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Pier, Isla Contoy, Mexico

Pier, Isla ContoyView All Sizes

JOURNAL : November 12, 2004

Isla Contoy Bird Sanctuary

Isla Contoy > Quintana Roo > Mexico

Series Isla Contoy Bird Sanctuary

Isla Contoy is a long, slender island off the coast of the Yucatán Peninsula in Mexico. At the time we were staying at Playa Norte on Isla Mujeres and decided to take a day trip to see Isla Contoy, a bird sanctuary 15 miles to the north.

Leaving Isla Mujeres, Mexico

Leaving Isla Mujeres

From Isla Mujeres

In the morning we met the captain and a few fellow passengers and hustled down to the dock. For several hours we faced the monotonous Yucatan jungle on one side and the flat sea on the right. The water was often very shallow, and our route skirted the outer reef part of the journey. It was hot and pleasant, but the ride got rather boring half-way through. Bring something to entertain yourself with.

Then we stopped for some snorkeling in a beautiful spot out in the middle of nowhere!

Beach, Isla Contoy, Mexico

Beach, Isla ContoyView All Sizes

Land Ho!

Isla Contoy lays low but can easily be seen amidst the unchecked expanse of land and sea. Flocks of frigate birds circle overhead. We pulled up to the dock and moseyed out to explore the island.

Isla Contoy, Mexico

Approaching Isla Contoy

The beach was empty until our small group came along. Like the surrounding ocean, the island's bay was very shallow. We cruised around a bit, finding the island's conservation outpost that monitors the birds. Having a job here is akin to a perpetual vacation.

This huge hermit crab was trekking along this low wall near the visitor’s center at Isla Contoy, a bird sanctuary island off the Yucatan Coast and a few hours north by boat from Isla Mujeres. He was remarkably similar to the hermit crabs that invaded our campsite at night on St John in the Virgin Islands. They’re about as big as a fist, and solid as stone.

Hermit Crab, Isla ContoyView All Sizes

Isla Contoy

Stingrays, Isla Contoy, Mexico

Stingrays on Isla ContoyView All Sizes

Stingrays, Isla Contoy, Mexico

Stingrays, Isla ContoyView All Sizes

Island Critters

Someone noticed this huge hermit crab crawling on the rock wall. He was as big as my hand, and when compressed, more solid than a fist and heavily fortified like an advancing tank, identical to the species we encountered in St. John on the other side of the Caribbean.

Watchful Iguana, Isla Contoy, Mexico

Watchful Iguana

Elsewhere we saw iguanas lying about on rocks and this wood pile, soaking warmth into their bellies. This one eyed us as we walked past. They are wary but lazy. Benign vegetarians, iguanas will whip their tail and bite only if severely provoked.


In the end we retired to the beach. The captain and his friend were grilling the fish they had caught on the way over. It was deliciously savory! Standard taco fixins were aplenty. An ice chest of Coronas was thrown open and everybody gorged.


About this time the local stingrays put in an appearance in a shallow area of the beach near the feast. Once we were in the water they circled around us quite a bit, working the crowd no doubt, hamming it up for a handout. It was pretty cool to see them so close — hovering right at my feet in eight inches of water. Somebody grabbed some fish and fed them. They were pretty stoked. It was some good fish.

Although we just hung out on the beach or swam, the island has a little more to offer. A few scenic trails run hither and thither between beach and lagoon and building. Since we were there a tower has been built which affords splendid views of the island. This pier here has also been rebuilt to a more durable standard. Besides that, the island is mostly untouched.

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Old Pier on Isla Contoy, Mexico

Old Pier on Isla ContoyView All Sizes

Return to Isla Mujeres

Checking out Isla Contoy is a highly recommended day trip from Isla Mujeres. Likewise, Isla Mujeres is a highly recommended alternative to Cancun. Ferries make regular excursions between them, but to get to Isla Contoy you need to check into one the dive shops to get the ride, or wander into harbor and ask about sailing excursions, or visit a travel agent in town. An all-you-can-eat lunch and cervezas are usually included. Don't forget the camera!

Frigate Bird above Isla Mujeres, Mexico

Frigate BirdView All Sizes

Old pier on Isla Contoy, Mexico

Old pier and BeachView All Sizes

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