Go Back  Fodor's Travel Talk Forums > Destinations > Mexico & Central America
Reload this Page >

2 wks in Isla Mujeres and Playa del Carmen - Part 1 - Isla Mujeres

2 wks in Isla Mujeres and Playa del Carmen - Part 1 - Isla Mujeres

May 17th, 2004, 08:05 AM
Original Poster
Join Date: Jan 2003
Posts: 2,658
2 wks in Isla Mujeres and Playa del Carmen - Part 1 - Isla Mujeres

We just returned from a very relaxing two weeks in Isla Mujeres and Playa del Carmen, Mexico, with side visits to Isla Contoy and Puerto Morelos.

We flew into Cancun and were impressed by all of the recent improvements to the airport and the reduction in the wait for immigration and customs. There is now a uniformed guard who herds the incoming people into customs (as opposed to when they used to just let you wander around wondering where to go). The only negative I found was that the person was a bit TOO short with some of the people he thought were moving too slowly.

Downstairs in customs, they have a more organized method for getting everyone through, and what used to take up to an hour or more took us only 10 or 15 minutes. They now also check your luggage to make sure it matches your claim tickets before they will let you take it.

The same craziness is still found after you clear customs, and it?s best to either have transportation pre-arranged or to just run on outside through the gauntlet and get a cab (for 2 people) or a Collectivo van (for a group or if you have a lot of luggage).

We made the mistake of going to the desk one of the ?information? people told us about and had to endure the guy who was just supposed to be getting us a van to the ferry dock at Gran Puerto try to get us to take a time share tour at Avalon while we were on Isla Mujeres. (The Avalon time share people are EVERYWHERE and voracious, so practice saying ?No, gracias? about 100 times before you ever get off the plane in Cancun, and you will be well-equipped to deal with them.

Our driver was the sweetest man, and took us to Costco and Wal Mart in Cancun so we could load up on tequila and good wine and spirits for our trip (for which he was handsomely rewarded.)

The new high-speed ferry to Isla Mujeres leaves from the new dock at Gran Puerto every half hour and was just wonderful. They helped us with our luggage, served beer and soft drinks (for a nominal fee) and played fun music. The ferry is new and much quicker than the old one. It only takes 10 to 15 minutes to cross.

At the dock on IM, we got a ?tricyclero? to take us to our hotel. Unless it is raining, if you are staying downtown or on Playa Norte, I highly recommend that you do this. It is a (usually older) man who has a bicycle/tricycle kind of contraption with a platform or cage that can hold a lot of luggage and is much less expensive than a taxi. You can take a leisurely stroll behind as he takes your luggage and get a taste of the sights and smells and get on ?island time.?

We chose Na Balam as our hotel again after staying there last year as it has the prime spot on Playa Norte and also due to the futon platforms and umbrellas it has for its guests on the gorgeous beach. At a minimum of $135.00 per night, I feel it is over-priced for the quality of the rooms, but they are making improvements all the time, and the location cannot be beat. It also has courteous beach service for food and drinks, a good restaurant, and yoga classes if you can motivate yourself to take them. (I couldn?t.)

Meals we really enjoyed were: Breakfast: La Cazuela M&J. (They have the greatest omelette casseroles ? I like the one with asparagus), the French Bistro and Café Cito. Lunch: Sergio?s Playa Sol, Sunset Grill (grilled fish with garlic) and dinner at Poc Chuc (an informal little diner downtown with local food), Cockteleria Picus (one of the two best meals we had while there and one of the least expensive), Bamboo (absolutely my favorite ? got fried rice with shrimp and pineapple in a coconut and was in culinary heaven).

Places we were underwhelmed with were ? Jax?s, both my and my dh?s fish were dried out and over-seasoned, Velasquez ? great view on the beach and good family ambience, but way too expensive for what you get, Manolo?s ? food was very good, but the service was inattentive, and it was the only place I was worried about ?cleanliness issues,? Nopalito ? food was very good but (American?) owner/proprietor inattentive and unfriendly.

Another taste sensation you MUST try, find the elderly lady (Maria) who sells roasted pumpkin seeds on Playa Norte. I got some the second day and spent the next week waiting for her to appear ? amazing!

The only activity besides lying on the beach we did was taking a day trip over to Isla Contoy. This is a must do. Our mistake was arranging it through the hotel, and we ended up on a teeny tiny little boat that took hours to get there and hours to get back. This trip on this boat is only for the non-complaining intrepid. I love to sail, but both my and dh?s backsides were hurting for days due to the small boat on very rough water. Be sure to find out in advance how long it takes to get there and how long it takes to get back. Take a boat that takes no longer than an hour unless you are the ?roughing? it type, and make sure your boat has shade to get out of the sun. Because ours took so long, we had much less time to spend on Contoy.

We caught our own lunch (actually, the captain and "first mate" caught them ? barracuda ? and they grilled it for us with achiote. We had drinks, fish, tortillas, guacamole and cole slaw. It was delicious!

Then we pet the tame rays in the bay, toured the nature center and tower, snorkeled and swam, and spent almost three hours getting back to IM on rough water ? whew. A great day, but do your research!

We had to move to Media Luna for our last night because Na Balam was booked, and we were very pleased with the quality of the accommodations for the price - $85 to $100. Small but nice rooms, a lovely pool, and a good beach for walking but not swimming (water too rough).

Much fancier (but full at the time) is the sister property next door ? Secreto ? at $150 to $200 per night and gorgeous.

One note of importance, topless is VERY common on Isla Mujeres on the beaches, but is handled discreetly, with most ladies putting on tops before entering the water or walking on the beach.

There are lots of little party bars with music and fun. Our favorites were Buho?s and Sergio?s ? both on different sections of Playa Norte.

The time share sharks pushing Avalon can be handled two ways: a FIRM ?No gracias,? or ?we?re staying at Avalon.? This confuses them, and they leave you alone. Vendors can get a bit aggressive, but once you give them a polite ?No, gracias? a few times, and they realize you are staying on the island, they will largely leave you alone.

There are daytrippers who come over from Cancun, and most of them go downtown or to the bars. There are not too many of them to be annoying. (I found it to be just enough to make for entertaining people-watching.)

Isla Mujeres is best for those looking for a casual, laid back beach vacation. Although there are a couple of expensive ?resorts? on the island with amenities and luxury (Villa Rolandi), it is not for those looking to be constantly entertained or for people looking for glitz, shopping and nightlife.

I have read where some people found Isla Mujeres grubby and dirty, but we like its still-small-town charm and friendliness, and the beach is one of the best in the Caribbean. If the off-the-beaten track destinations appeal to you, Isla Mujeres is a good choice.

I'll be glad to answer questions, and I'll be posting Part 2, for Playa del Carmen, shortly.
Diana is offline  
May 17th, 2004, 08:21 AM
Join Date: Feb 2003
Posts: 2,676
Thanks for the report. I'm looking forward to reading your report on Playa del Carmen. I've stayed on Isla Mujeres a couple of times, and enjoyed it a lot less the second time - I just didn't find it nearly as charming. On the other hand, I still liked PDC, even though it had grown so much. (Last time I was there was 2000, and I imagine it's only continued to grow.)

Thanks again for posting.
SusanInToronto is offline  
May 17th, 2004, 09:00 AM
Original Poster
Join Date: Jan 2003
Posts: 2,658
Oh boy! If you haven't been to PDC since 2000, you will be astounded!

Yes, IM is not for everyone. It has changed quite a bit over the years, and the daytripper influence from Cancun has me a little worried for its future.

To be honest, if it weren't for Playa Norte, I would probably not be so enamored of the place! I do like the friendliness of the people who live there though, and it's a nice place to go for just vegging out in the sun.

I may not get around to the PDC post until tomorrow. I have to get SOME work done!
Diana is offline  
May 17th, 2004, 09:30 AM
Posts: n/a
Wow Diana -- thanks for a great report. I'm trying to decide between NaBalam on Isla and Al Cielo on Xpu Ha for a quiet week next March for DH, myself and what will be an 8 month old. We are looking for laid back fun, sun, etc. How quiet is the area in front of Nabalam? It looks like it's more on the edge of Playa Norte. Does the hotel enforce the "chairs for guests" rule? I hope I don't sound snobby, but if I wanted the Cancun scene, I would go to Cancun. Thanks again? I'm jealous that you had two weeks to spend.
May 17th, 2004, 10:32 AM
Join Date: Jan 2003
Posts: 4,777
Thanks, Diana! Looking forward to part II!
Little_Man is offline  
May 17th, 2004, 10:36 AM
Original Poster
Join Date: Jan 2003
Posts: 2,658
I think IM sounds like it would be perfect for what you are wanting.

The beach in front of Na Balam is very quiet and the water is extremely calm. It is on the very end of Playa Norte, so you don't get very many people up there just wandering around.

As the day wears on, they do rent the beach chairs out to people other than guests for $10 apiece for the futons and $6 apiece for the chairs, but we never had any problem getting futons (at no charge of course) and the few people who did rent the futons/chairs were "well-behaved."

(I'm like you, if I'm a paying guest, they'd BETTER have chairs available for me! )

The older we get, we realize that life is short, and so we take lots of vacation every year (at least two 2 week trips or more) even if some of it is unpaid. We got tired of being so envious when people from other countries told us they were on a 2 or 3 week vacation when we had barely enough time to unwind before we had to go back to work, so now we have jobs where they will let us have our time off for fun!

Have a great time where ever you decide on!
Diana is offline  

Posting Rules
You may not post new threads
You may not post replies
You may not post attachments
You may not edit your posts

BB code is On
Smilies are On
[IMG] code is On
HTML code is Off
Trackbacks are Off
Pingbacks are Off
Refbacks are On

Thread Tools
Search this Thread

Contact Us - Archive - Advertising - Cookie Policy -


All times are GMT -8. The time now is 08:36 PM.