Ancient Wonders: Touring the Mayan Temple in Isla Mujeres

On our last trip to Cancun, we took a day to tour a site we’d always talked about visiting. Let me tell you, touring the Mayan temple in Isla Mujeres was easily the highlight of that vacation for me. Now that we are back in Cancun, I’m looking forward to exploring more of what Isla Mujeres has to offer.

The temple ruins stand along the island coast with a few rocky paths right at the water’s edge. The signs onsite indicated that since the Mayans worshiped the sun, they found the eastern-most point of their empire to build their temple and honor their god. I’m super-directionally challenged. Here’s my first awe-inspiring aspect of the temple:

The Mayans found the furthest point east in their empire to begin with. Yes, I know that Isla Mujeres is visible from Playa Mujeres on the mainland. But the Yucatan Peninsula isn’t exactly what I’d call easy to navigate.

In Mayan history, the island focused on the worship of the moon goddess Ixchel. Her followers included a priestess and a court of women. When the Spanish explorers found the island populated by only women, they didn’t have to come up with a very creative name. Isla Mujeres literally translates to “Island of Women. However, I knew none of this history about the goddess and her worshipers until after our trip.

The temple we visited was on the southern end of Isla Mujeres. The signage indicated that the temple focused on worship of the sun god.

Mayan Temple in Isla Mujeres

Our visit occurred on a very hot, humid day with the sun beating down on us and our water bottles rapidly emptying. It seemed like we were pretty close to the sun ourselves. I couldn’t help but think about being close to God on this sacred site, where others worshiped God themselves long ago. There was something spiritual and humbling about walking these stone paths and communing with humanity across the centuries. To think that I was walking in the same place as someone hundreds—maybe even a thousand—years ago …. I can barely comprehend it.

I’m sure that to some, the Mayan temple in Isla Mujeres lacks the impressive architecture of better preserved monuments. The Coliseum certainly comes to mind. But Isla Mujeres is a small barrier island in the Caribbean, subject to hurricanes with almost no protection. For any of it to still remain standing, for us to get to walk on any of the original structure at all, is a testament to the human need to seek something bigger than we are.

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