Personally, I am not one for Cancun... it's a little too fast and hype for my taste, but a weekend on Isla Mujeres is something magical. From the first time I stepped foot off the ferry, I was smitten. It is a place that I will always return to, and if were any closer to Playa del Carmen, I'd probably be there every week. From PDC you have to take the ADO bus to Cancun (68-130 pesos), then a colectivo (8 pesos) or cab (30-40 pesos) to the ferry (300 pesos, roundtrip), and then boat across to the island. A small adventure just to get there-- but boy is it worth your time.
What to do:
Golf cart the island. Get there early, like 9-10 am and just rent a cart for the day. it's 700-750 pesos and the fastest way to get around and see the most that this beautiful island has to offer. The best thing about it is that you can stop all up and down the back streets and discover beautiful, locally created murals or have an impromptu photo shoot literally anyplace along the shore. Instant IG gold.
Visit the ruins. You can bike there, or golf cart. I've done both, and I definitely recommend the latter. Biking will take you about 30-45 minutes if you pedal vigorously with out stopping to catch the views. However, on my last visit, we bought a bottle of champagne and vodka and mixed it with mango nectar and cruised to the south end in about 10-15 minutes. We had a bit of a detour for about 20-30 minutes, which we spent watching some local kids skateboarding (dangerously fast down a hill) because our cart wouldn't start and we had to call the shop for a replacement. But even that was a pleasure and bought us some extra time with the cart that we ended up not having to pay for. (We'd only planned to have our cart for 2 hours (@500 pesos).
Nevertheless, the Ruins of Ixchel are a must see. She was the goddess of fertility and the energy on the site is definitely palpable. Pictures really don't do it justice. But, I tried my best...
Hit up a beach club. My personal fave is the Mayan Beach Club, which has a great Afro-Caribbean band that place on Sundays. Get there early (12-ish) if you want to to snag a beach chair and umbrella. The fee is just 150 pesos, which you can completely apply to your food and beverage bill. The tacos and margaritas are my go-tos, pretty much everywhere. And they did not disappoint. Honestly, I haven't had any bad food or drinks anywhere on the island, so that's a full plus in my book.
Watch the sunset. The sunset on Isla the second time I saw it was pretty epic. The first time I was kinda confused about what all the hype was. But vantage point is relative. Where you are during the golden hour definitely makes a difference. We took in the best one right in front of the aforementioned Mayan Beach Club.
Where to stay:
I don't have a lot of suggestions here, as I'm still figuring out the best options. However, because the island is rather small the best I can tell you for now is to head to the South end for seclusion and romance. Or stay on the North beach to be close by the action. Where to stay is really relative to you budget. There is no shortage of AirBnBs and hotels to choose from.
Where to eat:
Like I said previously, I haven't eaten one thing that I disliked on Isla. The portion sizes are larger and the drinks are much stronger than what you're going to get in PDC. But here are a few of my faves:
Mogagua & Rooster for breakfast.
Ballyhoos for lunch and working seaside.
Fénix to chill out for a respite, eat and drink. Their ceviche, I remember was pretty epic and come as a small or large portion-- which is plenty big enough to share.
Other places of interest:
Garrafon Park: If zip lining is your thing, be sure to check out this seaside park to zip across the ocean. You can also snorkel or chill at the beach for the day. It's literally right down the road from the Ruins; so, if you're on the south end, you can't miss it.
Other beaches: There are a number of beach clubs on the way to the south end that you can explore. While the names escape me, they are un-missable from the main road.
King's Bath: This is one spot that I'll admit I haven't been able to get to. I always seem to run out of time, but it is high up on my to-do list for Isla. King's Bath is a public space, but it's behind a resort property. So, you'd kinda have to trespass (or pretend to be checking in or going to the front desk to ask for a tour, maybe) to get back there. Here's a quick video of what you're looking for as you creep around to the back. Also, please forget about trying to swim there, the waves behind the resort are no joke since there is not break in the water.
What to pack:
Yo patience... like I said, from Playa it's a mini journey to get to Isla. But if you happen to be in Cancun, there's really no excuse to miss out since only a quick 10 minute ferry ride away. It's the perfect day trip to get your chill on.
Yo sunscreen. I mean, like anywhere in Mexico. It's not advisable to even step outside without it. I mean, I don't recommend it.
An umbrella. Pop up storms happen, don't get caught out there. But also it's great protection from the sun. Ayyyye... double duty!
Water proof camera or at least some protection for your cell phone. God forbid you drop your $1000 iPhone in the ocean trying to get the perfect shot. I'm certain they haven't water-proofed them just yet.
Bring a friend. Isla is the type of place you can explore solo-dolo, but is also fun with a crew. I suggest both.