eight-kilometer-long by one-half-kilometer-wide wisp of
an island sits just 6 km off the coast to the northeast
of Cancún. For those wanting a break from the glitz of
Cancún, Isla Mujeres is a refreshing throwback to the
days before Cancún even existed. The pace is relaxed and
unpretentious, the setting is pure magic.
The island (population
13,500) seems to defy change, even though its swanky
neighbor has spurred the development of some visitor
attractions that have spruced up the islands very
"bohemian" ambiance. The tourist ferry dock
unloads day visitors and Cancún refugees (an interesting
mix of North Americans and Europeans) in front of the
islands main settlement (measuring a mere four
blocks by six blocks). The town is home to simple shops,
a few restaurants, some funky bars, an occasional
brightly painted clapboard house, and the Plaza
South of town the
islands only road skirts the western coast past
mangrove lagoons before looping northbound. The trip
takes about 20 minutes. Mopeds, golf carts, and taxis can
be easily rented upon arrival.
Island flora and fauna
showcase many Caribbean species of birds and reptiles. A
carpet of green vegetation and saltwater ponds cover the
island. Sandy beaches lapped by warn crystalline water
rim the islands leeward side. Most of the
Islas residents live from diving and fishing. They
make very hospitable hosts for both day trippers and
Discovery: swim and frolic with dolphins at
one of only four dolphin encounter attractions
anywhere in Mexico. One hour session includes 30
minutes in the water with playful dolphins.
Advanced reservations required. Tel. (987)
Atlantis: This complete water sports center
is located near Garrafón Marine Park. Submarine
excursions, snorkeling, kayaks, pedal boats,
restaurant, locker facilities. Call (98) 833021
in Cancún/1-800-715-4021 from the U.S.
- Eco Caribe
Turtle Hatchery: This turtle hatchery is home
to hundreds of sea turtles, from infants to
adults. The breeding farm offers tours daily.
There are turtle pens, an indoor aquarium
(English signage), and gift shop. $10 peso
donation to enter aquarium.
Hacienda: Fermín Mundaca, a 19th century
pirate and slave trader of some notoriety, was
the islands most famous swashbuckler. After
years of plundering the Caribbean, he
"retired" to Isla Mujeres where he
built a lavish estate to woo a local woman. The
once grand mansion is now in ruins, overrun by
the eve-encroaching jungle. Mundacas
gravestone (which he carved) is in the
islands Municipal Cemetery. Under skull and
cross-bones reads, "As you are, I was. As I
am, you will be.
- Lighthouse and
Maya Ruins: Occupying the islands
southern tip are two related structures - a
modern lighthouse overlooks a small Mayan temple
(Ixchel) that signaled Mayan sailors and
settlements as far away as Cozumel hundreds of
years ago. Ruins were partially destroyed by
Hurricane Gilbert but still warrant a visit.
- Tour to Contoy
Island: daily departures to this
federally-protected bird sanctuary and natural
reserve. The full-day excursion includes fishing,
snorkeling, lunch, a guided tour of the
islands beaches, coves and mangroves. 45
minutes by hired boat. Contact Capitán Ricardo
Gaitán at (987) 70500 for details.
western shore has calmer water and beaches with
facilities, while the windward side is mostly undeveloped
and has more open ocean conditions. In either case, the
islands beaches are spectacular and rarely crowded.
- Playa Norte:
the islands prettiest beach-tranquil
turquoise water and sugar and sugar white sand.
Ideal for swimming and sunbathing. Three hotel
properties face the beach, two offering-sit-down
dining (Na Balam and Maria del Mar).
- Playa Paraiso
& Playa Lancheros: These two adjacent
beaches on the southwest shore are idyllic for
sunbathing and swimming in crystal turquoise
water. Shark pen (yes, you can swim with a very
gentle nurse shark), souvenir stands, and simple
inexpensive restaurants. Across the street is the
- Parque Marino El
Garrafón: This popular beach and snorkeling
site has been acquired by the company that
operates Xcaret and Xel Há. A $2 million dollar
renovation effort to rehabilitate and
commercialize the park was completed in early
99. The new attractions now has better
facilities and conservation programs (and a much
higher entrance fee than before).
Diving and Snorkeling
Isla first gained
international attention for its outstanding aquatic
conditions. Clear, warm water, abundant marine life,
reefs and caves attracted Jacques Cousteau who was guided
by local dive legend Ramón Bravo. Snorkeling sites are
abundant, though those frequented by Cancún party boats
can be crowded at certain times of the day
(Garrafón/Playa Paraiso). There are several fine dive
shops on the island that lead divers to the Cave of
the Sleeping Sharks, and several popular reefs (Manchones,
Cuervones, La Banda).
Contact Coral Dive
Center, (987) 70763.
One of the islands
leading travel agencies is Mundaca Travel, tel.
(987) 70025 / fax. (987) 700706, offering tours, hotel
reservations, home rentals.
Isla Mujeres has several
good dining spots, including Marias KanKin,
Arriba, Ciro´s Lobster House, Chez Magaly, Las Palapas,
Bistro Francais, Zizalha, Café Cito, and Rolandi.
G E T T I N G T O I S
L A M U J E R E S
Several operators now
make the crossing directly from the Cancún resort zone.
Many operators have turned the short ride into full-blown
adventures with live music, open bar, lunch, snorkeling,
and theme parties. Boats depart from the pier near the
Playa Langosta Dock, or from the pier at Playa Linda,
Round trip fare is about $ 13.50 U.S. Full-day tours
normally include water transportation, lunch, snorkeling,
and an island tour. Cost is around $30 US per person.
Agua Tour Adventures
Aqua Quin 83-18-83
Asterix Water Taxi 86-48-47
Dolfin Express 83-14-88
Sun Tour/Aviomas 84-64-33
The Shuttle 84-64-33
Panchos Night 84-66-56
Isla Mujeres Shuttle 83-34-48
A passenger ferry and a
modern jet boat depart from this dock located 3 km north
of Cancún City. Hourly departures in each direction,
from 6am-8pm; reasonable rates (around $8 pesos per
person, each way ferry; 22 pesos for faster jet boat).
Mostly used by the locals. For information contact the
concierge your hotel.
A major resort
destination in its own right, Cozumel is and excellent
day trip for Cancún vacationers. (See Cozumel chapter
G E T T I N G T O C O Z U M E L
- Mexican Inter (operated
by Aero Cozumel) offers affordable day trip
packages that include meals, transfers, tours,
and in some cases, even a diving excursion. For
details and schedules, Cancún tel. 84-25-21.
Currently there is no
direct ferry service connecting Cancún and Cozumel.
However, two options are available.
Morelos/Cozumel: a car ferry operates once
daily from this village, 35 km south of Cancún.
- Playa del
Carmen/Cozumel: very popular passenger ferry
connecting this emerging mainland resort area (73
km south of Cancún) with the Island of Cozumel;
several daily departures in each direction. This
trip takes about 30 minutes ($61 pesos) on the
ultra-modern MV Mexico water jet (Cruceros
Maritimos del Caribe, tel. (987) 21588;
fax. (987) 21942), or about 50 minutes via
regular ferries ($35 pesos).
SUBMARINES: 48 Passenger Coast Guard-approved
submarine excursions; fully narrated in English;
in Cancún, tel. 83-30-21.
Billing itself as "Cancuns water
kingdom, "this water sports center/theme
park offers sub rides, diving and snorkeling
excursions, guided jetski tours through
mangroves, and para-sailing rides. New: Paradise
Island attraction. In Cancún, tel. 85-22-88.
MARINA: Trips to Isla Contoy and other
islands offered by this full service marina. Tel.
XOCHILPILLI: Snorkeling excursions to Punta
Nizuc. In Cancún, tel. 84-49-13
- NAUTIBUS I AND
II: A "floating submarine." In
Cancún, tel. 83-35-52.
- SUB SEA
EXPLORER: A mini-sub that explores area
reefs. Four daily departures. In Cancún, tel.
For exploring outside
the area, Cancún offers some of Mexicos most
adventurous sightseeing. Several excellent tour operators
have trips throughout the region.
LOCAL TOUR OPERATORS
Dial 011-52-98 then...
Aviomar T. 84-6433 F.
Best Day Tours T. 83-21-54 F.83-39-74 800-543-7556
Classique Travel T. 87-07-93 F.87-07-92
Gray Line Cancun T. 87-0870 F. 87-24-38
Intermar Cancun Caribe T. 84-42-66 F. 84-20-30
Lomas Travel/ Viajes Turquesa T. 84-32-42 F. 86-67-22
Mansur Travel T/F. 84-75-40
Mayaland Tours T. 86-66-06 800-235-4079
Olympus Tours T. 87-67-70 F. 87-70-06
Thomas Moore Travel T. 83-4939 800-607-8080
Turismo Aviomar/ Aviotour T. 84-66-56
VI Travel T. 84-84-94 F. 84-80-99
Viajes Turimex T. 87-40-90
Viusa T. 84-28-82 F. 84-44-26
Cancún is a gateway to
one of the Mexican Caribbeans premier ecological
attractions: Sian Kaan Biosphere Reserve.
Sian Kaan is a 1.3-million-acre- ecological park of
forests, lagoons, wetlands, ruins, and exotic marine
habitats. The area has been declared a UNESCO Biosphere
Reserve. There are over 350 species of birds and over 30
little-visited Mayan archaeological sites. It is located
a few kilometers south of Tulum, and accessed via a
Once inside the reserve,
there are the villages of Boca Paila and Punta
Allen (about 160 kilometers south of Cancún).
Several small inns, including some deluxe fishing
resorts, and a few excellent campgrounds are available. A
private non-profit organization, Amigos de Sian
Kaan, operates tours to this wild and exotic
region. In Cancún, tel. 84-95-83 for information.
A crumbling temple
overlooks a sleek row of modern resorts. A small pyramid
rests next to a golf green. These meetings of old and new
are part of Cancuns timeless appeal and
ever-enduring reminders of the influence of the Mayan
The Yucatán is abundant
with archaeological relics. It has mores sites than any
other region in the Western Hemisphere. Over 1200 known
sites are scattered around Cancún and Mérida. Many have
yet to be excavated. New sites turn up every year. Below
is a summary of the regions largest and most
popular sites. All can be visited as part of excellent
Ruins In Cancún
In the resort zone of
Cancún there are three small, but interesting sites: El
Rey, the largest, overlooks the lagoon near the Caesar
Park Hotel; Pok-Ta-Pok, a small temple on Cancuns
golf course; and Yamil Luum, a small temple
overlooking the Sheraton hotel. All are worth seeing,
especially if youre not heading to one of the
Yucatans larger sites.
Ruins Near Cancún:
Location....201 km west
of Cancún (two hours by bus); full-day escorted tours
Mighty Chichén Itzá is
one of the largest and most fascinating sites in Mexico.
It is a joy to visit. It is actually two cities: one that
was ruled by the mayas during the sixth to the tenth
century; the other a Toltec-Mayan city that emerged
around the year 1000 A.D. Most of the prominent buildings
were developed during the citys "rebirth"
under Toltec rule. The towering Castillo displays
a mixture of Toltec and Mayan influences and is fraught
with cosmological symbolism. Its four sides contain 365
steps (depicting the solar year), 52 panels (for each
year in the Mayan century), and 18 terraces (for the
eighteen months in the religious year). There is an
interesting temple inside the Castillo, accessible via a
The enormous ball
court is the largest ever discovered, and is lined
with fascinating carvings. The site also contains a
cenote, or sacred well, an Observatory, the
imposing Temple of Warriors, and the Nunnery,
along with dozens of other structures. Not to be missed!
Plan to spend at least a day here.
During the Fall and
Spring Equinoxes (March and September) the suns
shadow forms an enormous serpents body on the
staircase of the pyramid known as "El
Castillo." Quite a sight!
A full-day excursion to
Chinchén Itzá costs around $50 U.S. per person.
...A mere 4 km east of
Chinchén Itzá are the fascinating Caves of
Balankanché. This cavernous grotto is a sacred
source of fresch water, and was an important place of
worship for the Mayas and later, the Toltec civilization.
Tours lead through narrow passageways to beautiful
underground pools. English guided tours are available.
Ruins Near Cancún:
km south of Cancún
This once-great city,
now being extensively studied for the first time, is a
jungle-bound site measuring nearly 50 sq. Km.in size! The
site thrived between 500-900 A.D. before being abandoned
and swallowed by the ever-encroanching jungle. Much of
the site is still unexcavated, giving visitors an erie
"Indiana Jones "-type feeling. It is suroundeb
by dense jungle and five fresh water lakes (some of the
only lakes in the entire Yucatán región). Excavations
have unearthed Nochuc Mul, a 138-foot tall pyramid
(talles in the Yucatán), a ninetierd castle, and a ball
court. The site has more sacbe (wide
limestone-paved ancient roads) than any site yet
south of Cancún Period
Post Classic Culture
1200-1500 A.D. This modest-sized
coastal city is one of the loveliest archaeological sites
in México. It is a popular day excursion from Cancún,
and is usually combined with Xel-Há in the same trip
(see Riviera Maya chapter). It is the only Mayan port
city ever discovered, and one of the few to still have
been occupied when the Spaniards arrived in the 16th
century. Overlooking the turquoise Caribbean Sea,
Tulum is a gleaming white walled city that invites
visitors to roam its small temples and buildings. The
site exhibitis strong Toltec-Mayan influences. The Temple
of the Frescoes contains faded interior wall murals,
and the Temple of the Frescoes contains faded interior
wall murals, and the Temple of the Descending God
portrays a god tumbling frof the heavens. This is a major
destination for Cancún daytrippers arriving on tour
buses. Its best explored later in the afternoon, when the
masses have departed. Admission is colected, and several
English-speaking guides are available for hire.
Currently none is
available on-site at Tulum. However, properties can be
foud nearby at the new Robinson Club or at Puerto
Aventuras Akumal, and Playa del Carmen. See
the Riviera Maya chapter in this Guide for details.
As appealing as Cancún
is, countless treasures await those willing to abandon
poolside comforts and head south to explore he hiddes
beaches and ancient Mayan mysteries of the Yucatans
eastern coast. Most travelers experience this region
through a popular day tour to Tulum and Xel-Há
; see the RIVIERA MAYA chapter this guide for details.
This colonial-era city
with deep Mayan roots is a fascinating, yet often
overlooked, destination. Mérida is not only the gateway
to Mexicos most awesome Mayan ruins, but also a
unique inland city of strong Spanish, Mayan, French, and
Lebanese influence. Most archaeology buffs use Mérida as
a base for exploration. The city nicely complements a
"sun and sea" Cancún vacation and is strongly
recommended for a 2-3 day sightseeing side trip. (See
MERIDA chapter details.)
By Word of Mouth
Thirty years ago.
Jacques Costeau, the world famous marine biologist,
explored the crystal clear water of the Caribbean and
placed Cancún on the map before anybody could have
imagined its prosperous growth. At the time one Mayan
family inhabited that coastline. They were to watch over
the ancient Mayan ruin called El Rey. Today El Rey is a
tiny dot amidst 20,000 hotel rooms in what has become one
of the most popular beach destinations in the worlds. In
the old days, those of us who lived on Isla Mujeres would
go to Cancún for camping and spear fishing in the
mangrove rivers. Today we still thank Captain Costeau
with symbolic offerings in many beach communities on
& OUTDOOR ACTIVITIES
As is fitting of a
world-class resort destination, Cancún has a diverse and
sophisticated array of sports and outdoor activities.
Until the fall of 1994,
Cancuns only 18-hole course was the lovely Pok-Ta-Pok,
a scenic Robert Trent Jones Jr.-designed course (6,721
yards). The flat, yet challenging, course winds past
Cancuns saltwater lagoon and the turquoise
Caribbean Sea. There is even a Mayan temple next to one
of its greens! Green fees are around $50 U.S. per person.
Tel.83-12-30; fax 83-33-58.
The Caesar Park Beach
& Golf Resort (tel.1-800-228-3000) is home to a
new 18 hole course, Three-par golf is also available at
two resort area hotels. The Meliá Cancún
(tel.85-11-60) and the Oasis Cancún
(tel.85-08-67) each have short but fun executive courses
open to play for guests and non-guests.
are available at most resorts on the island, and are less
numerous in town. See individual property descriptions in
this section for details.
Cancún has a new bullring
and corridas are held every Wednesday at 3:30pm. The
bullring is on Av. Bonampak across from Los Almendros
Restaurant. Tel. 84-82-48. Heres a sampling of
other activities. * * Go-Karts up to 130 km/hr:
- Mini Golf: 36 holes
at Cancún Palace Hotel, tel. 85-05-33 ext. 6655.
- * Bowling: Plaza
Kukulcán, tel. 85-34-25.
- * Horseback Riding:
Rancho Loma Bonita, tel. 87-54-65.
- * See Movie: Plaza
Kukulcán and forum by the Sea malls.
The coastal State of
Quintana Roo Cancuns home is a mecca
for divers and water sports enthusiasts. The areas
transparent waters are strewn whit coral beds, reefs, and
a plethora of undersea life. Cancún is also unequaled in
offering the latest in water sports gadgetry: win
surfinf, jet-skiing, "wave runners" parasailing
(hopefully not a water sport) and sail boating.
The diving and snorkling
in and near Cancún are excellent. Most spots are
accessible by boat, although
the Bahía (bay) side of
the island and the Punta Nizuc area have excellent close
to shore reefs. Diving is best off the islands
southern point. For beginner, the reefs of Chiales,
Bajito and Manchones are popular. Intermediate
divers head to Cuervones, San Miguel, and "The
Tunnel." All sites are easily accessed through
guided trips arranged by any of Cancuns over 20
South of Cancún lies a
region rich in diving locations. Most noteworthy is
world-famous Akumal, described in the RIVIERA MAYA
Although not yet ready
to rival Los Cabos and Mazatlán, Cancún does have good
deep-sea and lagoon fishing. Sailfish and dolphin fish
run March through July; blue and white marlin and bluefin
tuna in April-June.Trips leave from several marinas.
Prices range from $240-350 U.S per boat, per day-private;
$ 99 US per person for 6 hr shared fishing trips.
Wind Surfing, Jet
Skiing, and Water Skiing
Choose either the calm
waters of the lagoon, or the windy point just west of
(Formerly Wetn Wild) Try
Cancuns newest a $ 20 million water park,
located just south of Punta Nizuc at KM 25.Admission:$ 25
US adults- $ 19 US kids. Tel.81-30-00.
Located adjacent to the
Meliá Cancún, this aquatic center offers a wide array
to water sports activities equipment rentals,
submarine rides, a riverboat dinner cruise, sky rider
flights, wave runner jungle tours, scuba diving, fishing.
Cancún is truly a
shopers paradise. Its position as a duty-free port,
combined with an abundant variety of unique Yucatecan
creations, and several "American-Style" air
conditioned shopping malls, means there is something for
everyone. Just like back home, these malls have become
major attractions, housing movie theaters, bowling
allies, arcade game rooms, and fast food outlets.
Most shopping is fooound
in several commercial centers/malls in the hotel zone.
Most combine shopping with café-style dinning, bars, art
galleries, and local tour operators. There also some fun
shops and couple of malls in town, as well as some
open-air artisans markets ( see below). Specialty items
include Panamá hats, shell and black coral jewelry,
woven baskets, and guayabera shirts.
Should you have problems with vendors, contact the local
consumer protection agency at 85-22-88
Centers and Malls
two movie theaters, restaurants, disco and fine shops.
Inter Plaza Mall: at Cancuns ultra modern
Ki-Huic: downtown public market with handicrafts;
be ready to bargain.
La mansion-Costa Blanca: high-quality exclusive
Maya Fair Galleries: emphasis on handicrafts,
severak fast-food outlets.
Party Center: unique facility of shops,
restaurants and yes, hot night spots.
Plaza Bonita: downtown. Mexican village
Plaza Caracol: Cancuns biggest with nearly
200 specialty shops.
Plaza Flamingo: fine shops, restaurants, evening
Plaza Kukulcán: movie theater, bowling alley, and
many fine shops.
Plaza Lagunas Mall: Features sports-wear and
several good restarants; in the heart of the hotel zone. Plaza
Las Americas: Cancun´s newest dowtown mall.10 movie
theaters, 2 department stores, restaurants and dine shops.
El Zocalo: in front of the Convention Center is a
Baazar whit handicrafts being made by artisans from all
over Mexico. Also fashion shows, restaurants and a
exclusive designs in silver and gold, made to order.
Los Castillo: outstanding silversmiths from Taxco.
Ronay: fine gold, silver and black coral jewerly.
Macame: fine pens and watches, gold jewerly.
outstanding Maayan rubbings for area ruins, originall
Galería Maty Roca: modern sculptures, paintings.
Geraldine: elegant gold and silver original
designs. La Mansion .
La Galería: studio gallery that reproduces fine
Orbe Galerías: superb works by Mexicos best
artist. Plaza Caracol.
excellent crafts and art, including Oaxacan
pieces. Plaza Caracol.
La Iguana: fine selection of
traditional and novel craft items.
Michoacan: excellent selection of
art/crafts from Michoacán.
Opals: handicrafts from throughout
Mexico, plus gem-quality opals. Plaza Caracol.
La Fiesta: enormous one-floor
department store with crafts, jewerly.
Necesito: beatiful hand-blown glass
ware, pottery, stoneware.
Barro y Artesanias de Hidalgo: wide
assortment of colorful pottery.
shops showcase Huichol Indian crafts.
European footwear and leather accesories. Plaza
Benetton: chic italian
fashions. Plaza Caracol. Plaza Kukulcán.
Bye Bye: Mexican designer fashion for men and
Don Cotton: original design t-shirts with a
Ferrioni: fun casual wear for men and women.
Gucci: fine made-in-Mexico leather goods.
La Jarana: specializing in Yucatán
clothing-accesories and figt items.
Polo: resortwear by Ralph Lauren. Plaza Caracol,
Av. Tulum 55.
Miro:quality 100% cotton resortwear; several
Primadona: elegant formal wear for ladies.
Messa Luna: bright one-of-a-dind tropical designs.
Sassafras: casual clorthing with Caribean colors
Casa del Habano:
hand-rolled Havana cigars.
Cachet: fine gifts, jewelry, original art,
designer Mexican fashions.
El Telar: native loom-made clothing and fine
La Casita: everything from clothing, art, jewelry
to leather goods.
Mordo: Western-style gear, including boots and
Pama: department store with fashions, perfumes,
Ultra Famme: imported perfume, cosmetics,
accessories. 8 stores.
Mayart: one-of-a-kind objects relating to the
Mayan culture. La Mansion, Costa Blanca.