By Emma Sloley
Mexico’s islands have a wealth of charms to offer, from the languid to the outdoorsy. Whether you’re seeking a romantic getaway, an up-close wildlife experience or a fun tequila-fueled weekend away, Mexico has an island for you. Here, our five favorite islas, from Baja to the Caribbean.
Where They Are: In Banderas Bay, near Puerto Vallarta
Why They’re Great: This fetching volcanic achipelago is a protected marine park and an important bird sanctuary. Home to over ninety species of birds – including the blue-footed booby, the white-capped marine swallow and the pájaro bobo café, a type of penguin -- Las Marietas is a nature-lover’s dream. The islands also offer superb diving and snorkeling.
When to Go: November to March, when you might also catch the migration of the humpback whales, who leave their Alaskan feeding grounds to breed and play in these waters.
Getting There: Take a day trip to the islands with a reputable tour company like Vallarta Adventures.
Where it is: North of Cancun
Why It’s Great: This under-the-radar, chilled-out island is a world away from the high-rise scene of Cancun, and that’s precisely its appeal. Sandy streets, beaches lined with open-air bars and restaurants and fun but unpretentious hotels...bliss. The biggest draw is the whale sharks – the world’s biggest fish – which come in great numbers to feed in the plankton-rich waters. Numerous local outfitters, like the well-run Willy’s Tours, offer day trips to swim with these amazing gentle creatures.
When to Go: May to September, when the whale sharks are in town
Getting There: Two buses leave Cancun daily for Chiquila, a tiny fishing village that’s the departure point for ferries to Holbox.
Where It Is: In Southern Baja, near the town of La Paz
Why It’s Great: This idyllic, uninhabited UNESCO-listed nature reserve features sheer red cliffs, windswept desert sand dunes and turquoise inlets. Swim with manta rays, whale sharks and sea lions in the warm waters or hike in the desert and take brag-worthy photographs of the gorgeous scenery.
When to Go: July to September is optimal time for viewing manta rays, sharks and whale sharks. Stay with Baja Camp, a safari-style luxury camping experience that’s the only accomodation on the island.
Getting There: The island is two hours by boat from La Paz.
Where it is: Separated from Cancun by Mujeres Bay, Isla Mujeres is situated around seven miles from the coast.
Why It’s Great: Crushed coral beaches, tranquil blue shallow waters and exceptional diving and snorkeling make this five-mile long island a popular vacation spot for couples and young groups. A turtle sanctuary called Isla Mujeres Turtle Farm is worth a visit to get an insight into the plight of these beautiful creatures and the admirable preservation efforts going on to protect them.
When to Go: The weather is perfect from November to March.
Getting There: Buses depart Cancun regularly for Punta Sam and Puerto Juarez, the two departure points for ferries to Isla Mujeres.
Where It Is: Around 45 miles south of Cancun in the Caribbean Sea
Why It’s Great: A magnet for divers since Jacques Cousteau discovered its excellent reefs in the 1960s, Cozumel has grown into a huge tourist draw thanks to charms both natural – deep-water reefs, bird-watching – and man-made, in the form of shopping malls. Mexico’s largest island, Cozumel has enough room for bargain hunters and dive aficionados alike.
When to Go: The festive Carnaval in February is lots of fun, but any of the winter months – roughly November to March – offer ideal conditions.
Getting There: Passenger ferries run regularly from Playa del Carmen. There’s also an airport serving international destinations like the USA and Europe.