travel

Family Guide to Isla Mujeres (and Nearby Yucatan): Part 1

July 11, 2016
large family guide

Way back in May 2015, our little family traveled to Mexico’s Yucatan Peninsula. Only, having 4 kids, I suppose we are not so little of a family anymore. (I’m not sure we count as a large family, but maybe we do when it comes to international travel?! :))

I love finding resources from other families traveling with kids, so I thought I’d put this out there to 1) share a few pics and 2) create a resource for fellow traveling families. At the time of our trip, we traveled with a 7-year-old, a 5-year-old, a 2-year-old, and a 6-month-old. Are we crazy? Yes!

Preparing for the Trip

1.PackingandTravel

Although our flight was into Cancun, I did not want to be a part of the heavy tourist scene, so we settled for some more authentic locations (though, still quite touristy compared to our trip to Ecuador.)

We had originally planned for this trip to be 3-4 weeks long, planning to travel to about 5 areas around the Yucatan Peninsula. We soon realized that we need to be realistic and we also wanted to come back refreshed and not burned out. We also needed my husband to be able to take time off, rather than work during the travel–something he hasn’t done for years. So, we shortened our trip and canceled our reservations for Merida and Progreso and decided to focus on Isla Mujeres and Playa Paraiso, a beach town about 30 minutes south of Cancun.

One of the most helpful resources I used for planning was the Travel with Kids video of their family’s travel to the Yucatan Peninsula. We learned a lot from watching this video, and my kids also enjoyed looking forward to our upcoming experience. (Several other Travel with Kids episodes are still free with Amazon Prime, here.)

Packing

We’re the crazy ones who thought we should travel to Ecuador for 5 weeks with a family of 5 with only 2 carryons. We did, and even lived to tell about it.

Well, we’ve since realized we could take a little more, but we still prefer to travel as quasi-minimalists! (I mean we aren’t minimalists when it comes to having kids, clearly. ;)) This time we packed for a family of 6, and took 2 suitcases (plus purse/backback) and our kids each had a backpack with an extra pair of clothes, snacks, and a toy. We left the stroller and carseats behind, and our Boba Baby carrier served us well again with a baby in tow.

Yet, we still managed to overpack. Mostly, because it was hard for me to really understand just how hot and humid it would be, and thus, the clothes I thought we’d use for a beach photo shoot or nice clothes for an outing into town simply never got used. In the future, we’ll try to stick with just 1 large suitcase.

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My packing style:

  • We took 2 suitcases, and everyone with a plane ticket had a carryon. (In retrospect, we could have taken just 1 suitcase)
  • Regardless of how long we are going somewhere, I take just one week’s worth of clothing, assuming we stay in one climate zone.
    • We all had 1 travel outfit, 1 “dirty” outfit, 1 swimsuit, 3-4 play and regular clothes, and 1 photo outfit (not used-it was too hot!)
    • We use cloth diapers only, and I took around 18 diapers.
  • I pack using eBags packing cubes.
    • Each person gets 1 cube (when my girls were smaller, they shared)
    • Cloth diapers go in their own cube, too
    • Ikea also has the UPPTÄCKA packing set for just $9.99. I used these smaller packing cubes to pack my 3yo son and 7mo daughter’s clothes together.
  • When traveling just about anywhere, we usually take our own oatmeal and applesauce fruit packs. That way we have a staple for breakfast and a few snacks that will hold us over until we can go grocery shopping.

Getting There

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If you know me, you are probably guessing that I had some sort of deal for this trip! Indeed. 🙂 Using our points from our Southwest Credit cards (thanks, business expenses and awesome point system!), we earned enough for our entire family to fly for free (minus the hefty Mexican taxes) from Atlanta to Cancun.

We live about 3 hours away from Atlanta, and our flight left at 11a.m. So we just drove from our home to Atlanta…very. early. in the morning.

Believe it or not, our drive from South Carolina and Atlanta was the trickiest part! Our sweet middle daughter tends to get carsick, and that proved to be the case on this trip. Our baby hates carseats, and this was also the case! 🙂 I hate driving in standstill traffic and this was also the case, as we didn’t quite miss morning rush hour traffic.

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Thanks to a tip from my sister (who lives in the Atlanta area and works for Delta), I used a Living Social deal bucks + voucher to score some free parking at Peachy Airport Parking.  We were only gone for 10 days, so this was a fairly simple, inexpensive operation. Peachy Airport parking offers a free shuttle drop-off, bathrooms, and water. SO much easier than parking at the airport. We chose the indoor parking, and since we left on a hot day and returned on a rainy evening, we were glad we went that route.

We had an minor “adventure” with Southwest’s ticketing counter and Kyrie’s seat assignment (our baby, 6 months at the time, and this was her first international flight). We ended up having to run hard and fast to get to the gate on time, but after that settled in for a lovely flight.

Before the trip, I arranged transportation from the airport to the ferry station and all our other main destinations with Happy Shuttle Cancun, and it was simple to do online. We arrived on time, found them waiting for us outside, and were quite pleased with the service overall.

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Our first destination was Isla Mujeres via ferry. The taxi took us from the airport to the ferry dock. (We used the UltraMar ferry from Puerto Juarez.)

Accommodations

Isla Mujeres

6.insideapartment I ended up booking our stay at Isla Mujeres through VRBO.com, Although I originally booked the airline tickets as a Valentine’s gift to surprise my husband, we went through a fairly consuming life-crisis shortly thereafter, and I delayed making reservations until a few weeks before our trip. Thankfully, there were still several options available on Isla Mujeres, and we absolutely loved the location we chose.

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`6.nautibeach

We stayed in the oceanfront Nautibeach Condos on Playa del Norte of Isla Mujeres. We had a  great discount, and given the absolutely gorgeous view and location, it was money well spent.

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16.nautibeach2

Nautibeach has their own poolside/outdoor restaurant, and there are a lot of restaurants and shops just down the street. Our favorite part of this location was definitely the beach, and we took advantage of the on-site restaurant. (I cannot tell you how many plates of fresh pico de gallo and guacamole I ordered. ;)) Also, the grilled octopus was amazingly delicious!

 

Things to Do on Isla Mujeres

4.ARoundIsla

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Rent a Golf Cart

It is hot. And it is humid. And absolutely stunning! With young children, you will want to plan accordingly. The island has very few vehicles other than taxis, so you will also want to rent a golf cart to get around on the island.

(Hey, it's me riding a golf cart, 25 pounds heavier than I am now! :P)

(Hey, it’s me riding a golf cart, 25 pounds heavier than I am now! :P)

You can arrange a rental before arrival, but we simply rented from a vendor at our condo’s guard gate. It probably goes without saying, but the more days you rent a cart, the better daily rates you’ll get. A 48-hour rental was great for us, but we would probably rent for longer for future stays.

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Punta Sur

3.eastend

One of our favorite experiences was a visit to Punta Sur, also Mexico’s easternmost point. On the first night we rented our golf cart, we spontaneously used it to drive to the other end of the island. It was absolutely incredible: both the drive and the view. Nothing like driving as fast golf carts can go, 30 minutes down the island, wind whipping in our hair, trying to make sure none of our 4 kids fell off. 😉 Only slightly joking about that last part, but it’s a memory both Daniel and I cherish.

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In the evening, it’s very windy, and I nearly lost my hat to the ocean multiple times. There’s also a little pathway down to the ocean. If you’re there at the right season (we were, in May), you’ll see giant sea turtles swimming and mating off the cliffs.

Visit a Grocery Store: Super Chedraui!

5.GroceryStore

One of our favorite ways to feel a little bit immersed in a culture and get a feel for a place is to go grocery shopping. Super Chedraui is like the Super Wal*Mart or giant grocery store chain of The Yucatan, and thankfully there was one on Isla Mujeres. Plus, it was air-conditioned, and had a shaded parking garage! It was fun to visit the bakery and select from the amazing baked goods, buy some Spanish children’s books, and then eat in the food court, with lunch trays around $1-2 per person.

We also loved visiting the little corner shops, the vegetable market, and tiny grocery cafes sprinkled throughout the island.

Visit the Turtle Farm 9.Tortungranja

In the Travel with Kids video, one of the featured visits on Isla Mujeres was the the Tortugranja, or Turtle Farm. It’s just 3 dollars per person, and a great learning experience for the kids. We recommend going as soon as it opens to avoid the heat!

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14.TurtleFarm

We were able to help feed the younger turtles, and watch some of the workers cast nets and bring in very fresh fish to feed the turtles. One of our favorite memories if of our son catching one of the fish that fell out of the nets and helping return it to the fishermen. We also loved seeing the turtles growing at different stages, including a safety area in the ocean for the soon-to-be-release adolescent turtles.

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Create Margin for Unexpected Stops

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Some of our favorite memories from traveling have come from randomly stopping by something on the side of the road that looks interesting, or when we’ve needed a break. Of course, safety is important. But so is having an appetite for risk.

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We love stopping at a little pizza hut by the side of the road, a smoothie stop, and turning onto streets off the main thoroughfare. It’s also important to keep that “extra time” while traveling with kids. You never know when an extra afternoon resting at home (wherever you are staying) will be the relief that keeps everyone from a heat-induced meltdown.

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Visit the Markets 10.AroundIsla

There is no shortage of things to do on Isla Mujeres: from the Garrafon Reef Park, the underwater sculpture museum, to cruises, swimming with dolphins or whale sharks, the possibilities are endless. We were only there for a few days, and we purposefully took it slow, and thus only hit a few attractions.

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From where we stayed on Playa Norte, the downtown market which set up shop each evening was a short walk away (although we didn’t discover it until the last night). If you’re looking for souvenirs and $1 tacos, this is the place to go.

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Check out part 2, here

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