Although its name may conjure unrealistic images of a tropical hideaway teeming with primitive, sexually frustrated Amazonian beauties lecherously stalking unsuspecting male visitors with unsavorily deviant intentions (as Bo Derek sashays out of the water in slow motion) the Island of Women is, in reality, a small and quiet vacation stopover just a short ferry ride from the package holiday mecca of Cancun. It sports a relaxed vibe, a couple beautiful beaches, diving, snorkeling, and the unique, if oddly incongruous, opportunity to bounce around it’s handful of quiet streets in a rented golf cart. So, other than at least a few night clubs featured in touching and thoughtful Girls Gone Wild documentaries, what more could a sun-seeking pleasure hound with an eye toward sunny relaxation and drunken sunburns hope to find?
Isla Mujeres is a quieter, more relaxed version of its more famous counterpart to the south, Cozumel, substituting its world-class diving and snorkeling with Mexican-class snorkeling and diving while doing a more comprehensive job of leaving you with nothing to do but get drunk and shop. Plus, bikinis with high heels are standard apparel.
There are also these two guys that look exactly like twins – same short brown hair, fastidiously manicured four-day stubble, meticulously vintage t-shirts, trendy sneakers sticking out the bottom of faded skinny jeans. Anyway, if you watch long enough, eventually they start to make out.
When to Go?
The climate is quite nice year round, although it can be uncomfortably hot and rainy in the summer months. It is a different place in the evening when the day trippers have gone back to the mainland. Also, the last Thursday in February is usually nice.
Isla Mujeres Highlights
– Gorgeous powdery white beaches.
· Unanimously average snorkeling.
· Fat guys in Senor Frog’s tank tops who’ve been drinking on and off all day struggling to hold it together for the sake of their two bored kids and increasingly irritated wife.
· More pairs of tight cut-off jean shorts than you’ll find at Ricky Martin’s stag party.
Isla Mujeres in…
First things first, take a left off the dock and stop at one of the beachfront cantinas and get your drinking started. Every island looks better under a sugary mojito haze. Once you’re feeling tipsy enough to say the hell with sunscreen, head out onto the beach and rent a lounger and alcoholic-beverage-hoarding table for roughly the cost of a brand new set of patio furniture back on the mainland. When you wake up a couple hours later, red of skin and dry of mouth, pack and go for a walk down Isla Mujeres’ festive pedestrian street, Avenida Hidalgo, where you can grab some lunch, re-hydrate and decide it’s time to switch over to beer for awhile. Once you are fed and watered, wander over to the malecon and have some fun walking back and forth behind the statue of the topless mermaid, interrupting all the humorous photos men are trying to get their wives to take of them, then head back toward the beach, rent a golf cart and spend the next couple hours terrorizing children and locals alike with your personal vacation interpretation of the rules of the road. Be sure to make it down to Punta Sur – the crashing waves will make you question your place in the whole scheme of things, while the handy end-of-the-island bar will let you catch that boozy wave anew. Finally, take in a gorgeous orange sunset from beautiful Playa Norte – if you get there early enough you can watch the European girls milling around looking for their tops.
Same as the one day itinerary except you can add breakfast margaritas to the mix, and spend some time browsing for just the right sombrero ashtray to get your great aunt Gladys. Repeat seven times.
8 ¾ Years
You now own your own golf cart, ran out of money for shopping long ago and your liver is hanging on by a thread. You have your very own drinking stool on tourist row and years on the beach means that every now and then an inebriated shopper mistakes you for an unusually large leather handbag and tries to barter for you. Your old friends back home are dying of jealousy.
At eight kilometres, Isla Mujeres is actually quite long in the scheme of “little islands” (or wide depending on which part of the ocean you’re magically standing on) but the main town is clustered in just the northern nub of the island (also referred to as the “tip”, “point” or “sandy bunion”). There are just four avenidas running lengthwise making it easy to navigate, not to mention have races back and forth to see who can spit off both the east and west sides the most times over a three hour period.
724 A.D. – A Mayan chief on his way to Cozumel to worship Ixchel, the God of Fertility, realizes he forgot to pack some things and stops off at a little known island within sight of the mainland, buoyed with hope and half a boner. After successfully outfitting himself and his crew with all the supplies necessary to stoke his virility and the further the growth of the dominant racial force of the known world, word spreads and the diminutive isle becomes known as Ekab, Mayan for “handy place to buy Cialis, wine coolers and sleeveless t-shirts”.
1517 – An argument between Spanish buccaneer Francisco Cordova and his wife, Maria, regarding another unsatisfying meal of beans and rice escalates rapidly when he petulantly makes reference to her tepid lovemaking abilities. After several hours of unseemly public bickering Diego decides to take Maria up on her challenge that “a fat pirate with a dull sword who rarely bathes” wasn’t capable of landing anyone better than her among those indigenous New World whores. His heroic decision to cast her ashore in a leaky skiff near a small, seemingly uninhabited island and courageously explore a whole new society of female genitalia quickly inspired the remainder of his crew to follow suit, and “The Isle of Women” was born.
1994 – Belgian Anique Wouters becomes the first woman to go topless on Playa Norte. For days men accomplish little besides what they can manage while sitting down.
2001 – At the end of a particularly robust three day Cinco de Mayo celebration town council legalizes the use of golf carts on the street by anyone with $50 and at least one hand cocktail-free.
2008 – Pedro draws on his spring break experience in Miami to introduce waffle cones to Isla Mujerenders. Size Small bikini bottoms soon become obsolete.
It’s a tiny, recently developed island in the Gulf of Mexico, obviously there’s Internet everywhere. Where did you think you were going, rural Saskatchewan?
The Centro de Salud is just off the main square and specializes in administering painkillers to those with toes run over by errant golf carts and large bottles of water to those who had their first Dos Sequis at 9 am on the ferry over and are now suffering from a late afternoon case of dry mouth. Also known as “drinking yourself sober”, the “interim hangover” or “the Paula Abdul”.
Sure, there are some. But who are you going to call?
There are thirty-four different places to book the same snorkel trip at several different prices. Shop around, then get back to drinking.
There are a couple ATMs, several money changers offering extortionate rates and plenty of discounted ocean front property for sale by people who realized only too late how depressing constant wind can be.
There is a post office on Av. Guerrero which may be of interest to history buffs and people looking for a free bathroom. Admission is free but flash photography is prohibited around the “stamps”.
Sights & Activities
The fine white sand and spectacular sunsets of Playa Norte are the big draw and the number one reason people take time out of their busy schedule of getting drunk and sunburned in Cancun’s Zona Hotelera to go get drunk and sunburned somewhere else.
The malecon fits the profile to a tee – a really long sidewalk next to the ocean. A unique, but controversial feature, is the line of fancy new benches built facing away from the water toward scenic half-built cement structures with laundry hanging poignantly from the rebar.
Punta Sur, or South Point, is the southernmost point on the island. Its rugged cliffs and ferociously crashing waves take thoughtful travelers back to a simpler time when the world was made up of nothing but waves, rocks and nonsensical art, and 2 for 1 Coronas at cantinas overlooking a point in the south with lots of rocks, waves and nonsensical art.
The hot chick in a thong buying nachos and a cherry Slurpee at the OXXO. When she talks she sounds Balkan. And horny.
Alejandro has a small blue towel halfway down Playa Norte where he will teach you the art of Discreet Photography. After just three classes you will be an expert at taking close up photos of women with their bathing suits pulled way up into their ass crack to improve the overall coverage of their tan without incurring the wrath of their overweight fiancées who were high school football stars in 1996 and now suffer from weird tan lines across their belly from sitting up to drink.
Caroline, a 35 year old pharmaceutical rep from Cleveland who spends two weeks each January raising the roof on Isla Mujeres, can teach you how to perfectly curl up the sides of your straw Corona cowboy hat in order to maximize the number of free Pomegrante Margaritas you are offered while dancing on the speaker at Bally-Hoo’s without coming off like some poser from Cancun drinking Bahama Mamas at Coco Bongos.
When you’ve had enough of the beach, or your wife decides you are spending too much time staring at the group of Scandinavian 20 year olds in thong bikinis building a sand castle nearby, you can venture out and take advantage of one of the many exciting day tours available through local hotels, travel agencies and short swarthy guys with bare feet that look like welding boots. Enjoy the wonders of marine life while snorkeling off Playa Garrafon, get back to nature on Isla Contoy, adrenalize your trip with some ziplining, or party it up with an informative tour of Cancun’s business district (which includes a guided tour of Kinko’s and a free copy of the May 2010 edition of Cancun Real Estate).
Festivals and Events
December 25 – Christmas Day
January 1st – New Year’s Day
January 6th – Three Kings Day, celebrated by having sweet bread (with or without jelly beans as per your preference) and smiling in adorable silence if asked by a tourist about the significance of the holiday.
January 8th – Jerry from Louisiana celebrates his 67th with Roy and Arnie over 2 for 1 cervezas and a vigorous argument over the viability of hiring black offensive coordinators.
March/April – Easter, when Jesus gets his procession on all over Latin America. Hotels celebrate by doubling their prices and giving cleaning staff the week off.
Start: Bucaneros Hotel, home of Breakfast with a Smile and Welcome Wine.
End: The Naval Base, where you can watch the guard damage his neck fighting off sleep while his large machine gun drops ever closer to the ground.
Duration: 12 minutes.
Start by heading north on Hidalgo past the bulk of the tourist shops. Check out how the 17 year old douche bag with the blue Stetson and way too many silver chains is so puzzled when all the old Americans quicken their step as they choose not to shop at his stall. Take a right on Abasolo and head east until you reach the pile of decaying dog shit. Notice its interesting antique look. Continue on to the malecon to get a quick photo of the endless ocean and much less photogenic wind, then follow the coast north for a while until you get to the half built remains of a previously terrific hotel development idea, and future arson site. Now back down Guerrero where you’ll find the rooster that woke me up every morning at 4 am, then end the tour at one of the dockside bars watching the mood of disembarking women quickly deteriorate as they stagger down the cobblestoned street pulling rolling luggage in high heels.
Highly recommended, if you can find the time.
Fresh fish – readily available.
Not so fresh fish – readily available and on special.
Poc Chuc – traditional Yucatan specialties.
Don Chepo’s – great fish and a waiter who just might be the younger brother of Salvatore “Big Pussy Bonpensiero“ from The Sopranos.
Sancocho’s Grill – official headquarters of old dudes in high white socks have smoking contests.
Jax Bar & Grill – big TVs filled with American sports, big baskets of American food, big Americans with big appetites.
Pollo Rostizada – half a chicken with rice, tortillas and a drink for $6.
Guy by the side of the road making tacos in a small ramshackle cart – just authentically Mexican enough to cause a lineup of cheap, hungry tourists grinning conspiratorially at each other in celebration of their risky adventurous spirit.
Enchiladas – never really been my thing.
There are a couple so-called “night clubs” but most of the serious drinking takes place at tables along the pedestrian walkway of Avenida Hidalgo. Good happy hour specials, good people watching and good opportunities to elbow people in the crotch as they wander past distracted by their search for the perfect dolphin-shaped key chain for their nephew Jaden.
Occasionally live bands perform on the town square.
One of the larger beach bars, Buho’s, has a large sign proclaiming a “Cinema Bar Coming Soon!” that is tattered and faded from years exposed to the elements.
Tubby girls in tight shorts and wobbly high heels who, judging by their mischievous smiles and shiny tongues, are well-versed in the art of giving snowballs.
Plenty of large “Mexican” blankets adorned with the names and colours of American football teams. The one Roughrider blanket didn’t last long.
Straw cowboy hats with roughed up fringes to look like you’re currently enjoying your 37th Mexican beach holiday. Still in the same hat.
400 slightly different versions of knock-off Ray Ban Wayfarers.
White shell necklaces – great for emphasizing your new holiday tan and confirming your status as a 52 year old shift supervisor at Kmart who hasn’t forgotten how to party.
Gecko shirts – they make great gifts for either your dad, or small children who don’t know any better.
Getting There and Away
Air – Well, there is a runway, but it’s mostly used for skateboarding. Rumour has it Senor Frog’s Cancun is also working on a really large slingshot to quickly transport people to and from their Mujeres branch and the wonderful variety provided by tank tops that say the name of a different place on them.
Boat – The ferry is as fast, comfortable and cheap as some slut. Or you can float over in a sparkly palm frond with a talking gerbil in the latest Pixar film. The downside – sitting next to John Ratzenberger.
Bus – Come now.
To/From the Airport – walk two blocks.
To/From the Dock – walk two blocks.
Public transport – strangely enough, there are a lot of taxis, going where, I’m not sure. There is also a bus that passes every couple hours, really tentatively, and always completely empty.
Bike – They follow the age old saying of “no hills, no brakes, no helmets”. Traveler’s tip: don’t make plans to brave those hard, phallic seats two days in a row unless you’re really keen to test your pain threshold or, like a true Navy man, you’ve “been down that road before”.
Golf Carts – for rent everywhere, they sport large intimidating tires that suggest it would be a good idea to take it off-roading and are typically driven by ten year old girls while their father leans off back grinning and spilling his mojito.
Carried on the back of skinny old guy from the dock. Tip: Wear pants so you won’t slip off as easily when he starts to sweat.
Around Isla Mujeres