Isla Mujeres is a slice of paradise a short distance off the coast of Cancun. It offers tropical isolation away from the busy town and resorts, with incredible views of the surrounding Caribbean. There are lots of activities to enjoy, including shopping, snorkeling, and sunbathing on the pristine sandy beaches. This beautiful island also contains an abundance of culture and history worth exploring during your visit.
Enchanting Isla Mujeres is only 5 miles long and about a half a mile wide, with bright colored buildings lining the quaint village streets. There are also a couple of resorts and hotels, but the island maintains a secluded and slow-paced atmosphere. Snorkeling and scuba diving are the main attractions, but there is a little something for everyone here.
What Does “Isla Mujeres” Mean?
In Pre-Columbian times, this island was considered sacred to the Mayan goddess, Ixchel, the goddess of the moon, happiness, fertility, and medicine. It is believed the only inhabitants of the island were Ixchel and her court of women. Later, when the people of Spain came to the island in the 16th century, they found many statues and images of the goddess and named it “Isla de Mujeres,” or “Island of Women.” It has since been shortened to simply, “Isla Mujeres.”
The temple of the goddess Ixchel was situated on the south side of the island and was used as a lighthouse for ships. Torchlight could be seen through holes in the walls and gave sailors a guiding point in the dark.
The island is also nicknamed, “El Amanecer de Mexico,” which means, “the sunshine of Mexico.” This name was given to Isla Mujeres because it is the easternmost point of Mexico, and therefore, the first place in Mexico that the sun touches each morning. It is also because the Mayans used the position of the sun in order to keep track of what time of year it was. The sun starts nearer the south side of the island in January and moves farther north throughout the year.
Getting Around the Island
Because Isla Mujeres is relatively small, it is possible to explore the island on foot. You can also rent a bicycle, moped, or golf cart, which is how the locals do it. You won’t find many cars or crazy crowded streets in this quiet sanctuary, but if needed, there are taxis and buses available downtown.
Isla Mujeres Weather
Isla Mujeres weather, like everything else about this paradise, is usually perfect. The average temperature is around 80 degrees. The summer months feel much hotter because the humidity is high, and you will see more rain showers, but they generally pass quickly. The winter months get slightly chilly in the evenings, so you may want to bring a light sweater.
The Legend of Mundaca, the Pirate
Isla Mujeres sits right in the middle of the Caribbean and the Gulf of Mexico, making it the perfect place to loot the Spanish and French ships that carried treasures across the waters. It’s no wonder it attracted pirates, or that the legends are still told to this day. Famous pirates like Henry Morgan and Jean Lafitte are said to have buried their loot in these white sandy beaches.
Fermin Antonio Mundaca and Marecheaga originally came from Spain and was believed to be involved in the slave trade from this region of Mexico to the plantations in Cuba. It is also said that he was heavily involved in piracy. While Mundaca was on the island of Isla Mujeres, he fell in love with a woman named Martiniana (Prisca) Gomez Pantoja, who was said to be the most beautiful woman to ever live on the island. Mundaca bought 40% of the island and built his hacienda to impress her and try to win her heart. He called the hacienda “Vista Alegre,” or “happy view.” He used the rest of the land to create a large garden and zoo with plants and animals he brought to the island from all over the world. He even created a special garden which worked as a sundial to tell time as the sun moved throughout the day.
Martiniana is commonly referred to in the legend as “La Triguen֘a,” which is a term used in the Caribbean as a term of endearment, and also to describe her appearance. Triguena is a term used for a woman from three (tri) cultures, indigenous Indian, African (from the slaves brought over on ships), and Spanish ancestry. As for appearance, it would be used when “blonde” or “brunette” was an insufficient or inaccurate description. Martiniana had green eyes, tanned white skin, and long straight brown hair.
There are two possible ways Mundaca the Pirate may have died. The first is that he died at sea while trying to escape the British, who were on a quest against pirating. The second, and more commonly believed ending to the legend, is that he died of a broken heart after she chose to marry someone else. Locals say this is more likely because the hacienda is still intact and there is a tomb in the island cemetery, which contains the mark of pirates. Thanks to modern movies like Pirates of the Caribbean, tourists are fascinated by the legend and the mark on the tomb, however, in Mundaca’s day, this symbol was actually a mark of shame.
Isla Mujeres Cultural Celebration
In 1890, at the northern tip of Quintana Roo, in a place called Ecab, several fishermen found three “sister” statues of the virgin. They each took one to their own village, creating a shrine around her. On Isla Mujeres, it is believed she walks the waters surrounding the island.
Every year between August 6th and December 8th, the people of Isla Mujeres hold a celebration for “the virgin of the immaculate conception.” On December 8th, the locals and tourists express appreciation for how the Mayans and the Spanish cultures were able to come together, including a strong Catholic influence from the Spanish. Part of this traditional celebration is a march or parade procession, that takes place on and around the island in honor of the virgin.
In addition the statues of Ixchel that were discovered by the Spaniards, there are remnants of a Mayan city and temple, “El Castillo.” The pyramid of El Castillo was used to aid ships in navigation because the top could be seen from the sea. It was also dedicated to Chaac, the Mayan god of rain. El Meco, as the town was named, was a major center for religion, and was also used as a commercial port for Isla Mujeres. The Mayans came to Isla Mujeres to harvest the salt that was abundant in the lagoons. El Meco was abandoned after the Spanish arrived on the island.
Cave of the Sleeping Sharks
In 1969, a young fisherman named Carlos Garcia Castilla was diving for lobsters when he discovered a cave where sharks entered but never seemed to come out. After investigating, he decided they must be sleeping, even though sharks supposedly never slept because if they stopped moving they would die. He reported his findings to a friend on the island named Ramon Bravo. Ramon Bravo was an ecologist, diver, cinematographer, and friend of Jacques Cousteau.
Castilla, Bravo, Cousteau, and the National Geographic Society investigated further and soon the area was famous to divers and marine biologists from all over.
Isla Mujeres Things to Do
Isla Mujeres has things to do for any type of traveler, from water sports to cultural tours. The best way to make sure you see all the main attractions and learn from an experienced local guide is to book a tour with Cancun Adventures. Tours include transportation to the island from Cancun. Check out some of the tour options below.
Isla Mujeres Tour - Luxury Sailing Adventure
If you are looking for a chance to go snorkeling and to see Isla Mujeres when you’re staying in Cancun, the Luxury Sailing Adventure tour is the perfect way to combine both. Board a beautiful catamaran and sit back and relax while we take you across the sparkling water of the Caribbean and along the Cancun coast.
In your way to Isla Mujeres, you will have the opportunity to go snorkeling or paddleboarding in the warm water with colorful tropical fish and coral reefs. Our tour also provides a gourmet lunch and an open bar on the catamaran.
When we arrive at Isla Mujeres, you’ll have plenty of time for exploring the island, shopping at local boutiques, and sampling delicious food. You can also visit Punta Sur, the south side of the island, and see the Mayan temple honoring the goddess Ixchel. If you visit between August and October, make sure to visit the turtle farm and watch the baby turtles hatching and crawling their way into the Caribbean.
Private sailing tours to Isla Mujeres are also available through Cancun Adventures. Turn your tour into a quiet romantic getaway with a walk along the beach and dining at an oceanside restaurant. There are plenty of international food options and local seafood dishes to choose from. Or you can simply relax on the beach or boat with a drink in your hand and the breeze in your hair.
Book an adventure tour with Cancun Adventures and see Isla Mujeres in style. Or check out one of our other amazing tours and add some excitement to your Mexican vacation.