Explore the Undersea Beauty of this Family-Friendly Getaway
Discovered in 1517 by Franscisco Hernandes Cordova, the island we know as Isla Mujeres was named after the many female-shaped idols that represent the goddess Ixchel. During the Mayan Empire, the island was a sanctuary for the goddess of fertility, reason, medicine, and the moon. The Mayans originally settled on the island as salt harvesters.
The Mayan temple was at one point used as a lighthouse, with the light coming from torches shining behind holes in the structure. For many centuries the island was mostly uninhabited, visited only by pirates and fishermen who would often leave their women on the island for “safekeeping.” The scenic site was a refuge for the likes of Captain Henry Morgan and Jean Lafitte, who were rumored to have buried their treasures offshore. After the Independence of Mexico, Isla Mujeres began to take shape as a village. Throughout the wars, Mayans took refuge here and found the waters to be a fisherman’s and snorkeler’s paradise.
A Snorkeling Oasis
Snorkeling is always a fun and adventurous activity, and Isla Mujeres makes it accessible and family-friendly. The island offers an abundance of tours to visitors. Averaging about three hours in length, many tours offer a lunch and dinner package as well as equipment rental.
Take a walk along just about any dock or near the ferry, and you’ll find a boat and instructor waiting to take passengers out on the water. Reservations typically aren’t required. Most operations will take tourists out to local reefs to snorkel. Since most tours include equipment, you don’t have to worry about procuring it ahead of time.
Isla Mujeres offers tours for all skill levels, from beginner snorkelers to seasoned veterans. Snorkeling close to shore allows novices to experience the island’s underwater treasures while enjoying the security of being near land.
For those with a little more experience (or bravery), scuba diving, just north of Isla Contoy, explores underwater wonders at the Xlaches (ees-lah-chayss) reef. The Cave of Sleeping Sharks is one of Contoy’s most popular dive sites. Discovered by an island fisherman, Carlos Gracia Castilla, the cave has been extensively explored by Ramon Bravo, a cinematographer diver who is also Mexico’s resident shark expert. For experienced divers only, the cave offers an amazing 150-foot dive.
Just off the southwestern coast is the coral reef known as Los Manchones. At 30 to 40 feet deep, this is a suitable dive site for just about anyone. Sunken in its depths is what is known as Cruz de la Bahia, or the Cross of the Bay. Weighing in at one ton, the 9-1/2foot cross was commissioned in 1994, and serves as a silent tribute to those who have lost their lives at sea.
Another interesting dive site is the Barco L-55 and C-58 site. Here, sunken World War II boats are just 20 minutes off the coast of Isla Mujeres, providing fascinating underwater terrain for divers to explore. Manchones, yet another beautiful coral reef, is located off the shore and can be reached in 10 minutes by boat. At a depth of 45 feet, beautiful schools of colored fish entertain divers.
Though dangerous during rough waters, the lovely corals of the reef are a sight to behold. The crystal clear sea water provides a wonderful medium for observing the glories of nature. If you plan to visit more than one snorkeling site, consider chartering a private boat. The cost decreases with the more people that join you, so you might want to gather a large group. These trips are often longer, since the captain is hired privately, and you can take more time to explore each reef.
Whatever site you visit, Isla Mujeres promises warm sun, clear water, and an unforgettable underwater adventure for the whole family.