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The Islands in Cancun and the Riviera Maya

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Last update: Mar 24, 2021

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Islands in Riviera Maya

When we talk about touristic destinations in the coast of Quintana Roo (The Mexican Caribbean), the names of Cancun and Riviera Maya (Playa del Carmen, Tulum and Puerto Morelos) pop up in our mind immediately. But, besides all these amazing places located in the continental area of the Mexican Caribbean, there are a few islands that have become world class touristic destination too.

Among the most famous islands in the Mexican Caribbean we can find:

One of the main advantages of these islands is their proximity to Quintana Roo’s continental area. They are especially close to Cancun and Riviera Maya. As a matter of fact, Isla Mujeres and Cozumel are totally visible from Cancun and Playa del Carmen, respectively. So, it’s totally possible to visit one (or maybe all) of these places even if you are not staying there.

Cozumel

Cozumel Island is located in front of Playa del Carmen, approximately 11 miles (18 kilometers) away from the coast. So, to get there you just have to get on one of the ferry boats that sail from the dock that you’ll find close to downtown, just at the back of Paseo del Carmen Mall (A block away from the intersection of Benito Juárez Avenue and the Fifth Avenue). The ferry trip from Playa del Carmen to Cozumel lasts about an hour and, usually, there are ferry boats sailing every hour from 6 a.m. to 11 p.m.

Cozumel is a Mayan word that means “swallow land”. As you can figure out, you’ll find flocks of this bird in the island. This island was part of the Mayan Empire about 2,000 years ago. There was a Mayan population in the island so you will find some ruins here like San Gervacio, El Caracol and El Cedral.

Regarding the size of this island, Cozumel is a medium size island. Its length is about 29 miles (48 kilometers) with a width of 9 miles (14.8 kilometers). Cozumel is the third biggest island in Mexico and the biggest in the Mexican Caribbean. The size of the island has been enough to let a little city develop inside it.

The infrastructure in the island can be compared to that in any regular city. It even has an international airport with arrivals from Canada and the United States dominating the air traffic in this area. Cozumel is also #4 in hotel capacity in the Mexican Caribbean with 4,700 rooms available. In addition, it also has a dock where cruises sailing from all over the Caribbean arrive in a daily fashion.

About the hotels on the island, Cozumel has a wide diversity with more than 40 buildings focused on accommodation services. Among the most recognized hotel brands in the island, you can find Fiesta Americana, Iberostar, Meliá and Presidente. The accommodation services in the island have also detonated the development of other amenities such as a golf course. So, don’t doubt about it, the hotel and accommodation services in Cozumel can compete directly with those offered in Cancun and Playa del Carmen.

The most popular activities in Cozumel are scuba diving and snorkelling. The location of this island is just perfect to jump on a boat and sail to the coral reefs. There, you will be able to take a look to the animals and plants living in this amazing environment. It is something you can’t skip if you are visiting the island, what you can experience in a tour like this will become a memory for a life time. So, make no mistake about exploring the Mexican Caribbean.

You can also find some other interesting activities like kitesurf, windsurf, swimming with dolphins, fishing and even diving in a submarine to watch closely to all what’s happening under the sea.

Cozumel’s downtown is cozy and full of warm and friendly people. It has a bohemian atmosphere that invites you to take a seat, ask for your favorite drink or dish and just enjoy the moment. There you will find many restaurants, shops and bars. It is important to notice that in Cozumel you won’t find the wild parties and clubs that are usually available in Cancun and Playa del Carmen. Cozumel is more about chilling and relaxing.

An interesting fact about Cozumel is that it is the first Mexican town / city where the sun rises every day. It is a beautiful view from the beach or the dock. So, try to wake up early at least one day of your stay.

For ground transportation on the island, the best idea is to use taxi cabs. There’s no need to travel long distances, so the rates are reasonable. Car rental, as well as other type of vehicles (scooters, golf carts), is available too. It will depend on the needs of each traveler or group of travelers to consider this option.

Isla Mujeres

Isla Mujeres is located just in front of Cancun, about 4 miles (6 kilometers) from the coast. If you are staying in an ocean front room in Cancun, Isla Mujeres will always be part of your landscape. The same will happen whenever you go to the beach. So, yes, it is very close to the most popular destination in the Mexican Caribbean.

In order to get to Isla Mujeres, you have to get on a ferry boat in Puerto Juarez. It takes only 30 minutes to get to the island and there are ferry boats sailing every 30 minutes from 5 a.m. to 11:30 p.m.

Isla Mujeres is a small island. Its length is about five miles (8 kilometers) and has a width of just 550 yards (500 meters). It is very easy (almost effortless) to walk through the island. However, there is Taxi service available. Renting golf carts is one of the most popular transportation alternatives on this island. It’s an alternative that deserves to be considered if you are short on time or if the hotel or place where you are staying is “far” from the ferry dock. Of course, you can also rent a bike or a scooter.

Because of its size, Isla Mujeres has a modest accommodation offer compared to those in Cancun and Playa del Carmen. Most of the hotels available on the island are boutique type hotels. And there are just a few (3) larger hotels.

Among the main attractions on the island you can find Playa Norte (North beach). There the water is extremely calm and there are bars and restaurants as well as rental services (beach lounge chairs, umbrellas). Isla Mujeres downtown is just a few blocks away from that beach and there, you will also find lots of restaurants, shops and bars.

Punta Sur (South End) is further from downtown and the main dock. However, if you want to witness a hallucinating sun rise, this is the place to be. There are some Mayan ruins nearby too (Ixchel, the fertility goddess).

As you can guess, the water activities are the most popular in Isla Mujeres too. Scuba diving and snorkeling can be done close to this island. Some of the best locations for these activities are: "el Garrafón" Waterpark, the "sleeping shark" cave (Cueva de los Tiburones Dormidos), the Underwater Art Museum (Museo Subacuático de Artes (MUSA), the Manchones reefs and the Cross of the Bay (Cruz de la Bahía. In Isla Mujeres, you can also find boat rides to swim with the whale shark.

In general, the atmosphere in Isla Mujeres tends to be quiet and relaxed.

Contoy Island

This island is about 17 miles to the North of Isla Mujeres and it’s a protected area. So, unlike Cozumel and Isla Mujeres, you won’t find restaurants, shops or any commercial activity settled on the island.

If you want to sail to this paradise you must get in contact to an authorized tour agency. The access to the island is restricted to 200 visitors per day, so you have to schedule your visit in advance.

The visit to this island is more about enjoying the wilderness of the Caribbean, relaxing and swimming in a virgin beach. It can be a nice change of pace on your vacations.

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