A Day Trip to Isla Contoy
Part 1

An island bird and wildlife sanctuary off the tip of the Yucatan peninsula, open to visitors...

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As the sand beach and mangrove trees of Isla Contoy appear on the horizon, the water around our boat turns an amazingly clear dark green. Against the blue sky, the effect is stunning; a quintessential postcard that reminds me more of the South Seas than the Caribbean.

Isla Contoy, the most important seabird nesting site in the entire Mexican Caribbean, is a popular day trip from Cancun and Isla Mujeres for bird watchers and snorkelers. However, the beaches are never really crowded at this wildlife sanctuary. Only 200 visitors a day are allowed on the 4-mile long, uninhabited island.

We’re still 20 minutes from docking when Capt. Ricardo throws a pair of hand lines over the stern of our 36-foot motor-sailer, Estrella del Norte.

In just a few minutes, he snags a pair of large, slashing barracuda. Capt. Ricardo quickly dispatches them with a billy club as soon as they hit the deck. The cudas go into the ice chest, presumably for his dinner and not for our fish lunch.

The Estrella turns into Imaxpoit Bay toward a small white-washed museum, the island’s only building. As he secures the boat to a long wooden dock, Capt. Ricardo points to a rippling patch of water about a hundred yards away, just off the beach. It looks like a school of feeding baitfish.

“ Baby manta rays,” he says. “They’re very tame.”
Sure enough, a couple of small rays are swimming in knee-deep shallows.

They seem undecided about how friendly to be. If we move toward them, the rays swim leisurely away. When we walk toward shore, they return and circle our ankles. The rays are joined by a large triggerfish, which perfectly imitates their indecisive behavior.

When the crew of a boat that arrived just ahead of us brings out food scraps to the rays, the animals lose their shyness completely. They’re ready to be hand-fed, a small, calmer version of Grand Cayman’s Stingray City.

While others swim or snorkel with the animals, I explore the interior of the open-air museum. Information about Isla Contoy is sparse; the building’s main purpose is to provide restroom facilities.

Following a walkway leading up a large sand dune, I’m soon on the island’s highest point. From the top I gain a good perspective of Isla Contoy’s irregular shape. It narrows from about 2000 feet at the widest point, about where I stand, to just 60 feet at its narrowest.

The interior is punctuated by several saltwater lagoons, where most of the sea bird nesting occurs.

Next Page (Isla Contoy Day Trip Part 2)

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