Traveling to Isla Mujeres
For decades, Cancun, Mexico’s beautiful beaches and turquoise Caribbean Sea have attracted millions — becoming a top vacation spot for many because of its easy accessibility and relatively affordable all-inclusives. A tremendous row of grand resorts serves up a bundle of beachside and poolside amusements, delicious Mexican fare and endless party atmosphere. It can be tons of fun, but due to its tremendous growth, Cancun can be super crowded, taking away from the peace and quiet you may be searching for on a beach vacation with the kids.
Why not leave the highly developed strip in exchange for a quieter experience on nearby Isla Mujeres, an aquatic adventurers’ paradise? Day trips from Cancun’s dock to this tiny five-mile by half-mile island take only 25 minutes by ferry. The boat ride across the bay provides breathtaking views and eases you into a laid back mode where gorgeous sand and unique water activities are a main draw.
Expert travel guide, Frommer’s, notes that Isla Mujeres is “… among the most peaceful beach destinations in Mexico…” Water activities include swimming with gentle dolphins, snorkeling or scuba diving among the tropical fish hovering around the reefs, admiring underwater sculptures or treading water with whale sharks.
A Close Encounter with Dolphins
For pure enjoyment, engage in the magical wonder of sharing the waters with dolphins – the universally adored and highly intelligent marine mammals known as “angels of the sea.” Inside enclosed “pens” with an intimate group of 10 people, dolphins welcome your gentle touch and are naturally friendly, giving “handshakes” with their fins and kisses with their pursed lips. Watch them perform synchronized swimming and dance moves as well as spy hopping vertical leaps (as high as 30 feet). Little kids may just want to hug a dolphin while others may prefer to go for a wild, heart-pounding dolphin ride. Depending on the encounter package you choose, expect to spend between 40-60 minutes with these aquatic angels. Package details and pricing information can be found at one of several different outfits listed on www.dolphindiscovery.com.
Explore MUSA’s Underwater Sculpture Museum
Drawing people from all over the world, MUSA (Museo Subacuatico de Arte) is located in the bay between Cancun and Isla Mujeres. This one-of-a-kind underwater museum, featuring over 400 sculptures of people, animals and even a VW Beetle, was founded as a non-profit by British artist Jason deCaires Taylor in 2009 in order to help the reef system maintain and grow its marine life. For the best up-close views of MUSA, book a glass-bottomed boat (PERECT for all ages) or snorkeling/diving tour (for the older set). This man-made reef attracts colorful sea creatures where coral and algae grow plentifully among the crevices of each masterpiece. Snorkeling and scuba is recommended for more experienced swimmers and visibility is best on days when seas are calm. Remember to bring your underwater camera. To learn more, check out www.musamexico.org.
Whale Shark Watching/Swimming
For an unforgettable experience, Island visitors can swim alongside plankton-eating whale sharks from June through September just north of Isla Mujeres. A one-hour boat ride brings passengers to a newly discovered spot that attracts hundreds of them, where the Gulf of Mexico and the Caribbean Sea collide. These scary looking giants (the largest shark species), with their 300 rows of pearly whites, are gentle giants that are open to sharing a swim with people, but can seem intimidating. They are harmless and playful. While those on board are busy marveling over the sheer size of these fish, which average 25 feet but can grow as long as 50 feet, a guide will take two people at a time for a dip in the water. For more details, see www.islawhalesharks.com (Encounters are recommended for children 12 and up.)
Garrafon Natural Reef Park – For All Ages
The southernmost point of Isla Mujeres is the location of a surfside beauty known as Garrafon Natural Reef Park, home to cliffs and reefs, where snorkeling is grand, swimming with dolphins is an option and zip-lining over water is available to the thrill-seeking adventurer. There are also areas for cooling off in an infinity pool that hugs to the shoreline, soaking up the sun and admiring the seascape from a comfy lounge chair while the kids play in the sand. You can even laze about on a swinging hammock while sipping a tropical treat. The park’s Punta Sur section features a lighthouse and Mayan temple for landlubber moments. See www.garrafon.com for the full spectrum of activities available.
All of these “can’t miss attractions” can be great contributors to memorable family time. So, if you are thinking about a Cancun trip, remember to build in time for at least one of them. Or, if a more relaxed atmosphere is your preference, perhaps staying on Isla Mujeres might be a more fitting choice.