Isla Mujeres, meaning ‘Island of Women,’ is the site of an ancient Mayan temple dedicated to Ixchel, the Goddess of fertility, medicine, and the moon. It was given its current name by the Spanish, who found many female shaped idols of the Goddess when they colonized the island, so it seemed fitting that my first visit to Isla Mujeres would be on a girls’ trip.
My friend was planning a trip to Isla Mujeres at the same time my mother was visiting me in Mexico so she invited us, along with another friend who is a regular visitor to Playa del Carmen. The girls’ trip was born out of chance, serendipity or perhaps fate, but either way, I was happy to be finally visiting Isla Mujeres after experiencing the beauty of it’s crystal clear waters on our whale shark tour back in August.
Our ferry departed from Puerto Juarez, Cancun, about an hour north of Playa del Carmen. They are very regular and run every half hour so we purchased our tickets at the port. We sat on the top deck for the beautiful twenty minute ride across the water; I was excited for my Mom to experience her first ever Caribbean island.
We disembarked at the dock at the western side of the island, and headed off on foot to the famous ‘Playa Norte’. We procured sun loungers and umbrellas from Tarzan’s beach club, and took to the water which shone like topaz under the bright mid-morning sun.
It was absolutely, unmistakably, beautiful.
The beach of Playa Norte is the most popular and well-known of the island, and I can understand why. Flanked by fine, white sand, the water is the most beautiful shade of turquoise and as calm as a swimming pool.
After soaking in the water and getting our fix of vitamin D, we headed back through the town in search of a golf cart to rent. We didn’t have to look very far – these dinky vehicles are one of the most popular forms of transport on the island and rentals are easy to find. We negotiated a rate of 400 pesos for the whole afternoon (US$30), and took off to explore the south end of the island.
At only five miles long, Isla Mujeres is very easy to explore. We drove past luxury homes and through the quaint, colorful local town in the center of the island, before arriving at ‘Punta Sur’, the southern-most tip.
We paid 30 pesos (US$2.50) to enter the grounds of the temple of Ixchel and made our way along the paved walkway to the very end of the island where the ruins were located. It wasn’t so much the temple itself which made us gasp in awe, but the breathtaking view from the top of the craggy limestone cliffs across the Caribbean.
The wild ruggedness of the sea crashing into the rocks was in stark contrast to the calmness of the water we’d swum in at the northern end. Though vastly different in appearance and feel, both scenes were equally beautiful, and it amazed me how such a small island could be so naturally diverse.
To top it off, modern steel sculptures dotted the landscape, reminding me of the importance of human civilization existing in balance with the natural environment. At first, I thought the sculptures detracted form the natural beauty of the site, but after I had wandered around for a while, I realized that they had actually enhanced my experience.
With the sea breeze whipping at my face and the sounds of the powerful waves crashing into the limestone below, I could feel the sacred nature of this ancient place of worship, and understood why the Maya chose ‘Punta Sur’, the southern-most tip of a tiny Caribbean island, to build the temple of the Goddess.