Part 2: Isla Mujeres, Mexico — An Expat Insider’s Guide to the Hidden Gems and Cuisine of this Tropical Paradise

by Diane Huth on July 14, 2023 in Travels,

As a Texan, I have always had a deep love for Mexican food and the rich Mexican culture. It’s a part of our Texan heritage that I hold dear. But my connection to Mexico goes beyond just appreciation; it led my husband and me to make a life-changing decision. We decided to leave our beloved home in San Antonio and move to Mexico, specifically Isla Mujeres, a picturesque island paradise off the coast of Cancun in the Caribbean.


Living in Isla Mujeres has been a dream come true for me. While I still love Texas and San Antonio, the allure of a beach like this was irresistible. So we made the bold move and now enjoy our days in this tropical paradise.

Live Like a Local

Living in Isla Mujeres is a dream come true for many expats. Photo courtesy Diane Huth

Living in paradise is a different experience altogether compared to vacationing here. It’s important to find affordable ways to enjoy the beautiful beach clubs, delightful restaurants, and local attractions without breaking the bank. My fellow expats and I have discovered the secrets to living richly on a shoestring budget, and I’m happy to share them with you.

When it comes to beach clubs, it’s crucial not to get overcharged for lounge chair or beach bed rentals. Some clubs can charge as much as $20 to $30 per day, which can quickly add up, especially if you’re in a large group like we were. I advise asking about prices before settling in and seeking out beach clubs that credit your food and beverage expenses toward your beach bed rental. Tuturreque on Playa Norte is a great option in this regard, as well as the adults-only Guru Beach Club, which offers a pool, shaded lounge beds, and a stunning beachfront location.

Isla Mujeres has many beach clubs to enjoy. Photo courtesy Diane Huth

Personally, I never pay for beach chair rentals, and my go-to beach venue is IXI Beach Club on Playa Centro. They have two refreshing pools, a wide sandy beach, a covered restaurant area, and even live music performances, all without any cover charge.

On the south side of the island, my husband Paul and I love going to Kin Ha Beach Club. It boasts three pools, a kiddie water slide, a swim-up bar, and various terraces and decks with tables and beach lounges. We enjoy swimming in the ocean and even have the opportunity to use kayaks for free to explore the nearby coral reef.

Enjoy breathtaking sunsets in Isla Mujeres. Photo courtesy Diane Huth

Recently, ZaZa Yacht Beach Club opened just half a mile north of Kin Ha. It offers a breathtakingly beautiful pool with a swim-up bar, pristine white sand beaches, and small palapas over beach beds. What’s even better is that they generally don’t charge for beach chairs or beach beds. You only pay for your food and drinks, which might be slightly more expensive than in regular restaurants, but considering there’s no cover charge, it’s still a good deal.

Dine Like a Local

Indulge in mouthwatering seafood. Photo courtesy Diane Huth

Choosing where to dine can be a challenge on this tiny island. Isla Mujeres is just four miles long and less than two miles square, yet it boasts over 200 restaurants along its 12 miles of coastline. From small mom and pop establishments serving homemade cuisine to larger restaurants with international menus, the options are endless.

Paul and I have discovered a few favorites, often influenced by the value they offer to locals who know their way around. One such gem is El Patio Casa del La Música on Hidalgo, the vibrant downtown walking street. They have a happy hour from 4:30 to 6:30 p.m., featuring live music on the upper terrace and half-price deals on most food and drinks. For just a few dollars, you can savor platters of jumbo coconut shrimp or indulge in a frozen margarita piled high.

Neal’s Irish Pub, located on the Caribbean side of the island, is another great spot for happy hour from 2:00 to 5:00 p.m. They offer half-price drinks, delicious appetizers, and entrees, all while treating you to live music. It’s the perfect place to unwind and enjoy the island’s laid-back atmosphere.

Savor the vibrant flavors of homemade guacamole. Photo courtesy Diane Huth

On Friday nights, Paul and I often find ourselves torn between Italian and Mexican cuisine. DeNuccio’s, an elegant Italian restaurant owned by expats Dan and Maria, offers stunning views of the Caribbean and a half-price happy hour for drinks. Their lunch menu is reasonably priced, featuring freshly-prepared Italian delicacies. We even celebrated our wedding there, followed by a delightful and affordable gathering with fellow expats across the street. Every Friday, local singer Chris Shannon serenades us with trop rock music on the patio, creating a truly enchanting atmosphere.

Soggy Peso is another popular spot among locals, known as the island’s version of Cheers. They serve the best and strongest margaritas around, and their Friday night crispy tacos are hard to resist. The owners, Mal and Sally, have been delighting visitors for over a decade with their secret recipe.

Adjacent to Soggy Peso is Skull’s Landing, a sister property of Kin Ha Beach Club. This vibrant establishment has a dedicated expat following and offers great happy hour specials, live music by Josh Green, and entertaining activities like cornhole tournaments. It’s not just limited to these venues; Isla Mujeres is filled with talented musicians who perform live, drawing loyal fans wherever they go.

Don’t forget to explore the island’s food carts! They are scattered throughout and offer a wide range of delicious options, from tacos al pastor and Cuban sandwiches to lamb consomme and quesadillas. You can even indulge in fresh churros or try the island delicacy known as Marquesitas. These crispy wafer-thin crepes, cooked on mobile griddles, are filled with sliced bananas and Nutella, creating a mouthwatering treat.

Fine Dining

Experience the many fine dining options in Isla Mujeres. Photo courtesy Diane Huth

If you’re in the mood for fine dining, Isla Mujeres has you covered as well. One of the most acclaimed restaurants on the island is Limón, a locally owned establishment that often has a month-long waiting list during the tourist season. Rosa Sirena offers rooftop dining with a view of the Caribbean, known not only for its delightful seafood entrees but also for its beautiful desserts. Samura, a new Japanese restaurant on the south side of the island, provides a culinary and sensory experience with its stunning garden adorned with paper lanterns.

I must emphasize that many of the island’s exceptional chefs maintain a low-key presence. One of my personal favorites is Asia Caribe, an Asian-Caribbean fusion restaurant created by Chef Peter and his wife Annelise. Their menu features fabulous sushi, delightful seafood dishes, and my go-to appetizer: crispy pork spring rolls with an amazing tamarind plum sauce. To top it off, their homemade chocolate mousse rivals any you’ll find in Europe. Despite the fact that Chef Peter has two Michelin stars, he remains modest, letting the quality of his cuisine speak for itself.

This tropical paradise offers many culinary delights. Photo courtesy Diane Huth

Burger enthusiasts won’t be disappointed on the island either. Isla Burger is renowned for serving the best gourmet burgers you’ll find anywhere. The Brazilian owner, Gustavo, ensures top-notch quality and flavor by flying in the beef from central Mexico.

Located just a stone’s throw from North Beach, Snappers Restaurant and Sports Bar is a must-visit. With two swimming pools inside the restaurant and over 20 large-screen TVs, this place is perfect for sports enthusiasts. The Canadian owner, Nash, prepares a diverse range of Mexican, Hawaiian, and international dishes at affordable prices. Nash is also incredibly supportive of the expat community, hosting an unadvertised Thanksgiving dinner where he provides turkey, stuffing, mashed potatoes, and gravy free of charge. Local residents and expats bring sides, salads, and desserts to share, creating a wonderful sense of community.

Finally, you can’t leave the island without experiencing the enchantment of dining on the beach at the Mayan Beach Club on stunning North Beach. Throughout the afternoon, this beach club serves tropical beach food and frozen margaritas to sunbathers lounging on chairs under bright blue umbrellas. As evening falls, the club transforms into an elegant white tablecloth restaurant, with white lights swaying in the ocean breeze. You can sit with your feet in the sand, savoring a gourmet meal while witnessing the flaming orange sun setting over the Bay of Cancun. It’s a truly unforgettable experience.

One of the exotic residents of Isla Mujeres basking in the sun. Photo courtesy Diane Huth

When you visit this little piece of paradise in the Caribbean, I encourage you to embrace the challenge of exploring new and amazing culinary experiences.

(Part 1 in our series on Isla Mujeres, Mexico, can be found here.)


Cover Photo José Pablo Domínguez on Unsplash.

TLM contributor Diane Huth

Diane Huth, also known as The Runaway Sherpa, has dedicated herself to helping freedom-seekers discover if life as an expat is right for them through her work as a relocation expert, and provides Expat Exploration Tours, and hosts the Runaway Retreat in Isla Mujeres twice a year. You can find more about her work and travel insights on Isla Mujeres through her website at or reach her at