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Wow! Isla Mujeres one year later

Editor's note: The following blog entry is based on experiences from Smarter Travel's company trip to Cancun, which took place from January 11 through 15.

Last year in my Escapes Under $500 column, I wrote about my experiences on Isla Mujeres and how this small island off the coast of Cancun had survived the wrath of Hurricane Wilma. Almost a full year since my last visit, all I can say is, "wow."

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It might have been my insatiable desire to reclaim a taste of the real Mexico after several days in a Cancun all-inclusive resort—with syrupy cocktails, generic food, and no local interaction—that made Isla seem 10 times better than it was before. And it was simply great then, just four months after the hurricane hit in October 2005. However, objectively speaking, quite a bit really has changed, perhaps to its state before the hurricane or even better than that.

For one thing, the park at Punta Sur (South Point) is open to the public again. Upon my last visit, the attraction seemed like nothing special. Now, restored to its full glory with sculpture garden, Caribbean village, and lighthouse, you can visit the Mayan ruins dedicated to the goddess Ixchel while you explore the easternmost point of Mexico. Odd as it might sound, I felt like I was in Ireland, where rocks covered in low, green foliage ramble right into the sea. As I descended on the stone walkways (with few guard rails) winding down the cliff to the crashing surf, I got the sense that I was walking on water.

Garrafon Natural Reef Park has also reopened, and it seems like the whole island has received a fresh coat of paint where the pastel buildings I once wrote about are now dressed in vibrant hues. One change, however, has left me ambivalent. There are more hip beach houses dotting the Caribbean side of the island, suggesting more ex-pats and more development. Considering that some of the locals are still very poor, this is a little disconcerting, not to mention a sign that the Isla I've come to know might not remain this way for very long.

That brings me to the question: Do I even want to be writing about the island, exposing all its secrets? Like I said last year, let's try to keep this one between us.

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