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This eight-kilometer-long by one-half-kilometer-wide wisp of an island sits just 6 km off the coast to the northeast of Cancún. For those wanting a break from the glitz of Cancún, Isla Mujeres is a refreshing throwback to the days before Cancún even existed. The pace is relaxed and unpretentious, the setting is pure magic.

The island (population 13,500) seems to defy change, even though its swanky neighbor has spurred the development of some visitor attractions that have spruced up the island’s very "bohemian" ambiance. The tourist ferry dock unloads day visitors and Cancún refugees (an interesting mix of North Americans and Europeans) in front of the island’s main settlement (measuring a mere four blocks by six blocks). The town is home to simple shops, a few restaurants, some funky bars, an occasional brightly painted clapboard house, and the Plaza Municipal.

South of town the island’s only road skirts the western coast past mangrove lagoons before looping northbound. The trip takes about 20 minutes. Mopeds, golf carts, and taxis can be easily rented upon arrival.

Island flora and fauna showcase many Caribbean species of birds and reptiles. A carpet of green vegetation and saltwater ponds cover the island. Sandy beaches lapped by warn crystalline water rim the island’s leeward side. Most of the Isla’s residents live from diving and fishing. They make very hospitable hosts for both day trippers and overnight guests.

Island attractions include:

  • Dolphin Discovery: swim and frolic with dolphins at one of only four dolphin encounter attractions anywhere in Mexico. One hour session includes 30 minutes in the water with playful dolphins. Advanced reservations required. Tel. (987) 830779.
  • Destination Atlantis: This complete water sports center is located near Garrafón Marine Park. Submarine excursions, snorkeling, kayaks, pedal boats, restaurant, locker facilities. Call (98) 833021 in Cancún/1-800-715-4021 from the U.S.
  • Eco Caribe Turtle Hatchery: This turtle hatchery is home to hundreds of sea turtles, from infants to adults. The breeding farm offers tours daily. There are turtle pens, an indoor aquarium (English signage), and gift shop. $10 peso donation to enter aquarium.
  • Mundaca Hacienda: Fermín Mundaca, a 19th century pirate and slave trader of some notoriety, was the island’s most famous swashbuckler. After years of plundering the Caribbean, he "retired" to Isla Mujeres where he built a lavish estate to woo a local woman. The once grand mansion is now in ruins, overrun by the eve-encroaching jungle. Mundaca’s gravestone (which he carved) is in the island’s Municipal Cemetery. Under skull and cross-bones reads, "As you are, I was. As I am, you will be.
  • Lighthouse and Maya Ruins: Occupying the island’s southern tip are two related structures - a modern lighthouse overlooks a small Mayan temple (Ixchel) that signaled Mayan sailors and settlements as far away as Cozumel hundreds of years ago. Ruins were partially destroyed by Hurricane Gilbert but still warrant a visit.
  • Tour to Contoy Island: daily departures to this federally-protected bird sanctuary and natural reserve. The full-day excursion includes fishing, snorkeling, lunch, a guided tour of the island’s beaches, coves and mangroves. 45 minutes by hired boat. Contact Capitán Ricardo Gaitán at (987) 70500 for details.


The island’s western shore has calmer water and beaches with facilities, while the windward side is mostly undeveloped and has more open ocean conditions. In either case, the island’s beaches are spectacular and rarely crowded.

  • Playa Norte: the island’s prettiest beach-tranquil turquoise water and sugar and sugar white sand. Ideal for swimming and sunbathing. Three hotel properties face the beach, two offering-sit-down dining (Na Balam and Maria del Mar).
  • Playa Paraiso & Playa Lancheros: These two adjacent beaches on the southwest shore are idyllic for sunbathing and swimming in crystal turquoise water. Shark pen (yes, you can swim with a very gentle nurse shark), souvenir stands, and simple inexpensive restaurants. Across the street is the Mundaca Hacienda.
  • Parque Marino El Garrafón: This popular beach and snorkeling site has been acquired by the company that operates Xcaret and Xel Há. A $2 million dollar renovation effort to rehabilitate and commercialize the park was completed in early ’99. The new attractions now has better facilities and conservation programs (and a much higher entrance fee than before).

Diving and Snorkeling

Isla first gained international attention for its outstanding aquatic conditions. Clear, warm water, abundant marine life, reefs and caves attracted Jacques Cousteau who was guided by local dive legend Ramón Bravo. Snorkeling sites are abundant, though those frequented by Cancún party boats can be crowded at certain times of the day (Garrafón/Playa Paraiso). There are several fine dive shops on the island that lead divers to the Cave of the Sleeping Sharks, and several popular reefs (Manchones, Cuervones, La Banda).

Contact Coral Dive Center, (987) 70763.

One of the island’s leading travel agencies is Mundaca Travel, tel. (987) 70025 / fax. (987) 700706, offering tours, hotel reservations, home rentals.

Isla Mujeres has several good dining spots, including Maria’s KanKin, Arriba, Ciro´s Lobster House, Chez Magaly, Las Palapas, Bistro Francais, Zizalha, Café Cito, and Rolandi.



Several operators now make the crossing directly from the Cancún resort zone. Many operators have turned the short ride into full-blown adventures with live music, open bar, lunch, snorkeling, and theme parties. Boats depart from the pier near the Playa Langosta Dock, or from the pier at Playa Linda, Round trip fare is about $ 13.50 U.S. Full-day tours normally include water transportation, lunch, snorkeling, and an island tour. Cost is around $30 US per person.


Agua Tour Adventures 83-04-00
Aqua Quin 83-18-83
Asterix Water Taxi 86-48-47
Dolfin Express 83-14-88
Sun Tour/Aviomas 84-64-33
The Shuttle 84-64-33
Pancho’s Night 84-66-56
Isla Mujeres Shuttle 83-34-48


A passenger ferry and a modern jet boat depart from this dock located 3 km north of Cancún City. Hourly departures in each direction, from 6am-8pm; reasonable rates (around $8 pesos per person, each way ferry; 22 pesos for faster jet boat). Mostly used by the locals. For information contact the concierge your hotel.


A major resort destination in its own right, Cozumel is and excellent day trip for Cancún vacationers. (See Cozumel chapter for details).



  • Mexican Inter (operated by Aero Cozumel) offers affordable day trip packages that include meals, transfers, tours, and in some cases, even a diving excursion. For details and schedules, Cancún tel. 84-25-21.


Currently there is no direct ferry service connecting Cancún and Cozumel. However, two options are available.

  • Puerto Morelos/Cozumel: a car ferry operates once daily from this village, 35 km south of Cancún.
  • Playa del Carmen/Cozumel: very popular passenger ferry connecting this emerging mainland resort area (73 km south of Cancún) with the Island of Cozumel; several daily departures in each direction. This trip takes about 30 minutes ($61 pesos) on the ultra-modern MV Mexico water jet (Cruceros Maritimos del Caribe, tel. (987) 21588; fax. (987) 21942), or about 50 minutes via regular ferries ($35 pesos).

More Water-bound


  • ATLATIS SUBMARINES: 48 Passenger Coast Guard-approved submarine excursions; fully narrated in English; in Cancún, tel. 83-30-21.
  • AQUAWORLD: Billing itself as "Cancun’s water kingdom, "this water sports center/theme park offers sub rides, diving and snorkeling excursions, guided jetski tours through mangroves, and para-sailing rides. New: Paradise Island attraction. In Cancún, tel. 85-22-88.
  • BARRACUDA MARINA: Trips to Isla Contoy and other islands offered by this full service marina. Tel. 84-45-51.
  • BARCO XOCHILPILLI: Snorkeling excursions to Punta Nizuc. In Cancún, tel. 84-49-13
  • NAUTIBUS I AND II: A "floating submarine." In Cancún, tel. 83-35-52.
  • SUB SEA EXPLORER: A mini-sub that explores area reefs. Four daily departures. In Cancún, tel. 83-30-07.


For exploring outside the area, Cancún offers some of Mexico’s most adventurous sightseeing. Several excellent tour operators have trips throughout the region.


Dial 011-52-98 then...

Aviomar T. 84-6433 F. 84-69-35
Best Day Tours T. 83-21-54 F.83-39-74 800-543-7556
Classique Travel T. 87-07-93 F.87-07-92
Gray Line Cancun T. 87-0870 F. 87-24-38
Intermar Cancun Caribe T. 84-42-66 F. 84-20-30
Lomas Travel/ Viajes Turquesa T. 84-32-42 F. 86-67-22
Mansur Travel T/F. 84-75-40
Mayaland Tours T. 86-66-06 800-235-4079
Olympus Tours T. 87-67-70 F. 87-70-06
Thomas Moore Travel T. 83-4939 800-607-8080
Turismo Aviomar/ Aviotour T. 84-66-56
VI Travel T. 84-84-94 F. 84-80-99
Viajes Turimex T. 87-40-90
Viusa T. 84-28-82 F. 84-44-26


Cancún is a gateway to one of the Mexican Caribbean’s premier ecological attractions: Sian Ka’an Biosphere Reserve. Sian Ka’an is a 1.3-million-acre- ecological park of forests, lagoons, wetlands, ruins, and exotic marine habitats. The area has been declared a UNESCO Biosphere Reserve. There are over 350 species of birds and over 30 little-visited Mayan archaeological sites. It is located a few kilometers south of Tulum, and accessed via a coastal road.

Once inside the reserve, there are the villages of Boca Paila and Punta Allen (about 160 kilometers south of Cancún). Several small inns, including some deluxe fishing resorts, and a few excellent campgrounds are available. A private non-profit organization, Amigos de Sian Ka’an, operates tours to this wild and exotic region. In Cancún, tel. 84-95-83 for information.


A crumbling temple overlooks a sleek row of modern resorts. A small pyramid rests next to a golf green. These meetings of old and new are part of Cancun’s timeless appeal and ever-enduring reminders of the influence of the Mayan civilization.

The Yucatán is abundant with archaeological relics. It has mores sites than any other region in the Western Hemisphere. Over 1200 known sites are scattered around Cancún and Mérida. Many have yet to be excavated. New sites turn up every year. Below is a summary of the region’s largest and most popular sites. All can be visited as part of excellent day tours.

Ruins In Cancún

In the resort zone of Cancún there are three small, but interesting sites: El Rey, the largest, overlooks the lagoon near the Caesar Park Hotel; Pok-Ta-Pok, a small temple on Cancun’s golf course; and Yamil Lu’um, a small temple overlooking the Sheraton hotel. All are worth seeing, especially if you’re not heading to one of the Yucatan’s larger sites.

Ruins Near Cancún:


Location....201 km west of Cancún (two hours by bus); full-day escorted tours depart daily.
Lifespan.....600-1224 A.D.

Mighty Chichén Itzá is one of the largest and most fascinating sites in Mexico. It is a joy to visit. It is actually two cities: one that was ruled by the mayas during the sixth to the tenth century; the other a Toltec-Mayan city that emerged around the year 1000 A.D. Most of the prominent buildings were developed during the city’s "rebirth" under Toltec rule. The towering Castillo displays a mixture of Toltec and Mayan influences and is fraught with cosmological symbolism. Its four sides contain 365 steps (depicting the solar year), 52 panels (for each year in the Mayan century), and 18 terraces (for the eighteen months in the religious year). There is an interesting temple inside the Castillo, accessible via a narrow stairway.

The enormous ball court is the largest ever discovered, and is lined with fascinating carvings. The site also contains a cenote, or sacred well, an Observatory, the imposing Temple of Warriors, and the Nunnery, along with dozens of other structures. Not to be missed! Plan to spend at least a day here.

During the Fall and Spring Equinoxes (March and September) the sun’s shadow forms an enormous serpent’s body on the staircase of the pyramid known as "El Castillo." Quite a sight!

A full-day excursion to Chinchén Itzá costs around $50 U.S. per person.

...A mere 4 km east of Chinchén Itzá are the fascinating Caves of Balankanché. This cavernous grotto is a sacred source of fresch water, and was an important place of worship for the Mayas and later, the Toltec civilization. Tours lead through narrow passageways to beautiful underground pools. English guided tours are available.

Ruins Near Cancún:

Location...170 km south of Cancún
Lifespan....600-900 A.D.

This once-great city, now being extensively studied for the first time, is a jungle-bound site measuring nearly 50 sq. size! The site thrived between 500-900 A.D. before being abandoned and swallowed by the ever-encroanching jungle. Much of the site is still unexcavated, giving visitors an erie "Indiana Jones "-type feeling. It is suroundeb by dense jungle and five fresh water lakes (some of the only lakes in the entire Yucatán región). Excavations have unearthed Nochuc Mul, a 138-foot tall pyramid (talles in the Yucatán), a ninetierd castle, and a ball court. The site has more sacbe (wide limestone-paved ancient roads) than any site yet discovered.


Location…129 km south of Cancún Period…Post Classic Culture… Mayan Lifespan… 1200-1500 A.D. This modest-sized coastal city is one of the loveliest archaeological sites in México. It is a popular day excursion from Cancún, and is usually combined with Xel-Há in the same trip (see Riviera Maya chapter). It is the only Mayan port city ever discovered, and one of the few to still have been occupied when the Spaniards arrived in the 16th century. Overlooking the turquoise Caribbean Sea, Tulum is a gleaming white walled city that invites visitors to roam its small temples and buildings. The site exhibitis strong Toltec-Mayan influences. The Temple of the Frescoes contains faded interior wall murals, and the Temple of the Frescoes contains faded interior wall murals, and the Temple of the Descending God portrays a god tumbling frof the heavens. This is a major destination for Cancún daytrippers arriving on tour buses. Its best explored later in the afternoon, when the masses have departed. Admission is colected, and several English-speaking guides are available for hire.


Currently none is available on-site at Tulum. However, properties can be foud nearby at the new Robinson Club or at Puerto Aventuras Akumal, and Playa del Carmen. See the Riviera Maya chapter in this Guide for details.


As appealing as Cancún is, countless treasures await those willing to abandon poolside comforts and head south to explore he hiddes beaches and ancient Mayan mysteries of the Yucatan’s eastern coast. Most travelers experience this region through a popular day tour to Tulum and Xel-Há ; see the RIVIERA MAYA chapter this guide for details.


This colonial-era city with deep Mayan roots is a fascinating, yet often overlooked, destination. Mérida is not only the gateway to Mexico’s most awesome Mayan ruins, but also a unique inland city of strong Spanish, Mayan, French, and Lebanese influence. Most archaeology buffs use Mérida as a base for exploration. The city nicely complements a "sun and sea" Cancún vacation and is strongly recommended for a 2-3 day sightseeing side trip. (See MERIDA chapter details.)

By Word of Mouth

Thirty years ago. Jacques Costeau, the world famous marine biologist, explored the crystal clear water of the Caribbean and placed Cancún on the map before anybody could have imagined its prosperous growth. At the time one Mayan family inhabited that coastline. They were to watch over the ancient Mayan ruin called El Rey. Today El Rey is a tiny dot amidst 20,000 hotel rooms in what has become one of the most popular beach destinations in the worlds. In the old days, those of us who lived on Isla Mujeres would go to Cancún for camping and spear fishing in the mangrove rivers. Today we still thank Captain Costeau with symbolic offerings in many beach communities on August 17th.


As is fitting of a world-class resort destination, Cancún has a diverse and sophisticated array of sports and outdoor activities.

Land Activities

Until the fall of 1994, Cancun’s only 18-hole course was the lovely Pok-Ta-Pok, a scenic Robert Trent Jones Jr.-designed course (6,721 yards). The flat, yet challenging, course winds past Cancun’s saltwater lagoon and the turquoise Caribbean Sea. There is even a Mayan temple next to one of its greens! Green fees are around $50 U.S. per person. Tel.83-12-30; fax 83-33-58.

The Caesar Park Beach & Golf Resort (tel.1-800-228-3000) is home to a new 18 hole course, Three-par golf is also available at two resort area hotels. The Meliá Cancún (tel.85-11-60) and the Oasis Cancún (tel.85-08-67) each have short but fun executive courses open to play for guests and non-guests.

Tennis facilities are available at most resorts on the island, and are less numerous in town. See individual property descriptions in this section for details.

Cancún has a new bullring and corridas are held every Wednesday at 3:30pm. The bullring is on Av. Bonampak across from Los Almendros Restaurant. Tel. 84-82-48. Here’s a sampling of other activities. * * Go-Karts – up to 130 km/hr: Karting int’l.vvv

  • Mini Golf: 36 holes at Cancún Palace Hotel, tel. 85-05-33 ext. 6655.
  • * Bowling: Plaza Kukulcán, tel. 85-34-25.
  • * Horseback Riding: Rancho Loma Bonita, tel. 87-54-65.
  • * See Movie: Plaza Kukulcán and forum by the Sea malls.

Water Sports

The coastal State of Quintana Roo – Cancun’s home – is a mecca for divers and water sports enthusiasts. The area’s transparent waters are strewn whit coral beds, reefs, and a plethora of undersea life. Cancún is also unequaled in offering the latest in water sports gadgetry: win surfinf, jet-skiing, "wave runners" parasailing (hopefully not a water sport) and sail boating.

Diving & Snorkeling

The diving and snorkling in and near Cancún are excellent. Most spots are accessible by boat, although

the Bahía (bay) side of the island and the Punta Nizuc area have excellent close to shore reefs. Diving is best off the island’s southern point. For beginner, the reefs of Chiales, Bajito and Manchones are popular. Intermediate divers head to Cuervones, San Miguel, and "The Tunnel." All sites are easily accessed through guided trips arranged by any of Cancun’s over 20 dive shops.

South of Cancún lies a region rich in diving locations. Most noteworthy is world-famous Akumal, described in the RIVIERA MAYA chapter.


Although not yet ready to rival Los Cabos and Mazatlán, Cancún does have good deep-sea and lagoon fishing. Sailfish and dolphin fish run March through July; blue and white marlin and bluefin tuna in April-June.Trips leave from several marinas. Prices range from $240-350 U.S per boat, per day-private; $ 99 US per person for 6 hr shared fishing trips.

Wind Surfing, Jet Skiing, and Water Skiing

Choose either the calm waters of the lagoon, or the windy point just west of Playa Caracol.

Parque Nizuc

(Formerly Wet’n Wild) Try Cancun’s newest – a $ 20 million water park, located just south of Punta Nizuc at KM 25.Admission:$ 25 US adults- $ 19 US kids. Tel.81-30-00.


Located adjacent to the Meliá Cancún, this aquatic center offers a wide array to water sports activities – equipment rentals, submarine rides, a riverboat dinner cruise, sky rider flights, wave runner jungle tours, scuba diving, fishing. Tel. 85-22-88.


Cancún is truly a shoper’s paradise. Its position as a duty-free port, combined with an abundant variety of unique Yucatecan creations, and several "American-Style" air conditioned shopping malls, means there is something for everyone. Just like back home, these malls have become major attractions, housing movie theaters, bowling allies, arcade game rooms, and fast food outlets.

Most shopping is fooound in several commercial centers/malls in the hotel zone. Most combine shopping with café-style dinning, bars, art galleries, and local tour operators. There also some fun shops and couple of malls in town, as well as some open-air artisans markets ( see below). Specialty items include Panamá hats, shell and black coral jewelry, woven baskets, and guayabera shirts.

Note: Should you have problems with vendors, contact the local consumer protection agency at 85-22-88

Main Shopping Centers and Malls

Forum-By-The-Sea: two movie theaters, restaurants, disco and fine shops.
Inter Plaza Mall: at Cancun’s ultra modern Convention Center.
Ki-Huic: downtown public market with handicrafts; be ready to bargain.
La mansion-Costa Blanca: high-quality exclusive designer shops.
Maya Fair Galleries: emphasis on handicrafts, severak fast-food outlets.
Party Center: unique facility of shops, restaurants and yes, hot night spots.
Plaza Bonita: downtown. Mexican village atmosphere.
Plaza Caracol: Cancun’s biggest with nearly 200 specialty shops.
Plaza Flamingo: fine shops, restaurants, evening floor shows.
Plaza Kukulcán: movie theater, bowling alley, and many fine shops.
Plaza Lagunas Mall: Features sports-wear and several good restarants; in the heart of the hotel zone. Plaza Las Americas: Cancun´s newest dowtown mall.10 movie theaters, 2 department stores, restaurants and dine shops.
El Zocalo
: in front of the Convention Center is a Baazar whit handicrafts being made by artisans from all over Mexico. Also fashion shows, restaurants and a Mexican Fiesta.


Alberto’s: exclusive designs in silver and gold, made to order.
Los Castillo
: outstanding silversmiths from Taxco.
Ronay: fine gold, silver and black coral jewerly.
Macame: fine pens and watches, gold jewerly.

Fine Art

Artland: outstanding Maayan rubbings for area ruins, originall paintings.
Galería Maty Roca
: modern sculptures, paintings.
Geraldine: elegant gold and silver original designs. La Mansion .
La Galería: studio gallery that reproduces fine Mayan art.
Orbe Galerías: superb works by Mexico’s best artist. Plaza Caracol.


Galerias Colonial: excellent crafts and art, including Oaxacan pieces. Plaza Caracol.
La Iguana: fine selection of traditional and novel craft items.
Michoacan: excellent selection of art/crafts from Michoacán.
Opals: handicrafts from throughout Mexico, plus gem-quality opals. Plaza Caracol.
La Fiesta: enormous one-floor department store with crafts, jewerly.
Necesito: beatiful hand-blown glass ware, pottery, stoneware.
Barro y Artesanias de Hidalgo: wide assortment of colorful pottery.
Huichol Collection: shops showcase Huichol Indian crafts.

Designer Fashions

Bally: European footwear and leather accesories. Plaza Caracol.
Benetton: chic italian fashions. Plaza Caracol. Plaza Kukulcán.
Bye Bye: Mexican designer fashion for men and women
Don Cotton: original design t-shirts with a caribbean flair.
Ferrioni: fun casual wear for men and women.
Gucci: fine made-in-Mexico leather goods.
La Jarana: specializing in Yucatán clothing-accesories and figt items.
Polo: resortwear by Ralph Lauren. Plaza Caracol, Av. Tulum 55.
Miro:quality 100% cotton resortwear; several locations.
Primadona: elegant formal wear for ladies.
Messa Luna: bright one-of-a-dind tropical designs. Plaza Caracol.
Sassafras: casual clorthing with Caribean colors and styles.


Casa del Habano: hand-rolled Havana cigars.
Cachet: fine gifts, jewelry, original art, designer Mexican fashions.
El Telar: native loom-made clothing and fine weavings.
La Casita: everything from clothing, art, jewelry to leather goods.
Mordo: Western-style gear, including boots and hats.
Pama: department store with fashions, perfumes, liquor, crafts.
Ultra Famme: imported perfume, cosmetics, accessories. 8 stores.
Mayart: one-of-a-kind objects relating to the Mayan culture. La Mansion, Costa Blanca.