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Report 1737: Six Days and Nights on Isla Mujeres

By Jeff H from NH, Fall 2009

Trip Description: Learning to truly relax for six days in the sun: 28 November to 4 December, 2009

Destinations: Countries - North America; Regions/Cities - Mexico

Categories: Hotels/B&Bs; Beach; Foodie Trip; Shopping; Independent Travel; 2 People

Page 1 of 1: Isla Mujeres Mexico

It doesn't take long to relax on this little paradise off of Cancun and the whole scene changed my attitude quickly. This is really, really, really slow travel.

Isla Mujeres, Mexico Trip Report

It was chilly in NH and it was our 40th wedding anniversary and Lesfaye had recommended Isla, so nothing was gonna spoil this trip! ...and nothing did. It was a challenge right from the get go, though, since we had a 6:40am flight from Manchester to Newark and a 9:30am flight from there to Cancun, then a van ride to Puerto Juarez via the hotel stretch in Cancun, a ferry ride over to Isla Mujeres and finally a taxi to our hotel. As somewhat of a veteran, I was not hopeful, but all went well.

Of course, I reserved the right to gloat about the reservation mix up at the front desk upon check in, but never got the chance! My wife (the real mediator of the two of us) worked out a solution with the desk manager within five minutes – and a great solution, too. Instead of a room in the hotel proper and no meals included, we got a cabana down on the water and breakfast every day thrown in, all at no extra charge. I liked this island, already and of course ... needless to say, I love my wife!

Situated 30 minutes by high speed catamaran off the northern coast of the Yucatan Peninsula, Isla Mujeres is sort of like a “country” unto itself. No mobs of people, no fast talking vendors, little fast paced traffic and very little to distract you from the ocean and the dining (there are scores of restaurants in Isla Town, the little town on the north end of the island, which is the nexus of most all activity on the island). And our hotel, the Avalon Reef, was on an islet about 150 yards off of Isla and only a 1/2 mile or so from town. The islet is maybe 100 yards wide by about 250 yards long and big enough for a hotel, the cabanas and the accoutrement and nothing else. One side is the Caribbean Sea, the other is the cove between Isla Mujeres and the hotel.

The Avalon Reef is accessible by a 150 yard long boardwalk (railroad ties, actually) from the main island and across which taxis, scooters, golf carts and pedestrians have to travel from town on the main island to the hotel. Walking out of town to head back to the hotel after lunch or at night after dinner, the breeze at the beginning of the boardwalk just refreshed us as we emerged from town and began our walk across. This is the ocean (windward) side of Isla and the breeze is pretty constant, unlike the streets of the town of Hidalgo proper, where it can be pretty hot.

Our cabana was a multi-level one bedroom, with a kitchenette and patio. It sat right on the coral facing the Caribbean (East). We left the slider open at night so the sound of the rough wave action on the coral reef lulled us to sleep every night.

Never could figure out the tides - seemed like rough wave action all week no matter what time of day or night. Facing east meant the breeze was constant and the water was rough, but less than 100 yards away, on the leeward side of the hotel, was a small white sand beach, permanent thatched top umbrella/gazebos and curb service from the hotel indoor/outdoor bar next door.

We enjoyed both sides of our tiny oasis island and both ends of Isla Mujeres, which is pretty small in its own right – only 5 miles long or so and perhaps 1000 feet wide. We snorkeled for a while in the King's Bath at the hotel - it's a natural "crater" in the coral, maybe 30 feet in diameter, with five or six feet of water and lots of pretty fish to chase around and an occasional wave crashing in to keep things interesting. The Avalon Reef is starting to show some wear and tear around the edges. The fit and finish kind of things I expect at a well advertised 3 or 4 star place just wasn't there. Nothing major, certainly not enough to spoil any aspect of our stay, but a few little things that caught my attention and took some getting used to, for example:

  • the slider to our patio was all but impossible to "slide" (wrestle is more like it)
  • the grounds along the pathway to the cabanas were in poor shape (but being worked on)
  • the wooden decking, stairs and wood everywhere else was starting to show wear and tear due to being surrounded by the Caribbean, I guess, hardly a level spot to be found anywhere on the deck next to the bar, because of warped and cupped boards
  • the fixtures in our bathroom were somewhat worn out and the caulking was not easy to look at
  • the beach that is portrayed in the web pages as running continuously below the bar deck, no longer exists (two feet of water there now)
  • seaweed piled two feet high on the entire white sand beach that does exist was left for a day and half and was still there when we checked out.
As our week went on, we got used to all of this, but I'm not sure Avalon has adjusted its advertising or its rates to compensate, yet. And, I must add that these things were balanced by the abundance of large bath towels, an in-room safe that worked and was easy to figure out, four pillows on a firm king sized bed, two side-by-side large closets (one for each of us), the excellent service at the restaurant and bar, the good food and the safe and exclusive feel of being on ones own little island in the Caribbean.

Renting a golf cart or scooter is pretty standard on Isla, if you want to just discover things on your own. And we did rent a golf cart for 24 hours and drove the length of the island twice just to see what it had to offer. There are any number of snorkeling, scuba, fishing and general boat tour operators scattered up and down the island, but we figured we'd check it out on our own. You can swim with the nurse sharks, or the turtles or the dolphins and rather then doing all three, we opted for the dolphins, when we discovered where they were during our sojourn. We drove back the very next morning and it was a hoot - 10 people, a trainer and two dolphins for about one hour or so. If you haven't done this, do it! Even an old curmudgeon like me enjoyed being pushed full speed ahead while standing up and out of the water to my waist ... and they are cute, even up close, although somewhat larger than I expected, very muscular to touch, but smooth as patent leather. Our days were hardly hectic - slow travel without the travel, almost - filled with:

  • laying on that beach, next to the hotel bar
  • breakfast buffet at the hotel each morning
  • dining at various choices for the other two meals each day
  • just walking around town, shopping for trinkets (Sue, anyway)
  • and generally learning how to relax among the friendly locals everywhere or with a book. And relax we did.

We didn't get to Olivia restaurant, which by all accounts is a must, but we did alright for a couple of rookies just wandering around. The list of eateries, all of which have a choice of indoor or al fresco dining, includes:

  • Bucaneros on Hidalgo (frozen margaritas and guacamole, with excellent thin fresh chips - best all week - people watching by the street)
  • Mocambo on Rueda Medina (large frozen margaritas, fresh fried whole snapper and a wonderful sunset - next to the fish dock area downtown, under a canopy on the beach)
  • Belle Vista at our hotel (fish stuffed with baby shrimp one night and pasta with bolognese sauce another, beer)
  • Rolandi's, al fresco (pizza and fried calamari, right across from Bucaneros)
  • Picus (more fried whole fish and beers down by the dock near Mocambo)
  • Jax at the circle on Rueda Medina's north end (beer, beer, mojitos, nachos supremos, beer and fish tacos - stopped here several times! It was close to our end of the island for the walk back over to the hotel...)
  • Asia Caribe, near Rolandi on Hidalgo (Singapore and Drunken noodles and yummy desserts like chocolate mousse and coconut cheesecake, al fresco - and twice on the desserts: we did a coconut cheesecake after dinner somewhere else one night and a "drive-by mousse" another night)
  • Fayne's on Hidalgo (steaks, magaritas, the best guacamole all week - al fresco)
  • El Patio on Hidalgo (burger, fish tacos, beer - quiet garden setting)
  • La Lomita on Juarez (fried whole fish, baked whole fish - not much from the street, but an excellent soup, too and neat as a pin inside).
That's one of the best parts of Isla Town: it's very walkable, and once we learned to slow down (it didn't take long, by the way), half the fun was meandering the eight by 10 grid of short streets while deciding which of the broad choice of restaurants we were going to choose. That and the smiling faces of all the wait staff, the owner/chefs, the shop owners who'd invite us in, but not hassle us when they heard a simple "No gracias" ... or "Manana." The cabbies, the tour people, everyone. Country-style hospitality reigns on Isla Mujeres.

We took in the sunset from a couple of locations and they are gorgeous. We wandered along the Playa Norte beach area (most day trippers from Cancun end up here). We golf-carted around the island and to the southern end and saw wonderful homes and vacation villas as well as cramped hardscrabble neighborhoods with people living on the edge economically. We stopped briefly at the southeastern tip (the farthest east that Mexico extends), to see a Mayan artifact/ruin of some kind, but never found it, and we each read two and half paperbacks while on the beach, or vegging on the patio or in the room just catching our breath, due to the breakneck pace we we keeping ... Paradise might be an overstatement, but very slow, very "sweet" as Lesfaye told me it would be, and just plain easy livin' for a week. Try it ... you'll like it!

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