“There is nothing, absolutely nothing, half so much worth doing as simply messing about in boats.”
We completely agree with Kenneth Grahame, the author of Wind in the Willows. Which is why we came to be sailing on a Gypsy Breeze in Mexico’s Caribbean waters, smiling like idiots. It was our Cancun day on the water.
Introducing the Gypsy Brezee
Ed. Note: Not a typo. The name of the catamaran was Gypsy Brezee, ostensibly because it rhymes better. We are going to stick with Gypsy Breeze. Call it poetic license.
One of our favorite vacation activities is sailing. Salt wind in our hair, a blue horizon stretching away, and the sounds of wind and waves soothe our souls like nothing else. So naturally, when we knew Cancun was in the plans, we had to find a boat! Conveniently, the company taking us to Chichen Itza had a discount package with Sail Away Cancun for a snorkeling sail to Isla Mujeres. We learned later that Gypsy Brezee sails with several of the companies in Puerto Cancun; likewise, Sail Away Cancun partners with several local boats. It was just luck that we landed on this cat.
Discount + Sail = Done Deal!
At the port, we were directed to a waiting area with two dozen other sailors and fun seekers. We didn’t have to wait long for our ship to come in, so to speak, but there was enough time for the company to try selling you disposable waterproof cameras, plastic smartphone pouches, bottled water, and their special, “ecologically safe” sun screen. In short order, the catamaran was docked and we climbed aboard. The boat was tidy and in good shape, but obviously a busy vessel. Being a catamaran, most of the seating is on deck, in full sun. Hence the importance of sunscreen. There was limited seating under an awning aft (to use our limited sailing lingo), but standing room only in the small cabin where the “bar” was. Speaking of… Our sail was advertised as having an “open bar on the boat and at lunch,” but the libations were limited.
About that Sunscreen
The kids working at the port claimed we would be snorkeling in the “National Park,” and that’s why we needed their special sunscreen. While eco-friendly sunscreen is always a good idea if you’ll be in the water, saying we were “in the park” was a stretch, at best. The Parque Nacional Arrecife Puerto Morelos, or Puerto Morelos Reef National Park, is actually south of Cancun and Isla Mujeres, and north of Playa del Carmen. (Oddly enough, it’s directly in front of the village of Morelos. Go figure!) That said, we were still sailing in an ecologically sensitive environment.
If you do plan to visit the national park, be aware that certain chemicals are prohibited, which limits your sunscreen options. You don’t have to buy theirs, but you should get a biodegradable sunscreen. While the crew on our boat didn’t check, we’ve heard others do. You will also need it if you plan on visiting nearby places like Xcaret, Xel Ha, Garrafon, any of the reef areas around Cozumel and Cancun, and some of the cenotes.
Sailing Out & Diving In
Leaving Cancun, the water was smooth and the winds were calm; the sails stay furled while the inboard motors pushed us away. As the seaside hotels faded into the distance, our attention turned to the crystal-clear turquoise waters of Bahia de Mujeres. Passengers watched hopefully for turtles or dolphins, but saw neither. After a brief safety and snorkel demonstration, the crew handed out masks, fins, and packaged snorkels to anyone who wanted to explore the sea. Within thirty minutes we reached our snorkel zone over patch of grass and rocks, with bits of coral.
The calm day made it easy to swim or just float at the surface searching for signs of life. Unfortunately, we seem to have a knack for being where wildlife is not. The crew said they spotted sting rays and turtles “in this very spot” the day before. That was then. This was now, and the sting rays and turtles saturated this very spot with their absence. Even the snails had high tailed it out of there. Thunderstorms the day before must have chased everyone away.
Suddenly, there was a commotion close to the boat. Was someone in trouble? Was there a shark? No, a tortilla had been sacrificed. Apparently, fishies like tortillas too. (The irony of fish eating a taco shell did not pass unnoticed.) Soon, several wrasse and small parrotfish were circling, snatching bits of tortilla and darting off. We definitely had fun, but were disappointed in the lack of sea life. After almost an hour in the water, we were called back to the boat to motor on.
For a look at what we hoped to see, check out this You Tube video by Careball13, shot in Puerto Morelos.
Lunch on Isla Mujeres
Our next destination was Isla Mujeres, where we would have two stops: One for lunch, one for shopping! We docked at Playa Lancheros on the southern end of the island, and made our way ashore. A backdrop of dense palms made the beach seem remote, but just beyond were hotels and restaurants, including the one we would have lunch at. It seemed like the epitome of a beach restaurant, built right on the sand with thatch-roofed ramadas and beach umbrellas.
The idyllic setting was in stark contrast to the restaurant, which seemed completely unprepared, and unconcerned. Despite being nearly empty when we arrived, the buffet looked picked over and less than appetizing. Unremarkable rice and black beans, and a tray of French fries, sat aside a pan of carne guisada and some enchiladas. There were a few other items that we didn’t bother to investigate. We found some fresh fruit, which seemed to be the best option. The advertised open bar was limited to soft drinks and margaritas that were mostly just the mix. That is, if you could find someone to actually get you a drink. The staff seemed more annoyed by our presence than anything. The time was better spent on the beach or back in the water.
We were disappointed to see a nurse shark held in a small pen for tourists to pose with. It was gratifying that nobody did, but seeing the almost lifeless shark was upsetting. Dolphin “experiences” are still popular in the area, as well. Unfortunately, they will likely persist so long as there are tourists willing to pay for them. When you visit Mexico, we hope you will choose instead to explore the reefs and perhaps see a shark or dolphin as it should be: swimming with fish, not tourists.
Exploring Playa Norte
Soon enough, we were back on board and sailing past gorgeous homes and private islands on our way to the main port at Playa Norte. The island had once been a fisherman’s village, and we spotted more than a few casting off the docks and rocks as we sailed up the eastern shore.
Just outside of the port, you can rent a golf cart to zip around the “downtown” area. If you walk straight out of the Port terminal on Calle Bravo, you will be on the other side of the island in just three blocks. The far north end of the island is less than ten blocks to the left, the airport about the same distance to the right. Most of the resort areas are beyond the airport, and a golf cart would be helpful if you’re going that far. We chose to venture out on foot and explore the touristy shops and cafes along Avenida Juarez. Despite being one of the major streets on the island, it was packed with pedestrians.
Tourism is the economic lifeblood on Isla Mujeres today, so you will see a lot of gift shops. While most carried the same assortment of souvenirs, a few were worth browsing through for Mexican ceramics, Cuban cigars, and local crafts. They are fun to wander through, but the two hours we had were plenty. We bargained for souvenirs, got some paletas, and headed back to port to catch our catamaran back to the mainland.
Sailboats, catamarans included, don’t tow parasails. They just don’t generate the speed you need to get airborne. Instead, we were invited to try “Mexican Parasailing” using the spinnaker sail. The idea is similar: the crew let loose the bottom of the spinnaker and you let the wind carry you. Anyone daring enough can sit on the rope attached to the two loose ends and, with luck, you are lifted a few feet above the water. When you’re ready to come down, just drop into the water and the crew will toss you a line and pull you back in. Sounds fun!
We mentioned earlier that we had an extremely calm day. Good for snorkeling, bad for spinnaker sailing. After several tries, only one person managed to get airborne. Not so fun. We did manage to catch enough wind to sail back to Cancun, though – the first time all day that the motors were off. Since the only thing to look forward to now was the end of our sail, the crew decided it was time for a “sail-abration!” Suddenly everyone was wearing a costume, dancing, and bearing jugs of…juice. Juice that was suspiciously like Margarita mix, plus soft drinks for the kids.
Back in Port
Too soon, our half-day cruise was over, and we were tying up back in Puerto Cancun. Overall, a fun and relaxing day. Lunch was a letdown, and we were disappointed that we managed to extend our streak of missing the wildlife. We snagged a few fun photos and souvenirs, and had a great time together. Most importantly, we came back with new plans to sail out to Cozumel next time, and maybe book a weekend out on Isla Mujeres.
Would we do it again? Not exactly. We will definitely sail again, but on a different itinerary. From Cancun, you can either charter a boat (good if you have a large group) or join one of the scheduled tours. Isla Mujeres is just one destination on offer; the island of Cozumel is close by, plus there are snorkel and diving tours to Puerto Morelos, the Underwater Museum of Art, and the open sea east of Isla Mujeres. On our To Do List for our next visit is searching for Whale Sharks, known to frequent the seas between Mexico and Cuba.
If you’re more interested in exploring the islands than the actual sailing, you can take a ferry to Isla Mujeres and Cozumel. From Puerto Juarez to Isla Mujeres is about $5.50 each way. From the Hotel Zone, expect to pay twice that. Ferries to Cozumel leave from Playa del Carmen, and cost about $10 each way.
- We booked with Sail Away Cancun through Grey Line Cancun. Our combo tour – a snorkel sail plus Chichen Itza tour – was $120 per person. Individually, the snorkel sail starts around $69.
- Bring cash: There is a $12US per person Marine Reef Tax and Pier Tax due at the port, in cash.
- Not all tours include transportation to/from your hotel. Make sure yours is included when you book.
- If you don’t book in advance, don’t worry. You will have plenty of opportunities at the airport, in Cancun, on the beach, at your hotel…pretty much anywhere. And they can get pretty aggressive.
- You can bring your own gear. We brought our masks and snorkels, and borrowed their fins.
Have you been sailing around Mexico and the Caribbean? We’d love to hear about your favorite experiences in the Comments! And if you liked this post, why not Pin it for later and share it with your friends?
Disclaimers & Details: Our tours with Sail Cancun and Grey Line Tours were neither solicited nor compensated, and were booked anonymously. All views are our own, and are based on our experiences.