Isla Contoy Day Trip
Part 2

The return trip
is often wet and bumpy.

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An estimated 5,000 frigates nest on Isla Contoy, along with about 3,000 double-crested cormorants and one of the Caribbean’s largest brown pelican populations. During the year, as many as 152 different bird species visit Contoy, including roseate spoonbills, terns, kingfishers and even flamingoes.

Although best known for its sea bird colonies, Isla Contoy is an important sea turtle sanctuary. From April to October, greens, loggerheads, hawksbills and leatherbacks lay their eggs here.

In season, the trails of nesting turtles are easy to pick out. Their tracks look like tank treads, making the beaches resemble a war zone.

Lunch is ready under a large beach palapa when I return. It’s not barracuda, but a huge grilled snapper with rice, guacamole, salad, bread and an ice chest full of chilled Coronas.

Lunchtime also has attracted a pair of tame iguanas that rest in the shade a few feet from us; they’re as eager to recycle scraps as the baby mantas which still circle the shallows.


All day a swarm of frigate birds has circled the lagoon behind our lunch palapa. The lagoon’s small viewing platform places me only a few yards from several hundred frigates nesting on mangrove limbs.

The man o’ war birds, so majestic and pterodactyl-looking in flight, have wing spans of almost 90 inches. The large wings sometimes seem to get in the way when they shift and move on their nests.

Each frigate female lays a single egg which she incubates for two months. I can spot several downy newborns sitting among the adults, so it’s too late to witness the spectacular courtship display of the males who inflate their bright red throat sacs to attract a mate. Somehow, from a rookery of red balloons, females are able to find one that most appeals to them.

There isn’t enough time to scout out the other lagoons to see what’s happening elsewhere. Brown pelicans and cormorants are remarkably scarce considering the large populations that are supposed to be found here.

On the return voyage, the winds are higher, and the large waves don’t leave a dry spot anywhere on deck. Crew and passengers hide under beach towels since there’s no interior lounge. The wet experience makes up for not snorkeling with the baby rays earlier.

Isla Contoy is located about 15 miles north of Isla Mujeres. Trips originating from here are shorter than those from Cancun. The Estrella’s booking office is at No. 16 Ave. Madero in downtown Isla Mujeres; (998) 877-0434 or email riccontoy@hotmail.com. Its trips last from 9 a.m. to 4 p.m.

Small so-called express boats leave from Isla Mujeres at 8:30 and return around 2:30. Although they’re fast, these open canoe-like craft are real kidney busters if the weather acts up.

Isla Contoy Day Trip Part 1

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