Eco Parks & Wildlife Sanctuaries

NORTH OF CANCUN

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Isla Contoy Isla Contoy is a rare delight for bird and animal lovers. This diminutive, pristine island is only 6.5 km long and less than 1 km wide. It is home to more than 70 species of birds including gulls, egrets, flamingos, pelicans, petrels, cormorants, cranes, ducks, herons, frigates, sea swallows, doves, quail, spoonbills, and hawks who come its shore to breed. 

Dramatic sand dunes with black rocks and coral reefs fringe the east coast while the west coast is covered with shrubs and coconut trees providing shelter to the iguanas, lizards, turtles, hermit crabs and snakes who also make Contoy their home. Make sure to visit the outdoor museum and science center and climb the nearby observation tower for a bird's-eye view. You almost touch the magnificent frigate birds as they soar by. There is also excellent snorkeling just off the shore. The local pet manta ray may join you while you swim. 

The number of visitors to Isla Contoy is carefully regulated in order to safeguard the flora and fauna; everyone must buy an authorization ticket to land on this protected zone. It takes about 45 minutes to reach the island depending on the boat and weather and its best to take one of the guided tours. For tour information contact: Sociedad Cooperativa "Isla Mujeres", Pier north of ferry docks, Tel: 987-70500. For general information contact the Isla Mujeres Tourist Office, Plaza Isla Mujeres. Tel: 987-70316. Open weekdays 9 AM to 2 PM and from 7 to 9 PM.

Reserva Ecologica El Eden Reserva Ecologica El Eden offers the real thing – a rugged jungle tour on a reserve dedicated to research and preservation of the ecosystem in the Yucatán. The 500,000-acre refuge was established in 1990 by one of Mexico’s leading naturalists, Arturo Gómez-Pompa and his nephew, Marco Lazcano-Barrerro. It offers excursions into the wetlands, mangroves, sand dunes and tropical forests where people can experience the plants and animals firsthand; reptiles, birds, orchids, butterflies, spider monkeys, jaguars, cougars, deer, ocelots, iguanas and peccary are all part of the general population. Eco-scientific tours include animal tracking, stargazing, crocodile ecology and exploring cenotes. This is not for the luxury-seeker. Prices include transportation back and forth from Cancun, accommodations, meals and guided tours. Contact: APDO Postal 308, Postal 770, 77500, Cancun. E-mail mlazcano@cancun.rce.com.mx. Located 48 km (30 miles) northwest of Cancun. 

Río Lagartos Wildlife Refuge Río Lagartos is home to the biggest flamingo population in North America and a visit here is a feast for the eyes: blue sky, white sand, turquoise waters and fuchsia birds. This National Wildlife Refuge, established in 1979, is also home to the snowy egret, red egret, white ibis, blue heron, cormorant, brown pelican and a number of other bird species. Originally named for the crocodiles that used to inhabit this long estuary, Río Lagartos has 116,000 acres of mangroves, salt marshes and coastal lagoons. You can wander on foot through the waters that circle through small inlets and sandbars watching the birds or hire a boat to go through the mangroves to the flamingos feeding grounds. However, during nesting season (April to June) no one is allowed near the flamingos since they become ultra sensitive to intruders and if disturbed often panic, destroying their nests. 

Nearby are the picturesque villages of Rio Lagartos and San Felipe where you can walk along the waterfront. Both have distinct maritime flavor with the many fishing boats moored along the shore and the fishermen repairing nets on the docks. Many of the houses are decorated with a flamingo motif. With three days advance warning, the Reserve office in Tizimín (the closest city) will arrange for a bilingual tour guide of the reserve. Contact the Flamingo Reserve Office, Calle 47, Mo 415a x 52 y 54. Tel: 986-2854. Open weekdays 9 AM – 2 PM and 6 – 9 PM. You can also hire a boat at the park office located ¼ mile from the entrance. Look for the Estacion sign. Río Lagartos is located 3 ½ hours northwest of Cancun.

Parque Nizuc A fresh water theme park with three separate attractions. You can slip and slide at the Wet ‘n Wild rides and pools, swim with manta rays and tropical fish at the Baxal há snorkel park or have a dolphin experience at the Atlantida dolphin aquarium. Located 5 minutes south of the Cancun Hotel Zone. Open daily 10 AM – 5:30 PM. Blvd. Kukulcán, Km 25. Tel: (9) 881-3030. 

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