Playa Norte (North Beach) is a long undulating strip of sand on the northern edge of Isla Mujeres . Its fine white sands descend ever so slowly into a gorgeous turquoise sea—you can wade almost a hundred yards out and still be only waist deep.
The long shallow shelf means Playa Norte has virtually no waves, adding to the beach’s tranquility. It’s a favorite spot for visitors of all ages: couples sunning themselves and sipping margaritas, backpackers on colorful beach towels, kids frolicking in the calm water, and older travelers relaxing under huge umbrellas.
Unfortunately, Playa Norte has suffered severe sand deterioration, a lingering consequence of Hurricane Wilma in 2005 (and a problem up and down the Riviera Maya ), leaving the once flawless beach narrow and rocky in places.
Long wooden piers have been built to help capture and contain the drifting sand, but the damage has proved resistant to all remedies. Nevertheless, Playa Norte remains one of Isla Mujeres’s most picturesque spots and a great place to while away a day (or two, or three, or …).
You can rent beach chairs and umbrellas at a number of spots along Playa Norte, including Buho’s (end of Av. Carlos Lazo, US$8–10/day) and Chi Chis & Charlie’s (southwestern end of Playa Norte, US$8–10/day or free with drink purchase).
Tarzan Water Sports (end of Av. Guerrero at Playa Norte, 9 a.m.–5 p.m. daily) rents snorkel gear (US$10/day), single and double kayaks (US$15–25/hr), and Hobie Cats (US$45/hr). You also can book snorkel tours here for US$25 per person.
Around the corner, Playa Sol is also lovely, with deeper water and a wider beach than Playa Norte’s. It’s just a few blocks from the ferry and therefore sometimes more crowded than Playa Norte, but since it’s also bigger, there’s always room to stretch out. And while Playa Norte is susceptible to storms and strong currents—and can get quite threadbare in places—Playa Sol never lacks for a thick layer of soft sand.
Hotel Posada del Mar (Av. Rueda Medina 15-A, tel. 998/877-0770, www.posadadelmar.com ) operates a small beach club on Playa Sol, with lounge chairs, umbrellas, and kayaks. Free for hotel guests, these items are available to the public for US$3.50–5.
Looking great after a major remodel, Zama (Carr. Sac Bajo s/n, tel. 998/877-0739, www.zamabeach.com , 10 a.m.–6 p.m. daily) is a small beach club on Isla Mujeres ’ calm southwest shore. You can relax in a comfy beach-bed on the large clean beach or in a hammock in the shady garden. The sand is a bit thin and there’s sea grass in the shallows, but you can swim comfortably from the long pier or in one of the two appealing midsize pools. Admission is free, but there’s a US$20 per adult minimum consumption at the tidy open-air restaurant, which has reasonable prices and selection, including a kids’ menu and everything from burritos to shrimp dishes (US$5–20).
At the south end of the island, Playa Lancheros is less manicured than Playa Norte but has incredible views over the Caribbean to Cancún . The main feature of the beach is La Casa del Tikinxik (tel. 998/274-0018, 11 a.m.–7 p.m. daily, US$6–10), an Isla Mujeres institution whose specially grilled fish gives the restaurant its name. Playa Lancheros can get rowdy, especially on weekends when day-trippers pack the beach clubs on either side of the restaurant, but nevertheless, it’s still a good place for a leisurely lunch.