Isla Contoy, the sea-bird sanctuary of the Mexican Caribbean
Isla Contoy in the State of Quintana Roo is located at the confluence of the Caribbean Sea and the Gulf of Mexico, approximately 30 kilometers north of Isla Mujeres. The island is only 8.5-Km in length and has a surface area of 317 hectares. Isla Contoy is considered the most important nesting place of sea birds in all of the Mexican Caribbean.
Protected by the Mexican government since 1961, and declared a National Park in February 1998, the island is jointly run by the Isla Mujeres-based Non-Governmental Organization, Amigos de Isla Contoy A.C. and the National Comission for Natural Protected Areas CONANP who depends of the Secretary of Environment, Natural Resources and Fishing (SEMARNAT).
Besides its unparalleled beauty, secluded sandy white beaches and lush palm trees, the island boasts more than a hundred and fifty migrating and resident bird species. The most numerous and easy to observe are the frigate, the brown pelican and the double-crested cormorant. Isla Contoy is also an important nesting place for Sea Turtles.
The island is also host to a group of government-sponsored biologists who continually monitor and study the ecosystem of the island. It also supports supervised eco-tourism and regulated commercial fishing. Existing facilities on the island consist of a visitor center with a pier; a museum; a souvenir store; a resting area with benches and palapas; a grill for barbecues; a twenty-meter-high watchtower and two walking-paths along which visitors are able to learn about the local flora and fauna. An archeological underwater museum and artificial habitat is in the making and should be visitable early this year.
Only a few tour companies have permission to bring guests to the island and only 200 visitors are allowed daily. These tours sail from Isla Mujeres or Cancun. Depending on the weather and the type of boat, the trip should take one to two hours. If you plan to visit the island in your own vessel, you are required to apply for permission first which can be arranged at the Park offices in Isla Mujeres or Cancun.
Before arriving at Isla Contoy, visitors can stop on the way and snorkel the incomparable beauty of the Ixlache Reef, home to countless marine species.
On reaching the island, visitors can enjoy a guided tour led by one of the resident biologists. After savoring a delicious meal highlighted by the local specialty, BBQ Fish Tik-in-chik, visitors can take a bird watching trip on a small boat to the nesting-lagoon site of Puerto Viejo ($10 US donation). Part of the proceeds from excursion fares, additional activities and souvenir store, will be used to support the continued scientific work that will ensure the conservation and sustainability of the island for the benefit of future generations.
Visitors to the island should bring sunglasses, caps, biodegradable sunscreen, mosquito repellent, photographic equipment and binoculars.