Mexico Vacation Filter
March 24, 2005 2:22 PM   Subscribe

My husband and I want to take a 7-9 day vacation in July-August. I am looking at La Isla Mujeres in Mexico and want to know if anyone has been there and what you thought of it. Also, do you have places you love in Mexico? We are looking for off the beaten path places. We are into hiking, snorkeling, ruins, stuff like that. (Not the Cancun type of people.) It must be on the water.
posted by aacheson to Travel & Transportation around Isla Mujeres, Mexico (21 answers total) 6 users marked this as a favorite
What's the budget?

Also, I have heard (but do not know firsthand) that the poverty situation on Isla Mujeres is really bad and pretty depressing for a vacation.
posted by Mid at 2:30 PM on March 24, 2005

Response by poster: We have a pretty good budget, but would rather not spend the whole time in $200/night hotels (although we've been known to take a couple of days and stay in a place like that.) It's fine to stay in small hotels as long as it's a cool place. We'd rather spend $ on seeing stuff and eating. But buget isn't a HUGE concern.
posted by aacheson at 2:35 PM on March 24, 2005

An ex-girlfriend once told me of a family vacation she took with her mother, brothers, and grandfather to la Isla de Mujeres...
Her account was one of awe and beauty, despite the conditions that Mid described. In fact, I think because of the realness (read: no polished tourist veneer) of the Mexican experience there she had a great time. Perhaps the poverty of the area has been assuaged by the influx of tourism (however slight it may be), perhaps not.
posted by schyler523 at 3:00 PM on March 24, 2005

Tulum sounds like it might have the all things you're looking for. There are some pretty cool places to stay there, although many run on solar power and do not have air conditioning.
posted by sonnet at 3:23 PM on March 24, 2005

My friends go to Isla Mujeres every Christmas. Obviously, they adore it. It's definitely off the beaten path, but they rave about feeling like you're the only person there, getting to know the people they come back to every year, perfect beaches and delicious food. Sorry I don't know any more details, but it's their second home, pretty much, and they adore it.
posted by GaelFC at 3:40 PM on March 24, 2005

Tulum is very nice. It's a reasonably short and inexpensive bus-ride from Cancun. The main town is inland by about a mile or so, but there are plenty of hotel/cabana places on the beach. There are small but spectacular ruins on cliffs just to the north. There's a number of snorkel boats hanging around the posh hotels just to the north. Nice beach-front restaurants and seafood. We loved Tulum, and are tempted to try Isla Mujerres next time.

Frontier has pretty cheap flights to Cancun (I don't know if they go from CA).
posted by carter at 3:40 PM on March 24, 2005

Hooo-boy. Avoid Isla Mujeres at ALL COSTS!! If the giant sand fleas don't suck you dry, the roving bands of blood sucking scorpions will!! DON'T GO THERE!! PLEASE!

(It's beautiful, and the people are delightful, the food is excellent, the beaches are gorgeous, and the margaritas are cheap. There are dozens of delightful, inexpensive hotels in which to stay. Snorkeling is O.K., there are no ruins to speak of, but the beach and food are great.)

I'd second the Tulum vote, cool ruins, nice beach, cheap and comfy places to stay. You can fly into Cancun really cheaply and take a bus to Tulum. I'd recommend El Crucero. Convenient to the bus stop, the ruins, and the beach.
I love Mexico.
posted by Floydd at 3:42 PM on March 24, 2005

P.S. It will probably be a little warm for hiking in Tulum in July/August. If you want an adventure, you could get a bus to Chichen Itza. There's a gorgeous resort there attached to the ruins, to stay the night.
posted by carter at 3:45 PM on March 24, 2005

I strongly recommend the Yucatan Peninsula. Playa de Carmen, which is 30 minutes south of Cancun, has dozens of great hotels and resturants at affordable prices. It seems to attract a lot of European travelers whereas the spring breakers stay in Cancun (a bonus in my opinion).

South of Playa de Carmen is Paamul, a peaceful little town with great scuba diving

Further south you will find Tulum which isn't as impressive as Chichen Itza but the breathtaking ocean view more than makes up for it.

Have fun on your trip.
posted by chicken nuglet at 3:58 PM on March 24, 2005

I loved Isla Mujeres. Just picture a beach as beautiful as the one at Cancun, but without the rowdy spring-breaker/MTV crowd (actually, you'll most likely leave from Cancun to go to Isla Mujeres). Isla Mujeres is (was? I was there about 10 years ago) much smaller, much less crowded, and much more mellow. Great to have beer in a hammock & feel the breeze come in off the beach.

Tulum was nice too but I don't remember too much about it.

Chichén Itzá is definitely not off the beaten path and, I think, probably not what you're looking for: it's sort of the Disneyland of ruins: all the lines have been replumbed; it's almost too clean; I don't remember any major body of water nearby.

Uxmal was better IMO, though I don't remember any major water bodies. Palenque was quite impressive but a long bus ride up a nauseatingly twisty mountain path (if you take any bus trips up a mountain, don't sit at the *back* of the bus).

There was one set of ruins I visited at Cobá which was tiny but sort of the opposite of Chichén Itzá: the front was very uneven, and the excavators hadn't even cleaned off all the trees that had been growing up the back of the ruins when it was discovered. There were goats grazing on the front of the ruins when I arrived from the hotel (early morning) and a wide lake behind them. The town that set is in was very very small; if I remember right it had one motel and two restaurants and I could walk from one end to the other in under ten minutes. There was some sort of park or attraction nearby but I didn't visit it and don't remember what it was. In terms of architecture, these ruins were also a bit small (especially compared to, well, any of the others I've mentioned) but if you want off the beaten path, that would qualify. The question then would be how much you think you can fit into the time you have, and how much fun you'd expect it to be. I couldn't tell you about hiking or snorkeling, as I spent most of my time visiting ruins.

Oh, and definitely visit a cenote while you're there. There's one I ran across (but I forgot where--so sorry--I think this is it) that was positively a spiritual experience: a cavern with a hole in the top, letting in a beam of light that angled down through the mist into a shockingly cold underground lake, roots all around dangling towards the water (some of them made it).

Anyway, I hope this gives you some more leads to pursue. Best of luck, and don't forget to bring bottled water, avoid ice, and shower with your mouth closed. ^_^
posted by Tuwa at 4:03 PM on March 24, 2005

Ohhh, O.K. Since Tulum will be pretty warm, here's where to go for Isla info. Hotel Francis-Arlene has air, no pool, is close to the beach and the "action," is family run, and has delightful rooms. For a snorkling or fishing trip, or a trip to Isla Contoy to see the Frigate birds, talk to Capt. Tony. You can e-mail me for contact info.
I just got back from Isla Mujeres two weeks ago, and I'm already planning my next trip.

Just don't tell anyone. Too many people will ruin it....
posted by Floydd at 4:08 PM on March 24, 2005

We were in Cancun in January with my family and we took a boat over to Isla Mujueres for an afternoon. It was quite lovely, with a nice beach, nice town, and easy to roam. Small, though - we drove around nearly the whole thing in an hour and a half on a golf cart.

I wouldn't say it's really off the beaten track though, the ferries go over many times a day, and there were a ton of people there and it wasn't high tourist season. Still, it was nice, and it felt so much more like a real place than Cancun (which I disliked, other than that I got to go away on a vacation somewhere). You can go snorkeling from the Isla, they were offering tours, though we didn't take one. And there was a hostel there that I've heard good things about.

Down the coast as others have said, to Tulum, is marvellous. Quite close to Cancun, so you can fly in there. Try Atkun-Chen while you're there, a fantastic cave system.
posted by livii at 4:14 PM on March 24, 2005

Not to be all self-linky, but I have a few photos of Isla Mujueres on flickr. Though I fucked up because it was my first time using it and some of the photos are really small.

Anyway, this is the main street in the town, on Isla Mujueres, this is the "end" of the island, although the garden seen in the photo requires payment, and this is a cenote, which like Tuwa says is an absolute must if you're in the area. There are lots around Tulum; we went in this one closer to Chichén Itzá.
posted by livii at 4:21 PM on March 24, 2005

Response by poster: FFLOYD, Your email address isn't in your profile! How do I email you????

Thank you everyone for the input! Keep it coming! Esp. hotels & snorkel spots.
posted by aacheson at 5:10 PM on March 24, 2005

Response by poster: Whoops, FLOYDD. My mistake.
posted by aacheson at 5:10 PM on March 24, 2005

I've heard Zipolite is really great if you REALLY want to get off the beaten path (think "Y Tu Mama Tambien"). I can ask some friends who have been there. E-mail me if you're interested.
posted by Penks at 1:21 AM on March 25, 2005

I've had an interesting experience with Isla De Mujeres. I was in the Cancun area for vacation and we took a day trip to the island. My favorite part was the very nice area on the end of the islands over the rocks, but keep a firm hold on the ground as it was very very windy. Bring a good zoom lens and you can get some shots of the lizards (for lack of their actual name) that climb around the rocks.

The downside was that I left the island with 10 stitches in my head. Word to the wise, if you get one of those soaking Caribbean rains, and you aren't a star motorscooter rider, don't rent a motorscooter.

Various parts of my personage met the island's main road at about 30-35mph. The people of the island were so generous. A lady stopped and called the ambulancia and policia for me (which came only after my scooter rental guy popped me on the back of his for a ride to the clinic), and when I snapped out of my concussion-induced diziness I looked up to find a local had run down the street to a store and bought a sealed roll of toilet paper to blot my wounds. The doctor at the clinic stitched me up and grabbed the last boat to the mainland with me, and I got in and out in 30 minutes and $40, including 2 prescriptions. Definitely not a place I would've ever hoped to be in a medical emergency, but I was well pleased. Back in the lovely Garden State the doc taking out my sutures said the Mexican doctor did a great job considering the triangular wound, and it healed up quite nicely. (By the by, after insurance, it cost me $246 to take those sutures out) Sorry for the tangent, but I just wanted to share good experiences which came from bad ones on the Island of Women.

And always wear a helmet..... I'm proponent #1 of them when I bicycle here in the States, but a caribbean stupidity flu must have hit me when I stepped off the plane.
posted by GreenTentacle at 5:05 AM on March 25, 2005

This site is run by a couple who live in Playa del Carmen, which is not far from Isla Mujeres. They run excellent tours of ruins/snorkeling, and they're cool people. There is information about all of the local ruins and surrounding areas on the site, including Isla Mujeres. The forums will also provide some good advice.

I've stayed in Playa several times and found it to be a great base camp for excursions. Alltournative (based in Playa) runs great adventure tours that I highly recommend as well.

This whole area has seen a lot of development in the last ten years. There are plenty of places that are calm and not built-up, there are also a lot of mega-resorts that are not to my taste at all. Feel free to e-mail for more info, especially regarding the tours. This area, you can take a cheapo vacation or a very expensive one, depending on what you want.
posted by desuetude at 6:37 AM on March 25, 2005

One of the best places I have been in Mexico was Zihuatanejo. It is just south of the extremely touristy Ixtapa. It's small and not a big tourist trap. There are lots of things to do and see close by and most of the hotels are right on the beach, or up on the cliffs of the bay. If I ever go back to Mexico again, it's the only place I would want to go.
posted by chrisroberts at 8:34 AM on March 25, 2005

I went to Isla Mujares on my honeymoon in 1982. We have made frequent trips to the area since. We fell in love with Akumal and really talked it up, now the once $40 dollar a night off-season rooms go for $200. I am hesitant to talk about the REAL Mexico to anyone who wants the "Miami Beach" experiance. E-mail me if you want to go the non-commercial, low profile, unspoiled route.
posted by pablogrande at 8:47 AM on March 25, 2005

I love Isla Mujeres. Started going there around '93 for day trips while partying in Cancun, but the last few times I've stayed only on Isla. The North Beach (Playa Norte) is amazing. It's on the leeward side of the island, and you can walk out like 100 yards with the water only up to your chest. Very relaxing. And Happy Hours are awesome, sitting in the hammocks at the bar on the beach.

My wife and I actually got married there in May '03. Used a gazebo at a resort, at sunset. My favorite place to stay is Na Balam, and my favorite month is October due to the minimal crowds and perfect weather...the occasional shower, but otherwise warm and beautiful, with awesome sunsets. July/August would be more rainy.

Last time we went, we had a house rented, but it had a roach issue (hadn't been occupied for several months) so we got a refund and cut a deal with Na Balam for $70/night. If you go off-season, I'd recommend just buying airfare to Cancun, ferrying to Isla, and negotiating at the hotels. This walk-up technique will get you the best deal, and will be the most fun. Don't try this Dec-April, but it should work fine the rest of the year.

Favorite sit-down restaurant: La Lomita ("little hill" in English). It's a few blocks from "downtown", and is a hole-in-the-wall with a handful of tables and amazing food. Second favorite: A large Italian place in the main shopping area with the most amazing garlic-y puffed bread to tide you over to the main course...can't remember the name of the place.

Favorite place for ceviche: Again, I can't remember the name. Take the road out of town past the harbor, and at the turn for the Turtle Farm go left (toward the lighthouse) instead of right, and it's about 1/4 mile down, on the beach. Awesome fish. GREAT ceviche.

Scooters: Negotiate for a week-long deal, or however long you're there. I usually end up paying $15-$20/day, but that's at the 2nd or 3rd place I stop to negotiate. Be prepared to walk away if they insist on >$20/day, since there are dozens of scooter vendors and someone will want your money.

Snorkeling in the bay next to Na Balam was fun...even saw a ray that we chased for a while. And there are a couple of scuba shops that I trust who will take you to see fun relaxing sights close to the island.

All in all, it's hard to beat. Last time we went in Oct '03, I think we spent $1200, including airfare, and that was for a relaxing week with lots of good food and drink. On the airfare, I usually wait and purchase about 7 days before the trip, to take advantage of last-minute charter specials.

About the drink: buy your beer or Kahlua at one of the small shops on the outskirts of downtown, and buy a disposable ice chest at the grocery store in which to store it. Kahlua is my wife's favorite drink, and we were buying it for $8/bottle there. Buy a can of light condensed milk at the grocery store (leche condensada) and you're good to go for Kahlua-and-creams.

Can't wait to go back. Isla Mujeres is what you make it. You can do the frantic "party barge" scene, or kick back. We came close to buying a lot and moving there, but are still undecided.

Not a lot of hiking on's a small island. But you can make it your homebase and take day trips (ferry to Cancun is only $3.50/person) to other spots on the Yucatan peninsula.
posted by Bradley at 8:57 PM on March 28, 2005 [2 favorites]

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