Despite the much-publicized "Garrafón Reef Restoration Program," much of the coral reef at this national marine park is dead, the result of hurricanes, boat anchors, and too many careless tourists. There are still colorful fish, but many of them will come near only if bribed with food. Although there's not much for snorkelers anymore, the park does have kayaks, restaurants, bathrooms, and a gift shop. Be prepared to spend $85 for the basic package called "Royal Garrafón,"
which includes snorkeling gear, breakfast, lunch, kayaks, transportation from Cancún, a bike tour, and an open bar. Another option is Dolphin Discovery ($115–$175), where you can use the parks amenities and swim with dolphins. The Beach Club Garrafón de Castilla next door is a much cheaper alternative; the snorkeling is at least equal to that available in the park. The club is open to everyone, and a day pass is 50 pesos. You can take a taxi from town. The park is home to the Santuario Maya a la Diosa Ixchel, the sad vestiges of a Mayan temple once dedicated to the goddess Ixchel. A lovely walkway around the area remains, but the natural arch beneath the ruin has been blasted open and "repaired" with concrete badly disguised as rocks. The views here are spectacular, though: you can look to the open ocean, where waves crash against dramatic cliffs on one side and the Bahía de Mujeres (Bay of Women) on the other. On the way to the temple there's a cutesy Caribbean-style shopping center selling overpriced jewelry and souvenirs, as well as a park with brightly painted abstract sculptures. The ruins (open daily 9–5) are near the old lighthouse, where the road turns northeast into the Corredor Panorámico. It costs $3 to visit just the ruins and sculpture park, but this is included with admission to El Garrafón.
Carretera El Garrafón, 6 km (3¾ mi), Mza 41, Lote 12, Sm 9, Punta Sur, southeast of Playa Lancheros, Isla Mujeres, Quintana Roo, 77400, Mexico
998-193–3360; 866-393-5158-Toll-free from U.S.
Aug 18, 2009
My boyfriend and I have been here 2 times and yearn to go back. The staff are very friendly and the buffet is awesome! We've seen starfish, Parrot fish, stingrays and barracuda in the coral. It truly is a beautiful and worth the money!