Isla Mujeres is really small – about 12 miles around. I only ventured down three streets – the street where my hotel resides, where the internet cafe sits, the street where the bars & shops are and the street adjacent to the beach. Let’s start with my hotel and then I will tell you about the beach, who is here in terms of tourists and a bit about the locals.
I stayed at darling little place called Frances Arlene, I couldn’t tell you what street it is on because I never looked. It was a 5 minute walk from the ferry and my friends helped me find the hotel. I know it is one block from the main drag where the bars and shops are and a few blocks from the beach. The hotel has 16 rooms, very quaint and affordable. I am paying $50 USD a night for a room with air conditioning + a 6% surcharge for having used my Visa card.
Frances Arlene looks more like a home than a hotel. You walk into the small lobby and when you check in, they escort you back through an outdoor courtyard and up a flight of stairs to the sleeping rooms. I believe the family who owns the hotel lives in the front building where the check-in is because their dining room looks out into the courtyard and their door is always open. The hotel almost reminds me of a Balinese style home with the courtyard being open the way that it is.
Frances Arlene looked immaculately clean and well maintained, most certainly a good bang for the buck. Only two complaints – but I wouldn’t be Leyla if I were not complaining. 1) I have an ant situation in my room. When I arrived, my windows were open (which I am sure is common in Mexico) and I have a bunch of ants on my little kitchenette area. It didn't bother me at first but by the end of day two, I realized the bug problem was worse than I thought. I think there were sand fleas in my room too. 2) The wifi in the lobby –sucks! But then again, almost all the wifi on the island has sucked so far.
The beach is lovely. White sand that is so soft it feels great on your feet. You find yourself digging your feet into the sand and letting the tiny granules fall between your toes. The water is amazing, hot tub warm and super clean – it is so clear that the sky reflects a bright blue.
The beach I was on yesterday, I could walk about 50 meters and the water still at my knees. At about 100 meters, the water got deep enough where I could swim and cooled off just a bit. There is nothing like swimming in the ocean. I realize that the universe intended for me to live in a warm climate and on an oceanfront where I could swim daily without the risk of being eaten by a shark. I am deeply afraid of sharks.
Who you will find in Isla Mujeres?
When I first walked out onto the beach I was surprised to see all the very thin, good looking women out there. Many of the women on the beach had fantastic bodies – I was surprised because normally Americans are not thin. And then, I realized none of them were American. Isla Mujeres is populated mostly by European, Australian and Canadian travelers. As the weekend approached, the Americans arrived and fattened up the beach. It was painfully obvious who the Americans were, it made me feel shame.
On Isla Mujeres, there are a lot of backpackers here, drifters, pot heads, hippies, etc. I think they are roaming Mexico and heading down to South America, they look like they’ve been here a while. It reminds me a lot of when I backpacked myself and makes me want to do it again. Many of the backpackers are not young, they look like they’re in their late 20s to mid 30s and they are from all over the world. Very European. Last night at the bars, I noticed that some of the resident backpackers choose not to wear shoes. If you knew me at all, you would know that the shoe-less drinker is a huge pet peeve of mine. Hello? Broken glass is everywhere in a bar. Stupid hippy.
What to do?
There is not a tremendous amount of activity here, it is more for relaxation. The island is small, there is a touristy section on one side, where the ferry comes in. there are three or four streets with hotels, shops, restaurants and bars. Lots of little bed & breakfast type hotels. We basically ate and drank at the same places nearly every night. There is a beach party every night that the youth hostel hosts, I did not attend.
One can rent a scooter or a golf cart, I chose the scooter and ride to the other side of the island. The scooter cost me about $27 USD for a whole day. I checked out the place where you can swim with Dolphins but opted not to spend $200+ USD to swim with a stupid dolphin. I did go snorkeling, the snorkeling was pretty good, I bought fish food and I was swarmed by fish. A bit scary. I saw a barracuda (without knowing it was a barracuda until I was alerted by another snorkeler).
The locals. I could sum this up by saying “Super friendly” but you probably would have guessed that already. Mexicans are warm and friendly people. More specifically, I think tourism is their only source of income on Isla Mujeres, therefore, the people here are tremendously kind. Everyone who runs the bars restaurants and small hotels on the island is polite and friendly. The one thing that kills me is – why do the Mexicans who work in restaurants in Mexico speak better English than the Mexicans in who work in restaurants in Chicago?