Recently, I had the opportunity to visit an island off of Cancun’s coast, Isla Mujeres, I wanted to share this gem with all of you as it left a lasting impression on me and hope you can to one day visit! The Island is the eastern most tip of Mexico and dates back over 1500 years, the island served as the sanctuary for the goddess Ixchel, the Maya goddess of the moon, fertility, medicine and happiness, hence known as the Island of Women. I wasn’t prepared for an undeniably unique island brimming with Mexican culture, quaint architectural character, bizarre yet stunning artwork and although small in size, this island has never-ending adventures at every turn! Who doesn’t love an island where getting lost leads too secret coves and the best guacamole that has ever hit these taste buds!
We (my hubby and four adventure ready friends) set out to explore Isla Mujeres on a paradisiacal balmy Monday morning, just a hop onto a quick 20 minute ferry from Playa Tortuga Ferry Terminal, located on the Cancun strip. This cost about $11 US one way, with ferries running every 30 minutes until quite late! As we stepped off the ferry and made our way through the modern ferry terminal we were suddenly and I have to say quite unexpectedly, met with the island’s bustling town center! Splashes of vibrant yellow’s and blues on characteristic building’s were beautifully apparent with a contrast of the gray stone streets. I felt an immediate sense of island life, picturesque, laid back and inviting. Now it was time to rent the infamous mode of transportation the island has taken on… golf carts and mopeds! It wasn’t long before a local promised us the best ride for the best price, making our way through the streets and into a rental shop, after much deliberation, clarification and a stack of pesos, we had ourselves a four person golf cart and two adorable but bad ass mopeds!
The exhilaration of driving that golf cart on the open island roads and taking in the stunning surroundings are something I can’t put into words. We drove along the gorgeous coast line following the white sand beaches, turquoise blue waters, tropical vegetation, Mexican shops and quaint hotels passed us by. The salty breeze on my face, hair flying wild and all of our laughter due to pure joy and the adventure had just begun! First stop… TURTLES! Isla Mujeres is home to a Tortugranja (turtle farm), founded in the 1980’s by a local fisherman who recognized the need to provide a sanctuary for these turtles and a secure beach for hatchlings to be released (approx 125,000/year)! The farm is located about 5 km from the town center and pretty easily found thanks to signs at the islands driving circle! Be prepared for a golf cart specific parking lot and a self guided tour facility. We explored the outdoor and indoor exhibits where you can meet and feed the different species of adorable turtles, we explored the grounds and stumbled upon a pen they had set up within the ocean where you can get a glimpse of nurse sharks. Definitely worth the $3 dollars to go support the turtles, I highly recommend!
Next up on the list was to continue our exploration of the southern most tip of the island, where the Ruins of Ixchel Temple are located, a temple the Mayans built to worship the goddess of Ixchel (goddess of moon & childbirth). Unfortunately as of just recent, Hurricane Gilbert destroyed much of this temple in 1988, we were able to see some remains of the temple, it is slowly being restored today. I didn’t expect to find an array of scattered compelling and thought-provoking art exhibits from many international artists along the path to the ruins as well, I’d never seen anything like it! This is also where the Caribbean Sea and Mexican Gulf unite, looking over the cliff edges into the vastness of the Atlantic Ocean was simply freeing and breathtaking. Stone walls, art pieces, the beating sun, the ocean breeze and small shopping vendors completed my visit at this end of the island! This is also where I was determined to master the moped, a nearby police officer watched me intently as I excitedly went over the mechanisms of the bike and off I went, sailing the highway of Isla Mujeres on my moped and a ridiculous grin slapped on my face. Shortly thereafter, it to all came to a halt, when I realized I was being chased down by the Mexican police and thought it would be wise to pull over, although a flash did go through my head of me revving full tilt ahead, hair blowing behind me, zooming away on a high-speed chase… then I remembered I was on a moped… in Mexico… not a movie scene… darn it. I was kicked off that moped and being yelled at in Spanish by a police officer, something about a licencia and accidente, well dreams were crushed and back on the golf cart it was… boo!
The town center was calling my name, meaning, shopping time! We headed back to where it all began, the island town center. A bustling marketplace of stoned streets, bursts of lively colored art painted the walls on old buildings with thatch roofs and the main shopping street of Avenue Hidalgo engulfed our senses. You want it, they have it, everything from art, clothing, souvenirs, trip needs, jewelry, Mexican sculptures, pottery, masks, folk art… the list goes on! I adore getting lost in these shops, but I have to say, some of the vendors were a little pushy and aggressive for my liking. We found if you ventured off the main shopping streets and into the more concealed small streets, it was much more laid back and authentic. Don’t forget to bring your best barter game with a smile, all part of the shopping thrill!
We had really worked up an appetite for some authentic Mexican cuisine, we meandered through the crowds and along the gorgeous coast until we hit Bally Hoo, a charming open air, beach vibe hut restaurant, gazing over the clear blue waters, this is where the it is said, the islands best guacamole was waiting for us, or so I had read, I was certainly up to verify these rumors! Rounds of guacamole, house corn chips and ridiculously massive, fresh, mango strawberry margaritas were ordered and just as quickly devoured and slurped back. The guacamole was hands down one of the best I’ve ever had, damn delish, it was creamy yet chunky, full of velvety ripe avocado, bursts of red tomato, hints of onion, lime, cilantro and garlic… made with Mexican love, I couldn’t stop! Now, whenever I hear I can get the “catch of the day” at a restaurant, I jump on it, coming from a city where fresh seafood is hard to find, don’t have to ask me twice! I ordered up one catch of the day, a black grouper, grilled with a balanced and delicious citrus garlic sauce, a side of perfectly seasoned Mexican rice and fresh veggies. I let the flavors dance on my taste buds, the flaky perfectly cooked fish melted in my mouth with Mexican music playing in the background and the ocean surrounding me, I was in heaven. I was brought back to reality when the margarita bill came and that sucker was $18 a pop, holy sh*t! We missed that on the menu… otherwise, this restaurant is highly recommended!
Satisfied, full bellies and re-energized, we set out to discover this “secret beach” I had read about, if we could find it that was! All I knew is the pathway leading down to this caved and secluded beach location was nestled beside Joya Hotel, somewhere on the island! After re-routing a couple… or more times and looping the island twice, BINGO, there was Joya Hotel as well as a small beaten path leading to white stone stairs into the unknown… then there it was, a stunning, calm cove of turquoise waters, with a white beach riddled in seashells and mysterious rock side caves, this was paradise! We simply took all the beauty in took a dip in the crystal clear waters, take me back!
The perfect day was winding down to an end, our friends decided to head back to the mainland and my hubby and I decided it would be a shame not to stay and watch the sunset from such a magical island. We set forward to find “the spot”, where all comes together harmoniously as the sun drops and unimaginable colors set the sky on fire and dance on the water. We ventured through the streets, determined to seek out that sun set spot, after coming upon many closed or private patio spots, we were welcomed by a local younger gentlemen to sit down at his whimsical little restaurant overlooking the ocean. We were the only two there, we sat back, kicked up our feet, ordered a couple of mojitos and cervezas and watched that fiery sun dive into the ocean so elegantly and beautifully. We love to compare sunsets from around the world that we’ve had the opportunity to soak in, all so authentic and distinctive in themselves. We ensure to always remind ourselves how undeniably beautiful this world is and how lucky we are to be able to share in the culture of others, no matter where in the world we are! Thank you for joining me on my island exploration everyone, more island inspired food recipes to come shortly, xoxo!