Plan A More Laid-Back Mexican Beach Vacation At This Lesser-Known Island

From Cancun to Mexico City to Puerto Vallarta, Mexico has many well-known holiday destinations that offer plenty to do. But if you're looking for something a little more mellow for your next beach vacation, Isla Mujeres is a great choice to unplug and unwind. Despite flying relatively under the radar, Travel + Leisure named this tiny island one of the best in Mexico and Central and South America. Located just across the Bahía de Mujeres (Bay of Women) and a short 20-minute ferry ride from Cancun, the atmospheres of the two towns vary vastly. Whereas Cancun is popular with tourists and the party crowd, the lesser-known Isla Mujeres exudes a more laid-back, local feel.

As for the best time to visit, November and December are ideal as it's after hurricane season (September and October) and before the high season when prices typically rise. While the odds of a hurricane hitting the island are low, it's not zero. So make sure you check the weather reports before visiting and get travel insurance, just in case.

But just because Isla Mujeres is a relaxed tropical oasis doesn't mean there's a shortage of things to fill your days with. From beaches to natural parks to temples, plan your next getaway on this small and serene island.

What to do

With a variety of beach clubs to choose from, every day can be a relaxing beach day when you visit Isla Mujeres. Much raved about by guests, Green Demon Beach Club is one of the most popular haunts on the island (reservations are recommended). If you prefer to see where the day takes you, Mayan Beach Club has plenty of lounge chairs, so reservations are not typically necessary. According to TripAdvisors' Travelers' Choice, the island's main beach, Playa Norte, is one of the best beaches in the world. The turquoise water is shallow, warm, and calm enough for swimming.

For a breathtaking view of the island from above, zip-lining over the Caribbean Sea is a must. On Isla Mujeres, underwater is as much of a destination as above. Available year-round, scuba diving is among the popular activities to partake in. And for good reason, as the second longest coral reef system in the world can be found here. Animal lovers can also spot whale sharks, fish, and mantas. One of the coolest things that you can find at Isla Mujeres is an underwater art museum (MUSA). One of the largest underwater art attractions in the world, you'll find over 500 impressive sculptures under the sea.

Where to stay

From hostels to boutique hotels to luxury resorts, there's something for everyone on the island. Isla Mujeres is divided into three distinct areas. The best area to stay in depends on what you prefer. If you want more privacy or plan to stay at your resort for most of the time, opt for something on the southern tip of the island. Also located here is Punta Sur Park, which boasts of ancient Mayan ruins, hiking trails, local wildlife, and beautiful views. Cars are less common on the island so if you want to explore beyond where you're staying, golf carts are a popular mode of transportation.

Further up the island, in the middle, is mostly residential but there are plenty of rentals available for visitors. This area is a great option if you want to live like the locals. The northern tip is where you'll find most of the shops, restaurants, and beaches so if you want to be within a short stroll to these places, stay in the downtown area (Centro). If you venture downtown, don't miss out on local delicacies like the regional dish of TikinXic, a whole, white-fleshed fish seasoned with spices and grilled to perfection. Regardless of how you spend your time on this laid-back island, you'll leave Isla Mujeres rested and rejuvenated.