CNN  — 

Like most great destinations in Mexico (see also: Tulum), Isla Mujeres started out as something of a secret: a small, sleepy island just off the coast of Cancun with sugary soft white-sand beaches, sweeping coastlines and fewer people than the busy shores of Cancun’s hotel zone.

But good news spreads quickly, and these days, Isla Mujeres (“Isla”) is a popular day-trip destination for travelers and locals alike.

Located just a 20-minute ferry ride away from Cancun, the preferred mode of transportation when you reach the island is by rented scooter or golf cart, which allows you full access to explore most of Isla’s highlights within a day.

Stay for a few days (or more), and you’ll experience the charm of the island after most others have left.

When you get there

Isla Mujeres's beautiful beaches have been drawing travelers for a long time.

To the north near the ferry port are Isla’s most popular beaches, including Playa Norte, where you can rent beach chairs and umbrellas and spend the day floating in calm, cerulean waters.

For many, that’s enough. But if you’re up for adventure, grab some pesos, hop in a golf cart, and head south. Don’t worry about getting lost. At only seven kilometers long, all roads on Isla eventually lead back to where they began.

The south and southeastern parts of the island are where you’ll find sweeping, rugged coastlines and cliffs, including those at Punta Sur, the easternmost point of Mexico and the first place in the country to be touched by the rising sun.

You can visit Punta Sur and Garrafon Natural Reef Park, where you’ll also be able to tour a sculpture garden and the ruins of a Mayan temple dedicated to the goddess Ixchel, for whom this island was originally dedicated.

On the island’s west coast you’ll find Tortugranja, the island’s turtle sanctuary and rehabilitation center.

If at this point you’ve had your fill of on-island fun, it’s time to get in the water. Hop on a snorkeling, glass boat or diving tour to the underwater museum, Museo Subacuático de Arte (MUSA), where roughly 500 statues, many of which are of human figures, sit underwater to welcome reef life back to the area.

Or, go swimming with whale sharks on a tour from one of the island’s dive shops.

Whether on land or in the water, Isla Mujeres rewards travelers with a plethora of options for adventure, adrenaline, or good old-fashioned relaxation.

Garrafon Natural Reef Park, Carretera Garrafón Lote 9 Km. 6, SM 9, 77400 Isla Mujeres, Quintana Roo, Mexico, +52 998 193 3370

Tortugranja, 77400 Isla Mujeres, Quintana Roo, Mexico

Museo Subacuático de Arte (MUSA), Blvd. Kukulcan, Zona Hotelera, 77500 Cancún, Q.R., Mexico, +52 998 206 0182

How to get to the island

The majority of people get to Isla Mujeres via ferry.

Ferry: The most common way of traveling to Isla Mujeres independently. Take the Ultramar Ferry from Puerto Juarez, which has departures every half-hour (300 pesos RT). The journey across the bay takes 20 minutes. You can also take the ferry from Playa Tortugas, Playa Caracol or El Embarcadero in the Cancun Hotel Zone, but the departures are less frequent.

Check their website for updated fares and departure times.

Organized Transport via Hotel: If you’re staying in a hotel on Isla Mujeres, many all-inclusive and larger resorts can arrange transportation from the airport in Cancun.

Organized Tour via Cancun or Playa del Carmen: Several tour operators sell catamaran cruises that visit Isla Mujeres as a day package, which also usually includes entrance fees, lunch and snorkeling.

From the Airport: You can’t take a taxi from the Cancun airport, so you can either pre-book transportation to the ferry, or book a private or shared van at the airport by buying a voucher after exiting the terminal.

Fares depend on whether shared or private, ask around. You can also take the public “ADO” bus from the airport to the central bus terminal in Cancun, and take a taxi from there to Puerto Juarez port. If in doubt, just say “Isla Mujeres ferry.”

Kelly Lewis is the founder of Go! Girl Guides, travel guidebooks for women, and the co-author of their Mexico guide. She’s also the founder of the Women’s Travel Fest and Damesly.