Get a taste of island life, Mexican-style, when you visit the small Caribbean island of Isla Mujeres located just 8 miles (13 km) off the coast of Cancun. Isla Mujeres is just a 15-minute ferry ride from Cancun and the island is small enough that it can be easily explored in a day. The downtown area is located on the northern end of Isla Mujeres and extends out to Playa Norte (North Beach), the best beach on the island. On the southern end of the island you’ll find the Garrafón Reef Park, a popular destination for snorkeling and scuba diving, a sea turtle sanctuary, lighthouse and the ruins of a Mayan temple.
The name Isla Mujeres means “Island of Women” in Spanish and the island has a rich history that dates back to the time of the ancient Maya who are believed to have used the island as a sanctuary dedicated to Ixchel, the Maya goddess of fertility. After the arrival of the Spanish in 1517, Isla Mujeres became a refuge for pirates, though it remained relatively uninhabited. The first small settlement on the island was established in 1821 and officially founded as Pueblo de Dolores on August 17, 1854.
Each year in mid-August, Isla Mujeres celebrates its founding with several days of cultural events and festivities leading up to the official celebration of Isla Mujeres Founding Day on August 17th. Founding day is celebrated with a mass dive off the coast of the island as well as parades, a pageant, live music and dancing that continues through the evening and well into the early morning hours. The annual Isla Mujeres Founding Day celebration takes place during whale shark season, which runs from June through September, and it’s a popular time of year to visit the island. If you’re planning to visit Isla Mujeres during the annual Founding Day festival, it’s best to book your accommodations in advance.