Sea Turtle Mural, Isla Mujeres

As a lot of our readers know, from 2001 to 2004 we traveled coastal Mexico and Central America aboard our 42-foot sailboat. We visited Banderas Bay and Puerto Vallarta twice, and we have many wonderful memories of both visits. The first time we visited Banderas Bay in 2001, we dropped anchor in a beautiful bay just off the sleepy little fishing town of La Cruz de Huanacaxtle, just a few miles up the coast from Puerto Vallarta. The dinghy landing beach was just off Ana Banana’s, the quintessential beach bar/hangout joint. We whiled away many fun hours there with our fellow cruisers, enjoying margaritas and mellow music.

In 2009 we decided to take a vacation back to Puerto Vallarta and Banderas Bay. In eight years, PV had lost a lot of its exotic charm and had transformed into a smoggy, traffic-clogged city dealing with too many people and other growing pains. But La Cruz was the real heartbreaker. The quaint, undiscovered bay was in throes of development. A huge, modern new marina had taken over most of the anchorage, and Ana Banana’s had lost its waterfront – and dinghy beach – to a giant condominium project. Ah, progress.

The dinghy landing in 2001 with Ana Banana’s in the background
What we saw in 2009. Ana Banana’s was still there but the view and the beach were completely blocked by a huge condo project. The bar put up this photo showing the lost view out to the anchorage.

Fast-forward to early this year. I was approaching burnout with my work and in desperate need of a beach fix, and we were both craving REAL Mexican food. Almost in unison, two words popped into our heads: Isla Mujeres!

In 2004, we’d spent an idyllic two weeks on this small island just off the Mexican Yucatan, a 20-minute ferry ride from Cancun, waiting for weather to make the crossing to Key West, Florida, in our boat. It felt risky going back — would we have the same experience as our 2009 trip to Puerto Vallarta? Would the charm be gone, and would the place be spoiled by too many tourists and runaway growth?

Isla Mujeres waterfront, 2004.
Essentially the same spot, 2017. Is it my imagination, or are a couple of the same pangas still there?

The news is good. There has been some growth and development, including a few multi-story beach hotels that weren’t there before (we stayed in one, the Ixchel Beach Hotel, which we highly recommend), but Isla Mujeres still has its charm, even after being hit by a major hurricane a few years ago. The sand is just as soft and white, the Mexican food is just as divine (especially in the mercado and the cheap little street joints), and the margaritas are potent as ever. The marina is larger and more modern but the anchorage is essentially the same, filled with cruising sailboats. A two-hour flight from Panama City, Isla is one place we know we’ll return to, again and again.

Punta Sur, Isla Mujeres, in 2004
Punta Sur in 2017

Here are a few more snaps from our May trip to Isla Mujeres.

Looking out toward the anchorage
More colorful pangas
Our favorite streetside taqueria – prices in pesos, of course!
So many colorful murals
Sidewalk altar
In the municipal cemetery
Another colorful grave
Turtle sanctuary
They were, too!
Our balcony view, Ixchel Beach Hotel
You’re welcome!
True dat
Sunset on the beach

5 Comments

  1. So happy your Isla Mujeres remains unspoiled. It’s been about 3 decades since I was there and your pictures look like much has changed (for the good) since then. 😊 Love your blog. Keep writing!

  2. Nice post. So sad about the picture in front of Ana’s….Ah well

  3. I am always disappointed when I return to a once idyllic spot in the world. But, progress and development is not to be stopped. I am glad to hear your little peaceful place wasn’t too overdeveloped.

  4. Lovely photos! And I’m so glad that your return to a favorite vacation retreat proved to be as lovely as you remembered even with the ongoing development. I remember our first trip to Playa del Carmen in the mid-nineties when it was just a small and charming fishing village where you could catch the ferry to Cozumel. We used the city as our launching point for our full-time travels in 2012 and were so disappointed that it had lost all of its quaintness to become just a giant tourist trap. Probably, more often than not, going back can be disappointing. And there are so many more reasons to keep going forward, right? Anita

  5. I’ve always heard great things about Isla Mujeres. So happy to see it is still quaint and a good destination. Thanks Susan!

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