on February 28, 2010
Only a fifteen minute ferry ride away from Cancun, Isla Mujeres is a world away from its rather louder and brasher mainland neighbour and despite its popularity amongst day trippers, it offers a quaint and often calming atmosphere against the stunning backdrop of the Caribbean Sea.Since it offers fantastic opportunities for snorkelers and scuba divers, as well as those in search of an encounter with dolphins, there are a great number of trips available from mainland Cancun. However I would strongly urge you to explore the island under your own steam – it is certainly cheap enough and easy enough to do so. You can get a ferry every half an hour during the day from three different points in Cancun for a very reasonable $15US return per person. On disembarking from the ferry, you’ll be greeted by an astonishing number of sellers all offering you ‘fantastic’ and ‘cheaper than anywhere else’ trips to the islands many attractions. Battling through this tiny onslaught will find you in Punta Norte, the island’s main ‘town’, but more on that later. Your first stop should undoubtedly be at one of the shops that rent out golf buggies. There are hundreds of them and finding one close by isn’t difficult.Now why on earth would I want to hire a golf buggy I hear you cry! Well the short answer is that it is the done thing. The long answer is that it is a cheap, easy and, most importantly, a fun way to get around the island. The island comprises of one main road that circumnavigates it quite nicely and, at any one time, there are up to 500 buggies doing just that! It costs about $25US dollars to hire a buggy for a day and you’ll need to leave some kind of identification as a deposit. For that princely sum, you’ll get the most rickety machine you’ve ever entrusted your life to, a key and a driving lesson that is so quick that you’ll miss it if you blink. It’s not too hard to work out though – there is one forward and one reverse gear as well as two pedals, one that says ‘go’ and the other ‘stop’.Once you’ve picked up your trusty stead, you are free to explore the islands many great pleasures. Going in a southerly direction, your first stop will be the turtle sanctuary. For an entrance fee of around 50p, you’ll be donating to a worthy cause in the preservation of the endangered sea turtles that are bred for release into the wild. You can see the turtles in varying stages of their lives from the newly hatched babies to the giants that swim in the sea.On the way back down the little road stop at the ‘Island that Floats on Plastic Bottles’ – it’s a quirky little island that has been built by its rather eccentric owner who’ll take you on a guided tour if he’s around. Next stop is the Garrafon Park where you can take a swim in the magnificent blue waters, enjoying a little snorkelling if it takes your fancy. For the more adventurous, there is a series of fairly high zip wires to enjoy or you can have a go at ‘snuba’ which is a funny-looking set up that allows you to walk under water.At the Southern most point of the island is the Sculpture Park and Templo de Ixchel. Another 50p entry fee allows you to wander around the park which showcases various sculptures from artists around the world whilst admiring the absolutely breathtaking views. The Templo de Ixchel is a Maya ruin that has taken a severe battering over time, but the walk around it is an absolute must. You can walk down the side of the cliff to the waters edge where there are now barriers between you and the crashing waves. This in itself is rather unnerving, but well worth it. Back up the cliff are a selection of cafes and shops, which make it an ideal place for a refreshing ice cream before heading back to the car park where you have the challenge of distinguishing your own buggy from the thirty or so other identical ones! Heading back north along the main road you’ll have to mind the speed bumps which are alarmingly high when you go over them in a golf cart (that incidentally couldn’t possibly reach anything near a high speed). Along here you’ll pass the islands tiny ‘airport’ and a rather ingenious conch shell shaped house. On your right hand side is miles and miles of crystal clear sea. We stopped here for a photo opportunity and I have to say it’s the closest I’ve felt to being stranded in paradise. The miles of white sand are virtual empty and it is truly possible to feel at one with nature.Continuing along this road will take you back into the main town. Here is the only place where you feel a little intimidated in your little buggy – narrow streets lined with shops criss cross the area and people and cars dominate the roads. Don’t feel too alarmed though, the drivers are obviously accustomed to the buggy and are very considerate of them. The tourists not so much! Stop outside the cemetery and wander around the unnaturally brightly coloured tombstones. I’ve been to a few cemeteries in my time and I have to say that this is the most colourful and clean looking one I’ve ever seen. The graves are covered in what looks like bathroom tiles and it looks more like a children’s play area than the resting place of the island’s dead. It takes less than an hour to wander the streets of Punta Norte and there are plenty of opportunities to pick up some cheap souvenirs and sample some Maya cuisine before returning your buggy. This in itself is quite a challenge as all the streets are one way and many are pedestrianised – you’ll find yourself feeling like you are in some kind of life-sized logic puzzle before very long!If you are in Cancun, I can’t recommend a trip to Isla Mujeres enough – it offers a fantastic chance to explore and quaint, beautiful and fun island in the most novel way possible. It is an absolute must visit place for anyone in the area.
©Travelocity.com LP 2000-2009