Escape Stress at Mexico’s Isla Mujeres

In this year of massive rallies and protests, daily calls to your congressional representatives and feeling tethered to your Twitter feed or cable news, there’s got to be a way to recharge.

For women who want to reconnect to an ancient, calmer energy, let us throw this name in the ring: Isla Mujeres, aka the “Island of Women.” Located in the Caribbean Sea about 8 miles off the coast of Cancun, this wisp of an island {just 5 miles long and 0.3 miles wide) offers an easy-going ambience.

With its powdery beaches and undulating palms, Isla Mujeres feels far away from the tequila-fueled party scene on the Mexican mainland — and very distant from the non-stop news cycle at home. A girlfriends’ getaway on the beach is some­thing that deserves a bipartisan endorsement, right?

On Punta Sur, at the south­ernmost tip of the island, there’s a temple ruin devoted to the Mayan goddess Ixchel. “Ixchel was the goddess of the moon, and she was associated with healing and fertility,” says Gus­tavo Rodriguez Orozco, director of tourism for Isla Mujeres. “For centuries, Mayan women came to this island to seek her help.” Local people still tend to believe that Ixchel will help them resolve fertility issues, he adds.

the lighthouse punta sur

The lighthouse at Punta Sur

Of course, men are welcome. Isla Mujeres promotes itself as a romantic destination, the perfect locale for idyllic weddings on a beach lit by Tiki torches. But you won’t feel like the odd woman out if you don’t come with a guy on your arm. And some say there’s a definite feminine vibe in the salt-tinged air.

“You can sense a different energy here (among women),” says Marcia Collado, a yoga instructor at the Zoetiy Villa Rolandi Isla Mujeres Cancun resort. “Since the island is sacred to the Mayan moon goddess, I think (its) history empowers us, allowing us to keep in touch with our femininity.”

Zoetry Villa Rolandi

Outdoor poolside at Zoetry Villa Rolandi

To help guests get in touch with their inner goddesses, the resort’s spa offers a Mayan massage that incorporates Mayan healing practices, and they use Mayan herbs and mineral salts in a body treatment called Villa Rolandi’s Secret.

Whether it’s mystical Mayan power or simply the power of suggestion, few would deny that this sleepy island has restorative qualities, especially if you slow down to its leisurely rhythms.

Let the unwinding begin as you ride the ferry from Cancun across the stunningly aqua waters of the Bahia de Mujeres. There’s no real rush to get anywhere once you arrive; in fact, most guests get around via golf cart at slow-motion pace.

You’ll likely be tempted by Playa Norte, considered to be one of the best beaches in Mexico. It’s also easy to spend hours (and days) swimming and snorkeling in the calm waters of the western side of the island, where the coral reef sits offshore. Add some art to your undersea journey with a visit to the MUSA Underwater Sculpture Museum, a dreamlike installation of 500-plus permanent life-size sculptures, such as Benidiciones, designed to provide habitat for marine life.

musa underwater museum fingers

MUSA Underwater Museum

If you like your indolence spiked with adven­ture, swim with whale sharks! Few things are as empowering — and humbling — as sharing the sea with a creature that can measure up to 65 feet long and weigh more than 12 tons. The sharks arrive in these waters in July and August to feed and mate. To swim with whale sharks, you need to go out with an outfitter (try Solo Buceo, which offers two-hour, early-morning trips from mid-May to mid-September). It’s OK to be a beginner, but it’s not OK to touch the whale sharks. Snorkeling alongside these polka-dotted giants is truly exhilarating. The largest congrega­tion of whale sharks in the world happens off the coast of Cancun, scientists say.

And we can all appreciate how powerful a large gathering can be.

Where to Eat


mango cafe isla mujeres
Colorful, lively Mango Cafe draws a mix of locals and tourists for dishes like coconut French toast, fish tacos and stuffed poblano peppers. If it’s not totally authentic Mexican, it sure is playful and fun. And it wouldn’t be vacation if someone in your party didn’t order a mango mi­mosa. Open for breakfast, lunch, and dinner.

Every island should have at least one place where you can eat lovely food and watch a sherbet-hued sunset over the water. On Isla Mujeres, this place fills the bill. Think lobster quesadillas, ceviche, grilled shrimp and paella — tasty, sure, but you’ll remember the setting much longer.

Born in Belgium, chef Lolo Lorena serves a multi-course gourmet meal at communal tables in a courtyard setting. It’s a bit like being a dinner guest at a private party with a wonderful hostess. Her somewhat pricey 5- to 10-course meals are a fusion of flavors, based on what’s available and what Lolo is inspired to cook, but count on a memorable evening.