Eating and Drinking Our Way Around Isla Mujeres

Dining on Caribbean islands has been a little hit-or-miss for Chris and me. We have found plenty of amazing restaurants and beach bars in our isle-hopping adventures, but we’ve also encountered our share of eateries that left us feeling a little “meh.” I’m especially always on the lookout for places that are worth the price which is often on the high side, understandably so, due to the amount of effort it takes to import food onto a small island.

All this is to say, we were very pleasantly surprised by the quality of food we found all over Mexico’s tiny island AND at such good prices. We often enjoyed drinks, entrées, and dessert for about $20-30 USD, which is unheard of in the USVI or the BVI, for example. So in order to share our recommendations and to relive the deliciousness that was Isla Mujeres, I put together a list of our absolute favorites.

Polo’s Mango Cafe

When Chris and I arrived on the island, we practically made a beeline to Polo’s Mango Cafe since it came highly recommended to us by so many reviews on TripAdvisor and also by my very own sister and brother-in-law who had enjoyed the restaurant on a trip to Isla Mujeres a few years ago. We ended up eating here twice, and my favorite out of all the dishes was easily the popular stuffed poblano pepper. I’m not a morning person (understatement) and often find it difficult to get going in time for breakfast out, especially on a lazy-themed trip, so I was happy to discover their breakfast menu extended well into lunch hours! This is definitely a don’t-miss restaurant.


Basto’s Grill

We went to Basto’s Grill based on our villa host’s recommendation. This little hidden gem was a bit tricky to find, but worth the effort. (It’s exactly where it says it is on Google Maps, but it’s tucked away among residences.) We ate here on a super hot day though, and I think maybe the heat made me forget to photograph our food. Oops! I distinctly remember the chips and salsa here being one of my favorites, and their quesadilla hit the spot. Chris loved the crispy tacos, which were rolled up and fried, more like flautas.


La Catrina

We popped into La Catrina for lunch one afternoon when we found ourselves ravenous after a morning of snorkeling around the Lighthouse. I ordered a rum punch and ended up with two because our server explained, “That’s the way we do it on Isla Mujeres.” So two rum punches on an empty stomach it is! And that, my friends, is a great way to almost forget where you park your golf cart. Man were those tacos delicious! I may or may not have been biased by post-snorkeling exhaustion and/or rum punch deliriousness, but I loved this place. And I burned off all the taco calories by wandering the streets in search of our golf cart. Win-win!



Another restaurant I had my sights set on before we even arrived in Mexico was Qubano because I simply can’t resist a good Cubano sandwich. It’s one of my favorites, and Qubano’s version didn’t disappoint! I surprised myself by also really digging the toston sandwich with fried plantains in place of a bun. Get the sampler platter if you’re not quite sure about it – you’ll get to try the Cubano, the toston sandwich, and two other fun sliders.


Green Verde

Green Verde, ranked quite high on the TripAdvisor list, turned out to be one of our very favorites. I wish we had time to eat there more than once! This is where Chris found his favorite tacos of the week, and I loved the grilled steak burrito and my mojito. The atmosphere is super cute, and they serve breakfast, too.


For dessert, we were curious about the “Tequila Banana” which sounded like a drink, but when we ordered it, this is what arrived! It was quite tasty.



I celebrated a birthday on Isla Mujeres, and I chose Limón for my celebratory dinner so that we could try one of the island’s finer dining spots. Chris ordered grilled chicken skewers and I enjoyed a stuffed fish fillet with mixed veggies. One thing to note: despite being one of the more upscale establishments on the island, Limón does not take credit cards. We wish we had been aware of that policy before we arrived because we would have opted to bring more cash.


The food was great, but the real star of the show was the Piña Estilo Sergio or Pineapple Sergio Style which served as my birthday cake! I’d love to try to replicate this at home someday, but I’m trying to remember exactly what was in it. It’s grilled pineapple with brown sugar, butter, brandy, cinnamon, and a scoop of vanilla ice cream at least, and maybe one other thing that I’m forgetting. Nutmeg? Amazingness? If you’re on the island, don’t miss this fantastic dessert.


Bahama Mama

Last but not least, we ended the week at Bahama Mama, where we found a fun mixture of Caribbean and Cuban influenced dishes. I wasn’t necessarily expecting a homemade sweet bread as an appetizer, but I am so very glad we got to try it and I wish it was sitting in front of me right now. It reminded me of King’s Hawaiian bread, only better. We rounded out our Isla Mujeres dining experience by devouring frozen drinks, that wonderful bread, coconut shrimp (check out all of those side dishes – come here hungry!), and empanadas.


After spending a week on Isla Mujeres and eating/drinking our way across the island, we can easily say this was one of our favorites if not THE top contender for island food so far! The bar has definitely been set for our future Caribbean travels.


Note: all of the restaurants in this post are accurately marked on Google Maps with the exception of Limón. At the time of posting, their new location at Isla 33 Resort & Villas had not yet been updated.

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In Search of Whale Sharks

As I mentioned in my previous post, the main reason Chris and I ended up on Isla Mujeres this year was to search for and swim with whale sharks. I’m not sure we would have picked Isla Mujeres otherwise (though we ended up really enjoying it), and a bit of anxiety built up as I worried we wouldn’t find the sharks on this trip. But I felt like it was a good omen to see this mural on the way to our villa the first day!


I absolutely love animal encounters. They’re often the highlight of my travels, and I can’t ever get enough of photographing our furry, feathered, and finned friends. That said, I’m very picky about my experiences with animals. I try to learn as much as I can upfront about popular animal-related excursions, and I absolutely refuse to participate in anything where the animals are mistreated. I was happy to learn that many of the whale shark tours in Isla Mujeres respect the marine life and environment. (Sadly, the same cannot be said about swim-with-dolphins type experiences on the island. Please do not patronize these businesses!)

I ended up choosing On Isla Mujeres for those ethical reasons and because they received consistent glowing reviews. As a bonus, their boat, the Anastascia II, offered the convenience of a restroom on board. With a long, choppy trek out to sea that could take a couple of hours round trip, it just seemed like a good idea! I also specifically planned our trip around the week smack in the middle of whale shark season (June – September), and on a week with a full moon since this apparently might increase the chances of a whale shark sighting. (It’s something to do with the science of the full moon and the tide and an abundance of plankton).

So on the Monday of our week on Isla Mujeres we met our group at the marina behind Oscar’s in hopes of seeing these giant fish. I figured if we didn’t have any luck, we still had plenty of time during the rest of the week.


The trip out to sea took almost an hour, and we ended up over twenty-five miles away from shore. Fisherman ships radioed to our captain with a pin-pointed area where we could find the sharks, and they weren’t wrong. When we arrived, we could see a dozen or so boats and several people in the water, but the presence of other people quickly receded to the back of my mind because we were also surrounded by sharks.

Huge, polka-dotted sharks, longer than some of the boats. And so many of them.



While everyone in our group geared up in masks, fins, and life jackets, we all watched and collectively gasped as the giants gracefully maneuvered around with their mouths agape to scoop up thousands and thousands of tiny plankton.


And then it was our turn to jump into the deep blue sea. The first time Chris and I entered the water, we did so without cameras in order to enjoy the experience through our eyes only, and I’ll never forget the sight of a five-foot-wide mouth sneaking up on from my side, just inches away from me. Breathtaking.


Suffice it to say, this was my most challenging photographic subject to-date, and that’s saying something considering my experience with photographing toddlers! The sharks are huge, but they’re faster than I expected. It was actually kind of exhausting (but fun) trying to keep up with them. Thankfully we lucked out on a day where there were just dozens of sharks in the water, so when one disappeared another one showed up over our shoulders.


I’m not sure what they think of us being in the water during their feeding time, but they seemed neutral and unconcerned, as much as I could read a shark’s thoughts and feelings. They swam extremely close to us while collecting plankton, so I wonder if perhaps they’re even a little curious about us humans. But as I mentioned, it’s important to me that the animals aren’t impacted by our presence in any encounter. I’ve read some awful stories about tour companies that allow people to touch the whale sharks and hang onto them, and that makes me cringe.

From what I observed that day, none of the tour operators were feeding the sharks or allowing people to touch them. We were specifically instructed by On Isla Mujeres not to touch the sharks, and to wear marine-safe sunscreen. A maximum of two people were allowed in the water at a time, and only with a guide. So overall, it seemed to be a nice opportunity to simply observe these creatures up close in their natural environment without disturbing them.DCIM100GOPROG0030076.

After our adventure with the gentle giants, we moved closer to shore and stopped at a reef for snorkeling. I was actually a little underwhelmed with the snorkeling spot as the waves were pretty choppy and it was a little too deep (maybe 20+ feet?) to really see the coral and fish. I spotted a huge sea turtle along the ocean floor, but I didn’t bother with photos since he was so far away. On the plus side, the coral looked pristine and healthy.

For our third and final stop, we anchored at North Beach where our guides prepared fresh ceviche and tortilla chips for us. I had opted not to eat anything before the ride out to the whale sharks in case it was choppy (it was), so I was ravenous and managed not to take photos of our meal! It was especially cute that we used floating lifejackets as makeshift tables in the water. But I assure you it was delicious, and there’s nothing like standing in crystal clear water, enjoying drinks and a great meal after a big swim.



And with that, I am officially crossing this one off the ol’ bucket list, and I feel like I leveled up quite a bit in my ocean bravery skills!

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  • Pam SpryAugust 14, 2016 - 6:50 pm

    You’re the bravest person I know! Beautiful pictures!

  • SusanAugust 20, 2016 - 10:47 am

    Aw, thanks Pam! This didn’t require a ton of bravery – the sharks were totally harmless! Easy peasy. Just put a spider in front of me and you’ll see I’m not brave at all. 😉

Isla Mujeres: A (Very) Tiny Slice of Mexico

In my progression of getting over a fear of the ocean, I decided last year that for my next challenge I wanted to literally go BIG and swim alongside the largest fish in the water, the whale shark. My research pointed me to a few places where one might be able to find whale sharks, including Isla Mujeres, a small island off the coast of Mexico. Only a three-hour (and direct!) flight away from Washington-Dulles and a short ferry ride from Cancun, Isla Mujeres intrigued Chris and me since we love tiny islands. Plus, neither of us had been to Mexico since we were kids, so off we went last week!


Our tradition of staying at the perfect beach villa instead of a hotel or resort continued when we discovered Casa Marchon in Punta Sur. Tucked away on the quieter end of the island, but still only a few minutes away from the bustle and convenience of the main town, Casa Marchon totally suited us for a week on Isla Mujeres.


We were spoiled all week by having not one but TWO pools in which to beat the heat, and giant protective umbrellas for those of us with fairer skin. When we weren’t swimming with whale sharks or exploring the island, Chris and I could be found relaxing (or goofing around) at either pool.

When I planned this trip, I initially wanted to include a day trek to the mainland to visit Chichen Itza, but as we got closer to departure I hemmed and hawed about going as I watched the July forecast rise in temperatures. Chris and I pretty much began to melt once our plane touched down in Mexico, and we ultimately decided not to stray too far from the relief of a pool or the ocean. We’ll simply have to visit the world-wonder another time.


Though we saw plenty of scooters and a handful of cars in the mix, the main mode of transportation for Isla Mujeres visitors is via golf cart. You can pop over from Cancun for the day and get around by taxi, or to up the fun factor you can rent a golf cart (or scooter) for the day and see the island on your own time. We rented one for the week and carted all over the island, up and down as many streets as we could find. At a whopping five miles long, it doesn’t take much time to travel the entire island, even in a golf cart. (Note to self: GoPro portraits can be a little unflattering, especially to the arms. Yikes.)


Despite the lack of a/c, we really enjoyed our little golf cart. I brought a piece of red ribbon and tied it to our cart so we could remember which one was ours when we parked in town. I mean, I guess I could have memorized the license plate number, but…after a few margaritas, it’s just easier to spot a ribbon. Toting our snorkel gear and getting our groceries (read: cases of beer) home from the store proved to be a bit trickier on the golf cart vs. a car, but we were up for the challenge.


Speaking of groceries, one of the biggest differences between Isla Mujeres and some of our other island experiences was the huge supermarket, Chedraui. I didn’t even have to pack my usual arsenal of full-size sunscreen bottles because we were able to find everything at the store! Well, everything except relish and salsa. And even better, the sunscreen didn’t cost more than it would at home.


Typically Chris and I shop for food so we can eat breakfasts and lunches at “home” and then go out for dinners, but we simply couldn’t help ourselves with all of the amazing food all over the island. We loved trying the restaurants, and marveled at the amazingly inexpensive cost of food and drinks compared to other islands. And the food was so gorgeous I actually remembered to take pictures this time! I may have enough to scrape together a blog post solely on Isla Mujeres restaurants. Stay tuned.


When we weren’t blissing out by the pool or eating tacos/drinking mojitos, we tried to see as much of the island as we could, from North Beach down to the Mayan ruins of Punta Sur (more on that soon). I adored the cheerful colors everywhere we looked, and managed to almost get used to the 110-degree heat index by the end of the week.



Coming up next: we head out to sea in search of whale sharks!

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  • AdrienneAugust 1, 2016 - 5:12 pm

    Gorgeous pics! Your VRBO looks amazing and so does all that food. I can’t wait to see and hear about your whale shark adventure! :)

  • SusanAugust 20, 2016 - 10:48 am

    Thank you, Adrienne! I can’t wait to see/hear more about your whale shark adventure, too!

  • DeeAugust 22, 2016 - 9:28 am

    We will be on the island in 5 days! I bought the mapchick’s maps and want to hit ALL the restaurants … which were your favorites? Any tips appreciated! :)

  • SusanAugust 22, 2016 - 3:14 pm

    Hi Dee! You’re going to LOVE Isla Mujeres! The MapChick maps definitely help, and I just pressed “Publish” on my restaurant round-up post: I hope that helps, and have an amazing time!

Tourist at Home: Renwick Gallery

It truly boggles my mind, how many quality museums and galleries we have access to living in the D.C. Metro area, and I’m constantly adding to my list of must-sees as exhibits come and go. Chris and I both had yet to ever visit the Renwick Gallery, so over the long July 4th weekend we decided to go see the WONDER exhibit before its final days.

Part of the Smithsonian American Art Museum, the Renwick Gallery houses contemporary crafts and decorative art, and admission is free to the public. And if the free entry isn’t enough of a bonus, photography is encouraged!


The Renwick Gallery completed a huge two-year renovation last year and reopened with the highly Instagrammable exhibition, WONDER, full of large-scale whimsical pieces.


I’ll leave any real critiquing to the true art connoisseurs, but I personally loved this exhibit. As the title suggests, the pieces play with the imagination and inspire wonder. I especially loved Gabriel Dawe’s vivid piece, Plexus A1, constructed of sixty miles of rainbow-colored threads.


A few of the installations will remain as part of a long-term collection including the hanging Volume piece (shown below), but three of the other works will close next weekend on July 10th.


Aside from the WONDER exhibit, there are plenty of interesting and beautiful works of art in the permanent collections.


The gallery is located just a few blocks from the Farragut West metro station so it’s an easy addition to any D.C. day itinerary. We popped in shortly after opening (10am daily), and since it’s a smaller building we spent a little under an hour meandering through the various displays. I highly recommend a visit, and bring your camera!

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Netherlands Snapshot

It’s (finally!) time for my superlatives round-up for The Netherlands! As usual in my Snapshot posts, I’m including a few never-seen photos and stories from our trip this past April.

Best Moment

I absolutely loved our visit to Keukenhof Gardens. I set off for Holland with a longtime dream of photographing tulips, and it was at the gardens that I officially checked off that bucket list item. Being the worrier that I am, I fretted before we left that the tulips wouldn’t be in bloom during our visit, but (obviously) it worked out perfectly and I practically skipped around the park snapping away with my camera.

I loved that while Keukenhof is mostly a huge, well-manicured park, there were also some secluded areas that felt like we were in the middle of rural Holland. It was all beautiful along each path and around every corner.


Worst Moment

Alternate category title: Museum Misfortunes. Our time in The Netherlands was actually pretty smooth, so the two worst moments weren’t even that bad, but they were both museum-related. First, the day that I was able to purchase advanced tickets online for the Anne Frank House also happened to be King’s Day, and getting from Point A to Point B through the thick crowds proved to be more difficult than we anticipated. We nearly missed our scheduled time to tour the museum because we had to wade our way through mobs like this one. We even got a bit separated from each other and I couldn’t see Chris for a few minutes, inducing a lost-child-in-a-department-store kind of panic.


Adding to the stress, we were using my iPhone to navigate and it ran out of juice before we located the museum. We did find it just in time and I’m so glad we had the opportunity to tour this historically important exhibit.


And then on the last day, we walked over to the Van Gogh Museum for their Vincent on Friday event only to realize I had not purchased tickets in advance like I thought I did. Oops! I’m usually incredibly organized when it comes to travel planning, but I goofed this time. We opted not to stand in the super long queue in favor of packing for our flight the next morning, so sadly we missed the museum. Next time, as I always say!


Best Meal

As much as I loved trying local favorites like bitterballen and poffertjes, my favorite meal was actually a burger and fries! It was the smokey flavor of local cheese that made the burger amazing, though. That, and we sat at this cool table with our own self-serve Heineken tap! Fun fact: I tried my very first Heineken while in Amsterdam.



Something We Learned

The fascinating process of how Dutch clogs are made is no longer a mystery to us thanks to the Wooden Shoe Workshop in Zaanse Schans. The machinery mesmerized us as simple blocks of wood rapidly transformed into the familiar wooden shoe shape. I was shocked at how quick it happened!




We’re Thankful We Packed

Orange accessories to wear on King’s Day! My orange t-shirt ended up beneath layers of hoodie and jacket, but it’s in there. I found the sunglasses on Amazon for $7, and I purchased the lei in one of the many shops in Amsterdam selling everything orange for the occasion. (Side note: I’m not sure what happened in the King’s Day photo below. I think my point-and-shoot might have accidentally applied some kind of filter/effect? But I think it’s kind of fun.)



We Didn’t Need To Bring

Short-sleeve tops. It was so cold for our visit in late April that we needed to wear multiple layers all day every day. Brrr! (This one is a direct cut-and-paste from my Belgium Snapshot because the same exact thing was true of both places.)

Trip Regrets

Not a thing! I would have loved to stay longer, as is true of most places, but I loved our itinerary and I don’t have any regrets.

Reasons To Go Back

We didn’t get to go to the Van Gogh Museum (see above) so this is on our list for next time! We also didn’t “get” to try pickled herring, so um…I guess I can put that on the when-we-go-back list.

Favorite Photos

Hands-down, this is my favorite photo! It’s the exact image I wanted to make on this trip.


I also love this shot Chris took of some love locks along a canal bridge.


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  • AdrienneJuly 2, 2016 - 12:29 am

    I could look at your tulip photos all day. :) I think my favorite image though is the one of the blue and white clogs – I love the repeating pattern. (And having tried pickled herring in Sweden, I can assure you you’re not missing anything.)