Isla Mujeres, Mexico is a tiny, beautiful, sleepy little island located off the coast of Cancun. Its bright blue water, coral reefs, sugar sand beaches, gently waving palm trees, migrating whale sharks, Mayan ruins, and giant iguanas that walk over your foot sometimes when you’re not looking (ok, scratch that last one) make it one of the best destinations in the Riviera Maya.
If you’re looking for all the things that make Cancun wonderful without … like, all the things that make Cancun terrible (come on, we all know what I mean by that, right?) Isla Mujeres is a much quieter, sleepier way to enjoy a Yucatan vacation.
In our giant, massive, extremely long guide to Isla Mujeres, we lay out everything you need to know about getting to Isla Mujeres from Cancun, what to pack, and where to stay. We found that it’s quite possible to visit Isla Mujeres on a tight budget, and we’ve included lots of budget-friendly tips.
Read on to discover the best things to do in Isla Mujeres!
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How to Get to Isla Mujeres
Getting to Isla Mujeres is fairly straightforward: you just take the Isla Mujeres ferry from Cancun. However, it does involve one crucial task: getting from the Cancun airport to the ferry dock.
Getting to the Isla Mujeres Ferry from the Cancun Airport
So, the easiest way to get to the Puerto Juarez ferry docks from Cancun Airport is to just take a taxi. There are plenty of them at the airport, and it’s very straightforward. Hop in, say something like “Gran Puerto por favor” or “Vamos a Isla Mujeres” or “Ultramar para Isla Mujeres por favor,” and you’re off. Psst: Ask your driver to take the scenic coastal route, too!
Here’s the thing: what we found was that taxi prices at the Cancun Airport are insanely high – like, $30-50 for a 10-minute trip. Insane! Unreasonable! We didn’t want to be taken advantage just because we’re gringos – we’re budget backpackers, not all-inclusive resort vacationers, and we can’t afford exorbitant taxi prices!
So, we took an Uber instead.
Here’s the thing about taking Uber in Cancun: it’s illegal. And very controversial. Of course, we didn’t realize that when we hailed our Uber, and then were extremely confused why our driver wanted us to meet him in a parking lot instead of the typical pick-up spot outside the airport.
Talking to our taxi drivers is one of my favorite ways to practice my Spanish, so during our drive through Cancun to the ferry, I chatted with our friendly driver.
He explained that the local taxi drivers in Cancun are outraged with Uber drivers. You will see signs on yellow taxis with warnings: UBER IS ILLEGAL, support taxis! Which, sure, I understand that. It sucks to have your industry outsourced, especially by a company that’s known for being shady itself.
But here’s where it gets weird: if a driver in Cancun is suspected of being an Uber driver, they are at risk of attack. Like, literal attack: taxi drivers who catch an Uber driver may hit his car, break his mirrors, etc.
For this reason, Uber drivers who operate on the DL insist on picking up their passengers away from major taxi drop-offs, and if questioned, you’ll need to pretend that your driver is a friend or someone you know, not an Uber driver! Sketttchhhh.
So, here’s the deal: if you want to save money, you can take an Uber as we did – it’s significantly cheaper. But if you’d rather avoid putting your drivers in danger (and not have to walk a few blocks to avoid raising suspicion), you can take a taxi.
Although, frankly, we aren’t sure we want to support an industry that self-polices using threats and violence.
Then again, we also don’t like to support Uber, because they’re shady AF too (we prefer Lyft back at home). You just can’t win, I guess.
So, what’s the best option? The easiest option by far is this combination shuttle bus + ferry that takes you all the way from the Cancun Airport to Isla Mujeres. No hassle, no stress – you can even book it online in advance on Bookaway. But you’ll pay more for the convenience!
If you’re down with a bit of a schlep to save some cash and avoid a taxi, you can take the ADO airport bus into downtown Cancun.
At the Cancun Airport, look for a stand with a large “ADO” sign in red to purchase your ticket to downtown Cancun – it costs about $5 per person.
The downside? The bus runs every half hour, so you may have to wait a bit. Also, it doesn’t drop you off at the docks – it drops you off downtown. You’ll have to take a taxi from the bus station to the ferry, for another $5 total.
Alternatively, instead of a taxi, you can take the “Ruta 13” bus that will drop you off at Puerto Juárez near the ferry dock, which is cheaper and also guaranteed to take longer.
For more information about bus service in Cancun, click here for a comprehensive guide.
The good news? This is the ONLY difficult part about getting to Isla Mujeres. From here on out, it’s easy.
- Isla Mujeres Travel Tip: Pick up pesos at the airport in Cancun before heading to Isla Mujeres. Few places accept credit cards on the island, and ATMs are few and far between. If you need one, there’s an ATM near the ferry docks and one in the Xpress supermarket.
Taking the Isla Mujeres Ferry from Cancun
Once you’ve made it to the Gran Puerto Cancun ferry dock, all you have to do is hop on a ferry to Isla Mujeres. We took the UltraMar ferry from Gran Puerto. You can book it online in advance on BOokaway to make sure you have a spot!
The UltraMar ferry takes about 30 minutes and the fare is about 80 pesos one way, or around $6 (or $10 if you book online).
- The first ferry TO Isla Mujeres FROM Cancun is at 6:30 AM. Ferries run every hour on the hour until 11:00 pm.
- The first ferry FROM Isla Mujeres TO Cancun is at 7:00 AM. Ferries run every hour until midnight.
Pick up a ticket at the ticket counter (or exchange your printed voucher from Bookaway for a ticket), stand in line for a few minutes, and you’re off. The ferry is comfortable, air-conditioned, and well maintained.
Alternatively, you can take the Magana Ferry, from the Puerto Juarez ferry dock. This is an older ferry terminal located just a few minutes away from Gran Puerto. The Magana Ferry is the same price and takes the same amount of time as the UltraMar Ferry. I guess this is a good option if the UltraMar is super crowded, otherwise, I’m not sure there’s much of a difference.
For more information about getting to Isla Mujeres, here’s a helpful guide. And for more information on options to get to Isla Mujeres, here’s a comprehensive guide – apparently there are quite a few options, including a car ferry, and a ferry directly from the Cancun Hotel Zone, too!
- Travel Tip: Once you arrive at the ferry docks, you can take a taxi to just about anywhere in Isla Mujeres for around 30 pesos.
The Best Things to Do in Isla Mujeres
Isla Mujeres is more than just stunning beaches and palm trees! Discover the best things to do in Isla Mujeres from swimming with whale sharks to befriending baby turtles to zip-lining over the ocean to snorkeling at an underwater museum… and more! We’re dying to go back SO BAD, omg.
Let’s get to it, shall we?
Swim with Whale Sharks
This is one of the absolute COOLEST and most unique things to do in Isla Mujeres, and it’s well worth planning your trip around. Between May and September, whale sharks hang out in the warm waters between Isla Mujeres and nearby Isla Holbox, and YOU CAN SWIM WITH THEM!!!!
Don’t let the name scare you: although they ARE technically “sharks,” they’re completely harmless. They’re basically giant, tropical fish – literally the largest fish in the world, in fact. And they’re spotted and pretty and huge and YOU CAN SWIM WITH THEMMMMM.
In case you’re wondering: you can’t scuba dive with them, and thankfully they are protected – so humans are not allowed to touch them.
But you can snorkel peacefully above them 2 at a time, watching them flop around like giant spotted manatee-whale-fishes from a very safe distance (am I the only one who finds it a little nerve-wracking?? Or am I just a giant scaredy-cat? … both. It’s both.)
We actually visited Isla Mujeres purely to swim with Whale Sharks, but unfortunately, during the week we were there, the winds were too strong to allow for safe tours. But no worries: we fell in love with the island anyway.
Still, don’t be too disappointed if for some reason you aren’t able to swim with these majestic creatures. Nature is unpredictable like that.
- How to Swim with Whale Sharks in Isla Mujeres: If you want to swim with Whale Sharks between May & September, you can book a tour on the island in a dive shop. All of the tours go to the same place, so shop around for the best price once you arrive, but be sure to book with an official operator. The price should be around $125, plus wetsuit rental. The smaller the tour, the better, since only 2 people are allowed in the water at a time (for the sharks’ safety).
Explore Isla Mujeres by Golf Cart… or Moped
One of the best ways to spend a day on Isla Mujeres is with a golf cart rental! Pick up a golf cart from one of the many vendors in town and spend the day whizzing around the island, visiting hard-to-access spots like Punta Sol or Garrafon de Castilla with a fresh coconut in one hand and your hat in the other (because it keeps getting blown off in the wind. Yes, I’m speaking from experience here).
Isla Mujeres has more golf carts perusing its streets than cars, and not everyone seems to have safety in mind. But you will: don’t drive drunk, obviously, and please follow basic road rules.
Also, just don’t be a d**k, especially to pedestrians. We spent 6 days by foot on Isla Mujeres and were appalled at the lack of care shown by golf cart drivers for everyone around them. Don’t be those people!
Still, it’s a lot of fun. But it’s not super cost-efficient if you have a small party: Isla Mujeres golf cart rentals are most economical for groups of up to 5 and families.
So, we also tried out the cheaper (and more romantic) alternative: a moped rental! Hold on tight while you and bae explore the island on 2 wheels. It’s just as fun to see the city and a little bit more adventurous, too!
- Where to Rent a Golf Cart on Isla Mujeres: We rented both our golf cart and moped from this spot because our hostel said it was on the cheapest spot nearby, and we had no complaints. But there are plenty of options! Here’s another one that’s got good ratings, and here’s a little blog post we found that has more information.
Stuff Your Face with Delicious Mexican Food
Look: You can’t go to Mexico and not stuff your face with delicious Mexican food. That’s just like, the laws of travel, or something. Even if you’re not quite ready to try some of the weirdest Mexican foods, nobody in their right mind turns down a taco in Mexico.
Luckily for you, there’s tons of delicious Mexican food on the Yucatan Peninsula, and you can get plenty of it right on Isla Mujeres! Here are our favorite places to eat in Isla Mujeres.
- The Chilaquiles at Cafe Mogagua are so good, we came here for breakfast each day instead of eating the free one at our hostel. Which says a LOT, because we are major cheapskates! As a huge plus, the WiFi here is excellent, and we spent many long days working here in the shade with a cold drink while fans whirred lazily overhead.
- TACOS! Y’all didn’t think you’d go to Mexico and NOT eat tacos, did you?! The best tacos on the island are at Taqueria Medina on Avenida Hidalgo. The downside? They don’t open until 7pm. The upside? Authentic Al Pastor, which we’ve been craving since leaving Mexico (why isn’t there any authentic Al Pastor in California?! WHYYYY?).
- You’ll find the best breakfast on the island at Cafe Mango.
- Head to local favorite Poc Chuc for an authentic, budget-friendly lunch. Fun fact: “Poc Chuc” is actually the name of a delicious local pork dish, and of course, it’s the specialty here. But everything on the menu is great!
- Reuben’s Restaurant is another budget-friendly staple. We ate here for dinner most nights during our trip thanks to its generous portions, friendly service, proximity to our hostel, and damn good food. Order anything that came from the ocean or is described on the menu as a Yucatan special – and make sure to get a lemonade, too.
- La Lomita is incredibly popular, and for good reason: they serve up delicious Mexican food at reasonable prices. What more could you want? Psst: we hear their black bean soup is incredible.
- Get a grilled Quesadilla from the stall on the corner of Calle Bravo and Miguel Hidalgo streets outside of La Michoacana. Oh and hey, while you’re there, get some ice cream, too.
Relax on the Beach
Look, let’s face facts: you came to Isla Mujeres for a reason, and it wasn’t the baby turtles or whale sharks. (OK, actually in our case, it WAS the whale sharks, but I’m speaking generally here.)
What you need out of your vacation is a drink and a beach. Preferably, the prettiest beach possible, with soft white sand and bright blue water.
Well, welcome to paradise: that’s exactly what you’ll find at Playa Norte.
Playa Norte is the main & most popular beach in Isla Mujeres. Lined with resorts, beach-side bars, and hammocks, it’s an excellent place to spend the day, and the water is warm and shallow – great for “swimming” with a drink in your hand, or splashing around with little ones.
Dive into the inviting water to cool off, and then relax in a lounge or hammock with an ice-cold beverage and a good book. Ahhhh, I feel more relaxed already.
Yoga on the Beach
There are people who wake up early to do sunrise yoga on the beach, taking deep breaths as they focus on the feeling of sand between their toes, greeting the sun as it rises over the clear, blue water.
We are not those people.
But don’t worry: there’s sunset yoga too, for people like us who have an inability to wake up before 10 am or do active things before coffee.
Whether you’re doing morning sun salutations or evening sun … goodbyes, I guess, head to The Treehouse, a beautiful open-air yoga studio located above Buho’s Bar right by the entrance of Playa Norte and looking out over the sea. Classes are offered at 7:30 am, 9:30 am and 6 pm.
Stroll Down Avenida Miguel Hidalgo
Avenida Miguel Hidalgo is a pedestrian-only street that comprises the “downtown” of Isla Mujeres, and we found ourselves coming here each night just to bask in the ~~~ ambiance.
Strolling down the street, you’ll pass shops selling every kind of souvenir under the sun, sizzling sounds and delicious smells coming from the many restaurants, and tour operators selling the same tours over and over and over again. Practice saying “no, gracias” to every shopkeeper, server, and tour operator, but don’t miss spending a few hours just wandering through and taking it all in!
- Travel Tip: Hidalgo Street is best enjoyed at night, AFTER you’ve eaten. The restaurants here primarily cater to tourists and are more expensive as a result, and the street is hot as b*lls during the day.
Make Friends with Baby Sea Turtles
Jeremy and I love animals, especially marine animals. So when we heard there was a turtle farm on Isla Mujeres, we were like, DUH, LET’S GO. We hopped in our golf cart and sped to Tortugranja, a government-owned Turtle Sanctuary and hatchery for endangered sea turtles.
The hatchery helps breed the turtles, rehabilitates sick or injured turtles and other marine animals (during our visit there was a dolphin and a reef shark both in recovery from various illnesses) and then releases them into the wild.
Your 30-peso-ish entrance includes a guided tour, and sometimes you can even participate in “release ceremonies” (!!!).
Also, you can purchase turtle food and befriend the tiny baby turtles and talk to them in baby turtle voices and pretend they’re all Squirt and Crush from Finding Nemo. No? Just me?
- Turtle Travel Tip: If you’re in town between May and July, supposedly you might be able to spot a few loggerhead turtles laying eggs on the protected beaches around the island! According to Castaway With Crystal, who has an excellent guide on turtle hatching in Mexico, the best turtle spotting is on the eastern side of the island, particularly in front of Casa Sirena Hotel. She says that your best bet is to find them after 10:30 pm, so to be safe, just book a room at Casa Sirena and check every single night. And report back if you see one!!! We want to know all about it!
Spend the Day in the Water at an Ocean Adventure Resort
There are actually TWO amazing ocean adventure resorts in Isla Mujeres: Garrafon Natural Reef Park and Parque de los Suenos. “Ocean adventure resort” is a term I made up because it’s the only way I could think of to describe everything these two amazing spots offer.
That said, we chose to skip Garrafon Natural Reef Park and NOT recommend it here. Why? We’ll get to that in a minute. First, let’s talk about Parque de los Suenos!
Snorkeling. Swimming. Infinity pools. Swim-up bars. Rope swings. Rock climbing. Water slides. Zip-lining. Paddleboards. Kayaks. Relaxing on the beach. Anything you can do for fun at the beach or in the ocean, you can do here at the Park of Dreams (that’s the English translation of the name).
Seriously, if I was a kid, this WOULD be the park of my dreams – even as an adult, I’m SO into it!
The park is actually a resort that’s open to the public (for a fee). In exchange for your fee, you can spend all day using the facilities, including everything from lockers to towels. Food and drink is available for purchase as well! This is a fantastic place to spend a long day enjoying the warm water of Isla Mujeres away from the hustle and bustle of town.
OK, so – why are we NOT recommending Garrafon Natural Reef Park, which is arguably more popular & better known? We choose not to support Garrafon Natural Reef Park because one of their attractions involves swimming with captive dolphins.
These dolphins are kept in tiny enclosures and forced to interact with humans all day long, which is dangerous both for the animals and can be dangerous for humans as well as they are interacting with wild animals in a stressful environment.
We are animal lovers and while we love to pet dogs and cats, we can’t support touching with or interacting with wild animals, particularly not when they are kept in enclosures, forced to “perform,” and die in captivity. That is not ethical OR sustainable, and it doesn’t align with our values.
We love animals, and we prefer to see them healthy and happy in their natural habitat in the wild, even if it means we don’t get to interact with them!
Please read more on the dangers of “swim with dolphins” attractions here, and if you love dolphins and other animals like we do, please do NOT visit Dolphin Discovery or Garrafon Natural Reef Park in Isla Mujeres.
Oh, and by the way: if the “captive dolphins” thing wasn’t enough to steer clear, it costs nearly $100 to enter this park, which we think is incredibly overpriced and screams “TOURIST TRAP.”
The moral of the story? If you want your infinity pool/zip-lining over the ocean dreams to come true, head to Parque de los Suenos instead.
Snorkel at Garrafon de Castilla Beach Club
What if you want to jump in the water and snorkel the coral reef, but you aren’t interested in zip-lines and water slides and beach resorts? And also, you just might be on a tight budget? And possibly looking to avoid crowds? Oh hey, I just described us!
Well, guess what: there’s a beach club in Isla Mujeres for you, too.
Located next door to Garrafon Reef Park (you know – the one we chose to AVOID) you’ll find the much tamer, quieter, and absolutely stunning Garrafon de Castilla.
Here, jump in the water to snorkel and swim to your heart’s content, relax on the provided lounge chairs, use the facilities and lockers, and enjoy lunch at a delicious restaurant selling fresh ceviche and shrimp cocktail (and probably other stuff too, but that’s what we had, and it was delicious).
Garrafon de Castilla is the perfect all-day snorkeling and beach relaxation spot for budget travelers looking to avoid the crowds. The reef you’ll be exploring is the same as the one down the road at the far more expensive Garrafon Reef Park, and the water is just as blue and crystal-clear.
Plus, this spot is much more off-the-beaten path, and much emptier as a result. Which we loved, of course.
At the time of our visit, entrance (including snorkel gear rental and a locker) cost around $9 each.
And hey, heads up: Although this isn’t the most amazing snorkeling we’ve ever done in our lives, nor is it the most sparkling fancy resort, we did see a few fish and the water is nice and deep and warm and blue.
So, lower your expectations: if you’re looking for a fancy resort experience, this is not the spot for you. But if you want to spend an amazing day swimming and relaxing at a more relaxed, authentic spot for an extremely reasonable price, we definitely recommend spending the day here!
- Isla Mujeres Travel Tip #1: To get here, you’ll need to either take a taxi, or rent a golf cart or moped. Also, watch out for the giant iguanas: we met 2 of them during lunch! Don’t worry, they’re super friendly and harmless. Although I did jump out of my skin when one crawled across my foot.
- Isla Mujeres Travel Tip #2: If you want to take full advantage of the beaches and water, make sure to stay up-to-date on Cancun’s seaweed conditions.
Snorkeling or Diving at the Underwater Art Museum
Yep, you read that right: there’s an underwater art museum off the coast of Isla Mujeres. It’s called MUSA, and it’s rad. Imagine statues, but on the bottom of the ocean and covered in sea life. Over 500 statues have been built at MUSA, and they’ve turned into part of the coral reef in a super rad, artistic combination of art and nature. Ooooh, deep.
MUSA is a fascinating attraction and a great way to spend a day in the water! It’s also the perfect place to practice scuba diving with a guided tour like this one.
If you don’t scuba dive, you can also go snorkeling above some of the installations at MUSA as part of a day tour like this one. We took a tour that combined a snorkel trip to MUSA with snorkeling around other parts of the coral reef for a full day of snorkeling in the waters of Isla Mujeres.
- Important: You can’t visit MUSA on your own: the art installations are scattered offshore and you will need a boat and a guide to see them.
Visit the Mayan Temple to Ixchel at Punta Sur
Punta Sur is located at the southern tip of Isla Mujeres, on a rocky, coastal cliff that reminded us a bit of the Pacific coast back home in California.
The scenery is beautiful, and you’ll also find a lighthouse, a sculpture garden, and the remains of a Mayan temple to Ixchel, plus a statue of Ixchel herself.
Ixchel is the ancient Mayan goddess of midwifery and medicine, both Jaguar Goddess and Moon Goddess and wife of the Sun. Ixchel is the reason why Isla Mujeres is named the Island of Women: Mayan women used to visit the island on pilgrimages to visit and honor Ixchel. Her temple was built in this spot because it’s the highest elevation on the Yucatan Peninsula, but it’s since been destroyed by hurricanes.
Today, Punta Sur is a sleepy tourist attraction, with a few shops selling souvenirs and some restaurants.
Also, there’s a giant iguana statue. And some real live giant iguanas, too.
It’s not the most exciting attraction in Isla Mujeres now that the temple is gone, but it’s still an interesting place to visit on your golf cart or moped adventure day. Besides, if you’re cruising the entire island like it’s a Mario Kart level, you’ll pass right by it anyway.
Watch the Sunset at Playa Norte or Playa Sol
Although Playa Norte is an excellent place to watch the sunset, make sure to catch a sunset or two at Playa Sol.
Located at the northwestern tip of the island right next to Playa Norte, Playa Sol is said to be the best beach for sunset-ogling. As a huge plus, the deeper, cloudier water makes Playa Sol less popular than Playa Norte – which means it’s less crowded!
Another plus? Cheaper drinks. Go on, veer off the beaten path and enjoy a budget-friendly drink on an empty(ish) beach as you say goodnight to the best vacation of your life.
What to Pack for Isla Mujeres
First things first: what are you going to PACK?! You gotta look cute for those white sand beach, bright blue water photos. Speaking of: I’ve got an entire post about looking adorable on the beach, with a ton of beach vacation packing tips for curvy girls! Check it out here.
But what else do you need to bring? What about way less cute stuff like safe drinking water and bug repellent?! No worries, we gotchu.
Here’s a quick summary of the most important things to bring on your Isla Mujeres vacation:
- Steri-Pen Water Purifier: The tap water in Mexico is not safe to drink. Instead of wasting a bunch of disposable plastic bottles of water, our preferred environmentally friendly solution is the rechargeable Steri-Pen! in Mexico as well as throughout our travels in South America. It purifies water in 90 seconds, using a UV light to kill living bacteria and viruses in even the most untrustworthy tap water. This handy little water purifier saved us a LOT of money (not to mention plastic waste and illness). We use ours with our foldable Sawyer water bottle or our hydration pack and it works like a charm, but you can stick it into any water bottle. (Note: you can also use a Sawyer mini filter or water purification tablets to purify undrinkable tap water, both of which we brought just in case, but we found that we preferred the Steri-Pen for ease of use and taste.)
- Picaridin Bug Repellent Lotion: This is hands down our favorite tried and true bug repellent. It’s incredibly effective, lightweight on your skin and doesn’t make you feel like a greasy mess, and it’s quick and easy to apply. After discovering this lightweight little bug repellent lotion, I will never go back to those awful sprays. First of all, I hate spraying them because it always somehow gets in my mouth and makes everything taste like chemicals for the rest of the day. Second of all, DEET literally burns my skin. And third, this is more effective and provides better skin coverage than the sprays. We visited Colombia last month with a friend who was using OFF spray. After a week, her legs were COVERED in itchy bumps, and we only had a few little bites on our feet & ankles (mostly because we didn’t re-apply the lotion quickly enough on our feet after swimming). Do yourself a huge favor and pick up a little bottle of Picaridin, it’s wonderful!
- Permethrin Spray: This actually isn’t something to pack for your trip, but something to do BEFORE you visit Isla Mujeres. Permethrin is a bug repellent that adheres only to fabrics, leaves no smell or residue on clothes, and doesn’t harm human skin. Before your trip, spray all of your clothing, paying special attention to hems, cuffs, and socks, to fight bug bites all day long. Thanks to our diligent use of Permethrin and Picaridin during our trip, we left with just a few bug bites while our travel companion was COVERED. Permethrin spray lasts for up to 6 machine washes. Important Note: this is something to buy and use BEFORE you leave for your trip! Set a day or 2 aside for spraying all of your clothes, PLUS your backpacks and anything else made of fabric, like a sleeping bag or liner.
- Reef-Safe Sunscreen: One of the best Isla Mujeres attractions is its beautiful coral reef! Help preserve that reef by wearing reef-safe biodegradable sunscreen when you go swimming or snorkeling. Regular sunscreen is harmful to the ocean and the critters who call it home, but reef-safe sunscreen is specifically developed to be ocean-friendly. And just in case you thought you could skip it, be warned: some tours in Isla Mujeres & Cancun REQUIRE reef-safe sunscreen and will make you purchase a bottle if you don’t have your own! Play it safe, bring one along. Here’s a full-sized bottle and here’s a travel sized version for carry-on luggage.
- SPF 45+ Sunscreen: When you’re not in the water, you’ll want to slather on the strongest sunscreen you can find. We like this one because it’s dry-touch, meaning you don’t feel like a disgusting grease ball after applying.
- Mineral Sunscreen: This is the least harmful type of sunscreen, according to science. Mineral sunscreens use two natural minerals—zinc oxide and titanium dioxide—as active ingredients. They basically simply sit on top of your skin and protect it by physically reflecting away UV rays, like tiny little mirrors. Meanwhile, regular chemical sunscreen soaks into your skin and ends up in your bloodstream (and breast milk, according to this study) which kinda squicks me out. Mineral sunscreens do not soak into your skin (according to this study). So even though mineral sunscreens can feel a bit heavier than chemical sunscreens, I prefer to use them anyway! I use this one for my body, and for my face, I use this lightweight mineral face sunscreen.
- Leather Sandals: I’m completely in love with my leather Teva sandals. These things are amazing. Not only are they actually cute, but they’re incredibly comfortable. They’re cute enough to be worn with a dress or shorts, on long hikes, to the beach, white water rafting, anything. They’re comfy enough to stand and walk in for 12+ hours, versatile enough to hike in, and the perfect water shoes. They’re lightweight and well made. After near daily use in sand, dirt, and rocks, my Tevas are barely showing any wear at all. I’ll never buy another brand of sandals again. They’re the perfect sandals for travel! Psst: read more about these sandals & my other favorite travel shoes in this post. We also each brought a pair of Allbirds Tree Skippers(his, hers), which are lightweight and breathable, and perfect for hot days with lots of walking. Plus, they’re eco-friendly and super cute!
- Full-Sized Travel Towel: A full-sized, lightweight, quick-drying towel is super handy to have in Isla Mujeres. This awesome travel towel is much bigger than your hotel room’s towels, weighs next to nothing, rolls up small enough to throw in your bag, and dries quickly so you’re not lugging around a heavy wet towel all day. Bring it to the beach, on your snorkeling tour, or just in case you can’t resist the urge to dive into the sparkling blue water!
- Travel Clothesline: This is a super handy tiny little clothesline that is easy to hang up almost anywhere. We think it’s a must-have for Isla Mujeres because it’s perfect for hanging up wet bathing suits and towels that need to be dried. It weighs nearly nothing but is strong enough to hold a ton of wet clothing! String it up outside on your deck in the sun to dry your bathing suit overnight – much more effective than hanging it in a damp bathroom!
- Dry Bag: Don’t set foot on a boat without putting your stuff in a dry bag, just in case. You never know when a wave/rogue sea lion is going to splash your sh*t. This one is excellent, with a mesh section in the front that we use for wet bathing suits or towels. Plus, it comes with a phone protector too, so you can wear & use your phone safely while white-water rafting, kayaking, or snorkeling!
- Flowy Sundress/Beach Coverup: You NEED a cute, beachy dress that doubles as a beach coverup! Trust me, being able to toss on a cute dress and go all day long will make your life so much easier (or at least reduce stress during your vacation). I found some majorly cute dress/coverup options at Swimsuits For All, which sells affordable swimwear for sizes 10-34. This is my current favorite find – it’s hella cute, super soft and comfy, AND it has pockets, which I LOVE. I’m also digging this and this. I also have major chub-rub so I wear these handy little bike shorts underneath, which have 3(!!!) phone-sized pockets, and I’m set all day long chafe-free.
- Sun Hat:Who says sun protection can’t be cute? This hat protects your face, neck, and chest from the sun with UPF 50+ strength, AND goes with every outfit. The adjustable band around the rim guarantees that this hat will fit your head perfectly, and the neck cord means you can wear it even when it’s windy! This is my go-to everyday hat, although Jeremy opts for a Panama-style sun hat.
- Rash Guard or Swim Shirt: I’m gonna be honest with you: applying reef-safe sunscreen can be a little unpleasant. It’s thick and doesn’t soak in easily. But like, I love animals and the environment. So my solution is actually to cover up my skin as much as possible so I don’t HAVE to wear sunscreen. Win/win! When swimming or snorkeling, especially in cold water (like in the Galapagos) I always wear a long-sleeved rash guard. They help to protect my skin from the sun and provide a little bit of added warmth (though not as much as a wetsuit). Another alternative I’ve done is wearing lightweight merino wool shirts (his & hers). The thin layer of wool protects my skin from the sun and insulates me, keeping me warm even when it’s freezing! Another good option is a white button-down quick-dry shirt.
- Swim Leggings: My butt is always the first thing to burn when I’m snorkeling, and I’m getting up close and personal with marine life which means I need to be extra cautious about sunscreen. Swim leggings let you move underwater without restriction while providing sun protection (so you don’t have to use sunscreen!) and like a bathing suit, they dry quickly and stay comfortable once you’re out of the water. I love my swim leggings (and matching top) made by Waterlust, an ethical and sustainable conservation-focused apparel company. Their marine-life themed leggings are chlorine, sun, saltwater and sunscreen resistant and made from recycled materials, and they have POCKETS! Sizes go up to 3XL. For more details about why I recommend these, head over to our Waterlust swim leggings review post!
- Cute Bathing Suit: YOU GUYS. I have found THE perfect swimsuit, and I’m obsessed. I literally bought this suit in 3 different colors the day I tried it on. See that picture of me?! It’s the first picture of myself in a bikini that I’ve ever truly and deeply LOVED. I feel SO gorgeous in this bikini, I can’t even. It’s amazing. It’s perfect. It’s a freakin’ steal! Pick one up in every color from Amazon! If that’s not your style, I recommend browsing Swimsuits For All, which sells adorable suits for sizes 10-34. Even just looking at their models makes me feel all curvy and beautiful. Here, take a look:
For more packing tips for Mexico, check out our detailed guide to packing for hot climates:
Where to Stay in Isla Mujeres
We can’t all afford to stay at the famous Shell House (I wish)! But there are some other amazing VRBO vacation homes in Isla Mujeres, like this gorgeous oceanfront casita with an incredible arched terrace that literally has the Caribbean Sea lapping at its edges. Perfect for sunset drinks! This spot is the perfect place on the island to take a short walk north to the bars, shops, and restaurants.
Or there is this villa which is a few minutes away from the action (a perfect excuse to use that golf cart!) and also has an oceanfront terrace. It is more spacious than the casita and has a huge kitchen if you fancy cooking up something delicious with locally sourced ingredients.
We always recommend booking directly through VRBO because it has fewer fees and more flexible cancellation policies than Airbnb – also, we’re not fans of Airbnb’s unethical track record and lax security.
- Budget Travel Tip: There are also plenty of boutique hotels on Isla Mujeres! To find budget-friendly hotel options, we recommend using Kayak to price-compare hotel deals in Isla Mujeres.
If you’re visiting Isla Mujeres on a tight budget and trying to keep your costs as low as possible – which we were – the best place to stay is at Poc Na Hostel!
The hostel is right on the beach, with plenty of hammocks set out for comfortable relaxing. Beach access is a door to the hostel, and the location is tucked away off of the main strip so it’s nice and quiet without a lot of foot traffic. There’s an included breakfast, morning yoga, helpful staff to help book tours, and inexpensive dorms, privates, and campsites.
The one major downside? No air conditioning! But no matter – just spend the heat of the day cooling off in the ocean or zipping through town on a moped or snoozing in a hammock in the shade instead of in your room.
So, are you feeling the sand between your toes, smelling the salty ocean air, and listening to waves crash on the beach yet? We are dying to re-visit Isla Mujeres!
Planning a trip to Isla Mujeres? We’ve got a few more posts that might help you plan your trip! Check them out:
- What to Pack for a Beach Vacation: the Curvy Girl’s Beach Vacation Packing List
- 10 Obscure Mexican Foods You’ve Probably Never Heard Of
- The 4 Best Women’s Travel Shoes: Lightweight, Field-Tested, & Cute
Which of these things to do in Isla Mujeres would you head to first? Drop us a comment below!
Hey, did you find this post informative? Save it to refer to later on Pinterest!
Looking for more places to visit in Mexico? Check out things to do in La Paz, Mexico. Need some more advice on what to pack for beach destinations? Check out this post.
Our Top Travel Tips & Resources
- Booking Flights: To score flight deals, search on Google Flights or Kayak. Money-saving tips: fly mid-week or on the weekend; fly carry-on only on a budget airline; and take red-eyes or early morning flights.
- Accommodations: We usually stay in budget-friendly vacation rentals, boutique hotels or private rooms in hostels. We use Booking.com to book hotels (we love their flexible cancellation policy) and Hostelworld to book hostels (low deposit, easy change/cancellation, and excellent reviews). For vacation rentals, we prefer to book using VRBO because they've got lower fees and better support than Airbnb, and we're not fans of Airbnb's unethical track record. You can also book vacation rentals on Expedia and Hotels.com. We also use TrustedHousesitters as both hosts (for our home and our fur-child) and travelers!
- Travel Insurance: We always, always, ALWAYS buy travel insurance for international trips, and we STRONGLY suggest it - visit our Travel Insurance Guide to find out why. We recommend either World Nomads or SafetyWing for international travel insurance. SafetyWing is one of the few policies that covers Covid-19, and they have excellent monthly policies that are perfect for Digital Nomads and long term travelers!
- Travel Credit Card: We book all of our trips on our favorite travel credit card. Not only do we earn cash back that we can spend on more travel, but the card offers fantastic travel perks like travel insurance, trip delay and cancellation coverage, lost baggage reimbursement, and rental car coverage, which helps protect us on our travels. Learn more here.
- Vaccines & Meds: We use the travel guides on the CDC website to research recommended medications and vaccines for international trips. We always recommend getting every vaccine recommended by the CDC! You can get them at your primary care doctor's office or a walk-in pharmacy.
- Tours: We love booking guided tours, especially food tours and walking tours, to get a local's perspective and a history lesson while sight-seeing! We book our tours using Viator and GetYourGuide.
- Transportation: We use Rome2Rio to figure out how to get from place to place, and book local transportation online using Bookaway wherever we can. When we book a rental car, we use DiscoverCars to compare rental companies and find the best deal.
- Luggage Storage: Whenever we're checking out early or taking advantage of a long layover, we use LuggageHero to safely store our luggage while we're running around. Use the code PRACTICALW for 2 hours of free luggage storage on us.
- VPN Service: A VPN keeps your digital information (like website login details, bank info, etc) safe, even when you're connected to an unsecured network while traveling. Plus, it lets you use Netflix & other streaming sites abroad! We use NordVPN. Use the code WANDERLUSTPROMO when you sign up!
- What to Pack: Here are the travel essentials that we bring on every trip. We also have packing lists for hot weather, cold weather, and many more. Take a look at all of our packing guides!
Just thoroughly read the description of the bathing suit I was asking about so you can ignore/delete my last message. Yup! A 4X it is!
Thanks so much for all of the GREAT info you’ve shared!!
Beth R says
I’ve been creeping your Colombia posts for months (be there in June) and just received this one. We will be in Puerto Morelos in April and this post was (as usual) super helpful. I think we will head to Isla Mujeres for a day.
Quick question… the Amazon bikini- is it foreign sizing? Amazon suggested an XL for me, but when I look at measurements, ima need a lot more X’s. What is your experience? I have y worn a bikini in years, but this one is so cute!
Thank you for ALL of your help with our travels!
I have never read your posts before but we are headed to Isla in the next few months and you got me so excited about it! 😀 Great that you are not supporting captive dolphin swims, and you are not here for unethical practices and overfishing that we are facing right now. You mentioned you are an animal lover, are you vegan? I would love to hear about any vegan food you found in Isla! Thank you. XOXOX
Lia Garcia says
Hey Allie! We are not vegan, but there are some delicious smoothie spots on the island that I believe have some vegan options! I can’t recall any names, but here are a few options: https://www.happycow.net/north_america/mexico/isla_mujeres/
Have a great trip and stay safe!
Thanks so much for this, a great comprehensive guide! I am about to take the ferry over today! Also, really happy that you pointed out the unethical use of dolphins, I hope people choose not to do this and contribute to their exploitation.
Rupali More says
Wonderful article. I am going to visit Cancun in May. In your post you have maintained that swimming with whales tour starts from May to September. But all online tours start their booking from 1 June. Is it possible to do it in first week of May? I am really excited to do it.
Lia Garcia says
There may be some change with the whale migration that’s affecting the start date of the season, so I would go with whatever the online tours say! You can definitely ask once you arrive but that may just be a little too early.
I’ve been to Isla a few times and your review and things to do is definitely the best… even for a regular like me.
Lia Garcia says
We love to hear that, thank you!
Thinking about going here at the end of march with a girlfriend! Both late 20s early 30s. We were considering Santa Monica, Puerto Vallarta, and here! Were both travellers so would like to go somewhere neither of us have been. Were looking to do some beach days, but we also want to spend a few days “exploring” and doing activities, such as hiking, snorkling, etc. Do you think there is enough to do on the island?
Lia Garcia says
TBH, Isla Mujeres is more of a “chill on the beach” kinda place than an activities kinda place. That said, there is lots of water fun – snorkelling, diving, swimming, etc – but not much in the way of hiking on the island itself. We happily spent a full week here, with several days of relaxing on the beach and a few days of doing the stuff in this post, and never left the island at all. That said, you can definitely take some day trips around Cancun to Chichen Itza, etc but we were looking for a chill week and Isla Mujeres was perfect! If you don’t mind a more relaxed vacation, I think it would be a great trip for y’all! Not sure how it compares to those other spots as I haven’t been to them. Hope that’s helpful!
Lisa Vaccarezza says
Thank you so Much for the wonderful article… I am traveling from California to Islas mujheres in October…. and I’m sure I will read this article hundreds of times before we leave… Thank you so much
My hubby & I are staying on Isla for the first time in May. (We’ve vacationed in Cancun & Playa del Carmen several times and done two day trips to Isla, but never actually stayed.) Your article has great advice and has made us even more excited for our trip! We’re eager to check out some of the activity locales you recommended, such as Parque de los Suenos and Garrafon de Castilla; not to mention the restaurants. Yum! Thanks for your great insights!
Lia Garcia says
That sounds super fun!! Um, can we come crash your trip? 😛 Have a blast!
This is the best post I’ve read about Isla Mujeres. Thank you so much!
Puja Mahtani Gulabrai says
An amazing, practical, easy post.
You guys sure know how to travel!
I am planning on going to Isla Mujeres in a day og two. In Playa del Carmen currently.
It’s been extremely helpful.
Lia Garcia says
So happy to hear that! Have an amazing trip!
Hi Lia! I’m from México and I love to read what other people thinks about my beautiful Country. I loved your post!.
You describe Isla Mujeres as it is, Wonderful!. And I really appreciate that you don’t support swimming with captive dolphins.
All I can think now is the delicious food you describe! Thanks so much!
Lia Garcia says
YAY, I’m so happy I did your wonderful country justice in our post! We spent a month visiting a few spots in Mexico last year and I’ve been very late getting my posts up, but we loved Mexico and have lots more to say about it – so stay tuned!
Also YES all I want in life is fresh fish and tacos, take me backkkk!
Emily Hines says
I’ve heard so many good things about Isla Mujeres! This guide is so helpful; I haven’t visited Mexico yet but a sleepy beach town down there sounds like a great spot for me.
Lia Garcia says
Isla Mujeres is sleepier than Cancun for sure, but if you want REALLY sleepy, take a look at Isla Holbox. I think we’ll be visiting it next time – it’s even more remote and off the beaten path.
Hey, that’s so detailed post. I want to go to Mexico for a long time. You list of things just makes me go now. I liked your tips ideas. The money exchange seems much practical. I am just worried about Iguanas. I have a huge fear of reptiles. 🙂
You have included great photos as well with an apt caption. I enjoyed reading all.
Lia Garcia says
Thanks Varsha! The iguanas were more of a cute irritation than anything scary, but I can see how they might be a bit nerve wracking with a fear of reptiles 😛
A beautiful spot to visit! Looking forward to sailing there at some point. It’s actually only a day away sail from Key West! Thanks for sharing, your posts are always so great ❤️
Lia Garcia says
You’re kidding me! REALLY?! That’s so rad!! DEFINITELY sail there, that’s SO COOL. Plus, you can bring your own pie … for snacks, or whatever.
Harmony, Momma To Go says
wow what a great post and what a crazy uber story! I love uber (and saving money) but that is so wild west that other taxi drivers can just police… anyway, this looks like my kind of place – beach, snorkeling and I do like yoga (although I hate getting up early on vacay)
Lia Garcia says
I HATE IT TOO! I’m so glad it’s not just me! I asked my followers on Instagram and they were all like “I usually sleep in, but on vacation my body just magically wakes itself up at 4am out of pure excitement.” UM, NO. My body is excited to SLEEP and that’s what it does on vacation 😛
Hi Lia, thank you so much for the info on the dolphin exhibit. I am not a fan of using animals for entertainment, especially because it tends to result in abusive treatment. I would like to swim with dolphins but had wondered if these were captive dolphins. Now knowing that they are, I wouldn’t think of going! In addition to the conditions you’ve described, it seems extra cruel that they are so close to being free in the ocean yet aren’t. I subscribe to your letters and appreciate your honest, humble way of writing!
Lia Garcia says
Thank you so much for your kind words, and I’m so glad to hear that we’ve increased your awareness about the treatment of those poor dolphins!
Sounds great! Especially after all this cold weather we’ve had in the uk recently! I’d love to swim with whale sharks and yoga on the beach sounds lovely! (If only I were more flexible and less clumsy…!)
Wow what an amazing guide you have created. I have never been to this part of the world, and I knew I wanted to go – but now I want to go even more. Will get back to this guide when I do.
Regards from Copenhagen
Robin Brown says
Try getting to Puerto Morelos during your trip, on the mainland just 30km south of Cancun…..and check us out at Layla Guesthouse ! We are listed on Trip Advisor….#22 in all of Mexico ! A day tour into the modern Mayan world that you will never forget !
Lia Garcia says
That sounds rad! I’ll be in touch if we find ourselves in the area again 😉
This place is so cool! I’ve never even heard of it (sorry ) but now I really want to go! I love all of the colors and it looks way more appealing than the cold, dreary weather we’ve been having.
Lia Garcia says
I’d never heard of it before we went, tbh!