Isla Contoy – A Natural Jewel of the Caribbean Crown

Posted September 18, 2013 by Kay Walten in Enviroment,Riviera Maya Activities,Riviera Maya Destinations,Sustainable Tourism


Wonderfully wild places can be found all over the Yucatan Peninsula, and one of these precious gems is Isla Contoy. It is located at the conflux of the Caribbean Sea and the Gulf of Mexico, approximately 30 kilometers north of Isla Mujeres. The island is only 8.5 kilometers long and has a surface area of just over 300 hectares. This tiny Caribbean island has been a federally protected area since 1961 and was declared a national park in 1998 because of its rich biodiversity. The only inhabitants of the two legged variety are visiting biologists and those who work to oversee the park. There is no development, no resorts and no private homes…this very special place is just for the flora and fauna.

Gone to the Birds

Tropical birds of the Mexican Caribbean

male frigate bird

The Reserve of Isla Contoy is considered the most important nesting place of marine birds in the Mexican Caribbean.  In this avian sanctuary, over 150 different species have been identified that total up to more than 10,000 birds – an incredible population for a such small area!  This is without a doubt a birder’s paradise.  About half of the species are residents of the island and the others are migratory. You will have the opportunity to observe tropical birds such as brown pelicans, frigates, cormorants, osprey and pink flamingos, so be sure to have your binoculars and birding journal to document all the feathered friends you will see!

Other Island Inhabitants

Nature tours on Isla Contoy

Making new friends on Isla Contoy

A few meters from the island lies a reef that is home to over 200 species of amazing, colorful fish. The snorkeling here is superb. In the bay where the tourist boats dock, the island’s self appointed ambassadors, gentle manta rays, glide through the shallows curiously greeting visitors.  From April to October, four endangered species of sea turtles make the safe beaches of Isla Contoy their nesting grounds. If you are visiting during these months you will surely see them while snorkeling the reef.

Over 90 species of tropical plants have been identified on the island. You may even notice a sweet aroma while exploring the island, this is the glorious sea lavender that grows wild here.  The thick mangroves that cover 50% of the island provide a protected “nursery” for the young birds and fish.

Touring the Island

Organized tours (the only way to visit the island) run daily out of Cancun and Isla Mujeres however only 200 visitors are allowed on the island each day so be sure to make your tour reservations well in advance.  Boat rides out to the island take about 2 hours one way and you wil spend about 3 hours on the island so plan on making this a full day excursion.  Isla Contoy is for the true naturalist who wants plenty of time to just quietly observe the lessons nature has to teach us – there are no jet skis or zip-lines.  Facilities on the island include a visitor center with a museum, a gift store, a rest area with benches and palapas, a twenty-meter high observation tower and nature trails which visitors are able to stroll and learn about the local plants and animals. Be sure to bring sunglasses, a hat, biodegradable bug repellant, sunscreen, binoculars and a swimsuit to better enjoy your eco-tour adventure at Isla Contoy, one of the Caribbean’s natural treasures.

Find other popular birding spots in the Riviera Maya.

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