Isla Mujeres, Mexico: Near Cancun but a world away

By: AMANDA LEE MYERS The Associated Press
February 9, 2014 Updated: February 9, 2014 at 3:05 am
photo - This image released by Columbia Pictures shows George Clooney, left, and Hugh Bonneville in "The Monuments Men." (AP Photo/Columbia Pictures, Claudette Barius)
This image released by Columbia Pictures shows George Clooney, left, and Hugh Bonneville in "The Monuments Men." (AP Photo/Columbia Pictures, Claudette Barius) 

ISLA MUJERES, Mexico - A half-hour ferry ride from the nonstop party that is Cancun sits an island seductively named Isla Mujeres, or Island of Women.

Less than 5 miles long and only a half-mile wide, the tiny Mexican island is an oasis that caters to every set except the rowdy students sowing their oats across the bay. They most certainly would get bored.

Frankly, there isn't that much for them to do on the island. For everyone else, that's kind of the point.

The escape begins as soon as the cab from the airport drops you off at the dock, where there is, of course, a bar. Grab a couple of beers and relax until it's time to board the ferry.

Some hotels, such as the idyllic, Italian-themed Villa Rolandi or the perfectly located Avalon Reef Club, will cart you directly to their doors. For others renting a house or staying at a budget hotel, ferries go to the island's main pier downtown.

Try to find a spot on the back of your ferry in the open air to enjoy the view and fresh sea-salt air as Cancun and its thumping music slowly fade. It's the perfect introduction to your new temporary home in the Caribbean.

Once you arrive, first things first. Get to a beach. Now. Don't worry about where you'll eat, don't worry about unpacking, just throw on that bathing suit and get out there. You'll never forget your first sunset in Isla.

At some point in the first couple of days, you'll want to rent a golf cart, the most popular mode of transportation on the island along with scooters. The cheapest options - roughly $40 a day - will be downtown and include carts styled like Jeep Wranglers and pink Cadillacs.

The next few days depend on how much energy you can scrounge up amid the seductively slow rhythm of the island.

My plan had been to go swimming with whale sharks, play with dolphins, go on a few runs along the ocean, maybe hop over to Cancun for a day trip.

None of that happened. Like I said, island rhythm.

At some point amid the endless, intoxicating relaxation, we found the energy to drive our golf cart to the Punta Sur, or South Point, at the southernmost tip of the island. Once there, pay a nominal fee to explore Garrafon Natural Reef Park, a series of paved trails that lead to the very edge of the ocean.

The park's designers have managed to make it feel like you're standing in the middle of the wild ocean. It's humbling and beautiful.

Between January and September last year, Isla Mujeres saw 227,540 visitors, according to statistics kept by the Mexican state of Quintana Roo. Cancun had 3.2 million visitors in the same time period, proving that Isla is still a well-kept secret.

Or maybe it's just simply that it doesn't appeal to the partying masses who swarm Cancun. Those less interested in bottomless blue cocktails and grinding in clubs until the break of dawn prefer it that way.

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