Luxury all-inclusive resort hotels rise up out of the white sandy beaches that skirt Cancun's celestial blue waters. But nearby, other lovely, sun-drenched spots offer what many of those resorts, for all their beauty and opulence, cannot: authenticity.

Luxury all-inclusive resort hotels rise up out of the white sandy beaches that skirt Cancun's celestial blue waters. But nearby, other lovely, sun-drenched spots offer what many of those resorts, for all their beauty and opulence, cannot: authenticity.

Isla Mujeres - Island of Women - lies just to the northeast of Cancun. Its enchanting beaches and shops are reachable only by ferries that run continuously from ports north of downtown.

Fishing boats dock along Isla Mujeres' western beach. Beaches for swimming and sunbathing can be found along the western coast of the tiny island. The sand stretches back from the water about 500 feet, and clusters of palms shade some areas. Weary tourists stretch out on hammocks hanging between the palms.

Vendors from as far away as Chiapas, a state in the southernmost region of Mexico, crisscross the beaches selling their goods-hand-woven headbands, sarongs, bracelets and wooden toys-to sunbathing tourists.

Masseurs set up white gauzy tents along the beach and wait for necks and backs sore from backpacks and luggage. Tiki-style bars serve seafood, cold beer and drinks under the palms.

Just beyond the palms is a stretch of road lined on one side with vendors selling artisan items-mostly deep-water seashells, starfish and jewelry. Across the street is a row of restaurants and small hotels.

It's a short walk from one side of the island to the other. From the ferry port and the beach on the east side, tourists pass through a wonderful commercial zone dotted with small bodegas and storefronts, where they can buy more artisan goods, sunglasses, T-shirts and snacks.

Along the east side of the island, unfinished hotels line a stony beach, and a break wall with a pedestrian walkway butts up against the cobalt sea.

Yes, the economy of the island is driven by tourism, but the atmosphere here is desultory and organic. A trip to Isla Mujeres is a wonderful reprieve for those in search of a change of pace from the guided tours or structured activities of the hotel zone.