Guests begin to meander aimlessly, almost sleepwalking, to the plush, queen-size pallets and curved lounges that ring Hotel Secreto's infinity pool. Readily available mimosas and iPods make it unnecessary to move much more during the day. "The only thing to do here is relax," says reservations manager Omar Maldonado, who's lived on Isla Mujeres for more than 25 years. "Trust me, that's enough."
Hotel Secreto, a three-story cube of white stucco walls and glass panels, is the secluded star of this island, a 30-minute ferry ride from Cancún. Designed by award-winning Mexican architect Javier Muñoz Menéndez, the boutique hotel offers sleek style with vibrant modern paintings, towering floor-to-ceiling windows, limestone floors, and dark wood furnishings. Nine suites feature balconies overlooking the pool, the rocky cove, and the bluest ocean beyond. (Ask for Room 5 or 8 for the best views.) Absolutely nothing's amiss except for an unplugged alarm clock―and perhaps that's more of a suggestion than an oversight.
If vacationers happen to tire of lazing in paradise, Mujeres provides plenty to see and do. Many activities―kayaking, hydro-bicycling, scuba diving, windsurfing, fishing, and snorkeling―revolve around the area's rich marine environment. The calm, clear waters of Manchones, Banderas, and Cuevones reefs are perfect for novice divers.
Onshore, the boutiques along cobblestone Hidalgo Avenue promise great shopping. Vendors sell everything from handmade hammocks and folk dresses to finely crafted masks and religious artifacts. The town center, just 4 by 6 blocks, pulses with pedestrians and music.
It takes little time to circumnavigate the 5-mile-long island via moped or golf cart. At Garrafón, an ecological water park, travelers soar above the sea on a heart-racing zip-line ride. Other island highlights include touring a turtle farm, climbing a lighthouse, and visiting a Mayan ruin. The crumbling temple for Ixchel, goddess of the ocean and fertility, sits at the isle's southern tip. Isla Mujeres (Island of Women) was named after the stone sculptures of women found here by 16th-century Spanish explorers.
After a day of adventure, savvy tourists follow local advice for food. Most say that the tacos sold at the baseball field are the best around. Bustling open-air restaurants (favorites include Picus and Playa Lancheros) near the harbor landing offer the freshest seviche imaginable. Italian-run Albachiara also incorporates seafood in its inventive appetizers and entrées. Many places serve the island's signature dish, tikin-xic, a whole fish seasoned with achiote paste and grilled. Dinner should be capped off at La Adelita, a bar that serves more than 150 types of tequila.
On Playa Norte, the setting sun casts a golden path that leads straight to the shore. But most who've discovered Isla Mujeres don't want anyone else finding their way here. "There are already too many people who know," says Linda Duncan, who has visited the island eight times with husband Brian. It may be too late. This secret's definitely out of the bag.
Hotel Secreto; 011/52/998/877-1039 or hotelsecreto.com Garrafón; 866/393-5158 or garrafon.com Albachiara; 011/52-998/877- 1714 or albachiararistorante.com Playa Lancheros; 011/52/998/ 877-0340 Picus; 011/52/998/129-6011