Last Stop: Isla Mujeres

Posted on August 12, 2013

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DSCN3709As we drove through the big Cancun resorts and saw signs for Isla Mujeres our hearts sank. What had we done? This was our final few days at the end of an awesome month long trip and we were headed for package holiday central? Oh dear.
It was 5pm and the ferry to Isla Mujeres was empty. On the other end however queues of day-trippers were waiting to get back to their resorts. Phew.
As luck would have it we had booked at the quietest end of the North beach, which was the most idyllic. Just a 5 minute walk into town (which we ended up mainly avoiding), Cabanas Maria Del Mar was right by the beach and had a little garden of serenity with hammocks and a pool. Oh, and an iguana who like the red flowers (not the pink ones).
We had actually come to Isla Mujeres for one main purpose: to swim with Whale Sharks. We had pre booked (worthwhile to get a good operator) with a boat promising a small group, 99% chance of swimming with whale sharks, plus snacks and drinks. Lovely.
DSCN3731Only small boats are allowed up to the area and we lucked out with a small group of seven of us. The hour long boat ride was relatively smooth and we knew we were nearing the site as other boats zoomed to the same spot. About 60 other boats (it goes up to 100 at weekends we heard).   A touch worried about 1. our impact on the creatures and 2. that we’d be battling other snorkels (no diving allowed), our minds were put to rest by the hosts. Apparently the whale sharks were not bothered by the presence of snorkeler and boats but we must keep 2m from them. The sharks have been monitored for the last 10+ years since this begun and no difference in the numbers or routines had been tracked.
And it was true, as we jumped into the water – only two at a time – we were almost immediately faced with what looked like a ginormous mouth ready to swallow us. It was a whale shark, not remotely interested in us, but scooping as much plankton as it could. There were hundreds of the 4+ metre gentle creatures, the mere sight of which was incredible, let alone being able to swim along side the tranquil beings. We went in rotation three times and watched from the boat the other times, sometime seeing the sharks coming right up. An incredible experience well worth the US$125 (although the US$60 extra to get the not great photos made it worthwhile having an underwater camera).
Snorkelling and diving are meant to be pretty good in the area, although we didn’t get around to it. There is a wreck dive, but has a sting current, and an under water museum. Buzos diving were recommended and seemed like a nice bunch so worth checking out.
Golf carts are the best way to get around if you want to get outside the main hub. It takes an hour to drive around the island so if you want to stop a day’s rental at US$40 makes a lot of sense.
Prices are more than we found in Tulum but less than US/Europe. We managed to negotiate an afternoon pampering just off the beach – 90 minute massage, pedicure an facial – for US$60. A divine way to end a holiday before heading back to new, busy lives in Europe.
There was a main strip with restaurants and bars, all of which had pumping music and reminded us of Playa del Carmen, so we found three main hang outs which were more relaxed.
  1. DSCN3782By our hotel is Buho’s, right on the beacj with swings at the bar, hammocks and large tables. They only serve drinks but it’s a great hang out and they have wifi)
  2. Zazil Ha which was my favourite place on Isla Mujeres, relaxed, quiet, fantastic beach and I don’t think I’ll forget the crispy fish tacos.
  3. For more good Mexican at better prices, Poc Chuk restaurant in town just off the main drag is a good option. And if you’re hungry and can’t quiet decide what to go for, try the Tampequina, which seems to have a bit of everything.
If you are coming in by air be sure to pre book a shuttle with Best Day for US$9 each way otherwise forced to take one of the two official and pay US$20, or US$65 for a taxi.
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