Four Reasons to go to Isla Mujeres, Mexico



Once you start traveling, a lot of the time it seems like you can’t get enough. So if I’m ever heading somewhere for a long period of time, I’ll try and squeeze in a trip to another nearby destination. For that reason, I suggested to my mom that we squeeze in a trip to Mexico during my 3 week trip back to Florida for Christmas. I was apprehensive letting my mom organize and plan the whole thing. I had initially insisted we go to Cancun, but her Pilates friends insisted otherwise. And seeing as she trusts their judgment more than mine, she booked us a nice little hotel on Isla Mujeres. And for a very inexperienced traveler, she was spot on with her choice.

Isla Mujeres is a small island (about 4 miles long) only a 20 min ferry ride from mainland Cancun. Although most of the tourists there were Americans, it was a lot more pleasant than spending 6 straight days stuck in a resort with them. On the island you can experience proper Mexican culture as well as assimilate with the locals and see their way of life. For me, this is the best part of traveling.

There’s a ‘main drag’ (as my mother likes to call it) that had plenty of restaurants, bars, souvenir/silver shops and hotels. And even though there was a lot of tourists, it didn’t feel like it was a super touristy area. Potentially because of the dirt walk ways and uncrowded restaurants in the evening. With that, it was one of the most memorable trips I’ve taken in a while and even may replace Vietnam as my favorite place on Earth. So here are the reasons you should go.

1.    The food

This may come as a shock to some, and I sometimes can’t believe it myself, but I spent a whole 3-4 years disliking Mexican food. Long story. But now that I’ve fully come to my senses, I was able to appreciate the food in Isla Mujeres and have become a bit of a Mexican food snob since.

Along the water, near the port, there’s plenty of fish restaurants serving the fresh catch from the local fishermen each day. All cooked beautifully and served with small portions of rice and beans and sometimes plantains. If you love octopus, like I do, you will be in heaven. Grilled octopus and octopus ceviche are frequently seen on the menus. Shrimp and fish tacos were also big hits with us. The seasoning and the preparation was unlike any other tacos I’ve had before. Everywhere we went had fresh, homemade tortillas as well as the most delicious and flavorful salsas.

One of my favorite things to do while traveling is to ask locals where is the best place to go for an authentic meal. In this case it was a middle aged woman from Indiana who had been going to the island twice a year for the past 10 years. She recommended a place called Amigos which very conveniently delivered lunch to our hotel swimming pool. The menu looked like any other Mexican restaurant menu, but what showed up an hour later was something better than we could have ever imagined. I rekindled my relationship with enchiladas verde, which was so good, I ate it for lunch and dinner in the same day. God bless you Jill from Indianapolis.

One amazing food discovery was Yucatan lime soup. Although the name would lead you to think it was just a bowl of sour liquid, it’s actually the opposite. The soup is made with vegetables in a tomato broth with shredded chicken while lime is only used as a garnish. You are still able to get hints of the citrus though. But the best part is the shredded tortilla chips that are put in the soup. The trick is to get to them before they get too soft, and still have a little crunch. Pure heaven for soup lovers like me. The soup was so amazing that it was the first thing I made when I got back to London.

Annoyingly, guacamole did cost extra. But unannoyingly, it was served in a massive portion vs the usual schmear you get from Chipotle. Was definitely worth the extra couple dollars.

2.    People

Mexican people are fucking awesome. They are friendly, kind, and seldom tried to rip us off in the souvenir shops. They also have impeccable mannersMost people even smile, which is a complete 180 from the people I’m used to in London. Local children are seen playing around with their siblings and pets while their parents chat to friends and tourists offering help and advice on the area. We actually ended up being on a first name basis with many of the locals.

Service is spectacular, and only one person tried to overcharge us for goodies in the shops. But they were so nice, we almost wanted to give them their asking price!

3.    Culture

Mexican folk art is like the coolest thing ever. Who doesn’t love sugar skulls? I love them so much I bought about 7 while in Isla and am planning on using them for my wedding (eventually – if anyone ever asks me). I also find the way that Mexicans appreciate the dead to be very interesting.

Located near our hotel was a little cemetery which had lots of different graves that were colorful and very individual, each one different from the next. Mexicans often visit the graves of their loved ones and leave them flowers and other trinkets to show their respect. It was by far the most interesting graveyard I’ve ever been to.

One of my favorite things about Mexico is that no matter where you go, no matter how extravagant the venue is, you will almost always find a shrine or symbol of Our Lady of Guadalupe. Homes, businesses and streets all have murals or immaculately kept shrines immortalizing her. Although historically Our Lady of Guadalupe was a saint depicted in Catholicism, she has now become a sign of patriotism and Mexicans display her image proudly.




4.    History

Being an American and coming from a country that doesn’t actually have much history really makes you appreciate history in other places. So during our stay in Mexico, I forced my mom to go to Chichen Itza. Embarrassingly only my 2nd World Wonder, but even worse, her first. Regardless, we took the usual guided tour (despite my best efforts to avoid one), and surprisingly learned so much about Mexican/Mayan history. Our tour guide along the way made it a point to explain everything to us in how it actually happened vs how the history books told us it happened. Who knew that a lot of things discovered by the Mayans are still used today? For example, their binary number system is used in our cell phones and obsidian rock (discovered by the Mayans) is used in spas and physical therapy.

Chichen Itza itself is magnificent. It’s exactly what it looks like in photos but when you go there you get to see how intricately designed the building is and all the mysterious history that surrounds it. Our incredibly knowledgeable tour guide was only able to scratch the surface on everything about the structures. But what I found most interesting is the science behind the construction of the buildings.

On one side, there are two serpents whose bodies lay downward with their heads at the bottom. If you clap near them, the sound bounces off and makes a slight echo. Annoyingly, people were just clapping all over the damn place like it was a fucking talent show. But I was interested to know if this was created on purpose and how on Earth they were able to pull this off without the use of modern technology.

There is another part of Chichen Itza which is like a soccer field. Presumably it was used as such but apparently if you stand on one end and someone stands on the other, the acoustics allow you to speak normally and whomever is standing on the other side can hear you perfectly. We weren’t able to do it because there was too many people around, but seriously – how the fuck were they able to make this shit in 600A.D.?

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