(Please start with 1 of 2)
We went to the Garrafon Castilla one day (not the park, the little spot where you pay to snorkel) and afterwards ate at The Joint across the street. Far and away the best fun we had, as we sort of stumbled across it ... they had live music (quite good too!), great drinks, and good food. Ton of fun. So if you go to Garrafon, don’t eat there ... go to The Joint and eat instead.
Rented a golf cart one day to go to Chedraui, Garrafon, Punta Sur, Tortugranja, etc. ... basically a tour of the island. It was a very fun day. Rented the golf cart from the place next to the hotel, which was competitively priced and very easy. No need to walk all over the island to find a golf cart, if you’re at the Ixchel Beach Hotel just use the place a couple of doors down.
Garrafon Castilla will rent you a mask and snorkel for cheap. It’s worth the swim and snorkel, as as soon as we got in the water we were covered up in fish. We found several sea stars, and saw a large and small stingray in the deeper water. This is maybe a 90 min visit.
Tortugranja is worth a 30 min visit to see the turtles. My wife loves sea turtles, so it was a must-do on our list. There is an indoor area with baby turtles and medium size turtles, and outside in a “pen” there were large sea turtles, several nurse sharks, and at least one large stingray that was visible. This is no world class aquarium, but is worth a quick visit.
We also did a whale shark tour with On Isla Mujeres. They had to cancel our original day unfortunately due to a boat issue, but luckily we had another day in our trip we could go. Yet another reason to book early in your trip vs late. They had to stop to change out a battery on the way, which was a minor annoyance but if you know boats, these things happen. They were very apologetic. We followed the “sea sickness protocol” from a fellow TA member, and were mostly ok. I’m not sure if this is the best boat option, or if one of the smaller boats would be better. These guys have a large boat with a covered cabin area, and a typical small boat toilet. But, the covered area basically gets no breeze so it was not all that comfortable a place to ride. And, the large boat was slower than a lot of other boats I saw, which meant a longer ride (90 min I think ... I didn’t time it, on purpose). A smaller, faster boat that gets you there quicker and with the open air on you might be a better option to minimize sea sickness. I just don’t know for sure. This is not meant as a knock on On IM, as they were very good hosts and were as nice a group of people as you can meet. And of course, when you finally get there and see the big whale sharks ... and then come face-to-face with one, all the logistics melt away.
What you may not be ready for is the armada of other boats jockeying to get their swimmers in position for a swim. The whale sharks move quite fast, so the captain would try to drop us off in front of where it looked like the shark was headed. Of course, other captains are trying to do the same ... and others were working to pick up their swimmers. This is something the captains do on a daily basis, but it seemed like semi-organized chaos to me. My first swim was a short one, but then I had 2 long swims including one where a shark swam right under me, then came up towards the surface causing me to try to scurry out of its way. It was a wonderful experience to be sure.
The ride back was no fun, as the anticipation was gone. They provided drinks, snacks and home made sandwiches. They also prepared ceviche, which we ate once we got back to Isla. They anchored off our hotel beach (one of the boats I mentioned before) where we ate and swapped whale shark stories. They offered to take us back to the marina, or to help us swim/walk in from there. We opted for the latter. They had trash bags to sort-of waterproof my wife’s bag, and the towels we hadn’t used. It was nice to be let off right there. Although, the taxi ride to the marina that day was less than 100 pesos.
Additional thoughts: I don’t know if it’s typical for August, or because the tropical storm had just blown through, but it was very humid while there ... over 80%. That made it very uncomfortable most of the time. I would not return when the humidity is that high.
I would go back, but I don’t think I’d stay at Ixchel Beach Hotel again. It’s mainly about being in the crowded touristy area, which I knew I was going to be in on this trip. I’d prefer to be slightly out of that next time. I’d consider the Mia Reef, so I was close to the action but not too close. Or I’d opt for the Zoetry or similar on the southern part of the island.
That’s all I can think of at the moment. Happy to answer specific questions.