Isla Mujeres

Fabled landfall for yachts, Isla Mujeres (Women Island) welcomes you to the Yucatan Channel.

Isla Mujeres lies 104 n.m. WSW of Cabo San Antonio, Cuba; about 330 n.m. SW of Key West, Florida; 490 n.m. SE of the Mississippi River mouth; or 650 n.m. ESE of the Rio Grande at the US border. This low island runs 4.2 n.m. long (NW to SE) and lies about 3 n.m off the mainland state of Quintana Roo, 6 n.m. NE of Cancun. Bahia Mujeres is the 5-mile wide somewhat sheltered pass W of Isla Mujeres.

Isla Mujeres (pronounced “moo-HAIR-ayz”) is less touristy than Cancun, but it’s hoping to catch up. The harbor has ferry docks, Navy piers, at least 3 marinas, an anchorage and many docks. Laguna Makax in the middle of the island is a popular hurricane hole, reached by a narrow maintained channel (usually 8’ depth, 10’ after dredging), and this mangrove lined lagoon contains at least 3 marinas and spots to anchor.

Domestic port clearance can be done on Isla Mujeres, but international arrival requires a ride across Bahia Mujeres on one of the ferries to Puerto Juarez to handle the international part of your paperwork.

Approaches: The S end of Contoy Reef (mostly breaking) is 3.5 n.m. N of El Yunque (Anvil Rock Light), which stands about 400 yards off the N tip of Isla Mujeres. Between these lies a submerged reef (about 9’ to 14’ depth) that deep-draft craft must avoid.

Isla Mujeres is so low that when arriving from the NE, you first see large hotels on the N tip. The windward E side of the island is steep coral cliffs with no inlets. Garrafón and Manchones are reefs extending .75 n.m. S from the island’s SW end. The leeward W side is more hospitable, and the anchorage and lagoon entrance is found on the NW quadrant.

From the NE, our GPS approach waypoint (21°16.3’N, 86°45.1’W) is about .4 n.m. N of El Yunque (Anvil Rock Light). From there, turn to 190°M and head for the buoy marking the harbor entrance (min. 8’ depth), putting it on your starboard bow. Be careful of a brownish shoal on starboard, visible with high sun. Keeping the entrance buoy to starboard, turn to port while keeping the low white sandy point off your port side. Pass close along shore. You’ll pass another buoy on your starboard marking a shoal, so stay closer to shore to avoid it.

From the SE, pass between Roca La Bandera, also called Becket Rock (21°10’N, 86°44’W) and the S end of Isla Mujeres, heading to just W of Bajo Pepito buoy (21°12.5’N, 86°45.3’W). Manchones and Garrafón reefs lie between this buoy and the island, and a very strong current sets you toward the reefs. Round Pepito Shoal in 18’ of water, and you’ll see range lights marking the harbor entrance. Keep these off your starboard bow at about 2.2 n.m. until you see the channel buoys. Stay N of the channel buoys as you enter the harbor, to avoid a shoal.

La Caida or the chute is a narrow, twisting dinghy or panga passage (max 5’ depth) at the SW corner or the main harbor; heavy current, not dredged. A private home with dock stands on the S side of La Caida.

Anchorages: First, Isla Mujeres’ municipal anchorage (10’ over sand and mud) parallels the W side of the harbor channel, from lighted Roca La Carbonera (underwater sculpture) backed up along the inside of Chico and Tiburon islands, to a shoal opposite Paradise Marina at the S end of the harbor. This anchorage has grass patches, wakes, some petty theft from boats unattended after dark. Avoid the 3 ferry docks, Navy base and several commercial piers in the main harbor.

Second, at the S end of the harbor, mangroves and sea walls line the narrow 500-yard long Makax Channel (max. 10’ depth in center) into sheltered lagoon that spreads half a mile SE (S end shoals) filling the island’s SW interior. Visiting yates can usually anchor anywhere in Makax Lagoon not obstructing access to the marinas and private docks. Let the port captain know you’re anchored down here, so perhaps he will increase patrols against petty theft.

Hurricane Hole: Makax Lagoon is the best known hurricane hole in the NW Caribbean. Despite grass patches on the bottom, we’ve sat out hurricane outer bands in safety, as it’s surrounded in mangroves and raised limestone road beds. We sound 12’ in middle of N end, but the S end narrows, shoals & has coral chunks. If you’re too slow seeking refuge inside, it may be crammed full. Puerto Isla Mujeres docks are a reasonable alternative, but they also fill up – some are turned away.

Marinas: Looking to port upon entering the main harbor, Enrique Lima’s Marina is the first you reach, located between ferry docks (wakes), has Pemex fuel dock on seaward end; 22 full-service slips, walk to downtown, Enrique’s ship’s agency offered. FMI call (998) 877-0211.

El Milagro Marina: 25 stern-ties to about 40’ on 1 pier, 220-volt 50-amp shore power; dockmasters Hugo (in Spanish) and Jaime (in English) on VHF 16. FMI (998) 274-0129, or call on VHF 13. Milagro has a “penthouse” apartment you can rent to get off the boat for awhile. Family run marina also operates a pizza restaurant on the street level.

Paraiso Marina: 37 slips to 80’ on 2 piers, 220-volt 50-amp shore power; laundry, pool; cabins. Dockmaster Tomas Boylan or Miguel can help with your port clearance. (998) 877-0252. FMI: email paraisoclubdeyates@yahoo.com or rhardwick@paradisemarina.net The owners of this marina also own Paradise Marina in Puerto Yukalpeten near Progreso, Yucatan, and they offer to make yatistas a deal for rates if you visit both marinas in one season.

Marina El Sol: Smallest and cheapest marina in the main harbor, it has 10 to 12 slips, located at the SE end of the outer lagoon, below the Navy’s antenna array. We found 8’ of water at the outer slips with power, but some shallower multi-hull slips without power are less expensive. FMI (998) 888-0929, or email MarinaDelSol_im@hotmail.com

Puerto Isla Mujeres Marina, largest on the island, lies inside the NE corner of Makax Lagoon. Dockmaster Federico Cortino records same 10’ depths as Makax Channel, has 64 full-service slips to 80’ and 10 slips to 175’, pool, laundry service, in secure resort hotel compound. Zama Beach across the lagoon has a dock for 80’ LOA. This resort’s fuel dock and boat yard (see local services) are on the E side of the channel. FMI, call Puerto Isla Mujeres (998) 287-3340 or email marina@puertoislamujeres.com.

Marina del Sol is farther down the mangrove filled E side of Laguna Makax, with about 15 berths on 2 piers. Office is atop stairway, monitors VHF 16 and 13. FMI call  (998) 888-0929 or 888-0125, cell 044-998-128-6393. Fax (998) 888-0929, or email marinadelsol_im@hotmail.com

Marina Varadero de Oscar (aka Oscar’s Marina) is farther SE in the lagoon, has about 10 shallow spots on 2 docks. No phone but a surfboard sign and 2 cantinas mark the marina office on Rueda Medina.

Private dockage: Besides PIM’s Zama Beach, at least 6 more private docks line Makax Lagoon, most are nice or in construction, others run down and presently clogged with wrecks or projects. You must look in person by dinghy before deciding to inquire about renting space or dinghy landing and negotiating a price for however long you want to be here.

Port Clearance: The Capitanía (VHF 16) is on Rueda Medina, the malecon, just S of the ferry docks. This is a Port of Entry; Migración and Aduana are side by side about 3 blocks up the street. When you check in on VHF, don’t hesitate to ask the Port Capitanía or Navy for directions or for a local guide to lead you safely into the harbor.

The Port Captain and Marines close this port when hurricanes threaten during the summer and fall. That means boats already here cannot depart, due to unsafe conditions over the shoals or dangerously heavy seas as you enter the Gulf Stream. Of course, if you make it here, you can come in.

Local Services: Fuel docks: (1.) Enrique’s Marina fuel dock is in N end of the harbor; boats to 50’ Med-moor and hang over while fueling, and the Pemex station is nearby. (2.) Larger yachts use the 200’ side tie at Puerto Isla Mujeres on the E side of Makax Channel (max 10’ depth).

Puerto Isla Mujeres shipyard (150-ton Travelift, to 29’ beam) is on the E side of Makax Channel (10’) into the lagoon, just past the fuel dock. Their marina seca or dry storage space is limited; call (998) 287-3340. (La Amada Marina has the other haulout yard in this region, and Meridiano 87 dry dock is in construction at Cozumel, so check our UPDATES.)

Isla Mujeres street maps handed out free, showing local services. Isla Mujeres Centro and the main plaza fill the island’s N end, and locals live in the S end.

Ultra Mar fast ferry takes only 20 minutes to reach Puerto Juarez (CIS office, Hacienda del Mar Marina). Slower people ferry goes to Tortuga Dock near Cancun Bridge. Car and people ferry goes to Punta Sam near La Amada Marina.

Provisions: Super Express is the best grocery store for everything, then Super Benito. The Mercado Municipal (open 0600) is at the N end of Matamoros; best produce on ferry days. Or, take the ferry to Cancun and taxi to Soriana’s, Costco, Sam’s or WalMart. Ferries go to 2 different docks in Puerto Juarez, and the car ferry goes to Punta Sam.

Visit the Mayan observatory on the S tip of Isla Mujeres, or the pink flamingo ponds along the SE flank. Garrafón Reef is sadly picked over.

Emergency medical: English-speaking Dr. Antonio Salas (monitors VHF 68) runs a 24/7 medical clinic at #18 Hidalgo Street, middle of Isla Mujeres downtown N end. Phone Salas (998) 877-0477 or 0021 or 845-2370.

History & Culture: The Isle of Women was named by Hernán Córdoba in 1517, when he visited the uninhabited island and the ancient Mayan temple on its S end. Inside were many statues of their fertility goddess Ixchel and her female court; hence the name Isla Mujeres. Ixchel and her Mayan mujeres slept in tranquility for centuries. Today, tiny Isla Mujeres is still a Caribbean beauty, but she has WIFI, street drugs and is working hard to catch up to her glitzy sister, Cancun.

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