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Mexico’s Isla Contoy National Park By Phyllis Atha


sla Contoy is a Mexican national park within a few hours sail north of Isla Mujeres and Cancun. We visited the island in April 2005. At that time, the Mexican customs and immigration were requiring that cruising boats check in and out of each port. One of the benefits of sailing to Isla Contoy was that it fell under the jurisdiction of the Isla Mujeres customs and immigration, thus no additional bureaucratic inconvenience, though the comparative solitude in relation to bustling Isla Mujeres would have been well worth the hassle. The sail north from Isla Mujeres required us to traverse five miles of open water, no reefs or islands to break the easterly swells, making for a roll-y ride. But, we were hoping that the reef, which lies north, and south below Isla Contoy would make the last six miles of our sail more comfortable. No such luck. The seas were breaking on the reef, making visual navigation up the west side of the reef easier, though the reef did little to slow the rolling swells. However, once in the lee of the island, the seas calmed quickly, even though it was only another half mile to the tiny bay where the national park visitor’s center is located. The depth west of the reef shallowed to 10 to 15 feet with sandy shoals requiring some visual navigation; not difficult, but of some concern. The Mexican national park provides two mooring balls inside the tiny bay for visiting boats. There is no charge for the mooring, though there is a daily use fee charged for visiting the park. In April of 2005, the fee was $2 per person. We were told in Isla Mujeres that visiting boats were required to obtain a permit at the National Park Office in Isla Mujeres. But, over several days’ time, we were unable to find the office open. When we dinghied into the visitor’s center at Isla Contoy, the authorities were quite welcoming, accepted our daily use fee, and even offered us a tour of the facilities and a talk


July 2007


on the wildlife to be found on the island. No mention of a required permit. We dinghied into a substantial dock where two daycharter boats were moored. Approximately 30 to 40 visitors were milling around on the patio (where the charter boats were serving lunch), walking the small beach, swimming and snorkeling. The charter boats cast off about two o’clock, leaving the three or four park officials and ourselves alone to enjoy the beauty and solitude of the island. Isla Contoy is a long, narrow island. We could hear the crashing waves on the east side of the island from the anchorage and visitor’s center on the west. A short trail crossed the island where we spotted iguanas and oodles of hermit crabs. The visitor’s center itself is a large building housing several enclosed offices and an open-air museum with exhibits displaying the flora and fauna of the island. The open-air museum also serves as a patio with picnic tables providing a shady and relatively cool area for lunching or relaxing. After visiting ashore, we snorkeled out to the tiny islands that enclose the bay. We saw a few fish, some large sponges, soft coral and a stingray. Though the water was clear and refreshing, the snorkeling was not memorable. Our night on the mooring was calm and secure, though we could still hear the crashing waves across the island, a welcome change from the roll-y anchorage at Isla Mujeres. During the night the winds and seas calmed, and below decks it became a bit muggy. Since the winds and seas had abated, the ride back to Isla Mujeres was calm and comfortable, but the calmer seas just glided over the reef, making it difficult to discern its location and to navigate visually. The GPS and our recorded track helped immensely. Isla Contoy is a jewel in the Mexican cruising grounds. An enjoyable day trip from Isla Mujeres or Cancun, but worth a bit more extended stay.