Located eight miles off the coast from Cancun, Mexico’s Mujeres Island, or “Isla Mujeres” in Spanish, enjoys a reputation as a quieter and more ecotourist-oriented destination relative to its mainland neighbor. Part of that reputation is based on the island’s snorkeling, and the island’s waters offer snorkelers a kaleidoscope of colorful Caribbean sea life and corals, as well as the seasonal opportunity to see some of the biggest fish in the sea.
Boat-based snorkel tours are a fixture on Isla Mujeres
Although a snorkeler can swim out from any beach on Isla Mujeres and have some chance of seeing some marine life, the center for snorkeling on the island is Garrafon Reef Park (garrafon.com), which was built opposite the main stretch of the island’s coral reef. Snorkelers have the choice of either exploring the reef independently or with a guide. For those who do not wish to pay the park’s admission fee, the reef extends outside the boundaries of the park, so some corals are off the beaches flanking either side of Garrafon.
Snorkel Boat Tours
Another snorkeling option is to book a place on a snorkel boat tour, such as those offered by Ceviche Tours (cevichetours.com) and Kasa Maya Diving Lodge (islamujeresscubadiving.com.mx). These tours frequent areas that are harder to reach from shore, such as Los Manchones and El Farito. Another snorkeling attraction is the Underwater Museum of Art (musacancun.com). Part of this underwater sculpture exhibit lies off in shallow water Isla Mujeres. Most snorkel boat tours are for half a day or less, with full-day tours combining snorkeling with other activities, such as fishing or sightseeing.
Whale Shark Snorkeling
Every year between June and September, whale sharks and manta rays migrate into the waters off Isla Mujeres. These giant sea creatures are filter-feeders and come to the area to feed on plankton and fish eggs, so they are also placid and safe to snorkel with. Some tour operators, such as Ceviche Tours, offer whale shark tours once the season begins. One advantage of snorkeling with whale sharks from Isla Mujeres instead of Cancun on the mainland is proximity, as the island is much closer to the patch of sea the whale sharks and manta rays feed in.
The reefs off Isla Mujeres are home to a variety of resident sea creatures, such as moray eels, schools of blue tang, angel fish and crabs. Reef sharks patrol the local waters, and a snorkeler on a skin dive might find a nurse shark hiding under a rocky overhang. Rounding out the picture are bigger, ocean-going fish like snapper and amberjack. On the negative side, the bull shark is also sometimes seen in the area. This aggressive shark is a known man-eater, so snorkelers should exit the water upon sighting an 8- to 10-foot long shark with a blunt snout.
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