Isla Mujeres,


A short boat ride from Cancun,
the Island of Women manages to keep
its own identity. It still feels like Mexico here.

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Isla Mujeres, 5 miles long and a half-mile wide, may be too small for a golf course, but white, battery-powered carts are one of the favored ways to scoot around the tiny Island of Women.


This laid-back mode of transport is just one of many ways the island has been able to keep its own identity despite the frequent ferry service that brings day visitors from Cancun, 8 miles away, to shop, dine, dive and snorkel.


After their visitors leave, resident families reclaim the sidewalks of Rueda Medina, only four blocks wide and six blocks long. It's a colorful place with

brightly painted stores and restaurants of pink, red, orange and green located across from the beach.

Others gather on the beach, to sit under the palms or set up hammocks near brightly painted fishing boats hauled up on shore. Some of these boats caught the fish on tonight's menus or took divers to Isla's world-famous site, the Caves of the Sleeping Sharks. (It seems appropriate that the best-known attraction here should be siesta-based.)

A Yucatan specialty you should try is tikin xik (sounds something like ětik-in-chikî), a whole grilled red snapper with a mild, citrus achiote paste and charred habanero salsa.

Most of Isla's attractions are spread out along its calmer west coast. One is Playa Lancheros, a good place for a lunch of guacamole, shrimp ceviche and tacos.

Slightly beyond is El Garrafon National Park, a popular snorkeling area that's become a high-priced major water attraction like Xel-Ha on the mainland. It's puzzling, considering the free beaches here. People ferried over from Cancun just don't know.

Ruins of the temple honoring Ixchel, the Mayan goddess of fertility and the moon are located on a cliff overlooking the breaking waves at Punta Sur, the island's southern tip. Spanish explorers found numerous images of Ixchel inside the temple, so they named the entire landfall Island of Women.

To date, Isla Mujeres's beaches have avoided becoming a strip mall of high-priced properties.

It remains one of the Caribbean 's best values.

Yet change is coming. The 90-room Avalon Grand and 55-room Avalon Reef Club is an example. However, both properties share a tiny islet off the north point, which makes them amazingly unobtrusive because you can't see them from town or most of Playa Norte, the most popular beach.

How long will Isla Mujeres remain so lucky?

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