Let’s Go Exploring (with a baby!): Isla Mujeres, Mexico: Life is a Beach and I’m a Beached Whale

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The last time we visited Isla Mujeres was back in 2017 and we were on a scuba diving day trip to MUSA, the world-famous underwater museum, led by our Airbnb host, Diego, a scuba dive instructor. He’d always wanted to teach scuba driving in Thailand but was afraid that it was “dangerous”, which made me realize that non-travellers just think their own home is safe and everywhere else is a war zone.

Now 7 years later, after the world was turned upside down by a pandemic and digital nomadism went from a fringe lifestyle choice into a mainstream one, it seems as if everything has changed. Isla Mujeres went from an off the beaten path afterthought to an Instagram hotspot, with tourists flocking to the island to satisfy their pent-up pandemic travel urges.

The world was different, but so were we. Last time we were here for scuba diving, swimming with sea turtles, and cenote adventures. This time, saddled with a squishy poop-monster, all we could do was sit and watch from the shore. That said, having a comfy lounge chair to lie in with ample shade, being served tacos and ceviches while chugging delicious fizzy micheladas was nothing to complain about. 

Playa Norte

While there were lots of families with little ones on the Playa Norte, the beach with calmest, shallowest water—perfect for tiny chubby feet to splash in—none of them were as young as Little Matchstick so he was quite the attraction with multiple people commenting on his adorableness and asking about his age. I was worried about being away from our Home Exchange, but it turns out that wasn’t an issue at all, since we’d learned how to change him on our laps (something we practiced before boarding a plane) and I was able to nurse him while lying on the beach chair, sipping a virgin daiquiri. I did not expect travelling with a baby to be so relaxed, but on the other hand, we were in Cancun—aka “Gringoland”—which caters exclusively to tourists who value convenience over authenticity. Everything was taken care of, and you all you had to do was turn off your brain and be served.

Normally, this is the type of travel that would bore me to death, on account of it being too “basic bitch”, but since this was the first international trip since Little Matchstick was born, we wanted to test out the family travel 101 level first, before upgrading to the boss level trips we were used to. Turns out travelling with a baby isn’t nearly as terrifying as I’d built it up to be in my head.

During the first month after my son was born, I was in “kid jail” and couldn’t leave my apartment—if I wasn’t pumping, I was feeding or changing diapers, and if I wasn’t doing any of those things, I was either desperately trying to get some sleep or scarfing down a handful of cereal straight from the box while bouncing my shrieking infant. Every day was exactly the same and I never thought I’d be able to go outside again. Now, only 4 months later, I was astonished to find that not only was I enjoying sunshine on a beach in the middle of winter, but I could also be away from our Home Exchange for a solid 6 hours, without rushing home to change/feed/nap/sooth my baby. He happily napped on my chest while I lounged in the shade and stared out at the soft, blindly white sand and impossibly blue Caribbean Ocean. Glorious!

Mayan Beach Club

It was also nice that Isla Mujeres happened to be super chill. There was barely any traffic, tons of beaches, and lots of options for lying around, doing absolutely nothing. Well, I guess not nothing. We were giving our jaw muscles a serious workout by eating lots and lots of cochinita pibil tacos and pulpo ceviches (straight out of a seashell), served to us right on the beach at the Mayan Beach Club:

Garrafon de Castilla

And we did eventually exercise the rest of our body by getting to go into the water and doing some snorkeling—albeit only one at a time—at a locally-run beach club called “Garrafon de Castilla” where you can rent snorkel gear for only 50 pesos or 3 USD and watch the sunset. The price of entry is super reasonable (150 pesos or $9 USD each), there is no food minimum (unlike Playa Norte, where you need to spend 400 pesos or $24 USD/person + tip just to rent a beach chair). As a result, I burned a ton of calories.

Oh who am I kidding. I spent 10 mins snorkling and the rest of the time devouring this delicious meal of grilled fish soaked in butter and French fries:

Amazona Beach Bar

And the next day, I followed it up by getting a day pass to the all-you-can-eat/drink Amazona beach club, complete with beach swing and underwater hammocks. I was very proud of myself for getting into the hammock without slipping or being out of breath. However, I did manage to trip on my way to the beach swing and nearly throw out my back when I tried to get on it.

Beach Chair: 1. FIRECracker: 0

Yes, I am a picture of health. And no, carrying an 20lb human hippo around all day doesn’t affect your posture or balance at all.

Minimal exercise. Maximum relaxation.
“My lounge chair brings all boys to the yard, damn right it’s better than yours..”

Just in case regular lounge chairs are too “roughing it”, this club decided to have extra wide lounge beds with soft plush pillows right on the beach.

Resting from all the relaxation

At this point, I was feeling very lazy, gluttonous, and old from all the back pain on account of lugging around my hippo baby.

And just when I was berating myself for not working out more, a conversation with another guest change everything:

Guest: “Awww, that’s nice that you’re here with your husband and baby. Makes me think I might’ve missed out by choosing not to have kids.”

Me: “Hey, not having kids is a perfectly valid choice! Travelling as a family is a totally different experience and there’s so much you can do without kids. So, enjoy it!”

Her: “Well, then it’s good that you’re both so young and chose to have kids early!”

Me *chuckling*: “Riiiiight. Young. I’m actually 41.”

Her *incredulous*: “Seriously? I thought you were 30!”

And that is when I realized FIRE not only lets you buy back your time, it’s also a freaking fountain of youth! Either that or I’m seriously benefiting from the “Asian don’t raisin” thing.  

I suddenly felt a lot better about pigging out and not going to the gym since before my pregnancy.

Shrimp Aguachile from Mango Cafe
“Thai style” grilled chicken tacos

Punta Sur

This made me much more motivated to go for a long walk to check out the Mayan statue park at Punta Sur the next day, the southernmost point of the island.

The only thing I couldn’t do was the cliff walk, on account of the fact that, well, it’s a walk along a freaking cliff! It’s an activity I would’ve gladly done prior to baby but given that the beach swing kicked my ass, I did not have a good feeling about doing this activity with bowling ball strapped to my chest.

Luckily, we’d experienced nearly 9 years of adventurous travel prior to having kids so I no longer felt like I was missing out. It’s one of the main reasons I’m able to enjoy motherhood now. If you’re planning to start a family, do all the adventurous travel activities before hand! You will not regret it.

Staring out wistfully at the cliff walk.

As much as I enjoyed our lazying-around-on-the-beach days on Isla Mujeres, I eventually got tired of the whole adult Disney world resort scene. Isla Mujeres used to be a well kept secret even though it was just a short 20 min ferry ride from Cancun but now it was overrun with tourists. We kept running into the same American and Canadian vacationers, all speaking English and complaining about the weather and housing prices back home. One immediately guessed that we were from Toronto, on account of our “east coast” vibe, whatever that means. It felt like I was on vacation in a resort. I needed a dose of authentic Mexico.

More lounging by the hotel pool. Can we get any more soft and marshmallowy? I think not.

Luckily, Merida was only 4 hours away, and there was a new train that had been built to get us there. Given that Little Matchstick isn’t a fan of planes or cars, trains were our new preferred method of travel.

But little did I know, the train was not what I expected, and shit was about to hit the fan…

To be continued…

Here’s how much we spent in Isla Mujeres:

CategoryCost in USD/family of 3 per dayCost in CAD/family of 3 per dayNotes
Accommodations$14.33$19.20Since we stayed in a Home Exchange on Isla Mujeres we ended up spending nothing on accommodations, except for the rent back home ($53/day for a family of 3).

However, we ended up paying 800 pesos (48 USD) as a cleaning fee on our last day of check-out and $167 USD for 1 night at the Airport hotel so we could reduce the amount of travel stress for our infant upon arrival.

Amortized over 15 days, that’s $14.33 USD/day.
Food$49.85 ($31.78 eating out, $18.07 on groceries & booze)$66.81 ($42.59 on eating out; $24.22 on groceries & booze)Other than the 3 beach clubs and a few lunches out, we mostly cooked on Isla Mujeres. The all-you-can-eat-and-drink + beach bed rental option at Amazona was a great deal for 950 pesos per person (or $57.50 USD each. Baby is free) to chill out all day on the beach beds. This is a way better deal than if we had paid for an all inclusive package at a resort. The only downside is the beach wasn’t as nice as Playa Norte.

The Mayan beach club charged 400 pesos (or $24 USD) for 2 umbrellas and chairs rentals + another min spend of 400 pesos per person towards food and/or drink ($24 USD). In total, it ended up being around $93 USD total after tax and tip for the day for all 3 of us. It was the best deal in Playa Norte that wasn’t adults only.

Amortized over 15 days, it ended up costing us only $49 USD/day for a family of 3 for food, even though we were in one of the most expensive areas of Mexico.
Transportation$24.49$32.82We spent $64 USD each on taxes on the flight to Cancun, after points. Our baby is under 2 so could fly for 10% of the pts as a lap baby.

Travelling to/from the Airport in Cancun is expensive due to the taxi mafia preventing Uber from getting in and out despite it being legal in Mexico. Luckily there is “Didi” (which is Mexico’s Uber) which, while still pricer than uber, is 1/3 the price of the price gouging from taxis. It costs around 300-400 pesos ($18-$24 USD) even if it’s just a short 10 min drive from the Airport. Taxis try to scam you for $50 USD-$100 USD easily. At those prices, you’re better off booking a private transfer in a big comfy van from Canada Transfers. Only catch is you have to do it 24 hours in advance.

The ferry to Isla Mujeres from the the Cancun port was 270 pesos each (16 USD each) with children being free and taxis on Isla Mujeres are inexpensive around 100-150 ($6-9 USD) each ride. There is also a bus you can take for 20 pesos ($1.20 USD) but it’s not as reliable and the stops aren’t marked.

Amortized over 15 days, it ends up costing around $34 USD/day for the 3 of us. Other than the initial plane ride, taxis to/from the airport, and the ferry, we didn’t end up spending money on transportation on most days since there were a lot of chill out days where we just bummed around the Home Exchange or walked to the nearby beach.
Entertainment$2.40$3.22We spent very little on entertainment as most of our entertainment was eating and lounging on the beach. The only entertainment expenses were 100 pesos each ($6 USD) for Punta Sur entrance, 150 ($9 USD) for entrance to the snorkling area, and 50 ($3 USD) each for snorkel rental. Divide by 15 days and you get $2.40 USD/day for a family of 3.
Baby$2.33$3.12We spent $34.90 USD on diapers and wipes after we used up the diapers and wipes we brought with us. This amortizes out to be $2.33 USD/day
Clothing$1.29$1.73I bought a purse for $19 after my old purse broke.
Misc$1.94$2.60We spent $18.50 USD for data and $10.62 USD on toiletries during the 15 days we were there.
Total$96.64$129.5Isla Mujeres is slightly less expensive than Cancun hotel zone but not by much. It is, however, very safe and family friendly and a good starting point for us to travel as a family. Now that I’ve gained experience in travelling with a baby, it’s unlikely that I’ll go back to Isla Mujeres since I prefer more authentic parts of Mexico.

What do you think? Have you been to Isla Mujeres? What do you think are the biggest differences between traveling with and without kids?


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14 thoughts on “Let’s Go Exploring (with a baby!): Isla Mujeres, Mexico: Life is a Beach and I’m a Beached Whale”

  1. Oh My God, love the chubby baby legs with folds, must be prospering in the sunshine of the beach with mama’s food!

  2. Congrats and great travels.
    How do generate so many airline points if on every travel story you write your airline tickets are always near zero as you “ use points “. Airline tickets are expensive. What is your secret to generating so many points ? Do you spend thousands on credit cards per month?

  3. Traveling with kids is awesome, however our toddler is impatient with long trips at the moment. Hit up 5 countries in her first year, but will have to take a break until she can sit still again. But as we live in the Yukon, our road trips to Alaska are exotic enough 🙂

    We went offroading to a turtle hatchery (past ment with 50 cal machine guns)

  4. Nice pictures of the trip. That’s something I hadn’t thought about, FI also being the fountain of youth. The lack of work/career/money troubles and more time to be mindful or just a slower pace can make you look and feel younger into the later years as well.

  5. “If you’re planning to start a family, do all the adventurous travel activities before hand! You will not regret it.”

    Or do your adventures with your kids! Some of thebadventures are limited when they are little, but you can still do a lot and see a lot and as they get older, you just have more people to adventure with. We have never limited our adventures because we have kids, we just sometimes do things solo while the other parent looks after the little one, or we challenge our kids to do something fun and adventurous.

  6. We took our son to India when he was 3. He was kind of bored on the flight. Otherwise turned out pretty well.

    I am interested in hearing about the Maya Train. I was planning to do that sometime.

  7. Yes. I have been to Isla Mujeres when I was in Cancun for judo in 2018. I talked a bunch of Filipino-Canadians who were with me on the ferry into doing a bike ride around the island rather than renting a golf cart to go around. I should dig up the pictures from that.

  8. It is quite brave to travel with a small child, not every parent is ready for this, it is cool. Unfortunately, I have a lot of work at the moment, even when https://studyfy.com/ do my essay for me I always don’t have enough time to travel

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