Wednesday, March 27, 2019

Escape to Paradise: Isla Mujeres Mexico - Izla Hotel

Before my husband surprised me with a spontaneous trip to Isla Mujeres I had never heard of it. This small Mexican island in the Caribbean Sea has white sandy beaches, luxury resorts and beautiful coral reefs. Just 13 kilometers/8 miles from Cancun, it is a great location for a romantic getaway secluded from crowded tourist areas.

Just as the hectic holiday season began and winter weather settled upon Toronto, I was whisked away for some fun in the sun.

Getting to Isla Mujeres is no easy feat. After emerging from customs and immigration, we were bombarded with shuttle services, tours and taxi drivers adamantly offering their services. Several sales people asked us to visit their hotel in exchange for a free ride but we declined. You can also book a private car in advance or purchase tickets online which I highly recommend to avoid all the drama.

To reach Isla Mujeres you must fly into Cancun and make your way to the UltraMar Ferry Port in Puerto Juarez 30 minutes away. You can purchase a one-way shuttle ticket to the terminal for $16.00 USD per person and wait up to 45 minutes until the company gathers a large enough group to depart. If you chose this option, the shuttle makes several stops along the Hotel Zone before heading to the ferry so the trip can take up to 1 hour and 20 minutes.

The cheapest route is taking the ADO Airport Bus downtown and then a $5.00 taxi to the ferry. I was tired from travelling and just wanted to get there so we opted for a private taxi which usually cost $50.00 USD one-way but we negotiated a return trip as well.

Once in Puerto Juarez, the ferry cost $15.00 USD/300 pesos round-trip and the boat leaves every half an hour. The crossing takes about 20 minutes and once on Isla Mujeres, we took a $10.00 cab to the Izla Hotel. Look for the taxi line just outside the ferry terminal (left of the exit).

With the exchange rate, round-trip to and from the hotel cost about $100.00 Canadian dollars. Izla Hotel should make the journey easier for their guests by offering a free or discounted shuttle service directly to the boat dock on their beach. They charge $60.00 USD one-way.

Isla Mujeres is very small, just 7 km (4.3 mi) long and 65 km wide. It has a laid-back, leisurely vibe and tropical breezes wafting in from all directions.

Izla Hotel is designed like a horseshoe situated around a large sparkling pool. Most of the rooms have a great view of the beach, main courtyard or marina.

Our ocean view suite was spectacular! It definitely made up for the hassle of getting there. The luxurious room features modern decor and a large covered balcony with stunning panoramic views. It also has a deep outdoor Jacuzzi tub which is perfect for soaking the stress away before bed. 

After a long day of doing practically nothing, we’d often slip into the warm bubbly water with a glass of wine and watch the sun set on the horizon.

The bed was comfortable, the bathroom was large and the suite had enough storage and space to make us feel right at home. Since the hotel is relatively new, it hasn’t been tainted by swarms of messy guests so the grounds are clean, well-kept and stylish.

Upon check-in, the staff responded quickly and greeted us with a fruity welcome drink. This is not an all-inclusive resort but what they lack in free cocktails and food, they make up for in well used space. Izla’s best feature is the lavish relaxation areas. They’ve created a marvelous oasis surrounded by lounge chairs and umbrellas. At the shallow end of the pool there are hammocks above the water shaded by a gazebo. My husband and I spent many mornings enjoying the warm breeze and eating... lots of eating.

The rooftop area has a stunning infinity pool overlooking the entire resort and ocean. There are private canopied cabanas shaded with billowing white curtains and daybeds that are great for sunbathing. The atmosphere is very serene with enough privacy for an afternoon nap.

The beach at the property leaves much to be desired. It is very shallow so you can only go in ankle deep and the murky water is laden with washed-up seaweed. For swimming and snorkeling, you have to venture off the property.

Our main objective was to do the bare minimum (easier said than done) so if you’re looking for excitement, this is probably not the resort for you. We went right before busy season so the hotel was almost deserted (just the way we like it). We had the whole place to ourselves with no annoying crowds or noise and our own personal wait staff. It was pure bliss – swaying palm trees, soft music and complete tranquility. If you travel during busy season, your experience will probably be quite different.

Families with teens or kids may find Izla quite boring as it lacks the amenities and activities to keep the little ones busy. I was disappointed that there were no shows, clubs, live bands or entertainment of any kind. At night it was rather dull so we had to look elsewhere for fun.

The restaurants have positive reviews so we tried an authentic Mexican meal at the cafe.

We ordered the empanada platter and chicken enchiladas. The meal also came with a free appetizer – fresh corn chips and 3 tasty dips. Prices were reasonable but the menu never changes so options are limited. After a few days we ran out of things to try and there are no restaurants within walking distance.

Breakfast rated well above standard continental cuisine. There was a hearty selection of pancakes, waffles, French toast, eggs, sautéed local veggies, savory meat, salad, pastries, oatmeal, fruit and more. We particularly enjoyed the omelette bar.

Eventually I grew restless from all the sitting so we ventured downtown. You can rent a golf cart at the hotel or from various companies on the island for about $40-$50 USD a day and many tourists also rent scooters.

In downtown Isla Mujeres you will find typical tourist shops selling everything from beach gear to colorful crafts, local treats and of course, sombreros. I stocked up on pure Mexican vanilla for my sister (the baker in our family) and purchased a few souvenirs. When you get tired of resort food, there are a variety of restaurants to choose from in town. I had a yummy pina colada served in a pineapple at Muelle 7 on the beach and a not so appetizing pizza (the food there is mediocre).

The next day we made our way to Cancun which meant another ride on the UltraMar Ferry ($19.00 USD per person round-trip). If you are traveling to the Hotel Zone, it is faster and cheaper to take the ferry departing from downtown Isla Mujeres rather than Puerto Juarez. Just keep in mind that it stops running at 5 pm while the one in Puerto Juarez runs until midnight.

Aside from casinos hotels, restaurants, bars and shops, there isn’t much else to do in Cancun’s Hotel Zone so you might want to book an adventure tour or excursion. We took the local bus ($1.00 per ride) and stopped at various points of interest which included a beach bar.

For those concerned about crime, rest assure that the tourist areas are quite safe. No matter where you travel, it is advisable to take standard safety precautions (read my article – Tips for Planning a Great Vacation, What Every Traveler Should Know). I did not feel threatened in any way and the locals are friendly.

I recommend checking out the Mexican Outlet for a wide variety of souvenirs and to sample the pure Mexican chocolate which makes an excellent gift for friends and family back home. They use an ancient Mayan technique for grinding the raw cocoa beans which results in a rich, organic flavor that is slightly gritty and loaded with antioxidants.

On the way back to Isla Mujeres a storm began brewing and the waves were very rough. If you are using the ferry to get around, you might want to pack sea sickness medication or wrist bands just in case.

After a few days of serenity, the hotel let us check-out late (2 pm) which many places don’t allow. We spent the last afternoon hanging out on our balcony and watching HBO in bed – there are great movie channels and satellite stations. At this point I had a few mosquito bites (including one on my face) that were painful and irritated so don't forget the bug spray!

Would I visit Isla Mujeres or Cancun again? - Probably not. I had a fantastic time but my goal is to see as many countries and cities as possible and I have been to other parts of Mexico – Cozumel (2x) and Progresso. If you are looking for a quick getaway, this area is still very popular so I’m sure you will have an awesome vacation!

For more travel inspiration and articles check out my travel page HERE.

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