What to do on Isla Mujeres

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Visiting Isla Mujeres on a budget isn’t as hard as you might think!

We enjoyed the spirit of Mexico so much after our stay at an all-inclusive resort in Tulum for a friend’s wedding. We decided to go back for a long weekend in 2010. However, we wanted to explore a different area.

Since we had heard good things about Isla Mujeres from friends, we decided to check it out.

We’ve always been budget travelers, so staying at an all-inclusive on our own just didn’t feel like our vibe. Here are our best tips for enjoying Isla Mujeres on a budget.

Staying on Isla Mujeres

When we visited in 2010, there weren’t a lot of budget hotels on the island yet. Airbnb wasn’t even really popular at the time. Instead, we turned to other vacation rental sites.

The one I used back then doesn’t even exist anymore, sadly. I booked a studio apartment on the western side of the island.

Regardless of where you book a hotel or vacation rental, get a room with a fridge and microwave. This allows you to make your own meals in the room if you wish.

At the very least, you can keep some snacks or drinks in a fridge. Cooking or eating in will always save money, especially since you won’t be tempted by overpriced drinks to complement your meal.

Our vacation rental had a convenience shop nearby. If you haven’t been to Mexico before, Oxxo is very similar to 7-11 and is very popular throughout the country.

Having it close to our vacation rental meant that we could still enjoy beverages on our balcony in the evenings.

Isla Mujeres on a budget
View from our balcony
Hotels.com: $99 or Less

Getting to Isla Mujeres

It’s possible to take your own private yacht or to fly to Isla Mujeres. However, those are not budget-friendly options. This means the ferry to Isla Mujeres is the only way to get to Isla Mujeres on a budget.

Because we only had a few days on the island, we wanted to get there as fast as possible. I hired a private driver to take us to the ferry dock. Taxis hailed at the airport are overpriced.

They will be the same price or more expensive than a private van to the ferry port. People who have more time or are on a strict budget could also take a shared van that makes stops to drop off other passengers on the way to the ferry dock.

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Getting Around Isla Mujeres

The most popular way to get around Isla Mujeres is by golf cart. Other than taxis and a few delivery trucks, there aren’t many cars on the island. We rented a golf cart for a day during our 2021 trip to the island.

It would be expensive to rent one for an entire one-week vacation! This is why in 2010 we made a different choice. Because Isla Mujeres is so small, we chose to walk pretty much everywhere we went. We truly enjoyed Isla Mujeres on a budget!

While there are taxis on the island, they aren’t very reliable for pricing. Cabs don’t have set fares. So it’s common practice to charge tourists a lot more than locals. Visiting Isla Mujeres on a budget meant we wanted to minimize how much we were overcharged.

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Things to Do on Isla Mujeres on a Budget

Tortugranga Sea Turtle Sanctuary

Update: Effective October 2021, the Sanctuary is closed. It’s unclear if they plan to reopen after the pandemic subsides.

The Torturanga Sea Turtle Sanctuary has released over 10,000 turtles back into the wild after helping them grow to a survivable size.

At only 30 pesos ($1.50USD), the entry fee is sufficient to allow even the most frugal travelers to learn about and enjoy the experience. The turtle sanctuary isn’t anything fancy, so manage your expectations.

Remember that learning about a beautiful creature and supporting a nonprofit are both valuable rewards for your time. They even have other cool sea creatures, like sea horses and lobsters, to spend time watching.

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Making friends
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Albino sea turtle
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Lobster
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Sea Horses

Punta Sur

Another budget-friendly must-see is the Ixchel temple ruins at Punta Sur. The ruins themselves aren’t all that spectacular, especially compared to major mainland sites like Chichen Itza, Coba, or Tulum.

But the views from the top of the lighthouse next to the ruins are pretty spectacular. The scores of iguanas scampering about all make the $3USD entry fee feel worthwhile!

Pro Tip: Pay in pesos, since then the entry fee is only 30 pesos ($1.50USD).

Make sure you take small coins for the restroom, as the maintenance women charge about 10 pesos ($0.50USD) to use the facilities. If you’re feeling really motivated, wake up early to come to Punta Sur to watch the sunrise and you won’t be disappointed!

Update: The sculpture garden shown here was temporarily removed from Punta Sur for maintenance and updating. The state government has not announced when it will be reinstalled.

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Eat Local

One of our favorite things to do when traveling is trying the local restaurants. Our favorite place on our 2010 trip was a bright and tiny locale called La Bruja.

We ate a meal a day here. Everything we tried was good! They served chilaquiles in a much different way than I’d ever seen it. I’ve not even seen it served that way since then either!

There was even a cute little dog who came to beg scraps from us. We didn’t feed him, because I didn’t want to encourage bad behavior that might get him hurt.

However, we did pet him after our meals because he was such a sweetheart. I was *thisclose* to trying to find a way to bring him home with us!

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On our last day, we stumbled across another local restaurant called El Huarache. It was clearly family-owned. The mom was in the kitchen, the kids were the waitstaff, and the dad ran the cash box. They didn’t really even have a menu.

I ordered tacos and David tried to order a burrito. We didn’t know at the time that burritos are more of a US thing, and not very popular in Mexico.

When the food arrived it was definitely not a burrito! We didn’t know how to explain that it wasn’t what David ordered, and we’d have felt bad wasting the food. So David ate it.

To this day, I maintain that he ended up eating burro (donkey). But we don’t know for sure what it was. If anyone can tell us what meat in a blueish-purpleish liquid/sauce with white rice is, we’d love to solve that mystery!

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El Hurache

Hit the Beach

Many of the high-end and all-inclusive resorts are based downtown where the bars and the beach are. However, a growing number of them are expanding to southern parts of the island.

Pro Tip: The rest of Isla Mujeres is rather rocky, and not suitable a beach day.

If you want to feel like you’re at an all-inclusive without paying for one, splurge on one of the beach clubs that line North Beach (aka: Playa Norte). Every vacation needs a little relaxation time, right?

If you’re truly on a budget, use of the beach is totally free! All beaches in Mexico are public. The beach clubs must leave a minimum of 20 meters between the water and their privatized beach area.

So don’t be afraid to just take a towel and set it up in an empty spot.

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Wander Around Centro

Centro is the city center for towns and cities in Mexico. It’s also where most of the dining and shopping take place. Isla Mujeres is no different.

In the island’s Centro, there are shops and restaurants that make shopping (or just window shopping) a lot of fun. Whether you’re browsing or buying, the colors and activity shouldn’t be skipped.

In addition, in the evenings the town square (called a Zocalo) gets surrounded by local food carts. They offer some of the best food on the island, so make sure you get some pesos.

According to a friend who lives on Isla Mujeres, the only ATM in Centro that’s guaranteed to work is inside the Soriana grocery store. Snag some pesos and grab dinner at the Zocalo at least once. You won’t regret it!

If you’re looking for other places to eat on Isla Mujeres, check out some of our favorite breakfast places. We’ve found that breakfast tends to cost less than dinner.

It was certainly the case both times we’ve visited Isla Mujeres! Thus, that’s the meal that we tend to eat out when we’re taking a trip on a budget.

What to do on Isla Mujeres
Ave Miguel Hidalgo

Conclusion

Overall, Isla Mujeres is a nice place to spend a long weekend. Because of the difficulty getting back and forth to Cancun, it didn’t seem feasible to day trip there from the island. Plus Cancun is less budget-friendly than Isla Mujeres.

For people visiting Isla Mujeres on a budget, a full week there might get rather boring because some activities and excursions do require more than a few bucks to do them.

We loved our day trip to Isla Contoy, for example, but it wasn’t cheap. For a more complete list of things to do on Isla Mujeres, including some that aren’t quite as budget-friendly, check out our more complete list of What to Do on Isla Mujeres.

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👉 For travel insurance, we like to use Safety Wing.