There are many islands situated off Mexico’s coastlines, but by far the best known and most visited are the islands of Isla Mujeres and Cozumel. Although these islands —situated off the coast of Cancún/Riviera Maya— are relatively close to each other, they offer quite different experiences for visitors.
The islands can be enjoyed as part of a side-trip when you are visiting nearby Cancún, Rivera Maya, or the Yucatán, or you could opt to stay on either island for an extended visit if you prefer to base yourself away from the mainland.
Experience Isla Mujeres
Isla Mujeres has a laid-back, simple and comfortable atmosphere where visitors go to relax, rest, and take part in a wide variety of water sports. The feel here is tranquil, rustic, and easy-going. You can count on the hotels being comfortable, without the commercial feel (and amenities) of nearby Cancún.
Isla Mujeres is also a popular destination for couples on honeymoon as well as romantic breaks. Families do holiday here as well, although they tend to day-trip from the mainland as extended stays on the island may prove a bit too quiet, especially for younger and energetic children.
Day-trippers from Cancún arrive on ferries during the day and transform the island into a hive of commercial activity as they wander around the town shopping, eating, drinking, and haggling with the numerous souvenir and crafts vendors. The beaches are also busier during the peak daytime hours as they, too, fill up with the day-trippers. But when the last evening ferries leave, the island calms down and returns to its natural serene and tranquil state.
Access to Isla Mujeres is by ferry or boat only. Ferries from several ports in and around Cancún transport foot passengers to Isla Mujeres frequently, seven days a week. The journey time takes about twenty minutes each way. Once on the island, getting around is done principally by taxi, by bicycle, by golf cart, and on foot.
Learn More: Guide to Isla Mujeres
Cozumel is Mexico’s original “Caribbean” destination: an island about forty miles south of Cancún situated off the coast near Playa del Carmen. It’s Mexico’s largest Caribbean island, and also a major international cruise ship destination.
This island is a popular cruise ship destinations and because of this the island itself ranks among one of the world’s most visited tourist spots. It is also one of the world’s top places for SCUBA diving: if you’re an avid diver you have probably heard of, or visited, Cozumel; if you want to learn how to dive, you can do that here, too.
San Miguel de Cozumel is the one and only town on the island. During the daytime when the cruise ships are docked, the town center becomes crowded with passing visitors, which fill the streets and provide a brisk trade for local merchants. When the cruise ships pull away after sundown, the feel and atmosphere of Cozumel changes remarkably.
Many visitors to the island stay at one of the main beach resorts, which are situated about ten miles away from the town center, on the south side of the island. When you’re deciding where to stay on Cozumel island, there are two broad choices: you can either stay in or near the town center, or you can go out of town and stay at one of the beach-side vacation resorts. Less than five percent of the island is developed, and most of the undeveloped land is rugged wilderness featuring quiet and deserted beaches.
Cozumel island does have an international airport so direct flights to the island are available from Mexico as flights from overseas during the peak holiday season. Less expensive flights may be sought to Cancún, from where you can take a relatively short road trip to Playa del Carmen and board a passenger ferry to the island of Cozumel from there. The ferries cross frequently, seven days a week, and the journey time takes about 45 minutes each way.
Learn More: Guide to Cozumel
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