Beaches & Swimming
Playa Norte, which extends around the northern tip of the island, is perhaps the world's best municipal beach -- a gorgeous swath of fine white sand and calm, translucent turquoise-blue water that stays shallow far off the shore. It's just a short walk to the beach from the ferry and downtown hotels. Watersports equipment, beach umbrellas, and lounge chairs are widely available for rent. This is a terrific place for swimming and snorkeling. Areas in front of restaurants usually cost nothing if you use the restaurant as your headquarters for drinks and food, and the best of them have hammocks and swings from which to sip your piña coladas.
Garrafón Natural Reef Park offers beautiful snorkeling areas, but there's also a nice stretch of beach on either side of the park for those who want to avoid the expensive entrance fee. The Beach Club Garrafón de Castilla, located right next to the park, has a wonderful swimming area, snorkeling equipment for rent, and a beachside snack shop. The entrance fee is 50 pesos. Playa Lancheros sits on the Caribbean side of Laguna Makax and is another lovely swimming beach. Local buses travel to Lancheros from downtown.
Isla Mujeres has no lifeguards on duty and does not use the system of water-safety flags employed in Cancún and Cozumel. The bay between Cancún and Isla Mujeres is calm, with warm, transparent waters ideal for swimming, snorkeling, and diving. The east side of the island facing the open Caribbean Sea is typically rougher, with much stronger currents.
To arrange a day of fishing, ask at the Sociedad Cooperativa Turística (the boatmen's cooperative), a small shop on the right side of the pier off Avenida Rueda Medina (tel. 998/877-1363), next to Mexico Divers and Las Brisas restaurant. Four hours of fishing costs $220 for up to eight people, which typically includes lunch and drinks. Year-round you'll find bonito, mackerel, kingfish, and amberjack. Sailfish and sharks (hammerhead, bull, nurse, lemon, and tiger) are in good supply in April and May. In winter, larger grouper and jewfish are prevalent. The cooperative is open daily from 8am to 6:30pm.
Other fishing companies offer half-day in-shore and full-day open water fishing, including the Sport Fishing Center (http://sportfishingcenter.net; tel. 044-998-212-3592) and Sea Hawk Isla Mujeres (www.seahawkislamujeres.com); tel. 998/877-0296).
Scuba DivingMost of the dive shops on the island offer the same trips for similar prices, including reef, drift, deep, and night dives. One-tank dives cost about $55 to $75; two-tank dives about $65 to $90. Aqua Adventures Eco Divers, Av. Juarez at Morelos (http://diveislamujeres.com/; tel. 998/236-4316) is a full-service shop that offers resort courses, dive packages, and certifications. Another respected dive shop is Carey Dive Center, at Matamoros 13A and Rueda Medina (www.careydivecenter.com; tel. 998/877-0763). Both also offer two-hour snorkeling trips for around $35.
Cuevas de los Tiburones (Caves of the Sleeping Sharks) is Isla’s most renowned dive site—but the name is slightly misleading, as shark sightings are uncommon these days. Although sleeping shark sightings are rare, giant whale sharks by the hundreds migrate through these waters about 12 to 15 miles offshore between mid-June and mid-August.
Other dive sites include a wreck 15km (9 1/3 miles) offshore; Banderas reef, between Isla Mujeres and Cancún, where there’s always a strong current; Tabos reef on the eastern shore; and Manchones reef, 1km (2/3 mile) off the southeastern tip of the island, where the water is 4.5 to 11m (15–36 ft.) deep. The Cross of the Bay is close to Manchones reef. A bronze cross, weighing 1 ton and standing 12m (39 feet) high, was placed in the water between Manchones and Isla in 1994 as a memorial to those who have lost their lives at sea. La MUSA Underwater Museum of Art (www.musacancun.com), where more than 400 sunken life-size sculptures form an impressive artificial reef, offers scuba and snorkeling trips.
One of the most popular places to snorkel is Garrafón Natural Reef Park. Manchones reef, off the southeastern coast, is also good. It's just offshore and accessible by boat. You can snorkel around el faro (the lighthouse) in the Bahía de Mujeres at the southern tip of the island. The water is about 2m (6 1/2 ft.) deep. Boatmen will take you for around 250 pesos per person if you have your own snorkeling equipment or 300 pesos if you use theirs.