If strolling along the beach is one of your favorite Grand Residences pastimes, why not try a change of scenery one day and go for a walk in the forest? The perfect spot is right on your doorstep. Celebrating its thirty-third anniversary this June, the Yaaxche-Alfredo Barrera Marin Botanical Garden is the second largest botanical garden in Mexico. In addition to showcasing the trees and plants native to the Yucatán Peninsula, it is a nature reserve protecting 65 hectares of jungle and marshland rich in wildlife.

A visit to this beautiful spot is a must for nature lovers and you’ll soon leave the noise of the highway behind as you walk along the trails through the forest. You’ll hear a variety of bird calls and may spot orange orioles, great kiskadees, woodpeckers, parrots and turquoise-browed motmots, among others. Flocks of Yucatan jays with their bright blue plumage, and the green jays that sport green, yellow and blue feathers, are also common.

The park is home to a troop of approximately 50 spider monkeys who forage for fruit in the treetops, coatimundis or tejon, peccary, deer, fox and the shy agouti or tepescuintle, a rodent the size of a small dog that feeds in the undergrowth. Other mammals are nocturnal and seldom spotted although wardens have seen puma tracks in the more remote areas of the park.

Since time immemorial, the jungle has been a source of healing plants for the Maya and they still use infusions, teas, poultices and salves made from leaves, bark, fruit and seeds that they gather today. In the herb garden you’ll see familiar plants such as basil, rue, chamomile and spearmint side by side with

native species traditionally used as remedies for ailments including fever, colds, migraines, stomach bugs and arthritis.

In a jungle clearing there is a rustic exhibition about chicle, the original natural ingredient for chewing gum that is actually the resin from the chicozapote, a native forest tree found throughout southeast Mexico. Used by the Maya for thousands of years, chicle is still harvested to this day. Bands of chicle harvesters or chicleros venture into the forest for months in search of chicozapote trees ripe for tapping. They extract the resin by making cuts in the bark with machetes and collect it as it trickles down the tree trunk. Collected in sacks, it is subsequently heated and molded into balls for commercial use. In the early 20th century, chicle was transported to Puerto Morelos and Cozumel and sold to foreign companies such as Chicle Adams.

Be sure to walk to the wooden observation towers for spectacular panoramic views of the forest and the wetlands stretching to Grand Residences and the Caribbean.

The Botanical Garden is located just south of Puerto Morelos on Highway 307. It is open from 8 a.m. to 4 p.m., Monday to Friday and from 8 a.m. to 2 p.m. on Saturday. We recommend that you take your camera, binoculars and use eco-friendly insect repellent to ward off biting insects.