Sian Ka’an Biosphere Reserve, the largest wildlife sanctuary in the Mexican Caribbean and one of the largest in Mexico, celebrated its 31st anniversary on January 24.

Sian Ka’an was founded by presidential decree in 1986 and a place in the UNESCO World Heritage Site list followed in 1987.

Covering 1.3 million acres of jungle and wetlands in northern and central Quintana Roo, Sian Ka’an is a huge reserve. It protects ecosystems ranging from tropical forest, seasonally flooded grasslands, marsh and mangroves to Caribbean beaches and a 110-kilometer-stretch of pristine coral reef.

Sian Ka’an is home to 103 different mammals including the jaguar, peccary, tapir, howler and spider monkeys, and the West Indian manatee. It has one of Mexico’s largest crocodile populations and is an important nesting area for sea turtles. There are also 330 resident and migratory species of bird in the jungle and wetlands.

Sixteen varieties of heron nest in the mangroves along with cormorants, frigate birds and pelicans. Flamingos are occasional visitors in the winter, feeding in the coastal lagoons. Toucans, parrots, motmots, ocellated turkey, chachalaca and great curassow are some of the forest dwellers. The reserve also has a large breeding population of ospreys and protects a tiny colony of the rare jabiru stork, the largest bird in the Americas.

Sian Ka’an means “where the sky is born” in Maya and the Mayan hunted and fished in the area. Mayan merchants also used canals snaking through the wetlands from the Caribbean as portage routes for trading canoes laden with goods bound for inland cities. To date 23 archaeological sites have been registered in the reserve and Mayan communities are still clustered on the borders of the reserve.

Contact Thomas More Travel for tours of Sian Ka’an Biosphere Reserve and Maya Ka’an community tours to Muyil, Punta Allen and traditional Mayan villages in central Quintana Roo.