Visiting Isla Contoy from Isla Mujeres

By Michele Samal Kinnon

Visiting Isla Contoy from Isla Mujeres: Tips for an Amazing Excursion

Have you ever dreamed of discovering your own deserted Caribbean island? Isla Contoy, the smallest island in Mexico, may be just what you have been dreaming of. 

With its sugar-white sandy beaches dotted with palm trees, surrounded on all sides by impossibly clear turquoise-blue water, Isla Contoy is paradise on earth, the perfect escape and easily reachable from Cancun or Isla Mujeres.

A Brief Overview of Isla Contoy

Isla Contoy is located in the Mexican Caribbean, just northeast of Mexico’s Yucatan Peninsula, about 30 kilometers (about 18.6 miles) north of Isla Mujeres. In stark contrast to the mass tourism of Cancun, Isla Contoy (Contoy Island) is completely uninhabited and widely considered one of the best and most unique of Mexico´s islands.

Isla contoy pristine beach

When visiting Isla Contoy from Isla Mujeres, you’ll be amazed by the island’s biodiversity. The National Commission of Protected Areas (Comisión Nacional de Áreas Protegidas (CONAMP) is in charge of managing and safeguarding national parks in Mexico. This commission has granted Isla Contoy the status of a protected natural reserve since 1961. The island was declared a national park in 1998.

This nature lover’s paradise is home to over 150 different species of tropical birds. It is an important nesting site for seabirds here in Mexico’s Caribbean. Isla Contoy provides protected nesting grounds for several species of sea turtles who return year after year to lay their eggs. The island also features diverse vegetation, including several types of protected mangroves.

Just south of Isla Contoy is Ixlaché Reef. This point marks the beginning of the Great Mesoamerican Reef, the second-largest barrier reef in the world. The reef and crystal-clear waters surrounding the island are also home to an abundance of beautiful underwater life, including sea turtles and manta rays.

Isla Contoy is the perfect spot to visit if you are looking for turquoise-blue Caribbean waters, pristine white sand beaches, and world-class snorkeling. If you are a nature lover, this is one of the best tours you can take in Mexico.

Let´s take a look at a few of the options for visiting Isla Contoy.

Recommended Isla Contoy Tours from Isla Mujeres

We used Isla Mujeres Trips who offer good value trips from Isla Mujeres to Isla Contoy with friendly bilingual staff. All round it was a fantastic trip with lunch and beer included!

Recommended Isla Contoy Tours from Cancun

What to Know Before Booking a Tour to Isla Contoy

Where is Isla Contoy?

Isla Contoy is a small island in the northeast of Mexico’s Yucatan Peninsula. This untouched natural wonder is just a few miles off the coast of Cancun and close to Isla Mujeres. Isla Contoy is widely considered one of the best and most unique of the Yucatan islands. 

Located on the Mesoamerican Reef (the second-longest coral reef system in the world), Isla Contoy is in a perfect spot for turquoise Caribbean waters, white sand beaches, and world-class diving and snorkeling. 

Getting to Isla Contoy

Isla Contoy is only accessible by boat. This tiny spit of land is just 75 km long and varies in width from 20 to 700 meters wide. The island is strictly protected and monitored by the Secretary of Environment and Natural Resources (SEMARNAT) and receives only 200 visitors per day. The only way to access the island is with a registered Isla Contoy tour group that has a special permit.

Isla mujeres private boat tours - visiting isla contoy from isla mujeres

Fortunately, there are many tour groups offering various options for visiting Isla Contoy from Isla Mujeres or Cancun. Most of the tours we recommend offer roughly the same itinerary and amenities, so you can choose the one that is most convenient for you.

If you are staying in Isla Mujeres you can book a tour from there that only goes to Isla Contoy. This excursion will last about 5 hours. The tours that leave from Cancun to Isla Contoy include a stop at Isla Mujeres where you will have some free time to enjoy the downtown area. This is a full-day trip and you should allot 8+ hours for the excursion.

The Best Time to Visit Isla Contoy

Are you looking for the best time to go to Isla Contoy? The good news is, there is really no BAD time to visit this tiny Mexican island. The tropical climate in the Mexican Caribbean is quite predictable and fairly easy to make plans around. The climate in this region does not vary much from season to season with little change in air and water temperatures. The only thing to take into consideration is hurricane season which runs from June through November.

Fall-Winter:  November – December

The autumn-winter months are considered by many to be the best times to visit Isla Contoy. By November, the hurricane season has passed us by and the temperatures are starting to drop again. It can almost seem a bit chilly once the sun goes down and you might find you need a light sweater or a jacket in the evenings. The chances of rain are also low making this a great time to plan a trip to the Mexican Caribbean and take a tour to Isla Contoy.

Summer: May – October

May through October is our summer and our rainy season. The days are longer and hotter and we also expect to see quite a bit of rain during this season. There are weeks when we get some light showers almost every day but not enough to ruin your vacation or keep you from enjoying the beach and other outdoor activities.  

June through November is also hurricane season on the Riviera Maya. It´s a good idea to keep an eye on the global weather patterns during this time if you are planning a trip to the area. The good news is, this season is considerably quieter. Fewer tourists mean you can typically expect lower rates at hotels, resorts and tour companies during this time.

Winter-Spring: January – April

January through April is the time when the weather is glorious. The days are warm and sunny and we don´t see too much rain. The downside is that this is also high season which brings millions of tourists through Cancun, the Riviera Maya and Isla Mujeres. 

If you are planning your trip during the high season and want to visit Isla Contoy from Isla Mujeres or Cancun, you must book your Isla Contoy excursion in advance. The Mexican government limits the number of visitors to just 200 people on the island per day. If you don´t have your place booked in advance, it is very likely you will miss out.

What to Expect from an Isla Contoy Tour

Assuming you have reserved your space in advance, the Isla Contoy tour company will send you all the information regarding your trip via email. 

Boat docked on isla contoy

You will be instructed to gather in the early morning at the designated meeting point either at the tour office in the downtown area or at the dock where your boat will depart from. Here you will be greeted by your certified guide and the boat crew who will give you some initial instructions and information about the exciting day trip ahead.

All of the Isla Contoy boat tour operators we recommend provide life jackets and snorkeling equipment although you are welcome to bring your own personal gear.

Be sure to go through your checklist at your hotel or condo before leaving for the meeting point. The tours leave promptly and you don´t want to have to run back for any forgotten items. See our list of things to bring on a tour of Isla Contoy below.

From the departure spot, the boat trip to Isla Contoy from Isla Mujeres should take about 30 minutes, If your tour company is stopping at Punta Sam to pick up additional passengers, that will add about 15 minutes to the journey. 

All of the boats provide shaded seating, bottled water and soft drinks for the ride. Some of the tours offer beer and even an open bar for the ride back. Check with your boat tour company about what they include.

This tiny island is situated in a unique spot where the Caribbean Sea and the Gulf of Mexico meet. The magic begins on the journey to the island when you may be lucky enough to encounter marine turtles, manta rays and possibly even dolphins.

On the way, the first stop (weather permitting), will be a chance to snorkel at Ixlache Reef. The reef is home to a myriad of species of tropical fish and other marine creatures. In these crystal-clear waters, you may come across spiny lobster, octopus, sea urchins and possibly rays and sea turtles. 

Isla contoys famous sting rays

Of course, you don´t have to snorkel and are welcome to stay on the boat. This is not a challenging site to snorkel but, If you are not a strong swimmer, don´t worry. Life jackets will be provided and a guide will be with you at all times.

The next stop is Isla Contoy. The first thing that will greet you is a white sandy beach lined with palm trees. The beaches on Isla Contoy are well known as some of the most beautiful beaches in the world! Because access to the island is limited to just 200 people per day, the park rangers are able to keep the beaches in pristine condition.

Each tour company will have its own itinerary to follow once you are on the island. There will be time for a delicious lunch on the beach, free time to relax and swim and, of course, guided tours of the National Park of Isla Contoy led by bilingual guides. 

Each Isla Contoy tour company employs certified tour guides who are passionate about the preservation efforts on the island and will tell you everything about the nature reserve. Here you will have the opportunity to see over 150 species of endemic and migratory bird species in their natural habitat. Don´t forget to bring your camera!

Isla contoy bird sanctuary

Of course, as a protected area and sanctuary, most of the island is closed to visitors and many of the island´s residents will be hidden from view. But, there is a small museum onsite with some interesting exhibits about the birds and animals you may have missed on your island tour as well as information about the history of Isla Contoy and what kinds of conservation efforts are being made there. This is a great experience for nature lovers!

What to Bring on an Isla Contoy Tour: Checklist of Essentials


Sunglasses, preferably polarized, are essential if you are taking a boat tour to Contoy Island. The sun, especially on the water, is very bright. Aside from making you uncomfortable, the sun´s rays are damaging to your eyes. 


I´ve been a baseball cap girl all my life until I moved to Mexico and changed up my hat game for a sturdy, wide-brimmed straw hat. If you can find a hat that gives you some good coverage from the sun, your face and ears will thank you! If you don´t have a favorite hat, the shops in downtown have lots of inexpensive but cute options.


Even if you are planning to sit out the snorkel stop, an excursion to Isla Contoy can be a wet day. There is sea spray on the boat ride to consider and you may want to take a dip in the cool clear water once you reach the island. 


If you are planning to snorkel or swim or even to keep a dry seat on the boat, a small towel is good to bring along. We travel with quick-drying microfibre towels that take up no space at all and are super handy.

Comfortable Waterproof Shoes

There is a considerable amount of walking involved in the guided tour of Isla Contoy National Park. You will want to wear comfortable shoes. We recommend bringing water-resistant sandals for this excursion.

Snorkel Gear

All of the professional Isla Contoy tours that we recommend provide snorkel equipment to use on the trip. It will be servicable and sanitized but it may not fit perfectly. If you are an avid snorkeler or diver, you will probably want to bring along your own gear to make sure you get the best experience.

Rash Guard

In order to protect the delicate ecosystem of the island and the reef, the use of sunscreen is not permitted on Isla Contoy. It is highly recommended that you wear a long-sleeved rashguard, preferably with SPF protection to shield you from the sun’s damaging rays. You are going to be on the water, in the water and on an island for about 8 hours. You will need to cover up.

Dry Bag

A must-have for any adventure-based activities, a dry bag will protect your belongings in the boat and on the beach. A good dry bag will keep your towels and extra clothes dry and free of sand. If you are traveling with a camera, your cell phone or other expensive gear, a dry bag will give you peace of mind on these boat trips.

Cell Phone

We live in a time where everyone has their cell phone with them all the time. Will you need a cell phone on this excursion? No. But if you are like most people and use your cell phone mainly for taking photos, videos and posting to social media, then your phone is coming along for the ride. This is a unique experience that you will want to share with friends and family back home.

Waterproof Phone Case

If you are bringing your cell phone on your Isla Contoy tour, do yourself a favor and invest in a decent-quality waterproof phone cover. The crystal clear waters on the reef and surrounding the island will give you a great chance to get some nice underwater photos but be sure your trusty cell phone is properly protected!


If you are a nature lover, avid bird watcher or a wildlife fanatic, you may want to bring along a pair of binoculars. This is a once-in-a-lifetime experience and you should make the most of it by getting the best views you can!

Camera or GoPro

Most people seem to be trading in their cameras for selling phones these days but if you are a pro-level photographer, bring along your camera and a few good lenses. A visit to Isla Contoy will offer you an opportunity to photograph wildlife that you may have never seen before! 

If you are planning to snorkel at Ixlache Reef or are booking a trip to swim with the whale sharks, investing in a GoPro with a waterproof case is a great idea. The chance to capture these unique experiences on film is one you don´t want to pass up or leave to chance with a cell phone. 

Dry Clothes

If you are planning to swim or snorkel whilst on your Isla Contoy tour, you may want to change into a set of dry clothes for the ride back in the boat. It´s not very comfortable sitting for 30 minutes in a wet bathing suit. Having dry clothes to change into will make the trip a lot more pleasant. 


All of the Isla Contoy tours we recommend are all-inclusive and include the park fee. You may also want tips for the boat captain and crew (at your discretion) and money for souvenirs. If you are booking your Isla Contoy excursion from Cancun, your tour will likely make a stop on Isla Mujeres where you can do a bit of shopping!

What NOT to Bring to Contoy Island

Mosquito Repellent

In order to protect the delicate ecosystem of the island and the reef, the use of insect repellent spray, cream and/or bands is not permitted on Isla Contoy.


Likewise, sunscreen creams, sprays and tanning oils are all forbidden on Isla Contoy.


Drones are strictly forbidden in and around Isla Contoy National Park. If you are caught using a drone, you risk having the equipment confiscated by the park rangers and being fined. Don´t risk it.


No smoking is allowed on the island, on the docks or on the tour boats. 

What can I do to be a responsible visitor to Contoy Island?

To help preserve Isla Contoy, please respect the rules of the National Park. 

  • Do not touch any of the wildlife, on land or in the water.  
  • Do not bring food on the island and do not feed the wildlife.
  • Do not stand on the reef. This is very damaging to the coral.
  • Do not introduce any chemicals to the island. No insect repellent or sunscreen (even reef-safe sunscreen) is permitted.
  • Do not hang anything from trees or bushes including wet clothes or towels
  • Smoking is not permitted anywhere in the National Park, including on the boats while they are docked. 
  • Respect the turtle nests. Nests are clearly marked with posts and caution tape. Please, do not go near them.

Final Thoughts on Visiting Isla Contoy

Visiting Isla Contoy from Isla Mujeres offers more than just a change of scenery; it’s a journey into the heart of Mexico’s ecological diversity. Whether you’re an adventure seeker, a nature lover, or someone looking to relax in an untouched paradise, Isla Contoy provides a unique and enriching experience. This is undoubtedly one of the best things to do if you are planning a trip to the Mexican Caribbean.

Isla contoy on a panga

The National Park and beautiful island of Isla Contoy will take your breath away with its gorgeous, natural setting, wildlife and absolutely pristine beaches. It´s a great place to spend a day and if you’re a nature lover this day tour will be the highlight of your visit to Cancun or Isla Mujeres.

If you liked this article and want to read more of our blogs about Isla Mujeres, here is some recommended reading:

Getting to Isla Mujeres

Best Things to Do on Isla Mujeres with Kids

Isla Mujeres Sunset Cruises

Plan the Best Day Trip to Isla Mujeres

If you have any questions about this information, please feel free to contact us

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Frequently Asked Questions about Isla Contoy

How long is a tour to Isla Contoy?

An Isla Contoy tour, leaving from Isla Mujeres, takes around 5 hours in total. The groups generally leave Isla Mujeres at 8:30 AM.

Where is Isla Contoy?

Isla Contoy is located in the Mexican Caribbean Sea, 30 kilometers north of Isla Mujeres.

Should I book an Isla Contoy day trip in advance?

We do recommend booking this tour way ahead of time since access to the island is limited to 200 people daily.

How big is the boat to Isla Contoy?

Boat sizes and the number of participants on your tour will vary by company. 

Do Isla Contoy tours provide transportation?

If you are staying in Cancun, Playa del Carmen or anywhere along the Riviera Maya, you will need to check if your tour includes transportation from your hotel to the marina.

Do we have space to leave any belongings on the boat?

This will depend on your tour operator but generally, there is storage on the boat to leave a bag.

What is there to see on the snorkel trip?

There are several types of colorful coral to see, and many species of tropical fish and other marine life such as sea turtles, sting rays, eels, lobsters and more.

Do you need to be an experienced swimmer to go snorkeling?

No. You don’t need to be an experienced swimmer. Lifejackets will be provided and the guide will be with you with a safety bouy. 

Can you stay on Isla Contoy?

No. It is not permitted to stay overnight on Isla Contoy. There are no accommodations for visitors and camping is forbidden in order to protect the delicate ecology of the island.

Is Isla Contoy good for kids?

Yes. A trip to visit Isla Contoy National Park is an incredible opportunity for children to see all kinds of birds and animals in their natural environment. They will also get to swim and play on some of the most beautiful beaches in the world.

Is Isla Contoy worth visiting?

In our opinion yes. Visiting Isla Contoy from Isla Mujeres is a great day trip and will make for an unforgettable experience. If you are a nature lover, you should not miss this unique opportunity.

Can I swim with the whale sharks or take a whale shark tour on Isla Contoy?

The whale shark season runs from the end of May through mid-September. Swimming with the whale sharks is a full-day excursion and must be booked as a separate tour.

About the author

Michele Samal Kinnon

Despite the strong reservations of family and friends, in 2004 I moved from the United States to Mexico with my young family. Since then, I have made the Riviera Maya my home. I have raised two remarkable children here. I have celebrated amazing successes, made countless mistakes, and in the process, fallen in love with this beautiful country.