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Is This Mexico’s Last True Pristine And Off Path Island Destination?

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The Mexican Caribbean is such a wildly popular destination it's hard to believe there are any untouched gems left to explore locally.

From Cancun's action-packed Hotel Zone to Lake Bacalar's boutique luxury hotels, busy beaches and crowded tourist attractions have become common sights year-round.

Isla Contoy, An Unhabited Island Off The Coast Of The Mayan Riviera In Mexico

Regardless of the surging demand for Mexican Caribbean vacations, there are still beautiful off-path spots in the region that are yet to be tarnished by over-development, including a pristine island home to white sands, teal-blue waters, and brimming with wildlife.

If you've never heard of Isla Contoy before, that means local authorities have been successful in their challenging task of avoiding mass tourism and guarding the gates to this earthly paradise:

An Untouched, Gorgeous Natural Reserve

Coastline Of Isla Contoy, Off The Mayan Riviera Coast In Mexico

Located 30 kilometers north of Isla Mujeres, a highly sought-after sunny getaway best known for its laid-back atmosphere, Isla Contoy is a lesser-known island only 5.3 miles in length that occupies an area of 1.22 square miles. In other words, it is incredibly small compared to Isla Mujeres, its closest neighbor.

On top of that, Contoy is often dubbed Mexico's last true pristine island due to being uninhabited. There are no permanent residents, hotels, beach clubs, restaurants, or even a reception center or small fishermen's villages awaiting tourists who make landfall, like in other Mexican islands.

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Panorama Of Isla Contoy, On The Mayan Riviera, Quintana Roo, Mexico

Historically, it served as a trading port for the Ancient Mayans, who ruled the Yucatan Peninsula up until the Spanish Conquest of parts of North America.

Contoy was a popular stopover for sailors on the honey and salt trade routes, and later on, it attracted the attention of pirates, who were drawn to its remoteness and strategic location.

View Of Isla Contoy From A Boat As It Approaches Land, Off The Mainland Coast Of The Mexican Caribbean, Mexico

In modern times, however, Quintana Roo authorities have made sure it remains secluded and virtually unspoiled from the overwhelming wave of development that reached the wider Mayan Riviera, the reason being Contoy is a protected nature reserve and a national park.

Recognized as an area of outstanding natural beauty since 1998, its main attractions include sandy crescents lined with tropical trees and the crystal-clear seas that surround them. As you might have guessed, it is not a destination in itself:

Most Travelers Visit Contoy On A Day Trip From Cancun Or Isla Mujeres


Although visitors are welcome, there can be no more than 200 per day, and only a limited number of companies are licensed to operate ecotourism excursions into Isla Contoy.

When attempting to reach its shores, guests normally base themselves in Isla Mujeres or in some cases, the mainland.

They will require permission to tour the island, which can be easily obtained at one of the national park's offices in Mujeres or Cancun.

Woman walking along beach in Turks and Caicos

Seeing that up to 1,400 beachgoers are allowed to enter the reserve each week, the beaches are far less crowded and far less polluted than those in Cancun or the mainland.

This means you can have a truly relaxing afternoon lying in the sun, feet buried in the sand, and listening to the gentle crash of the waves without being pestered by insistent beach vendors.

Brimming With Wildlife

Sea turtle swimming in clear ocean waters with white sand and coral at the bottom

Wildlife enthusiasts will be thrilled to learn that there are 150 different species of bird nestling in Contoy, both native and migrant, such as the gorgeous great blue heron, brown pelicans, the roseate spoonbill, and many other exotic creatures living in the idyllic islet undisturbed.

Closer to the water, different kinds of tropical fish can be spotted, including sea turtles and whale sharks. Tour operators often offer include snorkeling and diving activities, as well as explorations of the Ixlaché coral reef, off the coast of Contoy, and part of the second-largest barrier reef in the world.

Fisheye view under water revealing native vegetation and coral reef at Tampico Beach on Caribbean island of Isla Culebra

Furthermore, thanks to both its privileged location in a portion of the Caribbean Sea where the waters are more serene and the comparatively small land mass, Contoy is normally not affected by the rising sargassum levels that have plagued Cancun lately.

Sargassum seaweed is a foul-smelling brown algae that routinely impacts the Mayan Riviera this time of year, thanks to the warmer sea temperatures and strength of the waves, which help carry it ashore. In Contoy, however, similarly to Mujeres, seaweed is not a pressing concern.

How To Visit Isla Contoy

Resort Guests Relaxing In A Pool Overlooking A Beautiful Pier Stretching Out Into The Caribbean Sea In Isla Mujeres, Mexican Caribbean, Mexico

As stated before, the only way to visit Isla Contoy is by booking a tour from Cancun or Isla Mujeres. The packages are similar, with the day trip lasting, on average, 8-9 hours, usually beginning around 9 am and finishing at 5 pm.

As there are no restaurants or shops on the island, and the sole purpose of this experience is to have a carefree beach day, customers are strongly encouraged to bring their own food if they have specific dietary restrictions and snacks for consumption throughout the day, though a light breakfast, drinks, and lunch are generally included.

Mexican Flag Displayed Against A Tropical Sea Background, Mexican Caribbean, Riviera Maya, Mexico

The cost ranges from USD$90 to USD$150, depending on the list of inclusions, departure point, and whether guests are interested in snorkeling in the Ixlaché reef.

Upon arrival to the island, visitors must also pay a USD$15 fee in cash.

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Opinions expressed here are the author’s alone, not those of any bank, credit card issuer, hotel, airline, or other entity. This content has not been reviewed, approved or otherwise endorsed by any of the entities included within the post.


Tuesday 4th of April 2023

Ruining beautiful Mexico with your tourist BS, one place at a time. Thanks alot. Maybe you should write about China or Somalia.