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Isla Contoy

An Unspoilt Island Nature Reserve near Cancun

Isla Contoy is small uninhabited island about 20 miles North of Cancun. It is a designated national park and although visitors are welcome only an absolute maximum of 200 a day are allowed to visit the island. The tour operator has to get a special pass for each person landing on the island. This costs you an additional few dollars on top of the normal fee for reef snorkelling but is absolutely worthwhile.

The island is run by volunteers. About five stay on the island on a temporary basis. The operators running the boat trips to the island are themselves closely monitored and controlled. There are only two or three operators working out of Cancun that are allowed to land on the Isla Contoy. There are more who have not qualified for access to the island. Be aware there is a level of sour grapes with some of these failed operators who will try and convince you that the island is not worth the visit. A visit to the Isla Contoy and the associated reef snorkelling is worth every penny of your money and time. Find an operator that goes there. ( and do the reef snorkelling as well, even if you are a novice ). These approved operators give good value for money as well as showing an obvious concern for their environment.

Usually visitors arrive after having been snorkelling for an hour or so on the Great Mesoamerican reef. On arrival they then are taken on a short tour of the island, including climbing the blue watchtower. Then follows a large barbeque with lots of beer and wine. The natural instinct of many is to flop down on the beautiful beach close to the visitors center and have a doze. But you can always sleep later! Take my word for it, it is well worth using the short time you have on Isla Contoy for a little exploration. Stay to the paths but have a close look at the wonderful natural limestone wall that gets pounded by the sea. Watch the Hermit crabs scuttle by and watch the masses of Frigate birds as they circle the island.

There are no poisonous snakes on the Isla Contoy and no fresh water, which probably explains why it has been free from development so far. The beaches are nesting grounds for several different species of turtle and there are over 100 different species of marine birds on the island. The island is home to over 4000 Frigate birds. The inland lagoon and the surrounding mangrove are major nesting and rest over areas for these birds.

There are a number of paths that radiate out from the visitors center. This one takes you over the top of the island and onto the natural limestone wall As you walk along the path, among the wildlife you may see will be Hermit crabs, Geckos and Iguanas.

The seaward side of the island fronts a long spectacular Limestone wall butting into the sea. With anything other than a flat calm the waves break and casquade over the limestone, providing a truly impressive spectacle, and offering some really good photo shots. If you go down to the limestone wall just be careful to remember where the access point was. Once down on the rocks it is easy to lose sight of the paths

The picture above,on the left is one of those photos that really dissapoints you when you see it. The beach was beautiful and yet this photo makes it look a little dirty and dull. It was anything but dirty and dull. True there was a little seaweed on the foreshore due to a recent storm but otherwise it was bright and clean. The fault was with the photographer.

The Isla Contoy and all of the Yucatan peninnsula is built on Limestone. because of this, surface water in the whole of the Yucatan is at a premium. In the whole of the Yucatan peninnsula, there are only two surface rivers. Limestone is porous. River usually end up flowing underground. Over millions of years erosion takes place and, on the mainland, small deep open lakes called Cenote form when a cave roof collapses.

Isla Contoy is only just over 4 miles in length and about 0.75 miles wide at its widest point. Due to its size and the fact that it is built on a Limestone base there is no running water on the island. Because of this deficiency few people or large animals have ever lived here for an appreciable time. The ancient Maya used to use it occasionally as a stopping off point on their sea voyages and fishermen may use its bay for shelter but otherwise the island has been left alone.

While there are no poisonous snakes on the island it is home to boa-constrictors. These are large native non poisonous snakes that can reach up to 5 -6 feet in length. Boa constrictors live off small repiles and mammals that are plentiful in the lush undergrowth and lagoon. So plentiful in fact that a walk along the limestone wall entails some deft footwork to avoid stepping on any of the hundreds of Geckos sunning themselves on the rocks.

You only get about 4 hours on Isla Contoy. There are only a few exceptions to this, a handful of wildlife volunteers known as the Amigos de Isla Contoy and the occasional passing scientist. Remember that even with only 4 hours you are one of the privileged few who will ever get here. Only 200 people a day maximum will ever view this amazing place, and thats how it should be. The world is losing far too much of its wildlife havens to concrete.

There are dark rumours in the local Cancun population that there are secret plans to build on half the Isla Contoy. I hope there prove unfounded. This is simply too important an ecological site to be lost for another quick buck.