Cancun: El Meco and Isla Mujeres

We are enjoying our little apartment in downtown Cancun. The neighbourhood is pleasant, with lots of small casita comidas and a gigantic Soriana grocery store. A few blocks away is the bus stop where we can catch a R-2 or R-15 down to the hotel zone beaches for 8.5 pesos each.

Today, since the morning was pleasant, we decided to visit the second set of ruins here, the El Meco, north of Puerto Juarez, where the boats to Isla Mujeres depart. Rather than taking two buses, we elected to splurge and take a taxi. After negotiating a cost of 90 pesos for the trip, we headed out through the downtown traffic, past Puerto Juarez, to the ruin site, a small area just across the road from the ocean. Just as we pulled up a truck was blasting pesticide into the place to take out any fugitive mosquitoes – blechhh.

El Meco is Cancun’s version of Tulum, the waterfront ruin site down the coast from Playa del Carmen, although it’s not nearly as large and not right on the water. “The city is … believed to have been a major commercial port for the Maya and overlooks the beach and docks from across the road at Punta Sam where nearby claims indicate that there’s the last vestiges of the ancient port hidden along the beach line.

The city’s importance to the Maya is thought to have occurred from its proximity across the coast from Isla Mujeres, its location along the coastal trading routes and the area of calm but deeper water for vessels.” Architectural evidence dating back to the early Classic period (300-600 ce) show that El Meco was a small, self-sufficient fishing village dependent upon the larger capital of Coba.

“At the center of the site is the large El Castillo Pyramid surrounded by a dozen or so smaller structures believed to be used for governmental, religious and commercial trading purposes by the Post Classical period Maya starting in the 10th or 11th century AD.

The site previous to this was believed to be home to a small native village going back to the 6th century AD. … Speculation based on artifact finds and architecture places El Meco at the heart of one of the Chichen Itza periods and further speculates that the city was amongst the then extended realms of the rulers of Chichen Itza.” (

As has happened lots on this trip, we were the only visitors to the site, enjoying walking through the well-treed ruins and throwing bits of apple to the tiny iguanas.

We were surprised to see only very small, skittish lizards here (except the medium-sized guy below), none of whom were willing to come near enough to get the pieces of apple we placed for them.

Ty speculated that the lizards are not well-treated here and as a consequence those that survive are afraid of humans. Can they be eaten for food, I wonder? If so, this would explain why there are no big iguanas here.

After our visit we walked along the very quiet highway, saw a beachfront chapel, and flagged down a collectivo which dropped us at Puerto Juarez.

We took a look at the old dock where the first passenger ferry to travel between Cancun and Isla Mujeres runs – it’s almost deserted now that the new Ultra Mar catamaran plies the water between the newly-built Gran Puerto dock and the island.

Although we hadn’t planned to visit Isla Mujeres today, since we were there anyway, and the boat left in five minutes, we bought our tickets and hopped aboard for the twenty minute run across the incredible clear blue water.

Arriving on the other side, we walked through downtown Isla M, enjoying the bright colours of the buildings, the wares on display, the graffiti, and the laid back island vibe.

Not bad advice …

After having a dockside beer at the Bally-Hoo Inn, we walked five minutes down the road to Playa Norte, where we stationed ourselves beachside for the rest of the afternoon, swimming in the placid water.

Unlike in Cancun, where the high waves have prevented actual swimming (as opposed to frolicking in the waves), here it is possible to swim laps in the roped off area.

Unfortunately for Ty, his burned stomach meant no sun for him, just relaxation under the ol’ sombrillo. Yesterday, both of us had spent quite a bit of time in the high waves of Gaviota Azul beach and the glare from the water and sand must have been too much for the sunscreen to cope with.

See more pics here.

10 Replies to “Cancun: El Meco and Isla Mujeres”

  1. The water is just amazing there — so inviting! I’d like to visit Isla Mujeres again (was there many years ago). Unfortunately, on our boat ride over, the waters were very rough & the exhaust from the boat was heavy so everyone was nauseous and not able to enjoy the island very much. Looks like we really missed out!

  2. Too bad! We were lucky with the weather – a thunderstorm was rolling in just as we left the island. The island is still a great place to visit – not overdeveloped.

  3. Thanks, Shirlene. Check out my other Cancun posts, as well. There are two ruin sites right in the area, as well as some great local beaches, especially Playa Delfines. We are really enjoying staying in downtown Cancun and taking local transport to all the sites.

  4. Great report & pictures,Gracias.I go to Isla Mujeres every winter and stay for 3-4 months but this year thought I would take a side trip to Chichen-Itza,Progresso,Merida etc.Have you been to he Yucatan Coast or I think it may be called the Gold Coast?

  5. Hi Cindy: Thanks! Yes, I have been to Merida and Progreso a couple of times. The first time in Merida we stayed at the Luz en Yucatan Hotel in Centro (and loved it). We visited this hotel again this May and it’s been renovated and is still just as great – nice pool, communal kitchen and great location. In Progreso we stayed at the Embajadores Hostel – not sure whether it’s still operational or not. We didn’t like Progreso as much this visit as the last time we were there. It seems to cater mainly to the cruise ships that visit twice a week and seemed pretty dead other than the area near the pier. While in Merida we did a great day trip to the Loltun Caves and the Mayan ruin sites along the Puuc Route, including Uxmal – highly recommended. Read my reports here:

Leave a Reply

Your email address will not be published. Required fields are marked *