If you’re looking for the fabulous beaches and great Mexican food for which Cancun is justly famous for but want somewhere with a little less of the nightlife for which it is also justly infamous for, then nearby Playa Mujeres is the place for you. Bordered on one side by the Caribbean and on the other by a wildlife reserve, it has a more tranquil vibe than the nearby “party town” of Cancun. There are a range of both luxury and cheap hotels in Playa Mujeres.
Just 24 km north of Playa Mujeres and easily accessible by sea, is Isla Contoy, a national park and wildlife sanctuary which is the most important place for nesting sea birds in the whole of the Mexican Caribbean. It is home to more than 150 bird species including the frigate, the brown pelican, and the double-crested cormorant. Only 200 people a day are allowed to visit the Island.
You’ll also find a 20-meter tower that offers striking views across the lush landscape and central lagoon. Take time to wander on the designated walking trails, where you’ll be rewarded with of sightings of iguanas and hermit crabs.
The bohemian fishing enclave of Isla Mujeres, also nearby, offers a variety of shops and places to eat. Avenue Hidalgo is the main drag downtown. It’s reminiscent of New Orleans’ Bourbon Street, albeit on a smaller scale, with wooden buildings whose balconies jut out over its street level bars and shops.
For many years Mexico’s sea turtle population was under threat from hunters who sought their meat, shell, and eggs. Mexican law now offers these creatures some protection, and the Isla Mujeres’ Turtle Farm is one of the government’s environmental initiatives. At the Farm, turtles lay their eggs in safe, caged areas guarded from predators. Once hatched, the babies are moved into ponds until they are ready to be released into the sea. You can view turtles at different stages of development, as well as other marine animals including sea horses.
On the northwest edge of Isla Mujeres you’ll find the island’s cemetery with its surprisingly colorful graves. Tucked in the middle is the resting place of a local pirate, easily spotted by the skull and crossbones on his tombstone. It also has a rather haunting engraving (in Spanish, of course): “As you are I once was, as I am so shall you be.”
If you happen to be on the island at the start of November, you will be able to witness the memorable Day of the Dead, a national holiday that centers on remembering loved ones who have passed away. Relatives often light candles and take the favorite foods of the departed to their graves. Although it is about the dead, it is also a celebration of the value of life, so eating and partying play an important role, too. In other words – it’s a typically Mexican festival!
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