A Winter Escape to Isla Mujeres

By Lesley Sauls- We had left the icy winters of the north to bask in the warmth of Caribbean islands several times before, so my husband and I knew that Isla Mujeres was an inviting island in such close proximity to Cancun that it made for an easy destination.

The goddess Ixchel greets the dawn on the southern tip of Isla Mujeres, Mexico. Photo courtesy of Lesley Sauls.

Its local feel and mystical history lured us in for a repeat visit to a place where we could relax and tap into the quieter side of life.

In other times “on island,” as the locals say, we have rented a home through VRBO or stayed at a small hotel. This time we took a leap of faith and made reservations at a cash-only, adults-only, full-price-deposit boutique hotel with the hope it would live up to our expectations.

Once our long-distance booking had been secured, owner Ashley Margilyn sent us information outlining how we should manage money while we were there (traveler’s checks and credit cards aren’t accepted), where we might want to dine and how to arrange transportation from the Cancun airport.

We took her advice, and not long after landing we were swept away in a private van to the Ultra Mar ferry. From the landing, it was a short taxi ride to Villa La Bella.

The B&B is small, with only six rooms on the eastern side of Isla Mujeres. We had just stepped out of the taxi, when Margilyn and her husband, Curtis Blogin, burst out of their front gate to greet us like long-lost family. Later they gave us a crash course in light switches and property routines that wound up in the palapa with its suspended king-size bed that would be home for the next four nights.

We learned during our long weekend that both of our hosts were warm and inviting. Margilyn wandered among her guests throughout the day to make sure we were comfortable and offer daily tips for island activities, and Blogin proffered iced towels in the heat of the afternoon, delicious home-cooked island delicacies each morning and a variety of cocktails.

Every corner of their property contained a piece of art that was important to the couple.
We also learned that Isla Mujeres is rich in history and stories. My favorite was the story of Fermin Mundaca, a Spanish-born pirate who fell in love with the island — and with a local beauty 37 years his junior whom he called “La Triguena,” the brunette. To impress her with his wealth he built a hacienda that covered nearly half of the island and imported exotic plants and animals to it for her entertainment.

Sadly, his efforts were in vain. La Triguena fell in love instead with a local boy nearer her own age, and Mundaca died of a broken heart after carving pirate insignias into what he intended to be his own tomb.

The sad tale resulted in a lush but largely forsaken tropical property that lures visitors from around the world and provides a glimpse into one man’s 19th-century romantic heart. We were able to wander among winding paths, empty animal enclosures and the sunken garden that La Triguena never accepted despite her name and face being carved in stone arches there.

Reaching even deeper in the island’s history is the legend that says that the first Spanish explorers arrived on Isla Mujeres (Island of Women) in the 1500s to find only women who were there honoring the goddess Ixchel. Her power over fertility and medicine had drawn them to the island in hopes of fruitful marriages, and her magic may yet persist.

At the southern tip of the island is a ruin — possibly one of several that once existed on the island — dedicated to Ixchel. It is also the spot where the first rays of sunlight hit the shores of Mexico each day. A cluster of benches there awaits the devoted who still come to commune in silence with the goddess at dawn. Since Villa La Bella is not far from the ruin and faces east, I was able to honor the goddess from my second-floor palapa on a yoga mat provided by our hostess.

Breakfast at Villa La Bella was an event. Lovingly created by Blogin, it was served on relaxed island time. His mole was rich and spicy, and organic Mayan papaya was delicious on fresh yogurt and granola. The couple made dinner suggestions based on their seasoned experience and personal contacts on the island, and their recommendations were always spot-on.

One night we savored Mediterranean tzatziki and horiatiki in a lush courtyard, and another had us sharing traditional Mexican Caesar salad beside gently lapping sunset-pink gulf waters. Whether we were at a taco joint having Baja-style fish tacos or a swanky beachside resort eating oysters, dinner was always a treat. Our last night was capped off with chocolate martinis at the Cozy Bar in Zoetry’s Villa Rolandi, where clips of live classic rock bands enticed us to stay a little longer far from the snow drifts and ice.

UltraMar ferry:
Villa La Bella:
Rosa Sirena’s Restaurant and Rooftop Palapa Bar:
Olivia’s Taste of the Mediterranean:
The Cozy Bar at Zoetry:

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