Every so often we return to Isla Mujeres. Not so much for the diving although there is some diving there but just because we have found that it is a place that has its' own identity. You can look across the bay and see Cancun but this is nothing like Cancun.  It is an island but it is not like Cozumel. You can and you should rent a golf cart if you go there. You can drive around the whole island several times in half a day. There is a zip line at  El Garrafon and you can see Cancun in the background as you watch the people ride the cable while you eat an ice cream from the local vendor. There is a light house at the south point of the island and you can climb to the top for a view back up the length of the island. There are impressive homes, one is even fashioned in the shape of a conch shell. There are shacks too. Most people on the island live pretty good but there is an area (a shanty town) on the Gulf of Mexico side that looks like it beamed in from South Africa. We always stay near the downtown area where it is an easy ten minute walk to everything you need. Isla has a nice beach that wraps around the north end of the island. It is called Playa Norte, although years ago the tourists dubbed it Playa Naughty because of the likelihood of finding  topless bathers there and it is called Playa Nauti or Nautibeach also.
There is shopping and more than a few good places to eat. Olivia is new since about 2008 and offers Mediterranean food from places other than Italy.  We went there for dinner on Thanksgiving Day 2009, not because they offered something special for homesick gringos but just because we were not in the USA on that day but we wanted a nice meal to celebrate with.  At the other end of the spectrum is Poc Chuc, a little place on a corner with just a few tables and no website but we have adopted it as one of our favorites. The prices and the food are good, the beer is cold and the fact that there is little English spoken is "no problema".
There are lots of economical choices for hotels with many less than $75 per night USD and much less if you have the mindset of a European Backpacker.
We have done some diving there with a couple of the local operators. We have nothing remarkable to report. Forget any ideas about "the sleeping shark cave" is good advice. Dives conducted on the Gulf of Mexico side of the island tend to run more expensive than dives in the bay between the island and Cancun. Our favorite dive has to be Punta Sur....yes there is a Punta Sur dive at Isla Mujeres and for a very short distance it can yield the fastest drift dive we have ever been on and we have done just about everything you can think of on Cozumel and more. FUN doesn't quite cover it and although it is too short ( the fast part that is ) it is well worth doing. We only wish it had been a tad longer but nature is nature.
If you have ever seen the film  Against All Odds  it is Isla that is the location of the opening scenes even though you are led to believe that it is Cozumel and there are no ferries that go from Cozumel to Tulum. The Sultana del Mar was one of the ferries that used to make the almost one hour crossing from Puerto Juarez to the island. We rode that same boat in 1988 on our first visit. Today the crossing from Gran Puerto Cancun takes under 20 minutes on the people ferry. There is a car ferry that runs to Punta Sam.
Isla is a great place for your first Mexico Adventure. It is less expensive than Cancun. You can stay a week in Isla for what it costs in Cancun for a can make a day trip to Cancun to check it out rather than the other way. Don't pay too much to get there either. ADO has bus service to downtown for under $5USD...located right outside terminal 3 at the airport. From there to Gran Puerto Cancun should be another $5 or less by taxi. If you are hungry you can grab a burger at the McDonald's at the ferry terminal while you wait for your boat. The ferries run often and when you get to the island you can walk to any downtown hotel and pay a tricycle to haul your bags if you don't like carrying them yourself. Just reverse the process to return. Make sure to allow enough time to be early for your flight and be careful to walk through the covered garage at the Ferry Terminal and contract (fix a price to the bus terminal) with a taxi  outside near the bus stop. The taxis that wait inside the garage are out for blood and want to charge you $40 - $50 USD to the airport. They are not interested in a fare to the nearby bus terminal. You don't need much Spanish to plan this adventure....just common sense. The island is close enough to what's happening to have plenty of English speakers. Just remember you're in Mexico not France. Nobody is going to laugh at you or berate you for trying to speak their language.
john noftall



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