The Mexican-Caribbean has long been a favourite vacation spot for American travellers: with endless sandy beaches, archaeological wonders and sumptuous cuisine, there’s an endless array of choices for a wonderful summer vacation.
This was highlighted in Trip Advisor’s recent Best Destination List for 2022, where Cancun was named the best city in the world for sun-seekers. The cities of Playa Del Carmen and Tulum also ranked on the ‘trending destinations’ list, for their growth in tourist-friendly attractions.
However, there is a clear limitation to these accolades. With 400,000 daily visitors passing through the state of Quintana Roo hoping to discover the best of these cities, some of the most popular beaches and attractions are becoming overcrowded. In these busy times for summer travel, why not visit some of the region’s best-kept secrets – the lesser-known islands of the Mexican-Caribbean.
If you’re looking for a break from the hustle and bustle of mainland Quintana Roo, look no further than Isla Contoy: this 8-kilometre-long island is located north of Isla Mujeres and is completely uninhabited by humans. And the best part? It is home to some of the most stunning animals in the region.
The island hosts over 70 species of birds, including the white-bellied bubia and the silvery gull. Visitors also have the option of taking part in a snorkelling or diving tour of the coral reef alongside the island, where whales, sting rays, colourful corals and sea turtles are visible. As the island was Declared a Natural Reserve and Fauna Refuge in 1961, special efforts are made to ensure that all wildlife and plant life is protected.
In addition to experiencing the beauty of nature in an unspoilt landscape, visitors also have the option of visiting the small Isla Contoy museum to learn more about the species that live on the island.
Visiting this island paradise couldn’t be any simpler: boats that provide a one-day tour of the island depart from docks at Cancun, Puerto Morelos and Isla Mujeres. Remember to book in advance for your visit, as only 200 people are permitted to visit per day.
Isla De La Pacion
Whilst this tiny island is technically attached to its more popular neighbour, Cozumel, it still has much to offer its visitors. The peaceful island is located at the heart of the Cozumel Natural Protected Area and is flanked by three different ecosystems (mangroves, coral reefs and jungle).
The island is an excellent base for water sports, without being overwhelmed by a large group of tourists. Visitors are invited to kayak through the mangroves of the island, or take a Jeep ride through the jungle towards Cozumel. Thrill seekers even have the option of experiencing the ‘Twister’ Speedboat, offering a fun-filled ride around the island.
To visit the island, tourists are able to take a short 10-minute ferry ride from the Punta Langosta cruise terminal in Cozumel across a small lagoon.
Isla Banco Chinchorro
As one of the largest reef areas in the whole of Mexico, Isla Banco Chinchorro is not to be missed. The islands are located 30 kilometres from the port towns of Mahahual and Xcalak, and are exclusively accessed by boat.
The island is split into three parts (North, Center and Lobos) each with different marine life. Visitors who spend time on the banks here may be lucky enough to spot the elusive eagle rays, as well as loggerhead and hawksbill turtles, whilst the bravest divers can even swim with crocodiles. The seabed of Banco Chinchorro is also home to 69 sites with the remains of sunken ships, including the world-famous 40 Canones site.
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