Where can you go with Atlanta as your base? I couldn’t believe Cancun was only a two hour flight away. You can practically walk to Florida. And all the Caribbean Islands are just a hop away too. (As a west-coaster I got a little bit envious about how many fabulous places were so close on this side of the world!) The hubby wanted an island vacation, the kids wanted fun pools and I wanted a little luxury but I didn’t want to spend a ton. And then somewhere in our planning someone said WHALESHARKS and we all got excited about these amazing animals so this is how the whole journey began.
We started our search looking at Isla Holbox for whalesharks and then we realized Isla Mujeres might be a better fit because it had a little bit more activity and we read about a turtle farm, renting golf carts and a few ruins where you could see the sunrise first over Mexico.
We stayed at the Na balam for three nights because it was on Playa Norte. The beach there is amazing because it’s shallow for miles and bathtub warm. We ate dinner on these beds every night while the boys made sand castles and swam.
We rented a golf cart from Easycarts down the road. There was an overnight option but we didn’t want to have to worry all night so we just rented during the day and it was around $50 usd as long as we got the carts back by 5pm. (Here’s a little tip: we found that in most places if we used pesos instead of US dollars the exchange was a lot better-often 12 and a bit rather than just 10 to 1)
One day we drove around the island in our cart and ended up at a turtle farm (Tortugranja) where we saw teeny tiny baby turtles.
Then we went to Dolphin Discovery which was pretty neat. I still don’t know what to think about dolphin shows and dolphin interaction programs but it was nice that kids of any age could do this one. The dolphins we saw at this place seemed to be treated nicely and we all bobbed in the water for about 40 minutes while the dolphins swam by us and gave us kisses and said hello. These pictures were outrageously expensive (I think it started at 50 dollars per person for only pictures of ONE person) but I thought the whole racket was brilliant for not letting us use our own cameras then taking fabulous pictures that of course we were dying to buy.
On another morning we went to the Ixchel ruins at the southern tip of Isla Mujeres. There is all this amazing art there and it was so hot the boys talked us into ice cream before lunch. (I think this photobomb is priceless.)
The ruins here are very small but what makes this place absolutely spectacular is the walkway below the ruins where you are practically at one with the ocean and its waves. I was a little terrified of the parts with no rail so we only went around the parts I could cling on for dear life if need be.
And whale sharks? This is the only one we saw. (Thank goodness we saw some in Atlanta after we had talked them up so much. Next time we’ll make sure we go in actual whale shark season.)
But it didn’t matter. Isla Mujeres is absolutely magical. Playa Norte is gorgeous. If you go around to the public beach side, it’s so easy for the kids to snorkel and the water is calm, shallow and full of fish. And this is where we spent a majority of our three day stay on this beautiful island. It was serene. It was peaceful. It was relaxing. (And we were with our kids.)
(PS here are the places I wanted to go and missed but thought you might love: The whale sharks. And this is why we’ll be back again. I just want to see one up really close and see if I don’t completely freak out or scream. Isla Contoy. It’s about an hour and a half away. I really wanted to see the flamingos and other birds but the guys weren’t feeling it and we were having too much fun driving around and seeing the beach. The Mango cafe. We drove by and it was so cute but I was the only one hungry in the cart. So we kept driving. I do hope you go.)
(PPS. if your taxi driver asks you if you want Magana or Ultramar for your ferry from Cancun to Isla Mujeres pick ULTRAMAR even if he says there’s a discount for the other one or if your guidebook says they’re both the same. They are not. ULTRAMAR goes every 30 minutes vs. every hour. ULTRAMAR has luxury looking boats where you could probably go and sit on the top for a little while and then when it gets too hot you can go inside. And I bet ULTRAMAR was not showing gory Kung Fu movies for the duration of the ride.)