Friday, June 8, 2012

Visiting Isla Mujeres for the Weekend

Isla Mujeres (Isla) is by far one of Allan and my favorite spots to escape Playa del Carmen for a short weekend trip.  Besides having one of the most beautiful beaches we've ever seen, Isla posses this wonderful island charm that is hard to come by.  After having spent the past weekend exploring the island for the first time, both Allan and I are positive we'll be coming back again this summer.

Isla is only a 20 minute luxury, high speed ferry ride off the coast of Cancun at Puerto Juarez and only costs roughly $15 USD round trip per person. The ferries leave every half hour during the day providing a lot of flexibility for Allan and I, who tend to try to cramp a lot into one day are are usually running late for something.

Once in Isla the four of us crammed into a small taxi cab with luggage and within 4 minutes we had arrived at Cabanas del Maria del Mar ( on the north coast of the island.  Isla is only about 5 miles long and 1 mile wide, which make tranversing the island very easy.  Most people travel by golf cart!

The cabanas provided a no frills, comfortable option at an unbeatable price (roughly $40 USD for a double room per night).  The price is usually twice that but since we asked for a locals' discount we were able to secure the discount.  The hotel sits right on the beach and includes a small pool and free continental breakfast.  The rooms are nothing special but given the price and location, we will definitely be booking again!

Our arrival in Isla was greeted with heavy downpours and amazing thunderstorms which provided a wonderful light show.  The weather did not deter us from veturing out for a stroll and some dinner.  Low season (May - October) is a perfect time to visit since no one is around.  For dinner we enjoyed some Asian cuisine and great people watching.  The restaurant was located on what I call restaurant alley.  The street is charming yet a bit cramped with a myriad of ethnic restaurants from Argentian and Italian.  Between the outdoor dining, the pedestrians and the restaurant employees eagerly trying to solicit our business, I would think the street in high season would become quite crowded. 

Back at the hotel that evening Allan and I took a dip in the pool which was literally like bath water.  I guess there is something as a pool being too hot.  However, it was so refreshing enough and helped us to relax and sleep through the night.

We woke up next morning to a picture perfect day.  The water was this amazingly light colored blue that has to be one of the most beautiful beach sites I have ever seen. We ate our free breakfast of toast, coffee and juice under a thatched roof over looking the water, listening to classical music. What a way to start the day!

We decided to rent 2 golf carts for roughly $30 USD each from 9am to 5pm and used these to get around the island. One cart could have sufficed for the 4 of us but that would have meant 2 of us would be sitting on the back facing backward. 

Carting around the island was the ideal way to get around.  There are not a lot of cars and you really feel like you are on a Carribean island.  Isla is absolutely beautiful with gorgeous beaches and it seems people really care for their homes and shops.  Storefronts are well maintained and painted in bright Caribbean colors like light blue and yellow. Parks are well groomed and you don't see much poverty or rift raft.

Our first stop for the day was at a turtle farm where they breed and raise fresh water and sea turtles.  It was a great way to see the turtles up close and even observe other sea creatures in tanks like sea horses and octopuses.  You can pick up rays, fresh water turtles and conch, but not the sea turtles.  Then in the ocean in a decent sized enclosure was a nurse shark.  I'd say our local guide was one of the highlights as he let us break a few rules which I won't discuss here, and he added a lot of smiles and charm, always ready to help us or answer any questions (in Spanish).

After the turtle farm we went to vist the home of a very eccentric guy who built his home all from recycled materials. The base the home floats on is made from plastic bottles.  His home was originally in Puerto Aventuras, but it was destroyed in a storm, so he rebuilt in Isla.  We observed his make shift residence from the shore as it appeared he was not home.  We actually don't know the owner, nor have every met him and as he was not expecting us, I am not entirely surprised he was out.

For lunch that day we enjoyed an incredible meal at Pita Amore (  The menu is small and really only consists of pitas stuffed with meat like chicken or turkey and vegetables. However, the food is so delicious, it's not only highly rated on Trip Advisor, it's also been visited by celebrity Chef Jacques Pepin and is also now one of our favorite lunch spots in all of the Rivera Maya. The inside of the restaurant is a bit rustic, but the food is so good it doesn't matter.

After lunch we spent some time on the beach outside our hotel, as yachts moored not too far off shore.  The water was a warm 85 degrees and you could wade out hundreds of feet on the soft sand.  It was one of those days and places where we began to think how lucky we were to be living in such a beautiful spot.  We reflected back on our lives and what brought us to this point in our lives. We contemplated our friends and family who were all mostly back in cold climates not enjoying the warm waters of the Caribbean.  And it wasn't like this was just a rare vacation for us - we live only about an hour away, and Playa del Carmen is arguably just as nice.

Dinner that evening was scrumptious Mediterranean food at Olivias ( which consisted of pita, kebabs, salad and moussaka.  Olivias is also well rated on Trip Advisor. Without a doubt we'll be returning for dinner on our next trip this summer.

The following day was cloudy, but that did not prevent Scot and Allan from partaking in a small snorkeling adventure in a small inlet within walking distance of our cabanas at the Avalon Reef Club. From what I hear the variety and quantity of fish marvel that of Puerto Morelos.  Scot and Allan think the hotel must feed the fish to keep so many in such a small area.

After snorkeling it was time to leave the wonderful island.  Allan and I were already mentally planning another trip back before even departing.  Isla Mujeres is just so charming and beautiful.  We expect to return over and over!

Hotel Cabanas Maria del Mar

Night view of restaurant alley

Sea turtle at the turtle farm

Allan with a conch at the turtle farm

Our travel companions, Scot and Vicki

Allan and I with Cancun across the water

Allan and I on the north beach

View from the breakfast table

Snorkeling at the Avalon Hotel

Allan, Scot and I at the floating house

My and my golf cart

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