On our first trip to Isla Mujeres in 2002, we rented a golf cart. During our tour of the island, we stuck to the outer road. You could say we weren't very adventurous, but in actuality, my suburban eyes hadn't adjusted to the colonias and I wasn't sure it was safe.
We lost our Isla virgins status in 2004 when we started making more frequent trips to the island and staying out island away from El Centro. We combed the colonias on foot and on bikes and discovered there's no heart of darkness. It's safe, just like a suburban street in my hometown.
I can't say we haven't had some interesting encounters over the years. My favorite was the time we were staying at the new Mar y Sol and trying to locate La Bruja on foot. We got lost in La Gloria (someone told me it was close to La Gloria English School instead of the Little Yellow Schoolhouse). I made the mistake of asking a man who was sitting on a curb in La Gloria for directions. Let's just say he'd had a few too many drinks. Number one -- he didn't speak English and I don't speak Spanish. Number two -- he was semi upright on a street curb. As Craig said, "Who do you think hangs out practically prone on a street curb?" Long story short, he ended up wobbling down the street after me with his hand out yelling 50 pesos, 50 pesos! I'll admit to being freaked for about a block before I burst out laughing. We ended up not finding La Bruja that night and hopping a bus into town for dinner on Hidalgo.
I thought I'd do a little primer here for Isla newbies by posting the cheap tour of the colonias. We're going to take a bus ride, so you might want to pop a dramamine. The bus ride's a little bumpy. : )
If you want to ride a bus from El Centro to take your own island tour, the stop is just south of the Ultramar ferry terminal on Medina. The bus comes by approximately every half hour. You'll get a cheap tour of the colonias and eventually end up at a stop by the Isla Palace on what I call Mundaca's circle. Playa Lancheros and Capitan Dulce are just south of that bus stop if you want to have a drink or some lunch.