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Cancun - Off the beaten track

Playing in paradise, Gaviota Azul

Isla Contoy

From Isla Mujeres it's possible to take an excursion by boat to tiny, uninhabited Isla Contoy, a national park and bird sanctuary 30km (19mi) north. The island's dense foliage is home to more than 100 bird species, including brown pelicans, olive cormorants, turkey birds, brown boobies and red-pouched frigates. In addition, red flamingoes, snowy egrets and white herons make frequent visits. Bring mosquito repellent, and beware of the boa constrictors and small crocodiles that live in the island's brackish ponds.

Isla Mujeres Turtle Farm

Six species of sea turtle lay eggs in the sand along the island's calm western shore. Although they are endangered, sea turtles are still killed throughout Latin America for their eggs and meat, which are considered a delicacy. In the 1980s, efforts by a local fisherman led to the founding of the Centro de Investigaciones and the Isla Mujeres Turtle Farm, which protects the turtles' breeding grounds and places wire cages around their eggs to protect against predators. Hatchlings live in three large pools for up to a year, at which time they are tagged for monitoring and released. Because most turtles in the wild die within their first few months, the practice of guarding them until they are a year old greatly increases their chances of survival. The Turtle Farm is a scientific facility, not an amusement centre. But if you'd like to see several hundred sea turtles, ranging in weight from 150g (5oz) to more than 300kg (661lb), this is the place for you.

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