Swimming with whale sharks is a once in a lifetime experience and the best destination to do so happens to be here!
When traveling to Mexico, many people worry about safety. Mexico has gained a certain bad reputation, mostly because of sensational news coverage. The media tends to paint the whole country with a broad brush, and people expect drug wars and crime.
One of the biggest draws in Mexico is without a doubt the iconic Chichen Itza, the remains of a big Maya city. Impressive enough as it is, only twice a year you can witness a truly awe-inspiring event.
Isla Mujeres is the perfect destination for a day trip from Playa del Carmen. The laid back island has way more to offer than heavenly, Caribbean beaches with white, powdery sand, swaying palm trees and crystal clear water. Swim with the giants of the Sea, discover ancient Mayan history and a wildlife refuge!
About Isla Mujeres
The island gained its name “Island of the Women” because of the many carved images of women the Spanish found when they arrived there. This was because the island was a sanctuary for Ixchel, the Mayan goddess of the moon, fertility, medicine and happiness. The temple was built on the south tip of Isla Mujeres, which happens to be the most eastern point of Mexico. It also served as a lighthouse, to guide Mayan seafarers.
A few hundred years later, the island turned to be the perfect refugee for pirates and buccaneers. It’s said that they kept their women here while they went out plundering the Spanish ships, loaded with gold from Yucatan.
Beginning in the middle of the 20th century Isla Mujeres already welcomed visitors, long before Cancun was discovered by tourism. Since there was no ferry service yet, tourists would signal with flashing their car lights from a make shift dock, for local fishermen to pick them up.
How to get to and get around in Isla Mujeres
Nowadays it’s much easier to visit the island. Puerto Juarez in Cancun has two ferry docks that service Isla Mujeres on a very regular basis. The two docks are a few blocks apart and about 10 minutes north of downtown Cancun.
The easiest way to get around Isla Mujeres is by renting a golf cart or by taxi. Most golf carts are about $45 – $65 USD a day and it makes it easy to visit all the following places!
Welcome to the island’s most popular beach. And there’s a reason for it. Playa Norte is a truly paradisiacal beach, with crystal clear water and white sand, post card like, just as you expect a Caribbean beach to be. Getting off the ferry, you turn left on the main road and walk about 10 minutes until you reach the beach, or take a cab. There are several beach clubs; some have a restaurant and bar service, some just offer loungers and sun umbrellas.
You arrived to Mexico’s most eastern point, where the remnants of the before mentioned temple of Ixchel stand. Although severely damaged by Hurricane Gilbert in 1988, it can still be visited. Besides of the ruins, Punta Sur offers a breathtaking view of the coast line of Cancun. With this view and its steep, naturally carved cliffs, Punta Sur sure is one of the most beautiful spots on the Island, with a lot of wildlife to see. You can walk down a trail to get closer to the water and to a little cave.
El Garrafón Natural Reef Park
The Natural Park just next to Punta Sur is ideal for snorkeling. It’s named after the gorgeous reef formation at its shore, which is home to many different species and guarantees an incredible snorkeling adventure. If snorkeling isn’t your thing, how about swimming with dolphins, zip-lining or kayaking? Or just relax in a hammock, plunge in the pool and refresh with delicious drinks at the bar. The park is open daily from 9 am to 5 pm, and the entrance fee starts at $89 USD. Ask our staff at Playa Palms Beach Hotel to help you with reservations.
Turtle Farm Tortugranja
About halfway to Punta Sur you find this sanctuary for sea turtles. Sadly, sea turtles are an endangered species, which is why at Tortugranja they aim to protect the animals and increase their population, while educating visitors on a very interesting one hour tour. They offer shelter to injured turtles and other animals, and have a turtle nursery. You can walk through indoor and outdoor pools and observe not only baby and adult turtles, but also fish, sharks, sea horses, and crabs. The center opens daily from 9 am to 5 pm and charges a small entrance fee.
Swim with Whale sharks
This is probably the most incredible experience you will have, not only on your trip to the Riviera Maya but in your whole life. Don’t miss out on swimming with the peaceful giants if you happen to visit during the whale shark season, between June and September. Isla Mujeres is one of the best spots world wide to swim with whale sharks, maybe that’s why the island is formed like giant shark! Our staff at Playa Palms Beach Hotel is happy to help you book your tour. More information on swimming with whale sharks.
Everybody who is currently staying in Playa del Carmen can’t ignore the fact that the town’s biggest event is happening: the famous BPM Festival. Electronic beats follow you wherever you go, beach clubs, bars, even some restaurants turn into instant clubs. This is great, as long as you love electronic music. If you don’t, here’s where you can avoid the crowd and the beats.
Whatever time of the year, taking a day trip or a tour to one of the many Mayan ruins is always a good option. Exchange the ubiquitous electronic beats with Mayan dance performances and culture. If you’re looking for ruins off the beaten path, we recommend Ek-Balam, a good 2 hours drive from Playa del Carmen. Its pyramid, El Torre, is one of the largest Mayan structures on the Peninsula. For more off the beaten path trips read here.
Enjoy beautiful beaches, restaurants, bars and souvenir shopping, but without all the BPM craze. Cozumel is just a short ferry ride away from Playa del Carmen, so it’s an easy day trip. Here are the activities we most recommend on the island.
You can’t visit the Riviera Maya without having plunged into at least one cenote. These natural sinkholes, sacred to the Mayas, are magical places. Cool down in their fresh water and explore a whole new underground world! These are the top 5 cenotes around Playa del Carmen.
4 Punta Soliman
This peaceful, paradisiac beach just about 15 minutes north of Tulum, is one of the Riviera Maya’s best kept secrets. Come here to relax, avoid the masses and simply unwind your mind on the large, crescent shaped bay. Just in front of the beach entrance you find Oscar & Lalo’s restaurant, famous for its seafood. Especially their ceviche and the grilled octopus will seduce your palate.
5 Plaza Punto 115
If you still want to go out for a beer, but away from the techno kids, try Plaza Punto 115. The relatively new plaza attracts mainly a local crowd. You find restaurants like Don Sirloin where you can get some delicious tacos or the Italian restaurant La Piola. There are also several bars, for example Las Helodias, where you can try very Mexican beer. At any time of the year this plaza is a nice alternative to the always busy 12th Street.
Whatever you are looking for, just ask our concierge or our staff at the front desk of Playa Palms Beach Hotel for suggestions. We are always happy to help! By the way, on January 15, the BPM festival comes to an end and Playa del Carmen returns to normality. For the moment at least.