Everywhere you look in Sian Ka’an Biosphere Reserve there is water rimmed with the emerald green of the forest in the distance; water that seems to stretch forever and lose itself in the sky. The sound of a thousand birdcalls is borne on the breeze and the expectation of coming face to face with rare wildlife mounts. The ancient Maya called this “the place where the sky is born” and Sian Ka’an is one Mexican Caribbean eco adventure you should not miss.
About Sian Ka’an
Protected by government decree since 1986 and designated a UNESCO World Heritage Site, Sian Ka’an Biosphere Reserve protects 1.3 million acres in northern and central Quintana Roo. It is a patchwork of tropical forest, mangroves and seasonally flooded grasslands dotted with petenes (mounds covered with jungle clustered around a fresh water cenote and rich in wildlife); lagoons, cenotes and Caribbean beaches and a 110-kilometer-stretch of the Mesoamerican 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. It is also a haven for birds; over 330 resident and migratory species have been registered here in the jungle and wetlands.
Muyil, gateway to the wetlands
Many visitors start their Sian Ka’an adventures in Muyil, an archaeological site in the jungle that is a short walk from Muyil or Chunyaxche Lagoon. As you walk through the forest past the crumbling temples you may see woodpeckers, hawks and trogons. Look out for hummingbirds busy among the flowers in a clearing near one of the wooden observation towers en route to the lagoon.
Lagoon side, northern jacanas step daintily through the shallows and herons stand motionless on the wooden dock as you prepare to board your boat for the next stage of your journey. Many more herons, including the green, tiger and agami heron, ibis, roseate spoonbills and wood storks take to the wing before you during an exciting boat trip through the wetlands.
Once you cross Muyil Lagoon you enter a channel through the mangroves that was widened and dredged by the Maya in ancient times and used as a trade route between the Caribbean and inland cities. A small temple guards the waterway and after you have visited it your tour guide will give the signal for everyone to jump into the channel. The water is clear, shallow and you are wearing a life jacket. It’s time to lean back, close your eyes and just drift with the gentle current.
Many tours take you as far as Boca Paila, a white sand beach where the channel meets the turquoise sea. If you book your boat trip directly from the Muyil cooperative it may be possible to arrange extra time to venture deeper into the chain of lagoons running parallel to the coast and go in search of the elusive kuka or boat-billed heron and rare manatees.
Maya Ka’an, More ways of Exploring Sian Ka’an & the Maya Heartland
Another Sian Ka’an trip offered as part of the Maya Ka’an community tour collection will show you how the villagers of Muyil harvest the white sap of the chicozapote tree to make chicle, the natural gum that is the base for chewing gum.
Alternatively, choose one of the Maya Ka’an trips offered by the inhabitants of Punta Allen. On the shores of Asuncion Bay, the fishing village of Punta Allen is the largest community in the Sian Ka’an Reserve. The inhabitants earn their livelihood from the sustainable capture of lobster and from taking visitors on boat trips for birding, fishing and diving. As part of the Maya Ka’an tour collection, community operators are also offering nature walks, kayaking, bike trips, wildlife watching and fly fishing.
Book your Sian Ka’an trip today
Ask your Concierge to help you arrange your Sian Ka’an adventure, Maya Ka’an community visits or visits to Contoy Island, Rio Lagartos and other reserves in the area, summer whale shark swims, bird watching and more.