Last updated: May 2023
A biodiverse lagoon harboring bottlenose dolphins, virgin beaches, next-level jumbo shrimp and a spectacular sandbar is the star of Mexico’s newest pueblo mágico (magical town): Isla Aguada. Located along coastal Campeche (the least visited of the three states that make up Mexico’s Yucatán Peninsula), the name Isla Aguada translates to “watery” or “soft” island. So you might be surprised to learn that the storied fishing village, once a hideout for clandestine pirates after pillaging nearby ports, isn’t an island at all. It’s a peninsula, boasting unique ecological positioning in between the glistening Gulf of Mexico and protected Laguna de Términos (Terminos Lagoon).
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Saying this coastal gem flies under-the-radar is an understatement. Most visitors are making it as far as a day trip from nearby San Francisco de Campeche (also known as Campeche City), the historic beating heart and cultural capital of eponymous Campeche state. But with a sprinkling of idyllic boutique hotels now taking residence in the tiny town, we find plenty of reason to stay the night, or two.
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It’s worth mentioning that between heightened interest from Isla Aguada’s newfound pueblo mágico status (as of 2020), plus the region’s controversial Maya Train set to roll through Campeche by 2024, this place won’t stay a secret for long. Our advice? Visit now, before everyone else does.
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Isla Aguada: Fast Facts
Closest international airports: Ciudad Del Carmen (45 minutes), Mérida (4 hours)
Closest points of interest: San Francisco de Campeche (2 hours), Calakmul Biosphere / Xpujil (3.5 hours), Mérida (4 hours)
How to arrive: Car rental, ADO bus (to Ciudad Del Carmen), taxi/private transfer.
Banks or ATMS? Not in Isla Aguada, though you’ll find several banks (HSBC, CIBanco, BBVA) 45 minutes south in Ciudad Del Carmen.
Best time of year to visit: Generally speaking, the best time of year to visit Isla Aguada is December – March. This is the dry season, when chance of rain is at its lowest and temps are as cool and breezy as they get. June – September usher in rain, rising temps and high humidity, while April/May and October/November are shoulder seasons. What about crowds? The region reaches peak tourism during Semana Santa (Easter), when vacationing locals take advantage of the holiday break to flock to the coast. Otherwise, you can expect a generally crowd-free experience in Isla Aguada year-round.
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Where to Stay in Isla Aguada: Best Boutique Hotels
In our opinion two nights is the ideal amount of time to spend in this charming town, where you’ll first want to get settled. Check-in to our top pick: Cabañas Laguna, a tranquil oasis of lush palms, a blissful swimming pool and spacious, rustic-chic rooms all overlooking the picturesque courtyard. Our second (top) floor corner room was bright, airy and though equipped with A/C, was hardly needed between ceiling fans and the lovely breeze coming through the screened balcony door. Wifi signal may be spotty in-room but no matter. It delivers in the covered, power outlet equipped seating area flanking the pool, where you’ll also have the ability to order excellent espresso from the on-site coffee shop.
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If Cabañas Laguna is booked, you’ll want to snag a room at our second choice: Hotel Isla. The newest arrival on Isla Aguada’s accommodation scene, this contemporary boutique hotel offers modern, minimalist rooms centered around a pool-equipped garden. The location can’t be beat, just one block from the town’s lagoon-front malecón (waterfront promenade) and pier.
Hotel Iguana Cabañas rounds out our list of the town’s best boutique stays. This relaxing enclave offers simplistic cabin-style accommodations set amidst tropical grounds and a refreshing swimming pool, just two blocks from the town’s virgin beachfront (and site of magnificent sunsets). It’s the only hotel on our list offering included breakfast, plus an on-site restaurant serving island-inspired fare Tuesday – Sunday through 6pm.
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Where to Eat and Drink in Isla Aguada: Best Restaurants and Bars
The dining scene in Isla Aguada is small, casual and unhurried, primarily centered around the town’s malecón. Here, you’ll find a row of open-air eateries, laid-back food trucks, colorful ice cream carts and kitschy, palapa-covered bars. Restaurante Capitán Filarpón was our go-to pick for freshly caught sea fare (including the biggest jumbo coconut shrimp I have ever laid eyes on), while Luigi’s caters to sea-free palates with pizza, wings and more from 6pm daily.
La Mantarraya Food Truck opens on weekends only, serving everything from coffee and crepes to burgers and tostadas. Thirsty? Monkey Bar offers kitsch tiki vibes while Coco Loco serves up everything from ice-cold coconuts to micheladas to mojitos. Both, open weekends only.
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Editor’s note: If you’re noticing a trend, it’s that many of Isla Aguada’s dining and drinking options are open weekends only. This is because, with tourism still under-the-radar here, much of the town all but shuts down Monday – Thursday. Even if you’re one of those travelers who typically prefers mid-week travel to avoid crowds, you might find Isla Aguada, well, a bit too quiet. Our take? Visit over a weekend to experience everything Isla Aguada has to offer.
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What to See in Isla Aguada: Best Things to Do / Lagoon Boat Tour
The primary reason for visiting Isla Aguada, you can’t miss taking a paseo en lancha (boat tour) through Laguna de Términos: a glistening emerald lagoon that happens to be Mexico’s largest estuary. Stretching 45 miles long and 15 miles wide, the biodiverse sanctuary is teeming with protected wildlife. Think: bottlenose dolphins, manatees and migratory birds, plus swaths of seagrass and vast mangroves.
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Your hotel will be able to coordinate the excursion for you, or you can simply show up by the main pier (located next to Isla Aguada’s colorful, IG-friendly letters) where you’ll no doubt arrive to several tour guides offering their services. We opted for the latter, negotiating a price of $800 pesos total for a private boat for two the next morning.
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Note: while this is the price we paid in March 2023, pricing varies depending on the season, number of people in your group and, well, your negotiating skills. The boats themselves are casual fishing boats and to my fellow sun-avoidant readers, don’t worry. They’re equipped with shade-bearing coverings.
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During the two-hour excursion you’ll spot plenty of seabirds like herons, frigates and seagulls – maybe even a jabiru, the largest seabird of the Americas – as well as wild bottlenose dolphins. Next, you’ll dock on a surreal sandbar in the middle of the lagoon and finally, land on a deserted island that you’ll likely have all to yourself.
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Throughout the adventure keep your eyes peeled for fisherman seemingly walking on water in the distance. They’re foraging for conch shells, which they do in stretches of the lagoon’s shallow, seagrass covered seabed – where they have to be painstakingly careful with each step. Quicksand holes abound, as do burrowing stingrays who make their home in the soft, seagrass covered sand.
For obvious reasons, this activity is not recommend for tourists.
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What to See in Isla Aguada: Best Things to Do / Historic Lighthouse
Back on land, head away from the malecón to the town’s quaint Faro Antiguo (historic lighthouse). You won’t be able to miss the colonial-era, neoclassical structure, built in 1907 for the purpose of guiding Spanish, French and English ships into port. Here, European goods like marseille tiles and clay jars filled with olives and wine were traded for local resources like chewing gum, tropical hardwoods, precious dyewood and (sadly) sea turtles for the tortoiseshell trade.
Today, the lighthouse hosts a small museum where you can peruse pieces of sunken ships, nautical instruments and other historic artifacts retrieved from the surrounding waters. Climb the watchtower for Isla Aguada views (at just 59 feet high, it’s an easy ascent as far as lighthouses go) and keep your eyes peeled for protected baby turtles and iguanas inhabiting the lighthouse grounds. Entry is free.
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What to See in Isla Aguada: Best Things to Do / Virgin Beaches and Beach Clubs
Isla Aguada may be known for its biodiverse lagoon, but the peninsular paradise boasts its share of stunning beaches too. And if you’re noticing another theme here, it’s that they’re all empty, deserted or otherwise virgin. You’ll tick off a spectacular sandbar and deserted island on the lagoon tour, but back in town you can enjoy another undeveloped stretch of sand at Playa Isla Aguada. Fair warning this virgin beachfront doesn’t offer a single service – as in no storefronts, vendors or bathrooms – so you’ll need to come prepared. The effort however is arguably worth it, especially later in the day to catch the most dazzling sunsets in town.
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Looking for a beach experience with a hint of civilization? We’ve got you. Head just 20 minutes south of town and you’ll arrive at MUUN Beach Club. Not just civilized, this bohemian beachfront offers a fully serviced restaurant, bar and beach club experience giving zen vibes at their finest. Think: enchanting hanging vines, cushioned loungers shaded by palapas, lush palms at every turn and stylish black knit hammocks swaying in the breeze.
A contemporary menu of thoughtfully executed surf & turf fare brings an elevated addition to the Isla Aguada area dining scene, with excellent cocktails to match. Order a pick-me-up in the form of a carajillo (double espresso with Licor 43, shaken over ice) and don’t skimp on the steak tacos or jumbo garlic shrimp – I’m still dreaming about them.
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