Isla Contoy, the bird sanctuary north of the Riviera Maya

Isla Contoy National Park photo in Blog The Fives Resort, Playa del Carmen.

The Isla Contoy National Park is located at the confluence of the Caribbean Sea and the Gulf of Mexico. The best way to get there from Playa del Carmen is to take a ferry from the port of Cancun, although you can also leave from Puerto Juarez, Punta Sam or Isla Mujeres. Depending on the type pf ship and where you take it, the voyage may take between one and two hours. The longest one will be from Cancun situated at the south of the four starting points.

It is a sanctuary for highly protected birds, so only 200 visitors are allowed per day, so it convenient to contract our visit in advance. Hotels and agencies of Playa del Carmen offer one-day tours to this island. On some of these tours you can have one of the most exciting experiences of your stay in the Riviera Maya: diving with the whale sharks.

A normal day on Isla Contoy includes, apart from the traditional snorkelling, visiting a small island where we will be given information on this island, going up to a 65 feet tall watchtower from which we can have a spectacular view, taking a walk along two walking-paths while watching the abundant flora y fauna. In the only canteens of the island, we can savour the delicious seafood of the area.

Optionally, we can contract a journey to the Puerto Viejo lagoon, a place where the biggest brown pelican of the area nests. The extra charge for this visit is aimed at financing the preservation of Isla Contoy National Park. The name seems to have originated from the Mayan word pontoj, which means “pelican”. From several discoveries of shells and ceramics, it is known that the island started to be inhabited on a permanent basis from the year 300-200 of our era. During the Mayan magnificence, it was part of a wide commercial network. Francisco Fernández de Córdoba, the first Spaniard to have reached Mexico, run into it after leaving Cuba and facing a great storm.

This island was visited by the most famous pirates of the Caribbean and it is thought that its waters are packed with the remains of tens of wrecked naves full of treasures still to be discovered. Isla Contoy is 4 miles long and only 65 feet wide. It is the ideal place for those who want to enjoy the best preserved nature, especially bird watching, as from winter there are 10.000 recorded species of birds on this small territory, including among others frigates, penguins, cormorants, terns, brown pelicans or herons.

In summer, hundreds of turtles (Carey, white and Caguama) come to its beaches to spawn. Its flora is also very abundant: there are 84 recorded species, but undoubtedly, the most abundant is the mangrove, which covers 70% of the surface of the island. In the surrounding waters, 234 marine species have been discovered, including the whale shark we mentioned earlier and enormous rays. In the nearby reef of Ixlaché, besides the great colourful beauty of the coral, we can also watch hundreds of organisms that find shelter there. Curiously, the lack of fresh water did not prevent the appearance of mammals on the island. During the period between September and February, around 300 fishermen se settle on its coasts to carry out fishing activities strictly regulated. The rest of the year, the island remains uninhabited.

Francisco Cenamor

The Fives USA blog about Playa del Carmen & the Riviera Maya, Mexico