A great vacation option
We wanted to up the ante of our last vacation, where Cozumel was our paradise destination. It was hard to find a place to compete with the beauty of the Island of the Swallows, and it wasn’t about comparisons. So, we raised the stakes… geographically-speaking, and headed a few miles up the reef to Isla Mujeres.
We crossed by car, on the ferry from Punta Sam (the trip lasts 45 minutes and for a sedan with four occupants we paid 420 pesos). Bad decision. If you travel to the island whose women captivated Francisco Hernandez de Cordova’s troops, cross without a car. It’s not necessary. The destination is not made for cars but for golf carts, scooters and taxis. When visiting Garrafon Park where for $800 pesos per person you can enjoy a natural paradise all day “the response we received when we asked about parking left us speechless: “We don’t have any.” Excuse us” “We don’t have parking. But you can leave your car on the street…just pull it off to the side, out of the way.” The park’s beauty made us forget our worries that someone could hit the car…or it could be towed (is there even a tow truck on the island?). We stayed at the Mía hotel, which covers the island’s entire northern tip bearing the PAN (a Mexican political party) name of El Yunque, which is reached by a bridge made from wooden piles. It’s not advisable to go by car there, either. Like Garrafon, the hotel has no parking. “Leave it there, off to the side,” we were told. It wasn’t bad service or rudeness. We were the strange ones, for coming in a car. If you plan to go, believe me, leave your car in Puerto Juarez or Punta Sam. They even offer weekly and monthly package plans. After several years away from the island, we had almost forgotten that wherever you look, the view is spectacular. But the part of the island the hotel is on is even better. The guest reviews we read on the internet were all true: some parts of the hotel are still under construction, the service is not the best, the rooms are small…but watching the sun rise from one window and set on the other, and looking and listening to the sea crashing against the rocks on one side and gently rocking on the other, creating a natural pool, is stunning! Who cares about small rooms, mediocre service and unfinished construction” Isla Mujeres is an example of Mexico’s unequalled natural paradises. The island, which is only seven kilometers (about 4.5 miles) long and less than a thousand meters wide, is located on the reef chain that runs along Quintana Roo’s coast. It’s practically an offshoot of land that used to be part of the mainland 5,000 years ago. The island has the charm of isolation but with mainland’s bustle, the intimacy of begin able to walk everywhere and multicultural openness, and it’s clear that you don’t have to be Hemingway, Camus or García Márquez to absorb inspiration in a natural paradise. Here it springs up by itself. The island is freedom guarded by water. It’s a gentle aquarium and raging sea. It’s a swarm of golf carts (available for rent from 120 to 150 pesos per hour), which cover the whole island in a few minutes. In a hurry or relaxed, alert or carefree, its cosmopolitan occupants enjoy the view and the breeze with a touch of the pedals and a turn of the steering wheel. The most bustling area, however, is down below, with the frenzy of fish that constitute a vast aquarium that live around and feed at the reef. If not a “silent world,” as Jacques Cousteau called it, the motley crew of fish would be a noisy scandal. We recommend trying snorkeling to enjoy this underwater world. The waters where swimming is permitted are not very deep, so snorkeling is a great way to enjoy the underwater paradise. If you want to go deeper, you can take some quick scuba lessons with instructors who you can find along the boardwalk. On the same endless boardwalk you can take boat tours to nearby areas, either around the reefs bordering the island or even farther away to Isla Contoy, where another paradise worthy of bragging about on your social networks awaits. In either case, the boats have good quality life jackets, masks and snorkels for those aboard. When planning your next vacation, don’t discount the possibility of a visit to Isla Mujeres. If you’re looking for clubs, partying or spring breakers, it’s not the best place. But if you want to enjoy a spot that shows just how splendid nature can be, you’ll spend a great few days here. And be sure to visit the sculpture park of Punta Sur, which ends with the Ixchel sanctuary, the Mayan goddess of love and fertility, consisting of a small altar that stands right at the point where the morning sun’s rays fall on Mexican territory for the first time. The park can be reached by golf cart, scooter or taxi. There is one more access, from Garrafón, which we discovered because Tania, our daughter, wanted to go down a path along the side of the island, on the edge of the sharp rocks shaped for millenia by the harshness of the sea. Sounds good, doesn’t it?
By: Olegario M. Moguel Bernal