Cancun and Isla Mujeres, Mexico

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One month ago, Camille and I found ourselves, for the four hundredth time in a week since we’d arrived stateside from our Costa Rica and Panama travels, on the phone retelling- for the four hundredth time, no doubt- all of our favorite Central American adventures. They ranged from stories of torrential tropical downpours on secluded beaches to Mardi Gras-style all night dancing bashes to painting our toes on our one full size bed in a shack in the middle of the jungle while trying- quite unsuccessfully- to stream an episode of The Bachelor.

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By the end of the conversation, all of our dramatic cooing about ‘those amazing days’ left us high on nostalgia. We craved another adventure. In a matter of three days Camille had designed us an itinerary with travel and accommodation costs that barely reached what I spent to live at home in Seattle, with rent, a car, a Target habit, and all that jazz. The plan: Mexico, Belize, Costa Rica once more.

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So here we are.

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We touched down in Cancun on Tuesday at noontime. Expectations of meeting Las Vegas on the beach were all we’d packed. Those and a carry on full of sundresses and flip flops and bug repellent.

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And what I’ve discovered about this crazy beach metropolis is this: yes, it is absolutely a tropical Las Vegas with high rise resorts and clubs and all manner of show. But that aside, lovely in its own wild right, Cancun is stunning. Beaches with sand like pure baking flour. Water so turquoise, so teal, I’d thought my sunglasses had photoshop. That water is transparent all the way through. So clear that I feel confident I’d be able to spot my fallen earring without straining my eyes. I’d call the whole place pure paradise if it weren’t so developed, so touristy. Truly, it’s bliss.

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We spent our first two nights at Hostel Quetzal in the downtown section of Cancun. For $25 each, we had a private air conditioned room with two twin beds, a bathroom, and a balcony.

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Our stay included breakfast and dinner as well. But the real find here was the people. In a matter of hours Camille and I had a group of friends to go out with at night. The best part about hostels, other than their unbeatably low prices, is the travelers you meet. They’re interesting, eager, and outgoing. Perfect companions for adventuring.

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On day one, after beach bumming it for four hours in the blazing sun, we headed to a swanky beach club, Playa Cabana, for a massive pool party.

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$45 dollars per person for all night spent outside in beautiful tiled pools, smack dab on the ocean, with music and unlimited cocktails. Very fun with the only snafu being Camille’s now-sprained foot from a spill on slippery stairs.

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She’s a trooper, still busting moves on the dance floor every night since.

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On day two, we explored more of the white sand beaches and then glammed ourselves to head to what is called the best night club in North America- Coco Bongo. There, you dance and watch a Cirque du Soleil quality show with the best array of music- oldies, new Pop, hip hop, classic Beatles hits, and show tunes. Camille about died when songs from Chicago were performed. All the while, it’s open bar. The entire experience, $55 per person, was outright fantastic. The performances, the acrobatics, the lighting and music and dancing- worth every penny for nearly four hours of hysteria.

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I took away from Cancun that it was much better than what I anticipated. It’s clean and stunning, and while I do think it’s worth a trip simply for the immaculate beaches, it’s more a place I’d recommend going if you want the crazy nightlife as well.

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If you travel this way, and Cancun isn’t your speed or style, Isla Mujeres may be. This is where we traveled next, a thirty minute ferry ride from Cancun.

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I am certain I’ve never seen any place more exquisite. It’s small- perhaps 8km in all, fairly quaint, and the beaches are postcards.

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If I thought Cancun was wonderful, this place has eclipsed it. Camille and I have fallen deeply in love with the island. In less than twenty four hours here, we’ve committed to returning many more times. There’s a quieter, less raucous nightlife with even better beaches than Cancun.

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The place we’re staying- Hotel Maria del Mar- costs roughly $45 a night for a room with two double beds, air conditioning, and breakfast. After walking through the town yesterday afternoon, Camille and I have decided this hotel is in the best location- directly on the beach and five minutes of walking to shops and restaurants.

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We will spend three days here before heading to Tulum, Mexico. Posts to come will share all the delicious street food we’re grubbing, typical breakfasts in Mexico, and how we try to eat healthfully while traveling.

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I hope you’re having a great week :)


Have you been to Mexico? Where are your favorite beaches and places to stay?



30 thoughts on “Cancun and Isla Mujeres, Mexico

  1. susan

    i ADORE isla mujeres… i just got insanely jealous!! when i last went to mexico we stayed primarily in playa del carmen, but also did the short ride over to isla mujeres one day and fell totally in love!

    we actually made friends with this young cab driver in playa, and he went over to isla mujeres with us… we ate at this authentic tiny restaurant where they were literally pulling fresh fish out of the water and cooking them outside for us.

    such an amazing place!!

    1. Keri

      Susan, I think you may be thinking of Cozumel. Isla Mujeres is off the coast of Cancun, not Playa Del Carmen.

  2. Heidi @foodiecrush

    Ah, you’re getting me oh so excited for my Mexico trip in December. And I’m so impressed you’re taking advantage of a foot loose and fancy free lifestyle instead of being saddled to a desktop just to make a mortgage. That day too could come. Love following your adventures.

  3. Vallen Queen

    Lived on Isla Mujeres for a year then moved to Cancun for 6 more. Those places have never left my heart or my dreams. And the food?? O, mi, dios

  4. Deborah

    Tulum has the most beautiful beach and water. Be sure to check out the Mayan ruins while in Tulum. Swimming in the Cenotes (fresh water pools) are another delight! Your photos are beautiful…makes me wish I were there.

  5. Kelly

    I LOVE, LOVE, LOVE Mexico and love the people there! I think the waters there are sooo beautiful. I try to go there every year just to lay around and read for a week straight. You’ll love Tulum and if you’re into snorkeling, I would stop in Akumal too!

  6. kalah

    I got married in ixtapa after spending year after year vacationing there as a child and knowing my wedding had to be filled with mariachi music and grilled lobster. Honeymooned in the mayan riviera and have visited six times total. My biggest piece of advice is splurge on dinner at the tides hotel. Food is life changing. Chicken lime soup…a mayan dip made with pumpkin seeds….a rack of lamb that my husband almoat put a wedding ring on. Literally. Enjoy mexico. My favorite place on earth. I will toast your margarita with my lobster roll from the cape. Happy memorial day!

  7. Brianna

    Goodness how I would love to just take off like that. LOVE!
    Embrace your beautiful freedom in that beautiful paradise. I escaped to Baja Mexico for 6 month period a few years ago. Such a wonderful experience that anyone can afford!

  8. Joy

    I’ve never been to either of those spots, but I did spend 7 weeks in Mazatlan…amazing! Almost every day we went to a juice bar and pointed at all the fruits we wanted whipped up into a giant smoothie, or cubed and mixed with yogurt and topped with granola, coconut, and a drizzle of honey. Then, at night, you can never go wrong with tacos, from basically anywhere! I love the grilled cebollas (onions) they give you beforehand…and one time, not in the taco mood, I ordered “brochetta,” which turned out to be a bunch of carne asada and peppers and onions and cheese sizzling on a hot stone and served with a stack of warm homemade tortillas. I would definitely recommend! (P.S. I know you’re not going to Mazatlan this time, but if you ever do, make sure you hang out in their Old Town instead of the “Golden Zone” or tourist district.)

  9. kristen @ verbs and vignettes

    i just came back from mexico two weeks ago! we stayed in riviera maya. there was a catamaran trip out to isla mujeres, but we never did book the trip. we did tour tulum one morning, and the ruins were pretty interesting. we stayed very much in our hotel, but it was a blissful little sanctuary, with a beautiful little stretch of beach, and drinks and lunch served under shady spots in the sand. :-)

  10. Abby

    Your life confuses the heck out of me! haha you’re here then you’re in Panama then you’re here talking about weight loss and then you’re GONE and mostly I’m just jealous let’s be honest mmkay? super. jealous.

  11. Bailey @ Onederland or Bust!

    I’m sooo jealous, I love Mexico! I was in Play del Carmen for 10 days this winter and it was simply amazing. I would highly recommend spending a day in Akumal and renting snorkel gear to swim with the turtles in their natural habitat :)

  12. Trisha

    The Yucatan Peninsula is stunning. I hate that Cancun gives the rest of the area a bad rap. As you have discovered, Cancun is beautiful, but it’s surrounding cities & islands are even more so. Playa del Carmen has my heart & probably always will. The people, food, & sights are always on my mind. Tulum & Akumal are simply stunning as well. At Akumal Bay you can swim freely with sea turtles. Don’t pay a guide. Don’t wear a life jacket. Just jump in, swim & you will be in their peaceful company in no time.

  13. Valeria

    Wow! That is a piece of trip! I hope you spend a great time in your vacation time.
    I love Mexico. I have been in Puerto Vallarta and Mexico City.
    Belize looked lovely from Guatemala a couple of years ago. Sadly I couldn’t get there since a visa was required if you traveled from Guatemala.

    Don’t miss Huitlacoche, a black fungus grown in corn. Huitlacoche tacos are just delicious and unique.

    Buon viaggio e buon ritorno, carina :)

  14. Jocelyn

    So crazy! I was JUST researching that hostel in Cancun a few days ago. Thank you so much for this lovely post! I spent the best 5 weeks of my life in Argentina, Chile and Uruguay over winter break…needless to say, I am SO itchin to get out traveling again. Next on my list is Belize! I’ve been reading about the Cayes a LOT, and so I can’t wait to hear your opinions/recommendations/thoughts on it all!
    muchas gracias

  15. Alexandra

    We just got back on Tuesday from tulum! We stayed one week at las palmas maya which was cheap and great! I would recommend breakfast at Las Ranitas which is on the beach. So delicious we ate there almost everyday!

  16. Alisha

    Can’t wait till me and hubbies vacation on isla mujeres! We arrive 4th of July and staying for 8 days. We plan on doing a lot of relaxing on the beach and drinking margaritas!!!! We r more of a laid back couple so we decided to stay on isla rather than cancun. We will do a few days dancing in cancun but that’s about it. Anyone going here or has already been have a blastttttt!!!!

  17. Fabs

    Hey Andie :) I always read your blog and I’m so happy that you’re now in my country. I live in Mexico City but my favorite place is Cancún, is just beautiful right? I really recommend you to visit Xcaret or Xel-ha. Also, you need to visit Merida (Yucatan) and taste all the delicious food (Cochinita Pibil and papatzules). Drink a lot of horchata water haha :D
    Have fun and bienvenida!!

  18. Diane

    I’m so glad you enjoyed Isla Mujeres…. it will draw you back again and again. It did with us and now we live part of the year here. This area of Mexico is beautiful but what I love most is the people.

  19. Chelsea @ Chelsea Eats Treats

    One time I embarrassingly got pulled up on stage at the Coco Bongo during a Beetlejuice skit. I was on the huge screen in front of all those people and they made me dance. I. Wanted. To. Die.

    Makes a great story though!

  20. Courtney

    Ahhh! I’m so JEALOUS! Ive been to Cancun a few times, and a few years ago I actually got married there. Cancun was so beautiful that my wedding pictures look like something out of a magazine! Anyway, my husband and I took the nightlife tour (I think it’s the one you’re talking about) and the last stop was Coco Bongo. It was CRAZY in there! They had a guy on stage with a huge cube that was on fire and dressed like a devil. Kind of creepy, but I couldn’t peel my eyes away. I had such a blast touring all of the bars, and I would definitely reccomend it to anyone that wants to go out.

    Have fun on the rest of your trip! Make sure enjoy the beach for me while you’re gone!

  21. Enlightened Up

    Are you writing your new book here or just on a vacation? The beaches look amazing!

    Question: How do you get in exercise on your trip? Does Camille exercise as well?

  22. Lexi

    This post has made me miss Mexico SO SO much! My favourite place was Oaxaca (I think), but I’d go back anytime to any part of Mexico in an instant. The food was a revelation, especially once you move further south. Ceviche = freaking awesome.

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