First, thanks for the wealth of info that is available on this website, nice work to all involved. Here's a small trip report from Nov 27 - 30.
this was our first trip to isla mujeres. on past vacations, we have stayed in tulum, maujual, and xcalak.
who we are: mid 30's, live in NYC, married 2 years, work in the music industry.
transfered with best day, no problems. ferry was easy and took a little over 20 minutes. overall, the street/beach vendor scene seemed a bit much, but it was not too annoying.
the japanese peanuts are great.
My wife and I stayed at Cabanas Maria del Mar and found it to be a very nice place. Easy access to all of north beach and close to hidalgo st. I admit that I did not do nearly as much planning and prep work as some of you folks do (and I tip my hat to you!), so for the most part we just went with instinct. Here's some of what we found:
breakfast at maria del mar is small but pleasant. juice, coffee and choice of sweet bread or toast. this is free, but you can order off the menu as well, and the prices were not too bad. for the included breakfast, you have to go to the front desk each morning to get tickets.
food at buhos (as many others have mentioned) is adequate at best. makes for a decent lunch or something to eat with happy hour. oh, and yes, you need to buy tickets for happy hour (woman is right in front of the center bar). they seem to like tickets here!
This was our first time to Isla, so I can only imagine what the beach looked like pre-hurricanes. There's not a lot of sand, and they are using a ton of sand bags to somehow save the beach. Walking from buhos to the sunset grill is a little tricky as there is a lot of work being done. basically, you have to navigate sandbags to get into the water. this didn't really bother us, but I could see how some would be turned off by it. by the looks of the sandbag jetties, and sandbag beach, I dont think the army corps of engineers is involved here, but they are certainlly trying their best to save the beach.
we ate our lunches at buhos, best being the chicken tacos, worst being the enchilladas suizas. most of the bartenders were very personalble, daniel being the standout. happy hour claims 2 for 1, but it's not exactly two for one. for what they charge for the tickets, it kinda works out to 2 for 1.25 or something like that. needless to say, we got a good laugh out of it.
we took a walk to the more croweded section of north beach. was quite the party scene in the middle of the afternoon. we've really never been to cancun other than the airport and driving south out of town, but we imagined that a few of those bars in that stretch might have some cancun influence. what they do have at that end of the beach is sand, a lot more than maria del mar and the hotel next door. we prefered buhos area for ourselves.
3 dinners. first was at a pizzeria called Rolandi's, and it was very good. European style pizzas (meaning not quite big enough to share for 2 people, but maybe a little too much for one person). nice service and fair prices. second dinner was at sunset grill. had a table that was almost in the water. it was great. food is certainlly more expensive than most places, but the quality was fantastic. the bread (rolls) would stand up to any of NYC's italian restaurants. service was great. 3 dinner was at faynes. very nice meal, we both got seafood, though I cant remember exactly what we got. drinks were pretty cheap and just as with everywhere we were in Isla, the service was great. would be nice to be able to walk down hidalgo street without the "hard sell" of each host, but maybe that's part of the charm. compared to other places we have been in mexico, the food selection on isla is incredible. the only place that did not appeal was called bamboo (I think). Looked great, but we were a bit turned off by the host coaxing us in and explaining what he had under the looking glass. it did not look very good!?! he was an american, and it was a little strange to speak spanish all day and then talk to him. nothing wrong with that, but just a little strange to us. for all we know, the food is probably out of this world!!
overall, it was great, and we will return. getting there is easy. we walked everywhere we wanted to go, including from the ferry to the hotel. didn't get the mapchick map, and for us, being uniformed was what we wanted (probably sounds strange). as with everywhere that we have visited in mexico, it really helps to have a little spanish behind your belt, isla was no different. after isla, we spent 5 days in tulum where we have been before. I think it's nearly impossible to beat some of the beaches in tulum, they are truly pristine. isla wins the food competition hands down. we'll be back to isla mujeres for sure.