Isla Mujeres is a magic town best reserved for the true chill and laid-back traveler, while Cancun is an animated giant, full of fun and excitement. With their stark differences, you can easily choose one over the other. Or, choose both and the only decision you have to make is “where should you visit first?”
Isla Mujeres is the perfect contrast to neighboring Cancun’s dynamic and animated charms. It’s almost like a getaway for a getaway. Small and simple, the island is a perfect day trip from mainland Yucatan, providing a slower sense of living and a much more authentic scene.
But don’t underestimate its underrated name and quieter scenes, Isla Mujeres may be small, but it packs a lot of draws. Expect a rich blend of pristine beaches and an even richer aquatic world. The island also sports quirky means of getting around complimenting its quaint overtones.
What Makes Isla Mujeres Unique?
Yet Another Magic Town
Mexico is so big and full of wonders and thrills that it’s almost a world in itself. From beaches to beach towns, you can expect to find something to marvel at in Mexico.
Small towns that often hold certain values are part of Mexico’s magic. These towns are dubbed “Pueblos Magicos” or “Magic Towns” by the government. This alludes to the nation’s never-ending roster of natural, cultural, and historical charms.
Isla Mujeres packs a whole slew of appeals giving it an even greater value, not to mention its Mayan undertones. For this, Isla Mujeres is designated as a magic town. Even if you’re just visiting for a day, or staying there for a whole week, you can easily understand why it’s magical.
One of Isla Mujeres’ magic qualities is its Mayan touch. After hundreds of years since the fall of the once-great civilization, you can still feel its influences on the island. Evident in their culture, and a few sights and scenes, Isla Mujeres surely preserved a great deal of historical value.
On top of its already compelling cultural and historical value, Isla Mujeres’ is also perfect for relaxation. Well, because the island’s general overtones are relaxed, slow, and simple. If you’re looking for a more authentic take on an island getaway, Isla Mujeres is the best place.
The island’s actual size is also another one of its quirky qualities. With dimensions of 2,000 feet wide (or 609.6 meters) and less than 8 km or 5 miles long, Isla Mujeres is adorably small. Imagine how much ground you can cover in a short time.
Now, put its relaxed vibe and its small size together and you can have a rather interesting time in Isla Mujeres. With a wealth of beaches, and a unique local scene, perhaps all of Isla Mujeres does indeed constitute magic.
Being an island, striking beaches circles Isla Mujeres. You can expect to find a plethora of options to choose from, and by the looks of it, beauty isn’t really hard to find. Blessed with some of the most beautiful beaches in the world, Isla Mujeres surely offers the best kind of experience
Surrounded by so many beaches, you can surely find a beach you’d love. Check out some of the well-known spots:
Without a doubt, Playa Norte is the best and most popular beach on the island. Apart from its pristine and stunning features, Playa Norte offers the best swimmable conditions. Anyone can swim worry-free regardless of age, and experience.
Playa Norte is long, shallow, and calm, making it an ideal spot to experience what Isla Mujeres is all about. Apart from that, further inland, the beach is also lined with bars and restaurants for every type of traveler descending from the mainland.
The famous beach is considered the island’s pride and champion. Playa Norte is one of the 10 most beautiful beaches in the world, and that surely accounts for something. Because of this, Playa Norte is also the most crowded beach on the island but nothing like the scenes you’ll see in Cancun.
Best for chilling and hanging out, Playa Centro is the second-most popular beach on Isla Mujeres. If you don’t like the crowds in Playa Norte you can always head down to Playa Centro’s more chilled setting.
By its name, Playa Centro is located right next to the heart of Isla Mujeres. You can stop here after a leisurely stroll across town, and take a relaxing dip. The beach features a smooth white sand beach stretch, calm waves, and charming evergreen palm trees.
Further ashore you can find many shops and stalls where you can buy refreshments such as fresh fruit drinks and even ice cream. But if you want to sample authentic Mexican island cooking, many restaurants and bars also line the beach.
You can find Playa Garrafon right on the southwestern coast of the island, where the nearest reef can be found. Expect to find the beach unspoiled, well-protected, and beautiful. Its pristine conditions are mostly due to its location inside the Garrafon Natural Reef Park.
Immaculate white sand beaches, with simple amenities for a good beach experience, define Playa Garrafon. With access to the Garrafon Natural Reef Park, you can also find plenty of snorkeling and diving experience here. Experience the island’s rich underwater scene, via the many diving or snorkeling tours you can avail yourself right on the beach.
Small Island Quirks
Isla Mujeres, right across big Cancun, and the neighboring Cozumel Island, is comparably small. The island only has a total land area of approximately 4.22 sq km or 1.62 sq mi. Getting around the island won’t take too much sweat.
With its small size, you can easily and quickly get to as many entries in your itinerary in less than a day. You can stroll around town, stop at Playa Norte, and then Playa Centro, and head down south for snorkeling in less than a day. However, the island may be small, but the locals prefer to take it slow.
With a small land area, accessibility is easy and fast, yet transportation in Isla Mujeres is somewhat unusual and laid-back. Considered as one of its best unique features, you can’t just drive a car around Isla Mujeres.
Rent a Bicycle
If you want to take things slow, chill, scenic, and cheap, bicycles are the go-to transportation here. Bicycle rentals across town are plenty and you will have no problem finding one. If you’re staying at a hotel, you can also ask if they offer a bicycle rental service as well. Most rental fees can cost around 10 to 20 USD a day.
Instead of private four-wheel drives, golf carts or buggies are the kings of the roads of Isla Mujeres. These little quirky wheels are the most common mode of transportation all across the island. Tourists even find it fun and exciting, often renting their own while they stay on the island for a few days, apart from the bicycle option.
Golf cart rentals are regulated so you can expect to find the same rates across town. Head to Rueda Medina for top-rated rental companies, and make sure to check the quality of the unit.
Apart from the sheer unfamiliarity you get from driving buggies, they are fun and fast. You can get around the island in less than an hour. Imagine just using golf carts and ticking your Isla Mujeres itinerary. It is indeed perfect for a day trip.
Taxis are also available on the island and are your only choice for public transport. However, they are best for those just visiting for the day. You can get taxis anywhere around town, hotels even contact taxis for you. Make sure you agree on a price before getting in.
Marine Life Advocacy
Marine life advocates will surely love the fact that Isla Mujeres is on a mission to save turtles and help them thrive. The island has turtle sanctuaries and even events that help turtles hatch in protected areas.
Turtles tend to breed in the area around July to October. You’ll find them heading ashore where they make nests and lay their eggs. Eggs tend to hatch around the end of October and the local children usually participate in the event. Tourists are also welcome to join.
You can also find a variety of protected marine life on the island, making it one of Mexico’s ecotourism hubs. Check out animals such as whale sharks, manta rays, and a variety of fish.
With the island’s ecotourism efforts, you can expect to find businesses and NGOs on the island. They specialize in conservation and protection. You can purchase souvenirs, merchandise, or even tour promos from them, and proceeds will be given to the cause.
Garrafon Natural Reef Park
Garrafon Natural Reef Park is located right at the southern reach of the island, where being scenic is an understatement. Garrafon is famous for its raw vistas and unspoiled nature. You can expect to be mesmerized by the area’s sheer beauty, it’s arguably one of the most famous spots on the island.
Snorkeling, diving, and kayaking are popular activities in Garrafon Park. These activities make it worth more than just mere sightseeing. You can explore and witness the natural wealth that the island has.
From Garrafon, you can easily reach Punta Sur, the southernmost point of the island. Punta Sur features a roster of charms as well. You can explore a lighthouse and a Mayan temple. Spectacular views of the Caribbean and the adjacent city of Cancun.
What else can you say about Cancun? Perhaps the most famous seaside city in Mexico has helped put the nation on the tourism map. Cancun’s success and the noise it reverberates across the travel industry has set the bar high up if touristy cities want to keep up.
Upon setting food upon the legendary city, you can easily understand why it has amassed such a following. Cancun is one jam-packed city, brimming with fun, entertainment, history, and culture. It basically has everything a city would need if it wants to be known throughout the world.
What Makes Cancun Unique?
The Biggest Nightlife Scene in the Caribbean
Other than the classic beaches and natural beauty, Cancun is one huge nightclub when the sun goes down. The city is practically known for its parties and night events thanks to its huge roster of clubs and bars. Cancun is almost synonymous with fun and interesting night parties.
With never-ending dynamic draws, the city is filled with tourist highs and pleasures. Cancun’s animated charms are backed by its list of nightclubs and bars. These spots offer nonstop fun, and events headlined by international personalities.
Colorful nights, and electricity in the air, these are some of the best spots in town for that fabled nightly fun:
A famous nightclub brand in Mexico, Coco Bongo is one of the most popular party hotspots in the city, if not the most famous. With locations in different cities in Mexico and the Dominican Republic, Coco Bongo is top-tier. The club regularly features some of the grandest shows in the city.
Coco Bongo offers an interesting flavor of its own as a unique take on its brand. The nightclub features a grand roster of cabaret shows. A lot of them are reminiscent of circus acts and Las Vegas–style entertainment. Expect to see trapeze displays, acrobatics, and showgirls in many of Coco Bongo’s shows.
Aside from its grand displays, the nightclub often also hosts globally appealing shows. A lot of their events also headline international artists, DJs, and many others. Make sure to check the nightclub’s calendar before coming, you might catch yourself attending one, or a couple.
Mandala Beach Club
Mandala’s Indian-themed setup already distinguishes its name from the many that dot the city. It is one of the packed clubs in the city. Thanks to Mandala’s theme and location, you can still feel the seaside charm of Cancun as you dance the night away.
Located right at Cancun Beach, Mandala is a crowd favorite because of its proximity to the beach. Couple its setup with good music, excellent food, and endless drinks, expect that your Mandala memory will go down in history.
The City is the biggest club in Cancun with a maximum capacity of 5,000 heads. The club is the best spot for an all-out rave concert. The City has hosted top international DJs, and music artists putting Cancun on the party map.
The club has a knack for hosting events that could last from dusk til’ dawn. It has modern entertainment technology providing the best party experience for every type of party animal. You can expect you’ll experience the full spectrum in The City.
Many of the world’s most famous wonders hold historical and cultural value to them, and the Yucatan is littered with these sites. Sitting hours and some even just minutes away from central Cancun, the city is the best base to conquer what’s left of the once-thriving empire.
These ruins have survived being buried deep within forests, and have been discovered one by one, thanks to locals and explorers. Now, most of them have become both subjects of marvel and curiosity. You can visit ruins near Cancun, and catch a glimpse of the Yucatan’s rich past.
Fortunately, most of the ruins are open to the public and are included in many tour packages from Cancun. If you’ve heard of Chichen Itza, then coming to Cancun will be a delightful treat.
Here are some of the most famous sites just hours away from the city:
Well, the El Rey ruins aren’t hours away from Cancun, it is, in fact, within the Hotel Zone of the city itself. So if you’re staying in the Hotel Zone, you can easily visit El Rey as your first stop if ever you’re planning to conquer ruins in the Yucatan.
What makes the El Rey ruins so appealing is the contrast it provides as it sits along the most developed part of Cancun. You can have hotels and all the cosmopolitan highs and marvel at the ancient histories of the city at the same time. Expect El Rey to be packed regardless of the season because of its proximity.
Situated along the coast, El Rey was once a major port in the days of the empire. It is believed to have been built around 200 AD. El Rey is an important trading point for the ancient Mayans for a variety of goods.
Visitors are allowed to climb and explore the ruins, offering a glimpse into its once glorious past. The ruins are also perfect for a quick archeological day trip right in the city. However, you have to reserve access beforehand.
Known for having one of the tallest ancient structures in Mexico, Coba’s main pyramid can overshadow even Chichen Itza. The temple is one of the most popular options to visit from Cancun, it is one of the most recommended stops.
El Castillo, the ruins’ main pyramid stands at about 138 feet (42 meters), with a set of stairs total of 120 steps at the center. You can climb up the steps using a rope for support and safety. But despite its value, Coba actually sees fewer crowds than the iconic Chichen Itza.
People who get to visit Coba, thanks to fewer crowds, can experience something unknowingly special. Coba’s history is one of power and value. The city was once a seat of function overseeing agriculture and trade over the region.
Ek Balam is yet another famous entry in the Yucatan’s long roster of ancient marvels. You can expect to find a plethora of tours and packages taking you to Ek Balam from Cancun. It is undeniably one of the most famous ruins near Cancun.
Translated as “Black Jaguar”, the ruins are ideal for adventurous explorers. Ek Balam is located right in the middle of a dense forest making it difficult to come across. It is the most recent addition to the ruins that speckled the Yucatan Peninsula.
The most popular and tallest structure in the ancient city is The Acropolis, standing over 100 feet (30 meters). What makes it special is the intricate design across its imposing exterior, sparking the imagination of what the city was once like.
A Buffet of Natural Wonders
The city is so packed with the right blend of draws that Cancun never fades despite decades of topping ranking lists. Thanks to a variety of natural draws, Cancun offers a 360-degree tourist experience.
Apart from its nightlife, cosmopolitan scenes, and ancient ruins, the city has nature as well. From waterfront marvels to inland geological curiosities, it is safe to say that Cancun has everything.
Boasting a 22.5 km (14 miles) white sand strip, Cancun’s beach is perhaps its most imposing natural feature. Imagine a brilliant expansive beach stretch visible from the skies, expect to find a spot to your liking in Cancun.
Further out to the sea, Cancun also sits close to the Mesoamerican Barrier Reef, the second-largest in the world. This offers an abundance of opportunities for diving and snorkeling, not to mention housing rich marine life. If you love the underwater, you’ll most definitely love Cancun’s aquatic features.
However, if you’re one for inland outdoor adventures, you have plenty of Cenotes sitting close to Cancun. Cenotes are natural sinkholes that are filled with water, surrounded by lush vegetation. One of the Yucatan’s curiosities, cenotes are by far a thing of wonder close to Cancun
You can rappel, dive, and swim in these holes. However, you can only do so by tour, and are advised not to go on your own. But several cenotes are still sitting around unswimmable. You can also find cenotes via tours to the ruins, as most ruins lay close to long-existing cenotes.
Along Cancun’s famous imposing beach stretch straddles the famous Hotel Zone or Zona Hotelera. This well-developed area also faces the beautiful Caribbean, providing breathtaking views. The zone houses over 140 hotels offering a range of services and packages for any type of traveler.
Apart from the downtown and central area, a huge chunk of Cancun’s visitors chooses to stay in any of the hotels across the zone. This makes the area one of the most dynamic places in the city. From shopping areas, restaurants, bars, and beaches, you can have a bit of everything in the Hotel Zone.
Here are some of the top-rated hotels in the zone:
Well-heeled, the luxury-loving set will absolutely love Cancun’s Ritz-Carlton. Just like all of its international branches, Ritz-Carlton offers opulence. Coupled with quality service, and topped by the beauty of the beaches of Cancun, Ritz-Carlton always delivers.
The resort offers 365 rooms each awash with classic designs, and amenities alluding to its luxurious flavor. Best for the affluent, Ritz-Carlton promises elegance at its best, providing an unforgettable stay in Cancun.
Le Blanc Spa Resort Cancun
Offering quite an ensemble of services, Le Blanc Spa Resort Cancun is the city’s epitome of relaxation. Unique and extravagant, the resort doesn’t spare a moment with its jam-packed services and amenities.
Le Blanc sports a calming all-white motif nodding to its name and the peace and serenity it offers. You can have spa sessions, fitness programs, and gorgeous vistas of the Caribbean here. The resort houses over 260 rooms that provide the best R&R you can ever have in the city.
Hotel Riu Palance Peninsula
Hotel Riu Palace Peninsula is deep into the Hotel Zone. Upon arriving you will be welcomed with the unique architecture of the hotel. Styled in a retro-modern design, the hotel feels classic yet upscale and fancy. Riu Palace Peninsula boasts a unique beachfront site in Cancun, with just a few other hotels in the area boasting both soft sands and rocky coasts.
The Riu’s 562 large and expensive rooms are modest but trendy and contemporary. Guests can expect to see blue sea waters glistening through the floor-to-ceiling sliding glass doors in every suite.
Hard Rock Hotel Cancun
The Hard Rock screams “all-inclusive Cancun megaresort”. The hotel is with amenities and features that perfectly caters to guests of all types. You can have a gorgeous infinity pool with ocean views and two popular swim-up bars. As for dining, it has five restaurants serving international cuisine, live entertainment, a great spa, and a wonderful kids’ club.
Staying true to Hard Rock fashion, all rooms feature contemporary decor with rock-n-roll twists. They also have open bathrooms and balconies with either ocean or lagoon views.
Is Isla Mujeres Better Than Cancun?
When it comes to the number and diversity of draws and features, Cancun is the winner without a doubt. Where else in Mexico can you find a dynamic blend of fun, entertainment, culture, history, and cosmopolitan thrills? Cancun, that’s where.
Cancun’s worldwide renown and success is a testament that it is by far Mexico’s tourism head honcho. It may not be perfect, but Cancun sure does have everything.
However, that doesn’t mean that Isla Mujeres fares far from the rankings. The small charming island is best suited for those who don’t prefer Cancun’s animated highs. Isla Mujeres is best defined by the genuine relaxation and simplicity it offers to slow-travelers who prefer the quiet and serene.
Is Isla Mujeres Safer Than Cancun?
Touristy and saturated, you can expect Cancun to be always packed in every corner, safe from anything that is practically illegal. Maybe except for tourist traps and scams. Apart from that, Cancun is free from terrorist threats.
However, just like any city in the world, Cancun still experiences petty crimes like pickpocketing and theft. Mexico may have a reputation for its drug and gang-related problems, but Cancun assures safety and security. Locals and guests alike enjoy this security around the city.
Isla Mujeres’ serene and simpler life is a factor for safety in itself. You can relax and explore the island without having to worry about crime and safety. Plus, the laid-back ambiance can make you feel even more at ease. However, acting without vigilance can put you at risk. It’s best to take precautions as you would in your city.
Isla Mujeres vs. Cancun Hotel Zone
When it comes to Hotel Zone, none can ever beat Cancun. With 140 premier hotels and resorts along its gleaming white sand stretch, Cancun’s Zone Hotelera has everything for everyone.
Isla Mujeres on other hand prides itself on its small size, and a contrasting quieter, more relaxed scene. Compared to Cancun, Isla Mujeres has fewer hotels, most of which are homegrown boutique hotels. The island can best host travelers looking for a more intimate, simple, yet aesthetic time.
Is Isla Mujeres in Cancun?
Isla Mujeres is a separate island just off the coast of Cancun. They are both completely separate.
Where Is Isla Mujeres in Relation to Cancun?
Isla Mujeres sits adjacent to Cancun, separated by the Caribbean Sea with only a 14-km (or 8.7 mi) distance in between.
How Far Is Isla Mujeres From Cancun?
Isla Mujeres is approximately 14 km (8.7 mi) from Cancun, directly. You can literally see Cancun from the western coasts of Isla Mujeres.
Is There a Bridge From Cancun to Isla Mujeres?
Despite the distance, there is no bridge getting to Isla Mujeres from Cancun.
How to Get to Isla Mujeres From Cancun
You can only get to Isla Mujeres from Cancun via ferry. Take a bus, or a taxi at any point in the city and get to the ferry wharf in Punta Sam or Puerto Juarez. From there, board a ferry to Isla Mujeres.
How Long Does It Take to Get From Cancun to Isla Mujeres?
A ferry trip to Isla Mujeres from Punta Sam or Puerto Juarez in Cancun can typically take around 30 minutes.
Is There a Ferry From Cancun to Isla Mujeres?
Ferries are the only way to get to Isla Mujeres from Cancun. You can choose from the many ferry companies available on the ferry wharf, such as Ultramar.
What Ferry Do You Take From Cancun to Isla Mujeres?
You can take ferries from either Ultramar and Naveganto in Puerto Juarez to get to Isla Mujeres. The ferries from Ultramar are the more popular option. Ultramar has high-speed ferries and well-maintained facilities on board. The company also has a good record of safety.
Where to Catch the Ferry From Cancun to Isla Mujeres
You can take a ferry from any of the three points, Puerto Juarez, Punta Sam, Hotel Zone. Each of these places offers ferry trips directly to Isla Mujeres. However, according to many, the ferry wharf in Puerto Juarez is the more popular choice. Not only does it offer the best ferries, but it also has more time slots for trips.
How Long Is Ferry Ride From Cancun to Isla Mujeres?
A ferry trip can typically take around 30 minutes, depending on where you’re boarding.
How Much Is the Ferry to Isla Mujeres From Cancun?
One way ticket prices for ferries can vary from 9 to 11 USD, depending on the season.
Can You Fly From Cancun to Isla Mujeres?
You can’t fly from Cancun to Isla Mujeres as there are no airports and even helipads.
How Far Is Isla Mujeres From Cancun Airport?
Isla Mujeres is approximately 36.1 km (22 mi) east of Cancun International Airport, directly.
How to Get to Isla Mujeres From Cancun Airport
You can either take a taxi or an ADO bus from the airport to Puerto Juarez. From the port, you can take an Ultramar ferry to Isla Mujeres.
How Long Does It Take From Cancun Airport to Isla Mujeres?
The trip can take around 30 minutes to more than an hour.
How Much Is a Taxi From Cancun Airport to Isla Mujeres?
A regulated airport taxi can cost around 45 USD for a one-way trip. Prices can also vary depending on how many people.