Peeking out of a crystal-clear sea and dotted with saltwater lagoons, mangrove trees, and coconut palms, Isla Contoy is home to over 150 species of birds, including herons, brown pelicans, frigates, and cormorants, and is a preferred nesting ground for three different species of endangered sea turtles.
The island was decreed a national park in 1998, and its only structures are a three-story viewing tower, a visitors center, and a museum; a few trails allow for appreciating the otherwise pristine island environment. Just 24 kilometers (14 miles) north of Isla Mujeres , Isla Contoy is a popular and rewarding outing for nature buffs and average day-trippers alike.
Various tour operators on Isla Mujeres offer the same basic trip for a standard price (US$65, including the US$5 park entrance fee): Depart around 9:15 a.m. with a 30-to-45-minute stop for snorkeling along the way, then three hours to explore the island or just relax, including lunch on the beach (typically freshly grilled fish or chicken). Boats head back around 2:30 p.m., reaching Isla Mujeres at 4 p.m.
Recommended operators include Captain Tony García (Av. Matamoros near Av. Benito Juárez, tel. 998/877-0229, captaintonys [at] hotmail [dot] com), a friendly English-speaking guide with over 20 years’ experience whose house doubles as his office, and Cooperativa Isla Bonita (Av. Madero pier, cell. tel. 998/134-6103, www.cooperativaislabonita.com , 8 a.m.–7 p.m. daily).