Less than ten miles northeast of Cancun is Isla Mujeres. If you get tired of Cancun and want a change of scenery, Isla Mujeres is an easy option. While I was in Mexico, I went twice; once for lunch and once for snorkeling.
In case you care of non-food things, snorkeling was okay. Not like, “OMG, I CAN DIE NOW!”, but more like, “I guess that was fun, now let’s eat!” David and I paid MXN $560 (USD $42.58) combined and we saw lots of fish. The only problem was that the guide was strict and wouldn’t let us stray away from the group. Ten people in a tight group when snorkeling can be difficult. At one point I was even accidentally smacked in the face by the guide. Also, visibility at the underwater museum was low, and the water was cold.
We were also taken to a small nurse shark pen for us to pet/hold nurse sharks. As can be imagined, no one really wanted to get in “to play.” It all just seemed a little too sad. When I brought up the fact I ate nurse shark a few nights ago on the boat, no one said a word. I always know the right thing to say. We were also taken to a dolphin show, but unfortunately, the dolphin pen wasn’t that much better. In any case, even still, snorkeling wasn’t all that bad. As I mentioned, we did see a lot of fish, but next time I’d skip the museum, the nurse sharks, and the dolphin show.
What I emphatically wouldn’t recommend though is taking the Ferry El Mexicano to Isla Mujeres. The first time to Isla Mujeres, my mother and I mistakenly took the Mexicano rather than the cleaner, faster, and more reliable Ultramar Ferry from Playa Tortuga. By mistakenly, I mean tricked by the guys working for El Mexicano. They told us Ultramar was for people interested in timeshares only. We learned later this was not the case. After we bought the round-trip tickets, we were also informed there would only be one returning ferry at 5pm that day. Not convenient when we only planned on going for lunch. We later ended up paying for two one-way tickets on the Ultramar to get back to Cancun earlier. Again, DO NOT TAKE FERRY EL MEXICANO!!!
OK, now that you’ve been warned, let’s move onto the food! On Isla Mujeres, most of the restaurants are on Calle Hidalgo, a few blocks from the dock. On my first trip with my mom, we ended up at Compadres and shared a tasty plate of Enchiladas de Pollo (MXN $95 / USD $7.22), chicken enchiladas with mole. The shredded chicken inside was moist, and the mole was thick and had just a bit of spice. We hadn’t expected much as we had just aimlessly wandered into the restaurant, so we were both pleasantly surprised.
On the way back to the ferry, we ran into a woman selling longan-like fruit on the dock. The fruit looked liked longan, but weren’t as round and were more green. I didn’t know what they were, and communication was difficult since my Spanish skills are very limited, but after the woman demonstrated how to eat them, I decided to buy a small bunch for MXN $2 (USD $1.52).
Back at the hotel, we learned from the waiter on the beach that they were called huaya. And although they looked like longan, and similarly had a seed in the middle, it tasted completely different. The fruit wasn’t as meaty, and it was tart, almost like passion fruit. The meat also didn’t pull away from the seed very easily so much work was needed to get the fruit off the seed. Later, much work was needed to remove the meat from between our teeth. We liked the huaya, but it was a lot of effort for very little reward. We ended up saving the rest for David. David, on the other hand, really liked the huaya. He’s a big fan of passion fruit, and sour fruits in general, so I wasn’t surprised. (If you’re curious about huaya, I’ve seen it at Essex Street Market.)
On my second trip to Isla Mujeres, this time with David, we ended up at Los De Pescado on Calle Hidalgo for seafood tacos.
The Taco de Pescado (MXN $24 / USD $1.82), a batter-fried fish taco served with cabbage slaw, was fried crisp and was light and flaky within. It was good as-is, but if you like condiments like I do, Los De Pescado does not disappoint. Four sauces are available (habanero, chipotle, mayonnaise, and tamarind) and also lots of garnishes (shredded cabbage, lime slices, chopped habanero with lime, pickled onions, pico de gallo, and chopped cucumbers). I was partial to the chipotle sauce and the pickled onions.
Taco de Camaron (MXN $24 / USD $1.82) was also fried crisp, but the shrimp were small, and there was a bit too much batter. I preferred the fish taco.
Tostada de Ceviche (MXN $26 / USD $1.98), shrimp ceviche tostada, was bright with lots of lime juice and chopped tomatoes, but again, the shrimp could have been larger. For the price, however, I couldn’t really complain.
After the tacos, we headed back to the dock. This time, though, we didn’t see any huaya, but we did see something even better. Gorditas! Fried foods always trumps sour fruit that gets stuck in your teeth!
Standing right by the Ultramar dock, another reason why Ultramar is better than El Mexicano, was a man with a glass case full of gorditas and kibbeh (post on kibbeh coming later). I ordered one gordita, and he promptly sliced the deep-fried masa cake in half and filled it with an hard boiled egg, minced pork, hot sauce, and pickled red onions. One fat gordita was MXN $10 (USD $0.76).
Second to an amazing chicharron taco I had a few days later in Playa del Carmen, this was my favorite street food from Mexico. I loved the crunchy masa cake, the red pickled onions that cut the grease, and the eggs and minced pork that made the snack that much more filling. After I finished the gordita, I made a mental note to eat many more gorditas on the trip, but to my deep dismay, another magical gordita encounter didn’t occur. If you find yourself in Isla Mujeres, don’t miss out on the gorditas. It was the highlight of the entire island.
If you still have time afterwards, there’s always snorkeling, tacos, and chicken mole.
Los De Pescado
Calle Hidalgo 111, 2nd Floor
Isla Mujeres, Quintana Roo, Mexico
Calle Hidalgo 11
Isla Mujeres, Quintana Roo, Mexico
Gordita & Huaya Street Vendors
In front of the Ultramar dock