Getting from Playa del Carmen to Isla Mujeres via Cancun: A traveler review

Beach hopping is one of those must-dos when you’re in the Yucatán. So, if you’re in Playa del Carmen, the near-inevitable moment will happen when you wonder how to get to Isla Mujeres. Since traveling from Playa del Carmen to Isla Mujeres requires ground and ferry transportation, it isn’t as straightforward of a trip as mainland beach destinations. I’ve done this route myself and will walk you through my experience so you know what to expect.

How far is Isla Mujeres from Playa del Carmen?

It’s a natural question, but the better questions are these: how far is Playa del Carmen from Cancun, and how far is Cancun from Isla Mujeres? The answers are about one hour and less than 30 minutes, respectively.

In theory, if ground transportation and ferry times align, you could travel from Playa del Carmen to Isla Mujeres in less than two hours. However, you’ll most likely experience some wait time before your ferry departs. In my situation, the travel time was just over two hours.

The two-step process

Transportation to Isla Mujeres from Playa del Carmen requires taking a bus or shuttle to Cancun followed by a ferry to Isla Mujeres. If you’re traveling with luggage, you might be groaning at the thought of lugging it for an extra transportation leg, but if you’re like most other travelers, you’ll be glad you made the effort.

Traveling to Cancun

The first step in traveling to Isla Mujeres from Playa del Carmen is heading to Cancun. You can either do so via a shuttle van or by taking an ADO bus. There isn’t a right or wrong way here—the shuttle buses are often quicker, and the ADO buses offer more leg and luggage room.

I took an ADO bus from Playa del Carmen to Cancun. The bus was direct, making its only stop at the downtown Cancun ADO bus station. You’ll be on a highway the entire time, so there aren’t any stunning views aside from the occasional resort entrances on the passenger side.

Once I arrived at the bus station, I exited through the main entrance and was greeted by a group of eager taxi drivers. It was a welcome sight, given that I needed to get to the Puerto Juárez ferry port.

If you take a taxi from the Cancun ADO bus station, make sure to accept a ride from one of the uniformed drivers in white collared shirts—it’s a safer option than taking a cab off the street. The cost to take a taxi from the Cancun bus station to the Puerto Juárez ferry port is 150 pesos, and the ride takes under ten minutes. 

Taking the ferry to Isla Mujeres

The real fun begins with taking the Ultramar ferry to Isla Mujeres. But first, it’s important that you head to the correct port. There are four passenger Ultramar ferry ports from Cancun to Isla Mujeres, plus a port for vehicles. I chose the Puerto Juárez port since it’s the closest option to the bus station, it’s a cheaper ferry ride, and it offers over twenty daily departures.

Depending on your situation, you can also take a ferry from one of three ports in Cancun’s Hotel Zone (Playa Tortugas, El Embarcadero, or Playa Caracol). Just keep in mind that these Isla Mujeres Ultramar ferry ports offer three or fewer departures per day.

You might be wondering: Is there a ferry from Playa del Carmen to Isla Mujeres?

Unfortunately, there isn’t. However, the Cancun to Isla Mujeres ferry is a wonderful experience. You can choose to ride on an upper outdoor deck or sit by a floor-to-ceiling window in the air-conditioned ground-floor cabin. Keep your camera out; the closer you get to Isla Mujeres, the more turquoise the water becomes. 

Juggling transportation timing

Yet another advantage of traveling from Playa del Carmen to Isla Mujeres via the Puerto Juárez port is that Ultramar offers a flexible ticket policy. Since the Isla Mujeres ferries from Puerto Juárez depart every 30 to 60 minutes, you have the option to hop on an earlier ferry if you’re running ahead of schedule.

It just so happens I had the opportunity to do this—my originally scheduled 3-hour, 15-minute trip became a 2-hour, 15-minute journey. What a treat it was to start soaking in Isla Mujeres’ island vibe an hour early!

You don’t have to get a new ticket if you want to take an earlier (or later) ferry. Simply hop in line and you’ll be able to pass right through.

Playa del Carmen vs. Isla Mujeres

Isla Mujeres is more low-key and compact compared to Playa del Carmen. Instead of Playa del Carmen’s miles of pedestrian 5th Avenue, you’ll get around via narrow roads, dodging golf carts as you hit the coast yet again. Isla Mujeres is more expensive than Playa del Carmen, but that’s not to say there aren’t any budget-friendly restaurants around—it’ll just take a bit more legwork. 

Oh, and did I mention the beaches? Isla Mujeres’ blue water and wide, white sand beaches are incomparable to Playa del Carmen (yours are pretty, too, Playa del Carmen, but it’s all relative). 

The beach hop

Playa del Carmen and Isla Mujeres are distinct destinations in the Yucatán that deserve a visit. Now that you know how to get to Isla Mujeres from Playa del Carmen, the only thing left to do is make sure your bathing suit is dry enough to pack. On second thought, you might as well leave it on—the trip is short enough, and Isla’s water will summon you upon your arrival.

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