Isla Mujeres: A little Eden to discover
Barely fifteen minutes by boat from Cancún, Isla Mujeres (the Island of Women) seems a thousand leagues away from its noisy, party-going neighbour. Surrounded by the crystal-clear waters of the Caribbean, this little island is a true oasis of calm and beauty, an ideal spot to recharge your batteries under the coconut palms.
Cancún is a mere ferry ride away from this little Eden, but if you want to make a grand entrance, fly in. You’ll be treated to a breathtaking panorama of kilometres of sand dunes, luxuriant nature and coral reefs peeking through the turquoise waters.
Discovered in 1517 by a Spanish conquistador, the Island of Women got its name from the figurines of Maya goddesses discovered in one of the island’s sanctuaries. The most frequently visited of these today is on the cliffs of Punta Sur. Some people say, perhaps to inflate the legend, that Spanish pirates left their women here to keep them safe while they were off pillaging the coast.
The fact is that the Mayas held Isla Mujeres sacred to the goddess Ixchel, the mother of the gods and goddess of the Moon and of fertility.
Today the island still seems to be blessed by the gods, offering deep serenity and boundless treasures to those who seek to discover it.
Swimming and lounging
Isla Mujeres is barely eight kilometres long and has a picturesque port lined with a host of small restaurants offering a few local specialties, like ceviche or pollo frito (fried chicken), or the morning’s catch of fish, grilled to a turn.
Its main attraction is still its white sand beaches, including the famous Playa del Norte, definitely one of the most beautiful in the world. How sweet it is to laze in the sun, far from humankind, with only the blue of the sea and the transparent water for a horizon… You don’t need to be a skilled diver to admire the ocean floor and thousands of multi-coloured fish: only a few metres off shore, sergeant majors, angelfish, parrotfish, barracudas, and even rays and squid allow themselves to be observed easily, a delight for children.
In the daylight hours, exploring the island is a great way to visit other, almost deserted, beaches and especially to make the acquaintance of the Mexican people, who are friendly and warm, even though they all make their living mainly from the tourist industry. More adventurous hikers will go on foot, while others can rent a bicycle or, even better, a golf cart.
In the evening, the main street with its low, colourful houses, is a pleasant place to stroll. You’ll surely find the perfect souvenir and leave with an ice cream.
A multitude of activities
Despite its small size, Isla Mujeres offers a wide range of activities. Snorkelers and divers will certainly want to go to the Garrafon Natural Reef Park with its magnificent undersea vistas. A zip-line crosses the water, and is a fun way to admire the scenery.
The Cave of the Sleeping Sharks (Cueva de los Tiburones Dormidos) is another must-see for divers, and a chance to get up close and personal with the famous dogfish.
If you want to go a little farther, a number of boat and catamaran deep-sea excursions are on offer, especially to little Contoy Island, a nature reserve that is home to over 90 species of birds and to remarkable aquatic flora and fauna. The Musa, the largest undersea museum in the world, is also worth a detour (see the sidebar). Most of all, you can’t visit Isla Mujeres without meeting the whale sharks. A swim with these ocean giants will leave you with unforgettable memories.
Yes, Isla Mujeres truly is blessed by the gods!
An undersea museum
Inaugurated in November 2009, the Musa is the largest undersea museum in the world. Four hundred sixty cement sculptures, most created by English artist Jason de Caires Taylor, were sunk in ten metres of water off Isla Mujeres. These incredibly lifelike statues ? one man who is crying and another watching TV, a woman praying, etc. ? trace the history of the Maya people, one of the most mysterious civilisations on the planet.
Besides its artistic merit, this project aims to make tourists aware of the fragility of the coral, which is suffering from the massive influx of visitors to the Cancún region. You can visit the park by swimming, diving or snorkelling, or in a glass-bottomed boat. More experienced divers can also visit the site at night.
Text: Diane Stehle