Isla Mujeres

Isla Mujeres is a sleepy little island out of the hustle and bustle of the mainland Yucatan Peninsula in Mexico.  Only 5 miles long and 1/2 mile wide, it has flat sandy beaches to the north and leeward side, and steep rocky bluffs to the south and windward side of the island.  Drinking cold beer, eating fresh seafood, swimming, snorkeling and relaxing make this a perfect secluded seaside retreat.  

Life here moves slowly and it is the perfect place to decompress from civilization.  

Living the Dream and Loving It

Staying at the Dock at Marina Paraiso  

We have our boat docked at Marina Paraiso, one of the nicest marinas on the island.  Thomas Boylan and his staff have made sure that our stay on Isla has been an enjoyable one. Their customer service is the best!  They helped us with the immigration paperwork upon our arrival to Mexico, took us to Cancun to get our Mexican boat paperwork done, have lent us their golf cart for sightseeing and trips to town.. snorkeling trips, trips to nearby islands,......the list goes on and on.  We have a full service dock with electricity (therefore, air-conditioning!), wi-fi internet access, a swimming pool, shower facility and my personal favorite, laundry service ($5 USD a load). I am happy to say that I have personally not washed a thing since I arrived!  I am getting spoiled here. No wonder we don't want to leave. However, there is a price to pay for all this luxury, and unfortunately, we didn't budget for staying at a marina.  Why didn't we budget for it, you ask?? Well, we didn't plan to be in Isla Mujeres as long as we have.  By this time we had planned to be in Belize anchored out on a reef and then shortly thereafter, be in Guatemala up the Rio Dulce River, where the marina fees are less expensive.   But, as we have now learned, when you go cruising on a boat, you do what you feel like doing.  If you find someplace you like, you stay.  We really like Mexico, and we want to spend more time here.  We have found that we don't want to rush this experience.  So, here we are.

 

Our girl Genesis at the Dock.  The white sun tarp helps cool the boat off.  

                                 Marina Paraiso Office, Pool, and Bar                                  Boats on the Dock.  Genesis is in the Middle.

Oh yeah, did I mention budget?? We have one, but so far, we haven't been able to stay on it.  The first month and a half, we stayed at the marina, did a bit of traveling, ate out a LOT, and had to replace some $750 sailing blocks and pay import duty on them ($140) so our expenses were higher than anticipated.  We are now getting down to reality (such as reality can be in paradise!), are eating out less and cooking more on the boat, and so far for July we are on target.  The marina expense has been a budget buster for us as we did not plan to stay in a marina in Mexico.  It's getting hotter by the day here, so it is going to be hard to get off the dock (and a/c!) and anchor out.  But we have talked to the cruisers anchoring out in the lagoon here and they said there is generally a good breeze blowing and it is not too hot.  You get used to the heat when you don't go in and out of the a/c all the time.  So, stay tuned for more when (or if) we cut the cord and head out to the lagoon.

Happy Hour each afternoon with $1 beers provides everyone an opportunity to socialize, trade ideas, and trade stories of cruising.  We have met a lot of nice people from everywhere.  One afternoon, LA, Tom and I were the only USA folks there....four people from England, one from Canada, two from Australia, two from Ireland, and another from South Africa were swapping tales of the sea.  Cruising is an international community.  The sailing draws us together with a common bond, and it is very interesting learning about how others began their cruising life and also to draw on their experiences.  

Sunsets at Marina Paraiso

The Island of Isla Mujeres

The name "Isla Mujeres" means "Island of Women" although no one really knows who named the island.  Many believe it was the ancient Maya, who were said to use the island as a religious center for worshipping Ixchel, the Maya goddess of rainbows, the moon, and the sea, and the guardian of fertility and childbirth.  Another popular legend has it that the Spanish conquistador Hernandez de Cordoba named the island when he landed here in 1517 and found hundreds of female-shaped idols dedicated to Ixchel and her daughters.  Others say the name dates later, from the 17th century, when visiting pirates stashed their women on Isla before heading out to rob the seas.

It wasn't until after 1821, when Mexico became independent, that people really began to settle on Isla.  By the end of the century residents had begun to establish trade--mostly by supplying fish to the owners of the chicle and coconut plantations on the mainland coast. 

A view of Cancun from Isla Mujeres

In 1949 the Mexican Navy built a base on Isla's northwestern coast.  Shortly after we arrived in Isla, Mexican Navy Day was celebrated on June 5, complete with a visit from Mexico's President.  Security was very tight with armed soldiers everywhere. 

Warships patrolled all sides of the island during the visit. 

No snorkeling, scuba diving, or sport fishing was allowed during the one-day visit.

Also around 1949, the island caught the eye of some wealthy Mexican sportsmen, who began using it as a vacation spot.

Tourism flourished on Isla during the later half of the 20th century, partly due to the island's most famous resident, Ramon Bravo (1927-1998).  A diver, cinematographer, ecologist, and colleague of Jacques Cousteau, Bravo was the first underwater photographer to explore the area.  He discovered the now-famous Cave of the Sleeping Sharks.  Once sharks swim into the caves, they enter a state of relaxed nonaggression seen nowhere else.  One theory is that the caves' combination of fresh and saltwater may produce euphoria.  Whatever the sharks experience while "sleeping" in the caves, they pay a heavy price for it:  the shark must laboriously pump water through its gills to continue breathing while in the caves.  Usually, they are swimming and the water flows easily through their gills.  

The only way to get to Isla Mujeres is by boat, either your own or by ferry from Puerto Juarez on the mainland, just north of Cancun.  The ferry rides are quick, making the journey less than 30 minutes. 

                         Ultramar Ferry:  One Way Ride to Isla $3.50 USD                   Waiting at Puerto Juarez Ferry Terminal

There is a car ferry on the island, but there's really no reason to have a car on the island.  Since the island is so small, bikes, mopeds and golf carts are the most popular ways to get around.  Taxis are everywhere, and cheap. It costs $2 or $3 to go from one end of the island to the other.  Marina Paraiso graciously lent us their golf cart for island tours and trips to town.

                                         Isla Mujeres Car Ferry                                                   Marina Paraiso's Golf Cart

View from one side of the island to the other. (Only 1/2 mile wide).  Notice the Cobblestone Streets.  

Dining on Isla is a casual affair.  Many of the restaurants are seaside with beachside tables Local cuisine is fresh fish and shrimp. There are also some small bistros with wood fired ovens that serve excellent pizza and Italian specialties. Locals often eat their meals during siesta hours between 1 and 4 p.m., then have a light dinner in the evening. 

Local street vendors sell tamales, freshly squeezed orange juice, ice cream and fresh fruits.

Picus Cockteleria Restaurant:  

You can watch the fishing boats come and go while you wait for some of the freshest seafood on the island. 

The grilled fish, shrimp, and lobster are specialties here, but we liked the nachos and guacamole with fresh pico de gallo sauce and chips.

Whenever we get a craving for a hamburger, we head to Jax's.  Jax Bar and Grill is a sports bar which serves up American-style thick, perfectly grilled cheeseburgers and french fries.  The satellite TV is always tuned to ESPN to watch soccer and tennis while we eat.

Cheeseburger in Paradise, and no, Jimmy Buffett didn't write that song on Isla Mujeres

Aside from seashell art and jewelry, Isla produces few local crafts. The streets are filled with souvenir shops shelling t-shirts, ceramics and silver jewelry.  Jewelry ranges from tasteful creations to junk.  There are some nice stores that specialize in semiprecious stones such as sapphires, tanzanite, amber and opals. LA bought a nice silver and opal ring for me as an anniversary gift. 

Punta Sur, the south point of the island, is the site of a small Maya ruin.  You must first get past the little Caribbean village with its local souvenir shops and bizarre sculpture park and pay to see the ruins. 

We opted out on the ruin tour, but the ocean and bay views were spectacular. 

 

All around the islands are private homes, condominiums and luxury resorts.  Real estate prices are high. 

The locals live in communities around the island in modest dwellings. 

                                           The Local Dentist                                                          Laundry Day

Waiting for the Bus

Living the Good Life in Isla Mujeres

We are enjoying our stay in Isla Mujeres.  We don't know how long we will stay.  The plan is.... there is no plan.  That is the nice thing about cruising on a sailboat.  If you find someplace you like, you can just stay a while.  We have always liked Mexico and love the laid-back atmosphere of Isla.  So, when it's time to go, we'll go.  For now, we're just gonna sit back, relax, and enjoy life.

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