CANADA: Cortes Island

Cortes is an island paradise, with beautiful lakes, lagoons, forests, white sandy beaches, delicious shellfish, and self-sufficient people. The island is situated at the northern end of the Salish Sea (Strait of Georgia), on Canada’s west coast, between Vancouver Island and the British Columbia mainland.

Cortes was mapped by Spanish explorers in the late 1700s. It was named for Hernán Cortés de Monroy y Pizarro, 1st Marquis of the Valley of Oaxaca, infamous as the conquistador of Mexico. Long before the Spanish and English explorers reached the Pacific coast of North America the region was home to the indigenous Coast Salish First Nation.

Cortes Island can be reached via a 40-minute ferry ride from Quadra Island which  is accessed by a shorter 10 minute ferry crossing from the City of Campbell River on Vancouver Island.

The island currently has about 1050 full-time residents and most live on the southern portion. Cortes is approximately 25 km long and 13 km wide. Few people live on the island. You can walk along the side of the road and anyone can drive by and offer you a ride, even if you aren’t hitchhiking. They are also very polite and curious about what is going on outside of the island.

Those who enjoy spending time outdoors have their choice of numerous recreational activities on Cortes. Hague Lake is perfect for swimming, sunbathing, and fishing for an ancient strain of trout (no motor boats allowed). The island’s trails are great for hiking and mountain biking.

There are a number of events and festivals on Cortes Island throughout the year. The Cortes Island Seafood Festival at Squirrel Cove and Cortes Day are fun events for the whole family with a parade, competitions, games, and food booths. Another event to watch out for is the sandcastle competition which is held in August.
There is a place where you can find lots of oysters. I don’t know if was legal to peak them, but I took two bags of them. There was nobody there, so nobody complained.  When we came back to the cottage we had a beautiful supper.

It’s easy to catch sight of wildlife on ruggedly beautiful Cortes. The island boasts many beautiful beaches and lagoons that are perfect for privacy. In the summer, I am told, the  island people like to swim and tan naked. I could adjust to that very quickly but unfortunately we were there in March - too early for that kind of experience. You supposed to do what the locals do - that is the way you really feel the place on your vacation.

Cortes has a thriving arts and crafts industry. Drum makers, potters, painters, carvers, and other artisans live and work on the island. Cortes has a number of cafes and restaurants to suit a variety of palates. To truly soak up the island’s atmosphere, it’s a good idea to stay a few days. Accommodation options on the island include campgrounds, bed and breakfasts, holiday rental homes, cottages, and  resorts.

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