to exchange her dollars into pesos. She quickly agreed, thanked me, and started up a conversation.
“We’re here on vacation from Boston. We have triplets celebrating their 16th birthday. We’ve rented a Villa until Saturday and then we move somewhere else. It’s our first time here. Where are you from?” She breathlessly rambled. I responded, “I am from Minnesota but I live here now.” She squealed, “OOH! You live HERE? Wow!” I smiled and nodded. From experience, I know that this conversational exchange is always an interesting one. Many people don’t really know how to wrap their minds around the ex-pat lifestyle for some reason. Many times they’ll look at you as if you’ve just told them that you are an Alien from Mars. Before I knew it, the woman continued as she pulled out a pen and a small notebook from her bag, “So, what do you recommend?!”
I gave her a few suggestions that she seemed pleased with but if I would have had more time to give her a lengthy recommendation in line at the bank, this is what I would have said.
Grab a hearty breakfast at JAX restaurant located on the north corner of Rueda Medina. Owned by an American couple, JAX has a sports bar type of vibe and is one of the few places that serves up a traditional American breakfast. I particularly enjoy their dark coffee, fresh squeezed OJ, and their Huevos Rancheros. Opens at 8am.
After Breakfast: Find a local vendor that can help facilitate a golf cart or moped rental. Bicycles are available too but might not be the best bet if you aren’t into some heart pounding cardio. The island is about 8 miles in circumference and that doesn’t include exploring side streets and neighborhoods off the beaten path. You can usually find golf cart brokers hanging out in front of the Ultra Mar ferry terminal and can rent a golf cart for about 500 Mexican Pesos for 24 hours. Be sure to get your rental secured well before 10am as this is when they usually sell out during the high season.
There are 2 main roads that run the length of Isla Mujeres. One is generally referred to as the Caribbean Road (on the east side) and the other, the Cancun-Bay Side road (west side). This is putting it simply because if you look at a map you will also see that there is a small peninsula that juts out from the southern side of the Cancun-Bay Side road, known as the Sac Bajo Peninsula, as well as several smaller neighborhoods mid island.
I recommend heading south from downtown and taking a left at the end of the Navy Base so that you continue south on the Caribbean road. Once on this road, you will pass a small neighborhood known as the airport strip because the Navy’s airport is located on your right. There are several beautiful rental homes located here. There are also several scenic overlooks along this road where you can get up close and personal with the rocky shores of the Caribbean. Please remember to practice safe driving habits and if you are pulling over for photos, make sure that you use your turn signals, and that you are well out of the way of traffic.
Near the southern end of the island is a small community called, Guadalupaña. You will see some street side vendors selling shells and other assorted handicrafts. The small, rocky beach in front of Guadalupaña is a good place for collecting shells of your own.
Just south of the neighborhood of Guadalupaña and the waste treatment plant, you will come upon another neighborhood of fancier homes. The majority of these homes in this neighborhood are rental villas and many of them are quite beautiful. One of the most notable is known as the Shell House and it is shaped like a giant Conch Shell and has a little matching guesthouse. Many tourists enjoy taking photos of this property.
Continuing south, you will finally come upon the South Point, Punta Sur. Here you will find a beautiful plaza, some arts and crafts vendors, as well as a Sculpture Garden and the Mayan Ruins of Ixchel. I recommend going all the way down to the point so that you are literally at the easternmost tip of Mexico. If you are here for the sunrise, you will be the first person in the country to see the sun! For this reason, it is a very popular spot on New Year’s Eve.
After passing through the park at the south point you will round the corner and will find yourself at another beautiful scenic overlook of the Garrafon Reef Park with the Cancun skyline in the background. This is a very popular photo op!
Continuing north, just before the “round about” that leads to the Sac Bajo Peninsula you will come across a quiet beach restaurant called Playa Lancheros (on your left if you are heading north). This is the perfect place to chill out with a cold coconut and some Tixin Xic, which is a regional specialty. A white fish, usually Grouper or Snapper, is prepared with special seasonings such as Achiote and is garnished with onions, tomatoes, and peppers. A single serving for about 70 Mexican Pesos that includes sides will feed 2 people. There is a small, beautiful swimming beach where you can have a dip while waiting for your lunch.
Afternoon: After your lunch and a little rest, continue south and follow the road that leads to the Sac Bajo Peninsula. There are many beautiful rental homes located in this neighborhood as well as the Turtle Farm, which is a local non profit organization that helps preserve and protect the endangered sea turtles. There is a 30 peso admission fee to this small aquarium where you can see Sea Turtles in various stages of growth as well as other aquatic creatures. Their “touch tank” is a lot of fun for youngsters and those young at heart, and a great inspiration if you want to start your own small aquarium at home!
Near end of the Sac Bajo Peninsula you will find, Rolandis Hotel, which is Isla’s only 5 star hotel (complete with fancy rooms like the ‘Tony Blair Suite’), and Dolphin Discovery where you can swim with the dolphins! At the very end of this road is a very beautiful, recently renovated property known amongst the locals as the Corona House. The location of this house is magnificent! During the high season (Dec-March) at sunrise and sunset, this is a neat spot to watch the fishing boats come in and out.
Since the Sac Bajo Peninsula is a dead end, you’ll want to make your way back to the “round about” near Playa Lancheros. From there, head north on the Cancun-Bay Side road.
You’ll drive through several scenic Mexican neighborhoods and will have a chance to glimpse what life is like for the locals. As you begin to get closer to downtown you will come across several bars and restaurants, all located on the Makax lagoon, that are a keen place to grab a happy hour cocktail or an early dinner. From south to north, keep an eye out for the following:
• Chuuk Kay Restaurant: Past the Chedraui grocery store you will see a sandwich board on the west side of the road. Follow the signs for cold buckets of beer, tasty food, and live music on the weekends.
• Marina Paraiso: Located about a quarter mile north of Chuuk Kay on the west side of the road is a smaller unassuming marina. They have a quaint little palapa bar, a beautiful infinity pool, and Paella and beer bucket specials on Sundays. Lots of fish tales are exchanged by boaters and captains at this marina.
• Soggy Peso: Owned by a couple from Texas, this Palapa bar offers very cold beer and a Jimmy Buffet vibe. I strongly recommend trying their specialty drink, Ojo Rojo and their BBQ Rib Specials on Sundays. The Soggy Peso is located about 2 doors north of Marina Paraiso opposite the airport strip.
• Bahia Tortuga: Just one more door down from the Soggy Peso is Bahia Tortuga which is another fun little Palapa bar that frequently has live music and occasional Karaoke. I strongly recommend their Philly Steak sandwiches!
As you head back in to town you will come across a large whale shark statue that is another neat photo op on the west side of the road just before the car ferry. Snap a few pics before heading back to your hotel for a quick shower and a change of clothes.
This is when the pedestrian street of Hidalgo comes alive! You will find tons of good shopping, restaurants, and bars for the late night crowd. There are a plethora to choose from. In Mexico the “party” doesn’t get started until late (10pm or later) and can sometimes go until the wee hours of morning. Take your time enjoying some coffee or dessert after dinner and pick up a few souvenirs while waiting for the entertainment to begin! During the high season you can find lots of dinner and drink specials at almost all establishments as well as street performers, live music, and dancing. Hidalgo street is only about a 1/2 mile long and is a very nice stroll in the evenings.
By Katie Milton