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Cancun without the crowds: Meet Isla Mujeres, a quieter Mexican getaway

The water surrounding Isla Mujeres is a vivid blue.

Kathleen Wong


As soon as I arrived at Isla Mujeres, I knew I was going to experience a completely different side of Cancun.

With turquoise-blue waters, soft sand beaches and ancient Mayan ruins, Cancun is one of the top travel destinations for Americans seeking out a tropical getaway. Located on the Yucatán Penisula, the city drew 30 million visitors in 2022. It’s an easy place to visit and offers visitors the most hotels in the country

A gorgeous beach locale? Definitely. Peaceful? Not exactly.

But looking out to the bright blue horizon, you’ll see the secluded haven I’m going to instead: Impression Isla Mujeres by Secrets

Those looking to escape the loud parties and crowds of Cancun but still bask in the Yucatan’s natural beauty should consider Isla Mujeres, a small island 8 miles northeast of Cancun. In 2022, Isla Mujeres saw only 20% of Cancun’s tourist numbers, which makes it a more serene beach vacation.  

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Impression Isla Mujeres by Secrets is a newly opened all-inclusive luxury resort that caters to a quieter Mexican getaway. A personal butler, four levels of infinity pools and even private boat transfers to and from Cancun are just a few of the amenities guests at the luxurious adults-only resort can take advantage of.

Here’s what it’s like to vacation at Impression Isla Mujeres by Secrets. 

What makes Isla Mujeres so special?

Isla Mujeres offers a low-key Cancun vacation.

Isla Mujeres translates to “Island of Women,” and it is said to be where the Mayan goddess Ixchel resides. The only way to reach the island is by boat, a 15-minute ride from Cancun.

Like Cancun, Isla Mujeres has pristine beaches but with a more laid-back vibe. Think of the island as a less overwhelming, more intimate version of the tourist hub. There is a downtown square, but it’s nothing like Cancun’s party block, which I found overwhelming the last time I visited. 

Here’s what Isla Mujeres has to offer visitors: 

  • On display is Isla Mujeres’ natural beauty. The island is surrounded by an azure sea so vivid it looks as if it were dyed. The calm waters invite travelers to spend most of their time there, and the island is known for flourishing marine life – it’s sometimes called the whale shark capital. If you don’t spot one of these docile sea creatures, whose population has declined more than 50% over the past 75 years, there are still plenty of fish and giant shells to see below the surface. Even the resort pays tribute to the gentle giants by being the home base for shark conservation nonprofit Saving Our Sharks Foundation. A portion of each stay at Impressions Isla Mujeres by Secrets goes to the local organization, meaning guests are supporting “marine biodiversity conservation, promoting sustainable fishing practices, conservation efforts and responsible tourism,” Erica Doyne, senor vice president of marketing and communications at Hyatt Hotels Corp., told USA TODAY.
  • As for non-living sea wonders, the island is home to the Museo Subacuático de Arte, one of fewer than 10 underwater art museums worldwide. Since 2010, visitors have been able to swim among the more than 500 life-size submerged sculptures, which also add biomass to the reef system. If going below the surface isn’t your thing, you can book a tour by glass-bottom boat.
  • Though the most popular of ancient Mayan temples, Chichén-Itza, is on the peninsula, Isla Mujeres has its share of cultural and historical sites. Visitors can make their way to the Mayan Temple of Ixchel, perched atop a striking seaside cliff in Punta Sur on the most southern point of the island, a short distance from the resort. On the mornings of the new year, Isla Mujeres residents gather here to greet the first rays of sunlight. 

What is it like to stay at Impressions Isla Mujeres?

The ocean is the centerpiece of Impression Isla Mujeres.

Relaxing and recharging are the focal points of the adults-only resort, which opened in 2023 as the second property in the Impression by Secrets brand, run by World of Hyatt. You can skip the front desk; check-in is done on the boat. Upon arrival at the dock, guests are greeted with a welcome drink and their personal butler, who is easily reachable via WhatsApp. During my stay, I often forgot I was in Cancun and not some private island in the Caribbean (or at least, how I imagine that would be like).

The property: The ocean is the resort’s centerpiece, and its vistas are prioritized, from the rooftop infinity pool to the oceanfront rooms with their private terrace complete with an outdoor hot tub. Woven throughout the property are subtle reminders of the sea and the creatures within, such as sculptures of whale sharks by Mexican artist César Menchaca using upcycled plastic and elegant lobby seating echoing the shape of a starfish. 

The exterior of the cliffside property looks like a white seashell.

The property was once an abandoned hotel, but you’d never know it. Looking up, you can see how the whitewashed resort pays tribute to its location by resembling a seashell. Its cliffside location, tucked-away courtyards and archways give it a Santorini architectural feel. 

“Built into the natural landscape atop a coastal cliff, the development of Impression Isla Mujeres by Secrets was designed with purpose and inspired by a profound respect for the natural beauty and cultural richness of Isla Mujeres,” Doyne said.

A dock wraps around the 125-room resort’s beachfront, providing plenty of cabana space for guests to hunker down in and enclosing a swimming oasis. Hammocks hang off the dock, inches above the water, inviting you in for a daytime nap. 

The dock wraps around the resort's oceanfront, creating a calm swimming area.

With spring break around the corner, it’ll cost two adults during the week of April 5-12 about $1,100 a night for an ocean-view room with two double beds, or one king bed and a sofa area. This rate includes a terrace, free laundry service, boat transfers, all amenities, and, of course, food and beverage. You can also use World of Hyatt points to book, and there’s a member rate.

The rooms are outfitted in natural tones and materials, but you'll want to spend most of your time on the terrace.

The same week at fellow Isla Mujeres high-end resort Hotel Privilege Aluxes Isla Mujeres will run you more than $4,190 a night for an ocean-view suite, which has a large living area, food and beverage and similar amenities. (Although this seems a high rate, it is cheaper later in the year. A normal room is $1,949 in September, but there’s no terrace or promised ocean views.)

Eating well: The all-inclusive food and drink at Impression Isla Mujeres were top-notch, with eight dining options to choose from, ranging from Italian to Japanese cuisine and nine bars and lounges. My favorite restaurant was the breezy La Vista, which served Mexican fare to outdoor tables overlooking the water. 

La Vista restaurant is aptly named.

It was my first time at an all-inclusive resort, and I indulged almost daily in the unlimited room service, with help from an in-room touchscreen tablet. If I didn’t hear the doorbell, staff would place the food in a two-way cabinet, lending to my peace and quiet.

To do: Besides the difficult choice between lounging by the pool or beach, guests can participate in robust daily programming, from wellness offerings to cultural enrichment workshops. I attended a smoke-cleansing session during sunset, and not only were the views breathtaking but I learned more about the Indigenous spiritual practice. Those who want more of a thrill can try out the four-story waterslide that empties into the ocean, go snorkeling or take one of the free bikes out for a ride. It takes only about 40 minutes to cruise the entire island. 

Kathleen Wong is a travel reporter for USA TODAY based in Hawaii. You can reach her at

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