Mayan Ruins of Isla Mujeres: The Goddess Ixchel & The Temple

The Mayan ruins of Isla Mujeres beckon tourists with the promises of tales and legends etched upon their stones. 

David Araya | Updated January 25, 2023

Twelve miles northeast of Cancun’s vibrant nights and beaches lies Isla Mujeres Mexico, emerging from the sea’s surface in all its glory. This island draws in individuals with a penchant for the old gods and history.

Over 1500 years ago, the Mayans honored this island as among their gods’ sanctuaries. 

A part of the province Ekab, it hosted the goddess Ixchel – the deity of the moon, medicine, fertility, and joy.

The Mayan Ruins of Isla Mujeres represent the goddess Ixchel’s temple. It resides at the island’s southernmost end: Punta Sur, the highest point in the Yucatan Peninsula. 

An Ode to Ixchel

mayan ruins of ixchel isla mujeres

Like history, Ixchel’s story differs depending on its narrators. She has been associated with the moon, healing, the art of weaving, rains, storms, and even rainbows, which were frowned upon in the Mayan culture.

The tale of Ixchel is celebrated for its strong resonance with human nature. She fell for the god of the Sun and escaped him after he turned violent. 

High up in the mountains, she resided with the King of the Vultures, only to be swept away by the sun god again. After that, he scarred her face. 

Ixchel then vowed to appear at night only. She guided travelers with her light, healed the sick, had power over the rain and floods, and carried a spindle that was the center of the universe.

Cynthia Fay Davis notes that the Mayan goddess of the moon may differ from Ixchel. Regardless of the exact nature of her godliness, her tale resounds to many. Ixchel is said to protect those who make a pilgrimage to her temple.  

In illustrations, Ixchel often wears a crown of serpents, carries a jug or a jar of water, and wears a skirt depicting crossbones. 

The serpents symbolize wisdom. The jar shows her control over water, both as a blesser and a goddess who could curse with floods when angered by the evil among humans. 

The crossbones implies that she is the giver of life and keeper of dead souls. The Mayans often represented her as a young woman when the moon waxed and an elderly one when it waned.

Isla Mujeres’s History

mayan ruins isla mujeres ocean view

Isla de las Mujeres translates to Island of the Women. The name came from Francisco Hernandez Cordova in 1517, who discovered the island. 

He found idols upon landing there, all belonging to women: Ixhchel, her daughters, and daughters-in-law. During the Mayan times, the females who visited the goddess’s sanctuary made figurines to tribute to her and asked for fertility.  

The Mayans are also believed to have used the island to harvest salt from the salt lagoons. Given the height of Punta Sur, they also established a lighthouse to aid sailors of the Caribbean. 

Isla Mujeres Now

Isla Mujeres is now a laid-back tourist attraction with incredible diversity, friendly locals, and picturesque beaches. Despite being another tourist hub, it has attracted the right sort of attention, too – of artists, archaeologists, and scientists looking to preserve the place in all its beauty; mayhaps Ixchel still keeps an eye. 

As you tour around, you’ll see seawall murals made by internationally acclaimed artists, aiming to increase awareness about concepts like sustainability and eco-tourism. The world’s largest underwater museum, Museo Subacuático de Arte, resides off the island coast, 28 feet below the ocean’s surface; it’s 500 life-sized sculptures covered with algae and corals. 

And most importantly, the island is a testament to the sophistication of human civilizations that roamed the land before. 

Not long ago, the National Institute of History and Anthropology discovered the ruins of five Mayan buildings, among which is the true temple of Ixchel. The temple remains rest in a quieter corner of the island, near a village, and are reachable through the Garrafon Natural Reef Park or from the visitor entrance. 

If you visit the island, take some time to silently ponder its biodiversity, beauty, and history. Look upon the coral reefs and the art, and think of the planet’s dying biodiversity and the efforts of those who wish to protect it. 

And most importantly, visit the residing place of Ixchel, pay tribute to her, and remember the richness of the cultures that were on Earth far before you were born.  

Written by David Araya

David Araya

David Araya is an Isla Mujeres resident of many years. He is a husband and Co-founder of the “Cooks for an Island Cause” and “Toys + ‘Tings” non-profit organizations. He is also the host of ShakerSation. Follow David on Instagram @araya_bartekniks