Mexico – Isla Mujeres, where are all the tourists?

Mexico – Isla Mujeres, where are all the tourists?

It’s been less than a year since my last trip to Mexico, back in January the crowds were thronging the beaches and the bars were resonating with the raucous screams of tourists fueled with cheap tequila. Souvenir shops were doing a brisk trade and the fake Cuban cigar sellers were in great spirits, it took me over an hour just to get through immigration and another forty-five minutes to reclaim my bags. What a palaver!

Mujeres is a even more beautiful outside of the main tourist seasons

Fast forward to November this year and the picture is very different, I managed to walk from the plane and pass through immigration without a beat. The luggage hall was deserted and the customs check was a breeze. Traffic in Cancun seemed about normal and the transfer to the ferry for Isla Mujeres took the usual amount of time.

Arriving at the port it was noticeable that the quayside bars, where a welcoming drink would be …well, welcome, were closed. I trundled my bags through the side streets of Isla Mujeres passing shop owners and waiters bidding me “welcome to the island” and “please enjoy your stay” a far cry from the usual hustle and the smiles were genuine. It reminded me of Jordan, where the irrepressible good nature of the locals makes you feel at ease. Mexico, or at least this part of the Yucatan, is still hurting from the Swine Flu and whether it is more or less risky here may seem irrelevant to some tourists, they have already made their choice.

Coming in on the back end of Hurricane Ida probably didn’t help, however the storm was very compact and passed midway between Cancun and Cuba leaving almost no damage in its wake.

I had come over on a flight from Miami and it was woefully low on “Gringo’s”, the Americans it appears are still paranoid. Canadians on the other hand seemed unfazed by it all and a flight from Calgary disgorged a plane full of party goers ready to grab their tequila rations and hit the strip. In this bustling atmosphere, the aquarium design of the local bars and restaurants provided a tranquil escape, offering a glimpse of marine life amidst the lively festivities. As the night wore on, some revelers even discussed setting up a makeshift quarantine tank for any fish they acquired during their escapades.

Even the fish weren’t nibbling at this time of year

It’s difficult to reconcile the current situation, one part of me loves the fact that beaches are deserted and the restaurants are competing for your business but I am sympathetic to the plight of the locals who rely on tourists to make ends meet. New hotels and restaurants stand empty, shops are boarded up and the sense of anxiety is in the air. The Mexicans are ever hopeful though and they are preparing for the main season that should begin shortly, hoping for a new lease of life come December 1st.

For those of you looking for some winter sun and stunning beaches I can highly recommend Isla Mujeres and the Yucatan area of Mexico. There is no need to tangle with the resort mavens as cheap hostels abound and the water is beautiful.

One of my favourites on the Island is the laid back and cosmopolitan Poc Na Hostel on Matamoros, at less than ten bucks for a dorm bed including breakfast it is a bargain. Couple that with the best bar in town, a beach palapa that rocks all night with two for one cocktails, and you have a recipe for a fun time. Although the hostel itself backs onto a beach it is on the east side, a little rough at times, the best beaches are a hundred metres or so away at Playa Norte where hammocks and swings at the bars are waiting for you.

A beach bar that normally is packed to the rafters

The island is only a few kilometres long and has some excellent snorkelling and scuba diving if that is your deal, for sun worshipers beaches abound and the calm turquoise waters invite you in for a relaxing dip. Cheap eats are everywhere but a splurge is definitely on the cards as great deals are available with delicious lobster at bargain prices.

If you can get a few of you together renting a golf cart is the easiest way to get around and will allow you to see all the sights on the island and especially it means that you can get to Playa Lancheros to sample the house speciality Tikin Xic – a delicious Mayan style fish dish, not to be missed.

The island is a great base for seeing some of the other regional sights such as Chichen Itza or Playa del Carmen and the hostel is ground zero for picking up tips for onward travel through Central America or just taking war stories about your travels. Fancy a bit of yoga? Meet on the beach at 11am, take in a massage? This is a full service hostel, albeit a little ragged, with plenty to do and a lively atmosphere


So whatever you may have read, Mexico still has a heartbeat and needs tourists and visitors to recover at least a little to its former self plus you have the advantage of good deals, sunshine and white sand…what are you waiting for?

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