Cancun and Isla Mujeres @ TrenDestination

A Mexican trip | 24 hours in Cancun + 48 hours in Isla Mujeres

Well, for those who follow TrenDestination, this 3 weeks’ retreat of pure silence around here was no surprise. If you checked our Instagram and Facebook you’ll understand where I’ve been travelling this last month of August. Against all odds and advices, I decided to move on with a trip to Mexico and let me tell you that it is in perfect shape, completely safe and full of incredible beauty from which I just got to discover a tiny peace. Although a tiny and shinny piece of heaven. It was definitely a surprise since I didn’t expect to find as much authenticity, smiles, pure nature and breathtaking landscapes as I did. Especially authenticity – that key factor I always look for when getting to know a new country. But came as a surprise too, the fact that I didn’t find much relevant online information about the genuine Mexican gems to help me planning the trip, that’s why I’ll share below a collection of some off the beaten track tips you won’t find in any guide. On this first post (the first of three), I’ll cover the areas of Cancun and Isla Mujeres.

Cancun and Isla Mujeres map @ Word Atlas
Cancun and Isla Mujeres map @ Word Atlas

Cancun is relatively new comparing to other regions of Mexico as around four decades ago was a desert island and no one knew about its existence. The touristic project of what is Cancun today began only in 1970. Isla Mujeres or the Island of the Women is a beautiful and fun island, without all the noise and lights of Cancun but still with a lively and genuine touch, suitable for everyone and within a short distance from Cancun, so definitely a must go.

El Mirador beach in Cancun @ TrenDestination
El Mirador beach in Cancun @ TrenDestination

#1. How to get to

Right at your arrival at Cancun Airport, the most cost effective option is taking the public bus as each ticket costs approximately 2,9€ (60 MXN pesos) and the ride is pretty comfortable. Ignore the drivers’ harassment to convince to take taxis or the colectivo (public mini-van), although this last one is also a good plan B option. To go to Isla Mujeres, you should take the ferry from Puerto Juarez terminal and the boats depart pretty much every 10 to 15 minutes. Once in the island, the best way to circulate is either by motorbike or kart – only recommended if you’re travelling with more than one person as it has more space but it’s more expensive too.

#2. Where to eat

It’s not easy to find inexpensive local yet reliable food in Cancun but Parque de las Palapas is by far the best spot one can go to taste the local mexican flavors. It’s a park with food stalls and stone seats / tables. I recommend you to go at night since it’s a lot more lively with music and vendors selling sweet stuff like churros, fried banana, marquesitas (rolled up crispy crepe filled with melted shredded cheese and a sweet filling of your choice – a must try), etc. At Isla Mujeres, if you decide to skip hotel breakfast (which I found very poor in most hotels) head to La Cueva de la Cherna where you’ll find all types of mexican egg dishes (try the Motuleños and Rancheros) for around 2€ (around 40 MXN pesos). In every meal, the totopos are included being similar to our couvert with the difference of not paying for them.

Parque de las Palapas in Cancun @ TrenDestination
Parque de las Palapas in Cancun @ TrenDestination
Huevos Motuleños from Taqueria La Cueva de la Cherna @ TrenDestination
Huevos Motuleños from Taqueria La Cueva de la Cherna @ TrenDestination

#3. Best beaches

Cancun is all about all-inclusive resorts meaning that there are only a few public beaches as the majority are private and for exclusive use of hotel guests. The public ones are Playa Tortugas (full of rocks, noisy and without much sand space), Playa El Caracol (no sun umbrellas and it has a ferry port) and Playa Delfines. The best is the last one, also known as El Mirador is quite big with nice waves and sun shades. The best at Isla Mujeres is definitely Playa del Norte, where you pay around 12€ (250 MXN pesos) for 2 chairs and a sun shade but be careful since it’s only available until 6:00pm.

Playa del Norte at Isla Mujeres @ TrenDestination
Playa del Norte at Isla Mujeres @ TrenDestination

#4. What to do

At Isla Mujeres, one of the must do’s includes swimming with the whale sharks (around 110€ and 130€) from June to September. Visit Isla Contoy is also a great option for being the nesting place of sea birds from the Mexican Caribbean. Another popular activity is snorkeling or diving to check MUSA Underwater Museum of Art, just be careful in case it’s windy, especially the days before your visit, as you might not be able to see clearly the sculptures since they’re all placed on the ground. All the activities can be booked onsite and you’ll get definitely better prices, that won’t range much though. Another interesting visit is the Tortugranja (Turtle Farm) where you’re able to visit all types of turtles – the baby ones will melt your heart even if you’re not obsessed with turtles like me! This is a fun and relaxed activity, especially if you have kids. A nice worthy place to pay a visit too is Punta Sur located in the southern tip of the island with a sculpture garden, the Mayan Temple and incredible ocean views. Regarding Cancun, I didn’t find anything authentic enough and worth to do, however, I just spent 24 hours there.

Turtle Farm Isla Mujeres @ TrenDestination
Turtle Farm Isla Mujeres @ TrenDestination
Punta Sur at Isla Mujeres @ TrenDestination
Punta Sur at Isla Mujeres @ TrenDestination

#5. Where to stay

Since I stayed in Cancun for only one day, I decided to sleep close to the ferry port to Isla Mujeres. But in terms of main areas to stay, you can choose between two: the hotel zone or the downtown. The first one is obviously more expensive and based on all-inclusive deals, the second one more focused on shopping and closer to restaurants, especially the cheaper ones. At Isla Mujeres, I stayed at the Rocamar Hotel where the best feature is definitely the breathtaking sea view rooms and is 2 minutes’ walking distance from the downtown. However, I also liked the vibes from these two hotels: Na Balam due to its privileged location at Playa del Norte and Casa de los Suenos for the surroundings, ambiance and decor.

Cancun and Isla Mujeres @ TrenDestination
Hotel Rocamar at Isla Mujeres @ TrenDestination

#6. Authenticitymometre

All in all, if you’re not into all-inclusive stays, I’d recommend to skip Cancun as it is as well extremely touristy. It has a sense of fakeness, lacking originality. Isla Mujeres on the other hand, is a must hit even if for a quick visit however, I’d obviously suggest to overnight.

During the upcoming weeks, I’ll talk about Holbox Island, Valladolid, Tulum and Playa del Carmen (including Cozumel Island).


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