Sian Ka’an is magic. The Maya name means ‘Where the Sky Was Born’. It sounds over the top, but go there and you’ll find yourself in a world where sky and water meet, and you no longer have any sense of being on dry land. Waterworld! There are young mangroves, that hop past each other in a series of green arches, but they hardly interrupt the link between the blues above and the blues below.
Sian Ka’an is home to over 300 species of birds, 400 species of fish, 100 mammals and 40 amphibians, all living in the wild. By far, it is the best place in all of the Riviera Maya for wildlife watching and also for snorkeling in preserved coral reefs. And the best part? No crowds at all!!!
Start at the Maya ruins of Muyil, a small site, a very ancient port built on a lagoon, and then stroll into the coastal jungle through the gate behind the ruins. The jungle walk is brilliantly laid out. You’ll zigzag on a boarded eco-walkway among the labeled trees that are knee-deep in water. Just when you feel utterly lost, there’s a tower to climb to get your bearings. That’s when you realize that dry land is far behind, and what is beyond is lagoons and the sea.
At the end of the path, you suddenly find yourself on the banks of the innermost lagoon. A fast boat will take you across it and then dive unexpectedly into a canal between the mangroves. An ancient Maya canal that linked this once-thriving trading port with the sea. Then beyond, the bigger lagoon, Chunyaxche. There’s a tiny reminder of how the Maya organized this watery coast, an unlikely squat little building at Xlapak point, probably a custom house, in the middle of nowhere. And then you just drift, in a strange timeless and landless state. The crew put you into life-jackets, best worn like nappies, and you give yourself up to the current, with an occasional ‘Whoo whoo!’ at your companions. While floating, try and imagine how the ancient Maya used these waters for canoeing all the way from the sea. They had no sails (they were unknown in Central America). How on earth did they paddle their canoes against the stream on the way into the Muyil site?
There are two trips, shorter and longer. On the short trip, you walk back to the boat after your timeless drift, on a boardwalk across the water meadows. On the longer trip, you cross yet another lake where you can spot crocodiles, turtles, rays and manatees in the wild, and get down to the ocean at Boca Paila and realize, wow, there are some nice properties out here, between the biosphere (a UNESCO World Heritage site) and the ocean.
Another attraction of the Biosphere is the remote Punta Allen point. You can reach it by driving from Tulum along the coast, which is not groomed. It is a sleepy fishing village at the end of the Boca Paila Peninsula. The only downside is the tricky journey along the dirt road. If you are doing it on your own, you will need a four-wheel drive and it will take you about four hours. The easier way to visit here is to hire a tour. The village has only about 4-5 blocks of sandy streets going inland from the sea. Punta Allen draws fishermen from all over the world to enjoy the saltwater flats and fly-fishing. It is also a bird-watchers’ paradise. Try to spot pelicans, pink spoonbills, frigates, mockingbirds, vultures and white ibis nest nearby.
Without doubt, the Sian Ka’an Biosphere Reserve is one of Mexico’s most impressive natural wonders and a must for any nature lover. A worthwhile and unforgettable adventure, on the doorstep of Tulum.
Where to stay
A selection of our favourite villas in Sian Ka'an
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What to do
A local’s guide to the best experiences around Sian Ka'an
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