Cancun vs Isla Mujeres

Cancun vs Isla Mujeres: Which is better in 2023?

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Planning a trip to Mexico and can’t decide between Cancun and Isla Mujeres? You’ve come to the right guide!

As a travel blogger that lives in nearby Playa del Carmen, I’ve got the perfect vantage point to explore and understand these two popular beach destinations.

Both Cancun and Isla Mujeres are vibrant destinations in the Mexican Caribbean, but they cater to different types of travelers.

In this ultimate Cancun vs Isla Mujeres comparison guide, I’ll dive deeper into what each location offers in terms of beaches, safety, hotels, activities, nightlife, and more.

So if you’re torn between the vibrant city vibes of Cancun and the serene island charm of Isla Mujeres, this guide will help you make up your mind!

Ready to discover which beach destination is right for you? Let’s get started!

Cancun vs Isla Mujeres: Overview

Let’s start with a quick overview of each destination:

About Cancun

Cancun, Mexico is a lively beach town located on the northern tip of Mexico’s Yucatan Peninsula on the Caribbean Sea.

It has been one of Mexico’s top tourist destinations since the 1970s, welcoming millions of visitors each year for its stunning beaches and vibrant nightlife.

Nowadays, the town’s population has grown to almost 1 million people and you’ll find a bustling beach town with high-rise hotels and condominiums, chain restaurants, and modern shopping malls.

Cancun is also known for its numerous all inclusive resorts, most of which are situated along the famous “Hotel Zone”, a narrow strip of beachfront located just off the mainland.

The overall vibe in Cancun is vibrant and lively, making it a great destination for those that want a mix of relaxation and nightlife.

An aerial view of Cancun Hotel Zone with hotels and buildings next to the Caribbean Sea

About Isla Mujeres

Just a short ferry ride off the coast of Cancun, Isla Mujeres is a tranquil island paradise.

Meaning “Island of Women,” this tiny island is less than 5 miles long and is a stark contrast to the hustle and bustle of Cancun.

With its laid-back vibe, stunning beaches like Playa Norte, and golf cart transportation, Isla Mujeres is the perfect place for a quiet island getaway.

There’s not much nightlife or large-scale activities, but you can still find plenty of things to do like snorkeling with whale sharks, renting a golf cart to explore the island, and visiting the Punta Sur Sculpture Park at the southern tip of the island.

There is also a small Isla Mujeres downtown area with number of restaurants to choose from, as well as quaint shops where you can find everything from souvenirs to handmade items crafted by local artisans.

Overall, Isla Mujeres feels very charming and authentic and is great for those looking for a relaxed and laid-back vacation.

A boat floating on the water at Isla Mujeres Playa Norte with palm trees in the background

Cancun vs Isla Mujeres: Who are they best suited for?

Here’s an overview of the types of travelers each beach town is best suited for:

Who is Cancun best suited for?

Cancun attracts a wide range of travelers because it is a lively destination with a great mix of relaxation and adventure.

The city’s bustling nightlife scene attracts party-goers with its array of clubs, bars, and live entertainment venues.

But at the same time, Cancun also offers numerous all-inclusive resorts perfect for families, or those just looking to relax and soak up the sun.

Additionally, Cancun is a great place for honeymooners and couples who want to enjoy the comforts of upscale all inclusive resorts.

With its numerous resorts, shopping malls, clubs, and activities, it’s perfect for travelers looking for a lively vacation.

The Cancun Hotel Zone with hotels and buildings next to the beach

Who is Isla Mujeres best suited for?

Isla Mujeres is best suited for travelers seeking a quiet beach getaway and who want to escape the hustle and bustle of the mainland.

This small island is great for couples, friends, families, and solo travelers looking to relax, unwind, and enjoy the stunning beaches.

There aren’t many all-inclusive resorts in Isla Mujeres so it’s best suited for travelers that enjoy staying in smaller boutique hotels with fewer amenities.

Additionally, there’s not a lot of nightlife in Isla Mujeres so it’s best for those that want a quiet, tranquil getaway rather than the vibrant party atmosphere of Cancun.

Isla Mujeres is also a great spot for snorkelers and divers who want to explore the coral reefs or visit famous sites like MUSA (The Underwater Sculpture Museum).

Me sitting on a rock ledge next to the water at Punta Sur Isla Mujeres

Cancun vs Isla Mujeres: Pros and Cons

Here’s a look at the Cancun vs Isla Mujeres pros and cons to help with your decision:

Pros of Cancun

  • Close to Cancun Airport
  • Lots of restaurants and attractions
  • Great nightlife
  • Easy access to Riviera Maya attractions
  • Many all inclusive resorts

Cons of Cancun

  • More crowds
  • Limited public beach access
  • Not very walkable
  • Expensive for budget travelers
The Cancun Sign with the ocean in the background

Pros of Isla Mujeres

  • Laid-back atmosphere
  • Quieter and safer
  • Beautiful beaches with plenty of beachfront access
  • Affordable prices
  • Beaches are usually seaweed free

Cons of Isla Mujeres

  • Limited activities and nightlife options
  • Few high-end resorts
  • Far from Riviera Maya attractions
  • Harder to get to
Me standing in front of the Isla Mujeres sign with the ocean in the background

Cancun vs Isla Mujeres: Location & Accessibility

When choosing between Cancun and Isla Mujeres, an important factor to consider is their respective locations and how easy they are to reach.

Cancun vs Isla Mujeres Map

Take a look at the map below to see where Cancun and Isla Mujeres are located in relation to each other:

How to Get to Cancun

Cancun is very easily accessible from most major cities in the world, as it is served by Cancun International Airport (CUN), one of Mexico’s busiest airports.

There are numerous direct flights to and from Cancun, making it easy to reach from most major cities in the US, Canada, Europe, and Latin America.

To get to your hotel from the Cancun Airport, you’ll want to book a Cancun Airport transfer, as it’s the safest and most reliable way to get from the airport to your hotel.

A Cancun Airport Transportation Van parked next to the Cancun sign

How to Get to Isla Mujeres

Due to its island location, Isla Mujeres is a bit harder to get to compared to Cancun. You’ll still fly into Cancun International Airport (CUN), then take ground transportation to the ferry terminal in Cancun.

The two main ferry terminals for Isla Mujeres are Ultramar and the new Xcaret Xailing. Both go to the same place on Isla Mujeres but Xcaret Xailing is located in Cancun’s Hotel Zone.

The ferry to Isla Mujeres only takes about 20 minutes, and once you land on the island, you’ll be able to take a taxi to your Isla Mujeres hotel.

A yellow and blue Ultramar Isla Mujeres Ferry floating on the water
The Xcaret Xailing ferry floating on the water

Cancun vs Isla Mujeres: Safety Comparison

Now, let’s look at a safety comparison between Cancun and Isla Mujeres.

U.S. Department of State Travel Advisory

The official U.S. Department of State Travel Advisory for both Cancun and Isla Mujeres is currently “Level 2 – Exercise Increased Caution” due to the high levels of crime and violence in the overall state of Quintana Roo.

The United States Mexico travel advisory mentions that criminal activity and violent crime may occur in popular tourist destinations such as Cancun, Playa del Carmen, and Tulum, but does not specifically list Isla Mujeres as an area of risk.

A screenshot of the U.S. State Department Travel Advisory Levels

Crime and Safety Index

Numbeo reports the following crime and safety indices for Cancun and Isla Mujeres. Basically you want the crime index to be low and the safety index to be high.

  • Crime Index: Cancun: 47.32 (Moderate) | Isla Mujeres: 14.71 (Very Low)
  • Safety Index: Cancun: 52.68 (Moderate) | Isla Mujeres: 85.29 (Very High)

🚨 Do you need travel insurance for Mexico? Yes! Most insurance plans in your home country will not cover incidents abroad. I recommend using Travel Insurance Master, which is a handy travel insurance marketplace where you can compare policies. Get a FREE quote by clicking here!

Is Isla Mujeres safer than Cancun?

Yes, Isla Mujeres is generally considered much safer than Cancun due to its small population and limited access.

Additionally, the crime indices listed above indicate that Isla Mujeres is very safe and has a lower crime rate compared to Cancun.

From my experience, Isla Mujeres feels much safer than Cancun just because it’s much smaller and quieter.

However, it’s still important to exercise caution at all times when traveling in Mexico, no matter which destination you choose.

Me jumping in the air next to the water in Isla Mujeres Mexico

Cancun vs Isla Mujeres: Cost Comparison

Let’s dive into the comparison of cost between Cancun and Isla Mujeres:

How expensive is Cancun?

Cancun is relatively expensive compared to other destinations in Mexico, mainly because it’s a popular tourist destination with numerous all-inclusive resorts.

Expect hotel prices to start around $100 USD per night for budget accommodations, and up to over $1,000 USD a night for luxury resorts.

Restaurant prices will also be higher in Cancun compared to other parts of Mexico. Expect to pay around $10 USD for a meal at an inexpensive restaurant, and up to over $40 USD for an upscale dinner.

You’ll also want to factor in transportation costs for taxis should you choose to leave the resort as Cancun is not very walkable.

A white and green Cancun taxi parked in Cancun Mexico

How expensive is Isla Mujeres?

Isla Mujeres is much more affordable than Cancun, with nightly hotel prices starting around $75 USD for budget rooms and up to over $300 USD for luxury resorts–still much cheaper than Cancun’s luxury resorts.

Restaurant prices in Isla Mujeres will also be much cheaper than in Cancun. Expect to pay around $10 USD for a meal at an inexpensive restaurant, and up to over $30 USD for an upscale dinner.

You’ll also want to factor in the costs for ferry tickets, taxis, or a golf cart rental should you choose to rent one.

It’s also important to know that credit cards aren’t widely accepted in Isla Mujeres so it’s best to have enough cash on hand.

But overall, those looking for an affordable getaway will find Isla Mujeres to be more budget-friendly compared to Cancun.

Me driving a golf cart in Isla Mujeres Mexico with the ocean in the background

Cancun vs Isla Mujeres: Beaches Comparison

Both Cancun and Isla Mujeres have incredibly beautiful white sand beaches with bright turquoise water.

Cancun has more beaches to choose from but Isla Mujeres is home to Playa Norte, which has been voted as one of the best beaches in the world.

Cancun Beaches

Cancun is home to a stunning Caribbean coastline with soft, white sand and crystal-clear, turquoise waters.

Cancun’s beaches offer visitors a variety of options, from lively, bustling beaches lined with luxury resorts, to more secluded, peaceful locations for a quiet and tranquil beach day.

The city’s most famous beaches include Playa Delfines, known for its iconic Cancun sign, and Playa Chac Mool, a well-loved spot for water sports enthusiasts.

While the beaches in Cancun are beautiful and widespread, it’s important to know that the currents are generally stronger and the waves are not always calm enough for swimming.

Plus, public beach access is harder to come by and the beaches can sometimes suffer from large amounts of seaweed depending on the time of year.

Playa Delfines Beach in Cancun Mexico with bright turquoise water and umbrellas on the beach

Isla Mujeres Beaches

Isla Mujeres is home to some of the most beautiful beaches in the world, with powdery white sand and crystal-clear waters.

The island’s most famous beach is Playa Norte, voted as one of the best beaches in the world for its bright turquoise water and calm ocean waves perfect for swimming.

Plus, what makes Playa Norte so popular is that it has shallow waters and rarely gets hit with the seaweed that can commonly plague other beaches in Riviera Maya.

Now Isla Mujeres beaches on the west side of the island have rocky coastlines and aren’t really suitable for swimming, but the east side has plenty of white-sand beaches perfect for swimming and soaking up the sun.

Playa Norte Beach in Isla Mujeres Mexico with palm trees and umbrellas on the beach

Cancun vs Isla Mujeres: Hotels Comparison

When it comes to accommodation, both Cancun and Isla Mujeres offer a wide variety of options to suit different tastes and budgets.

Cancun, known for its high-end resorts, provides a lavish stay with world-class amenities such as beachfront views, expansive pools, spa facilities, and gourmet dining.

These upscale hotels and resorts are mainly located in Cancun’s famous Hotel Zone or in the up-and-coming Playa Mujeres just north of Cancun.

On the other hand, Isla Mujeres, although not lacking in luxury options, is predominantly filled with boutique-style hotels and guesthouses.

The hotels in Isla Mujeres are much smaller and provide a more intimate and authentic experience of the island’s culture and hospitality.

Additionally, some hotels may offer an all-inclusive plan but the majority of accommodations on the island are not all inclusive.

The Cancun Hotel Zone with hotels and buildings next to the ocean

Where to Stay in Cancun

Here are a few great options for where to stay in Cancun:

Cancun resorts next to the ocean in the Cancun Hotel Zone

Where to Stay in Isla Mujeres

Here are a few great options for where to stay in Isla Mujeres:

Travelista Tip: If you want to be close to the action and near the island’s best beach, consider staying at a hotel on Playa Norte.

A pool at Hotel Belo Isla Mujeres overlooking the ocean

Cancun vs Isla Mujeres: Activities Comparison

When it comes to activities, both Cancun and Isla Mujeres have plenty to offer.

Cancun, known for its vibrant nightlife, offers tons of entertainment options, from thrilling water sports like jet skiing and parasailing to exploring Mayan ruins and visiting the Xcaret adventure parks.

Additionally, shopping enthusiasts will love the diverse range of shopping malls and local markets in Cancun.

Isla Mujeres, on the other hand, provides a more laidback and relaxing experience. It’s famous for its stunning snorkeling and scuba diving spots, thanks to the MUSA Underwater Museum and the rich marine life of the coral reefs around the island.

Land activities, while more subdued than Cancun’s, include exploring the island by golf cart, visiting Punta Sur, or simply enjoying a beach day at Playa Norte.

Essentially, Cancun offers a more action-packed vacation, while Isla Mujeres is ideal for those seeking a tranquil escape.

Small fishing boats floating on the water in Isla Mujeres Mexico

Best Things to Do in Cancun

These are some of the best things to do in Cancun:

  • Visit Mayan Ruins: Take a day trip or Cancun private tour to experience the ancient Mayan ruins of Tulum, Chichen Itza, or Coba, which are some of the most famous archaeological sites in Mexico.

  • Isla Blanca: A long and sandy peninsula just north of Cancun, Isla Blanca is a remote beach destination offering untouched beaches and simple beach clubs to escape the hustle and bustle of Cancun.

  • Xavage Adventure Park: As Xcaret’s newest adventure park, Xavage Cancun offers a variety of super intense and adrenaline-pumping activities such as a challenging ropes course, ziplining, monster trucks, high-speed jet boat, and white water rafting for an all-inclusive adventure experience.

  • Xoximilco: Another Xcaret experience, visitors to Xoximilco can float down man-made canals on a colorful barge drinking tequila and listening to live Mariachi, a recreation of the original Xochimilco attraction in Mexico City.
The ropes obstacle course at Xavage adventure park in Cancun Mexico with trees and water below it

Best Things to Do in Isla Mujeres

These are some of the best Isla Mujeres things to do:

  • MUSA: Located near Isla Mujeres, the MUSA Underwater Museum of Art offers visitors the chance to go on a snorkeling tour or scuba dive at a man-made underwater museum and sculpture park designed to promote the growth of coral reefs.

  • Swimming with Whale Sharks: During the months of May-September, whale sharks arrive to the island of Isla Mujeres to feed in the plankton-rich waters off the coast of the island, offering visitors the chance to swim alongside these gentle giants for an unforgettable whale shark snorkeling experience.

  • Playa Norte: The most popular beach on the island, Playa Norte on Isla Mujeres is perfect for swimming, sunbathing, or relaxing at a beach club. With clear turquoise water and powder white sand, it’s your quintessential Mexican Caribbean beach experience.

  • Punta Sur: Punta Sur is the southernmost tip of Isla Mujeres, and is home to a beautiful lighthouse, sculpture park, restaurants and shops, and breathtaking views. With a small entrance fee, it is essentially an island landmark and one of the top places to visit in Isla Mujeres.
Punta Sur, the southern tip of Isla Mujeres with cliffs, grass, and the ocean next to it

Cancun vs Isla Mujeres: Restaurants Comparison

When it comes to dining, Cancun has many more options to choose from than Isla Mujeres.

Cancun Restaurants

Cancun has a much more vibrant and diverse restaurant scene than Isla Mujeres, catering to a wide range of tastes and budgets.

This bustling city has tons of restaurants to choose from, with eateries ranging from fast-food chains to high-end dining establishments.

American tourists will find familiar comforts with the presence of international chains like Hooter’s, Pizza Hut, Subway, and Bubba Gump Shrimp Company.

For those seeking a more sophisticated dining experience, Cancun also has many upscale restaurants such as RosaNegra, Puerto Madero, and Porfirio’s.

These fine dining establishments offer not only gourmet dining but also upscale atmospheres and stunning waterfront locations.

Basically, in Cancun, you’ll never be short on restaurant options whether you’re looking for a cheap taco joint or a five-star establishment.

A table and chairs at a restaurant overlooking the ocean in Cancun Mexico

Isla Mujeres Restaurants

Isla Mujeres has a much more limited range of restaurants than Cancun. The main street of restaurants is located in the town center along Avenida Miguel Hidalgo.

Here you’ll find a range of restaurants serving both Mexican and international cuisine, but they’re much more casual than those in Cancun. And most have outdoor seating.

During the day, you’ll probably be eating at beach clubs, which serve up tacos, burgers, sandwiches, and other standard beach club fare.

Isla Mujeres also has some great breakfast spots like Mango Cafe and Rinconcito Kahlo, perfect for fueling up before a day of island exploration.

All in all, the selection of restaurants in Isla Mujeres tends to be more relaxed and less adventurous than those in Cancun.

A golf cart parked outside of Mango Cafe restaurant in Isla Mujeres Mexico

Cancun vs Isla Mujeres: Nightlife Comparison

When it comes to nightlife, Cancun is the clear winner over Isla Mujeres.

Cancun Nightlife

Cancun is where all the action happens when the sun goes down, with a range of nightlife options that cater to both wild and sophisticated crowds.

The famous Hotel Zone is bustling with bars, nightclubs, sports bars, and live music venues that stay open late into the night offering a fun night out for those that like to party.

The legendary Coco Bongo Show is also a must-see for visitors to Cancun, offering an all-you-can drink experience with acrobatic performers, live music, and more.

Other popular clubs include Mandala and La Vaquita, which both offer lively atmospheres and late night dancing.

Basically, Cancun knows how to throw a party and you won’t be disappointed if that’s what you’re looking for!

An aerial view of Cancun Hotel Zone at night with the buildings lit up next to the ocean

Isla Mujeres Nightlife

Isla Mujeres is much more subdued when it comes to nightlife.

The town center does offer a few bars and restaurants open later at night, but it’s nothing compared to the wild nights you’ll find in Cancun.

Most people just hang out at the beach clubs during the day or go for dinner and drinks in town.

If you’re looking for a wild night out, Isla Mujeres won’t be the place to find it, but if prefer a more laid back atmosphere, you’ll love the relaxed vibes of Isla Mujeres.

Avenida Miguel Hidalgo in Isla Mujeres Mexico at night with people dining at restaurants

Cancun vs Isla Mujeres: Shopping Comparison

When it comes to shopping, Cancun is also the clear winner over Isla Mujeres.

Cancun Shopping

Cancun has a great selection of shopping options to choose from, ranging from luxury boutiques and trendy malls to open-air markets.

You’ll find retail stores with many international brands like Zara, Nike, Tommy Hilfiger, and H&M in the La Isla Shopping Village or Plaza Las Americas.

Plus, in Cancun, you’re much more likely to find luxury brands like Louis Vuitton, Gucci, and Cartier.

Mercado 28 is also a great spot for souvenir shopping in Cancun–it’s a large market filled with handmade crafts, jewelry, and other goods made by local artisans.

A shopping mall and high rise buildings at night in Cancun Mexico

Isla Mujeres Shopping

Isla Mujeres is much smaller than Cancun, so its selection of shopping options is much more limited. You’ll basically just find souvenir shops and small boutiques.

The island’s main shopping is on Avenida Hidalgo, where you can find souvenir shops selling handmade crafts and beach apparel.

Overall, Isla Mujeres is better suited to those looking for souvenirs, rather than designer clothes or luxury shopping.

Me walking next to souvenir shops in Isla Mujeres Mexico

Isla Mujeres vs Cancun: FAQs

Here are the answers to some of the most frequently asked questions about Cancun vs. Isla Mujeres:

Is it worth going to Isla Mujeres?

Yes, Isla Mujeres is definitely worth a visit. With its beautiful beaches, stunning views, and laid-back island atmosphere, it’s the perfect spot to relax and have an unforgettable Mexican vacation.

Why is Isla Mujeres so popular?

Isla Mujeres is popular because of its stunning seaweed-free beaches, most notably Playa Norte, and laid-back island vibe. It’s also close to Cancun, making it an easy day trip or weekend getaway.

Where is the best beach in Cancun or Isla Mujeres?

Both Isla Mujeres and Cancun have beautiful Caribbean beaches. Quantity-wise, Cancun has the most beaches, but quality-wise Isla Mujeres is hard to beat. Playa Norte on Isla Mujeres is widely considered to be one of the best beaches in the world.

How many days should you stay in Isla Mujeres?

Most people stay in Isla Mujeres for at least 3 days, but it’s also possible to plan a day trip or weekend getaway. However, many visitors find that two or three days is the ideal amount of time to explore all that the beautiful island has to offer.

What is the best time to visit Cancun?

The best time to visit Cancun is during the dry season from December-February, when the weather is warm and sunny but not quite as humid.

However, this is considered high season, so there will be more crowds and prices will be higher.

Consider visiting on the shoulder months of high season (March/April and October/November) to enjoy the best of both worlds – lower prices and fewer crowds.

What is the best time to visit Isla Mujeres?

The best time to visit Isla Mujeres is during the dry season from December-February.

This is the most popular time to visit, so expect to find more crowds and higher prices.

However, the shoulder months of high season (March/April and October/November) can also be a good time to visit since there will be fewer crowds and lower prices.

Is Cancun or Isla Mujeres better for families?

Both Cancun and Isla Mujeres are suited for families but Cancun has more activities and a larger selection of family-friendly resorts.

Isla Mujeres, on the other hand, is better suited for families that are looking for a more laid back and relaxed atmosphere.

A decorative boat in front of the ocean in Isla Mujeres Mexico

Final Thoughts: Is Isla Mujeres better than Cancun?

I hope this article has helped you decide whether to visit Isla Mujeres or Cancun for your next vacation!

Both destinations offer their own unique experiences and are definitely worth visiting.

If you’re looking for a quiet relaxing beach getaway with some incredible beaches, then Isla Mujeres is the best choice.

It’s small and charming and its laid back island vibe and golf cart transportation make it a great spot to relax and unwind.

On the other hand, if you’re looking for a livelier destination with beaches, nightlife, restaurants, and easy access to activities, then Cancun is definitely the better option.

And if you do choose Cancun, you can still considering visiting Isla Mujeres on a day trip since it’s so close!

But no matter which destination you choose, you really can’t go wrong and are sure to have an amazing time in the Mexican Caribbean!

🇲🇽 Traveling to Mexico soon?

These are the Mexico travel resources I use and recommend:

🏨 Hotels: I always find the best deals for Mexico hotels and resorts on Expedia or If you prefer a vacation rental, check VRBO as they are often cheaper than AirBnB’s added fees!

✈️ Flights: I recommend using Skyscanner for the best Mexico flight deals. Be sure to sign up for their price alerts for your preferred travel dates.

🚗 Rental Cars: I recommend using Discover Cars because you can compare multiple car rental companies and see detailed ratings for overall value, ease of pick-up, efficiency of agents, car condition, and overall time spent.

🚙 Cancun Airport Transportation: I recommend booking a private transfer with Cancun Airport Transportation for the quickest and most hassle-free option!

🤿 Tours & Activities: I always use Viator or GetYourGuide for booking tours and activities in Mexico. You can cancel up to 24 hours before the tour for a full refund, plus they have excellent customer service if you were to have any issues.

🚨 Travel Insurance: After my Dad broke his hand in a taxi accident in Playa del Carmen, I always recommend buying travel insurance before your trip for added peace of mind! I recommend Travel Insurance Master for short trips or Safety Wing for digital nomads.

☀️ Biodegradable Sunscreen: Don’t forget to add biodegradable sunscreen to your Mexico packing list! Regular sunscreen is prohibited when swimming in the ocean and cenotes in Mexico, so you’ll need to pack some biodegradable sunscreen for sun protection. I recommend Sun Bum Sunscreen, which is reef-friendly, vegan, and cruelty-free.