Street we lived on

Daily Living in Isla Mujeres

Daily Living in Isla Mujeres

08/12/2018

We stayed on Isla Mujeres for a month, mostly during November. While it did rain some nights and there were a couple of storms, the weather was mainly around 30 degrees celsius during the day. Fortunately we had a place that had air-conditioning. My favourite part of living on Isla Mujeres was our neighbourhood and the lovely people in it.

Schooling

After a month of hopping from place to place we decided to settle in one location for a month so that we could catch up on some schooling. Most of our days were spent using the workbooks I’d picked up in Auckland before leaving. For any of the science topics that required practical experiments we made use of equipment at home or used youtube and Khan Academy to support their learning.

It was hard entertaining the two little ones in such a small environment without distracting 14yo who has a heightened sense of responsibility and tends to step in when he sees the need. So some topics could only be covered while the younger two were napping or had gone to bed.

Grocery Shopping

We had many shops conveniently close by. The supermarket was a five minute walk in one direction and the chemist, known as the Farmacia, was five minutes in the other direction. This was great because we had no vehicle and had to carry all our groceries home, including the big 5L bottles of water. It wasn’t much of a problem except if we had to carry a little one in the heat of the day.  We would end up spending on average around 500 pesos per day on all our groceries because we were not buying any junk. That worked out to under NZD35.

We soon found that for only 4 pesos more we could buy a 5L bottle at the dairy next door. That became our go-to for water. There were a few nights early on where we ran out of water so we started buying four bottles at a time to ensure we had plenty of water all through the night and enough for our morning coffee.

There was a local tortillaria where we could buy fresh calientitas for breakfast or lunch. I wold pick up ten for 5 pesos, that’s like 30cents. They are basically flat unleavened bread that is a bit bigger than the palm of your hand. The shop was only a block away (four houses down) which meant I would have them super hot. After having these, any calientita that gets served in a restaurant has been disappointing because they are often stored in a fridge and then heated up.

The local supermarket was more like a four square in NZ. It had a lot but not a huge selection. So our fruit and veg purchases were limited. The funniest part was the number of flies and fruit flies that would be hovering around the fruits, which was right next to the butchery department. We very quickly got used to “hygiene” situation.

Staff at most outlets were not friendly but polite. Only once I became a regular did the business owners of the lavanderia and the calientita place greet us with warm smiles and farewell us with Hasta Luego (see you later).

Housekeeping

Cooking

Being home most days we would cook at home, and by we, I mean hubby. He enjoys cooking and I much prefer doing the cleanup. The space in this place was quite cramped but hubby worked his magic as he always does. He often prepared a feast of guacamole, fresh salsa, refried beans, cheese tortillas or calientitas, and some type of habanero which is a spicy sauce. Other times it was toasties or eggs or fruit platters.

Laundry

The place we stayed in didn’t have it’s own washing machine nor did it have a clothes line or any area to dry things outside so we relied on the local laundromat most of the time. In Isla Mujeres, you drop off your clothes to a lavanderia, they weigh it and charge you based on the weight. Unfortunately their minimum weight was 3.5kg which is a lot to try and fill given we only packed three sets of clothes each max. The hardest part was when I had to swap over the little ones clothing. They needed more frequent changing due to their activities, where as we could where clothes for two or three days. But their clothes are so little it definitely didn’t meet the minimum 3.5kg mark. For their clothes I often had to hand wash them and dry them with the help of the air conditioner.

Cleaning

Apart from keeping the kitchen in a functional state, there was not much cleaning to do because cleaners came every week and changed the linen. The floor often got gritty and dusty so we had to sweep the place out each day. The bins were little so we emptied those regularly. Interestingly, the rubbish collectors would empty the bins every day including weekends.

 

Out and About

Eating Out

We tried a few different places to eat out. Some were tourist places that charged about 100 pesos for a dish where others were local eating places that charged about 50 pesos. Common eateries were taquerias where they served tacos, tortillas and drinks. One of our favourite drinks to have was a cold limonada which was simply freshly squeezed lime and water with a bit of sugar. And we often ordered guacamole which would come with tortadas which in NZ we would call corn chips. We quickly found out that nachos is corn chips with melted cheese on top.

There were some great burrito places and burger places too.

The Streets

The streets where we stayed were very clean except for dog poo. Every morning street cleaners would come with their broom and shovel and sweep up all debris including leaves, rubbish and dog poo. Then they would leave bags of rubbish for the rubbish trucks to collect. The rubbish trucks came by every day. It was much like Auckland rubbish picks ups when I was a kid. There would be guys without gloves who would collect all the rubbish and chuck it into the back of the truck.

Playgrounds were also kept very clean as well as the board walks. However, the materials that are used to construct the pavements or bridges or playgrounds are often poor quality and so they don’t last long. There was a boardwalk where the boards had rotted but locals still used it in spite of signage saying not to. The playground was falling apart but had been opened in 2016. And the waterfront walkway had originally had a railway to prevent people from going to far over the cliff but most of it was broken. In spite of that, these were beautiful spaces for locals and tourists to enjoy.

The People

Our neighbourhood was very sweet. As I walked about the neighbourhood people would often greet me with a Buenos Dias or Buenas Tardes (good morning or good afternoon). Sometimes as we sat by the laguna watching birds, locals would converse with me in Spanish. Using hand motions we were able to understand the general gist of the conversation. Being in this neighbourhood was probably my favourite part of experiencing Islau Mujeres.

Conflicts of Interest

After having booked our Airbnb for Isla Mujeres I found out why Airbnb can be detrimental to town or city. The place we were staying in is probably one such example of this. We stayed amongst a local community so our accomodation was relatively cheap compared to the tourist areas. However, this means the landlord would have preferred earning a higher income from tourists staying there rather than having locals paying a much cheaper rate. Our place was far more luxurious than what our neighbours were living in, and in my posts you would’ve seen how much I was complaining about the tight spaces.

Our neighbours did not have air conditioning but some had fans. Many of them did not have furniture but had a hammock in the middle of the lounge. Most had TVs and at least one bedroom but many used a curtain to divide the sleeping area from the lounge. Some of our neighbours lived in structures that looked like they were crumbling. In fact, our neighbour had scraps of wood for one of it’s walls. I’m guessing they were cleaners because they often arrived home with their vacuums and cleaning equipment. I realise now I need to be more diligent when booking our accommodation to ensure we aren’t increasing the price of living for the locals just because of tourist requirements.

Our Glimpse of Isla Mujeres

Locals carrying statues of Mary of Guadalupe on their back in preparation for the upcoming festival

Religion in Isla Mujeres

Religion in Isla Mujeres

08/12/2018

The Cemetery

The cemetery was beautiful to visit. Each grave has a special area where families can celebrate their loved ones on the Day of the Dead. They were very colourful

The Patron Saint

Our Lady of Guadalupe is the patron saint of Mexico and many houses had a shrine dedicated to her, either outside or inside or both. During the buildup to Her feast day there were often prayer groups held in the evening and many shrines with lights were displayed at night. We saw a pilgrimage of bicycles carry statues. And we saw people praying outside a house if the house was too small to host all the guests. In some of the common areas there were rosters of who would be leading the prayers on what day.

Playa Norte

Things for a Family to Do in Isla Mujeres

Things for a Family to Do in Isla Mujeres

08/12/2018

There is a lot to do on Isla Mujeres for younger and older children. What I’ve listed here were our kids favourite activities to do during our month on Isla.

Beach time

The beautiful Isla Mujeres is in the Caribbean Sea so you can expect beautiful beaches. With the tropical climate, nothing beats jumping in the water for a refreshing swim to beat the heat. The swimming is all on the north and east side of the island facing Cancun. The west coast is very rocky with no sandy bays that are easy to access.

Play Norte

The most popular beach is definitely Playa Norte, which literally translates to North Beach. You can access this beach by walking from the ferry building. As you head out of the ferry terminal, turn left and head to the end of the street. Walk down the driveway between the hotels and you will reach Playa Norte. Once you hit the stretch of sand, turn right to explore the length of the beach. 

Playa Norte has crystal clear waters and very fine white sand. Mixing this type of sand with water allows you to make sand balls that are great for the kids to throw in the water and make a big splash. 

This area of the island is well known for it’s wildlife. Your kids will love spotting the pelicans perched on the wave breakers or watch them dive into the water. You won’t be able to swim here without encountering all sorts of birds. And the kids won’t need their snorkelling gear to see fish swimming around them in the shallows. 

This is a beach club type beach that is highly commercialised, as is most of Quintana Roo. Expect to have it covered in bars, hotels and massage tables. If you are on this beach from 11am you will find a line of tour boats anchored nearby and the beach itself gets crazy busy. I recommend a swim between 9am and 11am to avoid the crowds. 

There are often lounge chairs with umbrellas that you can use simply by paying the attendant or purchasing drinks from the bar. Otherwise just find yourself a nice coconut tree to lounge under while the kids play in the sand.

It is rated as one of the top ten beaches on TripAdvisor so you can expect a beautiful beach. But a warning for those who have experienced Pacific Ocean beaches, you probably will not rate it as one of the top ten in the world. I have heard that there are far more beautiful Californian beaches. I personally have experienced far more beautiful beaches in NZ, Australia, Tahiti and Cuba. So for you well travelled people, ignore the top ten rating. Focus, rather, on the concept of it being a beautiful Caribbean beach club type beach and by most accounts, the best beach in Quintana Roo.

Playa Lancheros

Playa Lancheros is another beach club beach with lots of restaurants and hotels occupying beachfront property. It has clear waters for snorkelling and golden sands. Many people rate the snorkelling here but most of this coast’s snorkelling has been damaged by hurricane or ignorance. Locals are changing their tours to educate tourists to not touch the reefs so that they do not do further damage.

This beach is a common stop for snorkelling tours especially around lunch time so you’ll find it is quieter in the morning or late afternoon. 

La Casa Del Tikinxik is a great place to eat which has very reasonable prices for a tourist restaurant. If you are trying to access Playa Lancheros front he street, google La Casa Del Tikinxik and cut through here to access the beach. The street is unnamed.

There is a shark that is caged directly opposite. The size of the cage is quite a sad sight but still the kids find it fascinating. Because of the conditions, we didn’t spend the 20 pesos to take a photo with it.

Playa Sol

Playa Sol is the first beach you hit when you walk towards Playa Norte. It is beautiful especially to watch the sunset over Cancun. It is a much wider stretch of sand and the water gets deeper faster here. 

We didn’t swim here because Playa Norte was too tempting with it’s shady options of coconut trees and so many pelicans to watch. However, this beach is still worth the time to stop and visit. 

Souvenir Shopping

There are loads of shops to browse and pick up some souvenirs. If you have a keen eye you can find the souvenirs that are hand made as opposed to factory made. Although these souvenirs may not traditional of the Quintana Roo area they are used in other areas. For example, the clothing with embroidered flowers are from the state of Chiapas.

Snorkelling

There is some lovely snorkelling around the island. You can visit a park like Garafon or take a boat trip to access some underwater wildlife. I recommend taking the tour company that hovers close to the ferry building. They will take you to the two best snorkelling sites close to the island: near the light house and the reef near the underwater art museum. Find out more about our snorkelling trip here.

Bird Watching and Lizard Spotting

This island has hundreds of variations of birds. Some are easily found like the pelicans of Playa Norte, some can only be seen from a distance like the frigates that fly high above water, and some require quiet and patience to see like the small yellow mangrove vireo. 

As for the lizards, the small house geckos and the big seaside iguanas are very easy to spot. There are also lizards that jump around outside near old wood.

Check out some of these birds and lizards in our Isla Mujeres wildlife section.

Early Morning or Early Evening Walks

Because the temperature gets pretty hot from about 9am, being able to get out for a walk was more comfortable near sunrise or sunset. If you are up before sunrise, the west coast’s rugged coastline offers great sunrise views. There is a nice walkway that stretches for most of the west coast. Our little ones loved running along there and looking out for any shell crabs that crossed our path. There is also some places to eat and a small art gallery across the road from this walkway.  

If you are wanting a sunset walk then the Punta Sur Sculpture Trail and Old temple ruins are a great option. You can enjoy the area and then sit and watch the sunset behind Cancun.

If you have more time not on the island then be sure to visit the lake in the middle of the island by La Gloria that has walkway. Google how to get to Calle 22 or Calle 7 and you’ll be able to spot the walkway around the perimeter of the lake. From here the kids can look for fish or tadpoles amongst the mangroves and will be able to spot quite a number of birds in the water, above the water and in the bush. Sadly there is a lot of rubbish amongst the mangroves. Although the street cleaners come every morning to clean the pavements and roads, no-one cleans the lake or mangrove area. 

Another walk which you can do anytime of day because of how well shaded it is, is the Hacienda Mundaca. The place itself is quite run down but it is free entry and worth the walk if you would like to spot a lot of iguanas. Make sure you take bug spray because there are a lot of mosquitos here. 

Other Activities

There are also other activities that you can explore on the island or nearby. Unfortunately we were not visiting during whale season but apparently if you time it right you can swim amongst some whales.

Another tourist attraction is the turtle park. Again we were not there at the right time to watch them hatch and head into the ocean. But I’ve heard they have a great breeding program for them.

There is Dolphin Discovery park where you can swim with dolphins and some people ride them. We prefer to see dolphins in the wild so we didn’t visit this park.

There is also the shark encounter which you can’t miss if you take the snorkelling tour but we questioned how ethical it is to have this shark penned like this.

I personally think these are tourist traps but if you don’t have the opportunity to see dolphins in the wild or to see turtles and sharks in better facilities then it’s a good opportunity to expose your kids to these beautiful creatures.

Our Glimpse of Isla Mujeres

Hiring Golf Carts are a popular option for day-trippers

Getting Around Isla Mujeres

Getting Around Isla Mujeres

08/12/2018

Getting to and from Isla Mujeres

Isla Mujeres is a short ferry trip from Cancun. There are a number of companies that will take you there but the quickest is Ultramar. They have three ports in the Hotel Zone and one close to the airport which is Puerto Juarez.

The ports from the Hotel Zone only begin running after 9am and finish by 9pm. However, for Puerto Juarez the ferry starts at 5am and finishes at midnight. Puerto Juarez is the port to use if you are coming directly from the airport or heading directly to the airport.

Check the timetable here https://www.ultramarferry.com/en/routes-and-departures#Cancun-Isla-Mujeres The prices are in USD. For our family of six, we have two under fives which are free and two over eleven’s which are adult prices so it worked out to about USD80 in total for return tickets.

 

Getting around the island

Walking

From the ferry if you are on a day trip then you will be walking distance to Playa Norte and many places to eat and shop.

We stayed on the island for a month and were using it as a base to catch up on some homeschooling so we knew we would not be venturing out too much. We stayed in La Gloria and ventured out only about twice a week. From this point which is the centre of the island where we were based, we could take a fifteen minute walk to a local beach for a swim or to the Caribbean shoreline for a coastal walk. However, the heat might get to you so where a wide brim hat to keep yourself cool.

To get to a mini-supermarket, playground, soccer court, laundry or pharmacy was usually less than a five minute walk. There are so many conveniently located.

Use A Taxi

Taxi rides were only fifty pesos to either end of the island. However, if you are two people you can share a taxi with other people and it would only be fifteen pesos. It’s easy to catch a taxi because they are driving around everywhere. Your best bet is to wait at an intersection of a main road and then wave one down. Even at seven in the morning when we needed to catch a flight to Chiapas there were taxis driving past.

Hiring a Vehicle

Some people like to hire a scooter or golf cart to drive themselves around the island which can cost up to USD140 depending on your negotiation skills.

Our Glimpse of Isla Mujeres

Ultramar Ferry Dock

One day family itinerary for Isla Mujeres

One day family itinerary for Isla Mujeres

08/12/2018

We stayed in Isla Mujeres for a month and explored most of the island but if I only had one day to do Isla, this would be my family itinerary. If you’re in a rush you can jump to the end for the summary itinerary.

Catch the 9am ferry

Yes! I said get the kids up early while you’re on holiday. If you have under 5’s like we do, then you’re already awake anyway. But if you have teens like we do, I apologise. But trust me! It will be well worth getting them out of bed and on that boat. This itinerary is designed for the whole family to have an awesome time on this beautiful island.

The Ultramar leaves from three locations in the Hotel Zone in Cancun as well as Puerto Muarez. These ferries run til late. Check out prices and timetables here. https://www.ultramarferry.com/en/routes-and-departures

Cool off at Playa Norte

Playa Norte is the most beautiful beach on the island. It is short fifteen minute walk from the ferry. Simply turn left when you get out of the ferry building, walk to the end of the road, don’t stop there because this is not the beach. Turn right and then left. That’s Playa Norte.

By this time you would all be hot from walking in the heat so you can cool off in the crystal clear waters or play on the sand under the shade of a coconut tree. At this time of the morning the beach is quieter so your photos won’t have that many tour boats or people in it. And you will want to take photos. Pelicans perch nearby and fly so close to you often landing near where you’re swimming. And if you bring a GoPro you’ll be able to take photos of schools of fish that swim in knee deep water.

Read more about this beach here.

Head to Aroma Isla for brunch

By 11am the family would’ve worked up an appetite. Head to Aroma Isla for a nutritious selection of smoothies and meals, while the kids can have Nutella pancakes.

You’ll find this place on the pedestrian street where all the souvenir shops and restaurants are. It runs parallel to the water front road where the ferry building is. It’s about a ten minute walk from Playa Norte.

Take a Snorkeling trip

From Aroma Isla head back towards the ferry building and you’ll see a bunch of guys in white t-shirts selling snorkeling trips for about USD50 per person. You can haggle that price a bit but this will take you to the best snorkeling on the island. Don’t worry if you can’t swim because it’s compulsory to wear a life jacket and their first stop is only a metre or so deep.

If your kids can swim then make sure you go to the under water art museum. This crew will take you to some greet snorkeling in water that is about 9metres deep that is very close to the under water art.

Afterwards you’ll get to experience a Mexican food hall in true island style. Read more about this snorkeling trip here.

You’ll find this place on the pedestrian street where all the souvenir shops and restaurants are. It runs parallel to the water front road where the ferry building is. It’s about a ten minute walk from Playa Norte.

Watch the Sunset from Punta Sur

After having a meal, don’t get back on the boat. Have your captain arrange a taxi for you all to go to Punta Sur. This will be about 50pesos.
Punta Sur is the southern most point of the Isla and has a beautiful sculpture trail as well as historic ruins. It’s not much to enter and has a walkway down to the base of the cliff. From here you can also watch the sun setting over Cancun.

Read more about this place here.

Dinner in town

By now it will be dusk and there will be no taxis waiting here but walk up the road to the main drag and taxis pass by frequently. Hail one down to head back to town. It should be maximum 100pesos.

Grab a bite to eat before catching your ferry back to the mainland.

Here’s the summary

  • Catch the 9am Ultramar from the Hotel Zone to Isla Mujeres
  • Short walk to Playa Norte for a swim and photos of pelicans
  • Brunch at Aroma Isla
  • Snorkeling trip using the company next to the ferry building
  • Don’t catch the boat back after eating, instead get a taxi to Punta Sur
  • Walk around the sculpture trail and watch the sunset
  • Head back to town for dinner
  • Catch the ferry back to Cancun

Hope you find this useful and let me know if you do use this itinerary

Our Glimpse of Isla Mujeres

playa-norte

Isla Mujeres

Isla Mujeres

Isla Mujeres is a tiny island off the coast of Cancun, Mexico where we spent the first long term stay of our family sabbatical. 

Our Glimpse of Isla Mujeres

Take Your Family To Mexico

Mexico often gets bad media attention and many people are hesitant to visit there, let alone take their kids there. And I’ll be honest, we were scared of those stories about your children being kidnapped. But after spending three months there, if you’re wondering if you should take the family to Mexico, we would say “Take your family to Mexico!”

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Snorkelling trip

The Best Way to Snorkel Isla Mujeres

The Best Way to Snorkel Isla Mujeres

01/12/2018

Booking With The Right People

As we travel through countries that have impoverished areas it is important to ensure you are supporting local communities by spending your money with local businesses. Too often we book our accomodation, our tours and our transport online with foreign companies where money is syphoned away from the very culture you might have hoped to support.

Because of this I recommend booking with a company on Isla Mujeres (who’s name I don’t even know) but I can give you a rough location. As you exit the ferry building and turn left towards Playa Norte, you will come across a bunch of guys hovering around trying to sell you snorkelling tours. They will be holding a laminated paper showing different spots they will visit. The cost at the time of writing is USD50 but can be negotiated based on what you want to see and how many in your group. 

Each person there earns money based on being able to fill their boat. This is important to note because they will only leave if their boat is full. Therefore you should aim to book with someone who already has a group of people waiting to go. This technique is common in Mexico. Even in the boat tours of Canon del Sumidera a boat will not leave until it is full. This means if you show up too late in the day you will not be able to go.

If you are travelling with elderly or small children be sure to check which boat they are using. Although all the boats carry a maximum of twelve people the floor is a little different in some of them which could make it awkward to get in and out, or stabilise in the boat. Important to note for those with young babies, we saw a family of twelve take a little pram onto their boat, so this could be an option for you. 

 

What to Expect About How They Operate

Because you are booking with a locally operated group, don’t expect safety waivers or proper procedures. Having said that these are well experienced guys who will look after you very well and ensure your safety. You will have an English and Spanish speaking tour guide who will take you on the snorkelling trips and the captain of the boat will speak enough English for a basic conversation. 

Because most people who book this snorkelling trip do not know how to swim, everyone must wear a life jacket. You will be given one before the boat undocks. A warning, they do not have life jackets for under six year olds. There is usually local marine police that are there to enforce this rule. This includes wearing one while snorkelling. Because it is difficult to wear one while snorkelling, your guide will show you how to tie it around your waist.

The snorkelling equipment is not the best quality but it does the job. When you first hop into the water give it a salt water rinse before putting on the mask and snorkel. They do provide flippers which is great for when you snorkel the underwater art museum area since it’s up to 9m deep. Each snorkelling trip is designed so that you move with the current and the tour guide will ensure you all stay together. The boat drops you at one point then picks you up at the other end.

It is a small boat that takes only twelve people. My concern before booking was that the boat would be too small for my little two and they would be driving me nuts before an hour was up. But actually this boat was perfect for them. The boat itself was small enough to be bumpy on the water when it was in high speed which kept them excited about being on a boat. It was also small enough that it would rock when heavy people got on or off the boat which they loved because they would try to stand and balance without falling to one side or the other. Plus when everyone was snorkelling it was big enough to run up and down the boat.

What Your Trip Will Actually Look Like

When they are selling you the trip they will tell you all sorts of spots they will visit but the “sell in” they give you on the street is not quite accurate. So to prevent any disappointment here’s what your trip will actually look like.

Summary

In summary, here is the whole itinerary. There are three snorkelling spots, the Lighthouse known as El Farita, the Manchones Reef and the Underwater Museum of Art (MUSA). On the way to Manchones Reef you will be able to spot the Turtle Farm and they will stop outside the Dolphin Discovery for a minute. Lunch is provided at the end of the snorkelling trip. The cheapest trip is the doing the Lighthouse snorkelling and having lunch. I recommend doing the full package if you know how to swim.

Hubby and I decided we would take turns snorkelling. He snorkelled the Lighthouse and I snorkelled the Manchones Reef. Our older two snorkelled at all three spots and our younger two happily waited and played on the boat.

El Farita 

The first spot you visit is the Lighthouse Reef which is five minutes off shore. All the boats anchor in a sheltered shallow bay that is waist deep. For those who are not comfortable snorkelling they can hang around in this area. There are plenty of fish to see here. You are reminded not to touch the reef. Unlike the reefs of New Zealand’s cooler waters, coral reef is very delicate and takes hundreds of years to recover from someone kicking it with a flipper accidentally. The coral around here is quite damaged from the hurricanes and tourism. 

All those who want to see more will join the tour guide and snorkel from this area to the lighthouse which is a distance of about 100m. The reef itself is very shallow, maximum two metres in depth. You will see a wide variety of fish including young barracuda. As with anyone, as long as you don’t antagonise the barracuda they will not harm you. It’s about a 100m easy swim.

Dolphin Stop

Next we head up the coast and pass the turtle farm, fortunately we didn’t stop here even though we were told we would. It was simply pointed out to us. The boat passes the Dolphin Discovery and stops for a minute here so we could see the dolphins. Our older two were not interested in seeing this and only our 4yo was interested in spotting dolphins. It was pretty heart breaking to see. It looks like a huge enclosure for the dolphins until you realise there are lots and lots of dolphins caged in a very shallow area. The worst part is people are allowed to ride the dolphins and you can pay to ride two dolphins at once. We met an Israeli couple on our boat who also did not want to see this attraction because of how unethical the practice is.

We carried on to Playa Tiburon to drop off anyone who only paid for the Lighthouse snorkelling. We would rejoin them later for lunch.

Manchones Reef

We carried on to Manchones Reef which is between five to nine metres deep. Interestingly a Columbian couple came on this snorkelling part of the trip and they couldn’t swim but knew how to float. They relied on the life jackets to snorkel. In this spot we saw a wide variety of bigger fish and bigger schools of them. Because the life jackets were so restrictive and our guide could see that my kids and I could swim, he let us take our life jackets off so we could free dive down a little. He dove down about nine meters to point out a big puffer fish.

MUSA

The third stop was the underwater museum. These structures hadn’t yet developed much sea life but the statues were still interesting. They saw a car and frogs and people.

Lunch

The tour ended with lunch at Playa Tiburon in a big food hall. Everyone from your boat sits at one table and your tour guide serves you a plate of food that includes salad, rice, plain spaghetti and Tikin Xic style fish plus fresh calientias. This experience alone was worth choosing this company because it allowed me to see the huge variety of different ethnicities within Mexico. Most of the tourists were Mexican and there were so many different faces.

Playa Tiburon

This small beach has some souvenir shops and a penned shark that you can take a photo with. We didn’t go see the shark although the kids would’ve enjoyed it. 

Heading Home

From here if you live on this side of the island you can catch a taxi back to where you are staying or head back on the boat to Playa Sol where you departed from.

 

Summary

Find the snorkelling company that is between the ferry building and Playa Sol, you’ll be supporting a local company.

They will take you to three different snorkelling spots and then for lunch.

The cost is maximum USD50 but can be negotiated depending on how many in your group and what activities you would like to see

Our Glimpse of Isla Mujeres

Infinity Pool

Garrafon Reef Park, Isla Mujeres

Garrafon Reef Park, Isla Mujeres

01/12/2018

Garrafon Reef Park is located near Punte Sur the most eastern part of Mexico. It is by a reef which offers some snorkelling and it features an infinity pool, buffet restaurants, kayaking, a zip line, a mayan steam house plus use of a locker and towel. For an all day outing for the family, this is a great way to relax. 

There is not much of a difference between the Royal Garrafon and the Royal Garrafon VIP except for a VIP buffet restaurant and the price difference is minimal so we opted for the VIP version. We did not want to do the Dolphin options because they felt unethical. Our only regret is that we arrived here at 12pm instead of when it opened. It really was a great place for our whole family to relax and have fun.

Infinity Pool

We probably spent way too much time in this pool given all the facilities available to us but we loved hanging out here. There was a great toddler pool that our little two enjoyed and little caves behind a waterfall which were fun to play around.

Mainly we enjoyed cooling off in one of the two pools on either side of the toddler pool and looking out at the endless ocean horizon. 

On a side note, children four years old and under must wear a life jacket in the pool. Make sure you get one that can be tied through their legs otherwise it will be annoying for them to play in the water.

Snorkeling

Don’t expect much in the way of snorkelling, there isn’t much to see if you have snorkelled quite a bit elsewhere. But if you love snorkelling as much as our family does then you will love the feeling of getting in the water and exploring what’s happening under the sea. 

Interestingly, it is compulsory to wear a life jacket here because many of the tourists do not know how to swim. It made the snorkelling a little bit uncomfortable because the jacket kept getting in the way but we were not provided with flippers so it did help to keep us buoyant when we wanted to adjust our mask.

Flying Fox

This is a three tier zip line. The view from each is gorgeous blue ocean against lush green land. Taking the zip line was worth the experience just for the views. And I couldn’t help myself, the photos were so good we purchased them from the photographer.

Other Features

This place had kayaks, a lounge area, a mayan steam house, and two buffet restaurants as well as a burger bar by the pool. We didn’t do any kayaking or spend any time in the steam house. One of the lounge areas down by the snorkelling spot was handy to put our 2yo to sleep while the older two went for a snorkel. We only used one of the buffet restaurants. It had a great selection of fruits and meats. Our older two preferred the burgers from the bar down by the pool. 

As an added bonus there are plenty of iguanas here. Sometimes we only saw them in the last minute. They are harmless but look intimidating when they are munching on leaves. The kids will love the opportunity to get so close to these big lizards.

Our Glimpse of Isla Mujeres

Caribbean coast of the island

Challenges at Our First Long Term Stay

Challenges at Our First Long Term Stay

16/11/2018

My Space Issues

 It wasn’t about the dog poo you have to watch out for as you walk the streets or the language barrier or the heat of the intense burning sun that made me want to get out of this place as soon as possible. In fact two days in I started planing our exit out -lol! 

Mexico does have beautiful tropical beaches and it has lovely people and Isla Mujeres is a typical island community – sweet people and small town life. But there were some things that tested my tolerance threshold in those first few days 😉

It started when we arrived and found ourselves in a cosy little home on the island. On the map this place seemed to be close to everything. The ocean, a dairy, a pharmacy and most importantly a bakery – which I’m proud to say I still haven’t visited.

For those of you that have heard my moaning you know that one of my biggest accomodation issues in Auckland was having a three bedroom home with four children. Finding quiet while being in earshot of babies that wake up regularly in the night;,or allowing space for toys and mess that’s out of the main living spaces (I could go on) had its moments.

But the place we find ourselves in on Isla Mujeres is a two bedroom with a fold out couch. When booking the pictures looked much more spacious than it actually is.

In this place we have one double bed in each bedroom with very little space to spare around each bed. Plus we have a pull out couch that acts as a double bed at night. When we pull out the double bed it fills up the whole lounge room. We have to climb over the bed to get to the dining table. This bed reaches the kitchen. The mattress on it has springs with very little foam padding. This means that when lying on it I feel the springs on the bony parts.

I know this sounds like I’m whining but the kitchen and bathroom are also tiny. It feels like we’re in a campervan except this time I wasn’t mentally prepared for it.

When I thought about it, this place would work for a weekend or even a week. But we have booked one month here which I thought was a little too long for the type of living space that it is. There is no privacy in the confinement of this Airbnb, except when everyone is sleeping or everyone is noisy – so private calls are out.

Looking at the Bright Side

The older two have not complained once about the confined quarters. The younger two though have needed more stimulation than what the dimensions of this place allows. It doesn’t have an outdoor area that I could let them play in. Thankfully there is a wonderful playground nearby and a covered soccer court (not field). That is definitely helping with my cabin fever.

As I walked around the neighbourhood I began to realise that we were living in a big place. Some of the folk in this area have one room, a kitchen and a bathroom for their family.

I’ve adjusted to its charm now and we have learnt to cook, study, work, play and clean by putting these away immediately and keeping activity indoors to a minimum while getting outside whenever its cool.

It has helped us to appreciate what we had and how spacious that was. It also helped to define our minimum requirements for comfortable living when we plan our one month stays.

This place has also made me grateful that I have the option for bigger and more luxurious. 

We have the ocean in walking distance for some Caribbean Sea breeze. 

We have an estuary across the road for a hit of nature. We have a playground super close by for the young ones. 

We have great wifi. And a few days ago we got hot water showers. Plus there’s still La Pañería (the bakery) to go explore. Life is good:)

Our Glimpse of Isla Mujeres

Frigate flying high - these birds with large wing spans (some upto 3 metres) cannot walk or swim. They are mostly found soaring really high above the island or perched on a tree in the evenings.

Wildlife in Isla Mujeres

Wildlife in Isla Mujeres

11/11/2018

I’ve often found knowing less about a place before arriving creates lots of wonderful surprises. In Isla Mujeres, one of these surprises is the wildlife.

Iguanas

The iguana lizard flourishes on this island and can be spotted regularly in spite of urbanisation. We visited Hacienda Mundaca and found it was overrun with iguana. And when we went to Garafon there were lots about to keep the kids engaged and partially freaked out when they were eating.

House Lizards

As in most hot climates, their tends to be one or two house geckos living inside your place. We had one in the kitchen, one in the lounge and sometimes one in one of the bedrooms. Plus there were at least three outside the front door. Our little ones loved spotting them if they came out of hiding. They would sometimes fan out their neck or bob their head up and down and every so often would call out to let us know they were there.

Pelicans

On Playa Nota the pelican bird is a common feature to the beach where you can snap photos of the birds diving into the water or perched on a breaker.

Frigates

These amazing birds cannot swim or walk. They fly high above the lake or ocean and dive down grabbing fish with their strong legs. They spend most of their time flying around but when they perch, they prefer the nearby mangrove trees. Because we were next door to the lake we saw many frigates flying here in the morning.

Other animals we’ve spotted

We were lucky enough to see one of the smallest birds on the island. To the unknowing eye it looks like a butterfly fluttering speedily by. Unfortunately, we didn’t capture a photo of it. There were also plenty of other beautiful birds. On a couple of walks we spotted a shell crab crossing the footpath.

Our Glimpse of Wildlife Around The World

Playground we mostly visited at night

Our Playtime at Isla Mujeres

Our Playtime at Isla Mujeres

11/11/2018

The Playgrounds

Islas Mujeres has great playgrounds and quite modern. 

Where we stayed near La Gloria was a new facility that had an outdoor stage, two soccer courts and a playground. We enjoyed going here when it was cool enough so that we could stretch our legs and play. The playground we visited almost daily had slides and see-saws and two pirate ships. It had slides for two days but the quality of materials being used on the playgrounds means that they do not last long. 

One of the great things about this area was that cleaners were in every morning cleaning up rubbish. That was important because a lot of people used the playground in the evenings and late at night so the bins would get full and then people would start dumping rubbish anywhere, in spite of all the “No tirar busar” signs.

There was one playground that was locked until after school hours and then it stayed open til well after 9pm. The locked one had toilets and sold snacks. We had to sign in every time we visited, which was often because it was opposite the laundromat I used.

The Soccer Courts

One of the outdoor soccer courts was covered which was great when it rained, or more importantly in the heat of the day, for us to play or exercise (although we probably could’ve done more of the exercise part 😉

On Thursday nights there was a soccer league in the uncovered soccer court which was a bit like indoor soccer rules because they were allowed to kick the ball off the side walls.

After school there were often kids hanging out here or playing soccer, it was definitely the most common sport we saw on the island.

Hometime Play

Because we spent a month on Isla we had a lot of downtime at home while the older two were studying. Being in such a tiny place we didn’t have much space to spread out so we had to be creative about how we entertained our little two. We also had the problem of using up a lot of plastic water bottles and having no recycling on the island. So most or our home play involved construction with blocks and designing vehicles with water bottles. I also called on my Playcentre forum to help with ideas. Heres what we came up with.

Waterfalls down the stairs where each bottle catches water from the step above. My daughter in her brilliance put a lid on the bottom bottle (not something I usually do when I have the hose constantly running) so the young ones learnt to take the bottle from the bottom step and carry it to the top to refill the waterfall. This saved me having to go back and forth from the kitchen tap for refills.

We tried drumming on the bottles, sometimes with water in bottles and mostly without. It was pretty noisey so we didn’t encourage this one much 😉

We made buckets out of the base of the bottles and used them in the shower. They often got into the shampoo bottle to make bubbles.

They requested lots of vehicles including submarines, air craft carriers, car ferries, planes and trucks. They also used my daughter’s creations as a light house and an air traffic control tower.

Outdoor excursions

Although we did beach trips, they were not frequent because we enjoyed our at home time. To keep ourselves moving about after being stuck in a tiny home, we would spend a morning or evening walking around the neighbourhood. We were close to the laguna (lake) which was shady from the mangrove trees and we could bird or lizard watch. Check out our wildlife post for more images. 

We also would do coastal walks and found a tiny nook of a beach on the east coast facing the Caribbean Sea where we could play on the sand with shells and rocks while having the whole beach totally to ourselves. The entrance is somewhere close to Isla Contoy and Calle Lizeta on the waterfront. I had so much time I checked out each little pathway to find a way down to the water.

Having said that, any of those pathways will take you to a rock where you can sit and enjoy the sunrise, at least until the little one gets restless and you have to start walking again 🙂

Our Glimpse of Playtime Around The World

Helicopter

Vehicles in Isla Mujeres

Vehicles in Isla Mujeres

11/11/2018

Rescue Vehicles

Being a small island community there was not much need for rescue vehicles but we still managed to find some. Two blocks from where we were staying was a police station so we saw Policia vehicles every time we went to the supermarket.

Delivery Vehicles

We were staying next door to a dairy (convenience store) and every day there were delivery trucks parked outside our place. Some of the drivers used to blast Mexican music which is how we knew they were there. The delivery trucks were relatively small on Isla Mujeres. There were many three wheeler bicycles and motorbikes that would go around the neighbourhood selling stuff. They would blow a horn or call out to let people know they were nearby.

Taxis & Other Vehicles

Because there are no buses on the island we caught taxis to places that were far away. All the taxis are red and you can hail them as they drive past. Lots of people would share taxis if they were going in the same direction. We couldn’t because there is six of us.

The rubbish trucks came every day and were much smaller than what you would see in a big city.

The golf carts were common for getting around but some people hired cool looking quad carts.

Boats and Ferries

The best way to the island is by ferry. There were many ferries that ran every day from the mainland to Isla Mujeres including car ferries. There were also lots of boats that tourists would take to check out beaches or snorkelling areas. We took a little 12 person boat to go snorkelling along the west coast of the island. There was Navy base on the island so often Naval ships were parked close to the ferry building in the Navy docks.

Helicopter

Isla Mujeres is so small it doesn’t have an airport and the air traffic control tower for the runway is only two stories high. We didn’t see any planes on the runway whenever we drove past. But! On our last morning there we spotted this helicopter with two soldiers sleeping underneath.

Our Glimpse of Vehicles Around The World