Sian Ka'an, the hidden paradise of Tulum


August 10, 2020

In Our World there are scenes of unique beauty, and one of them is the Sian Ka'an Biosphere Reserve.

This is a very important natural reserve not only for the Riviera Maya but for Mexico, as it is home to thousands of species of flora and fauna, coral reefs, and protected species such as the jaguar.

So here is  everything you need to know about this place, so you can enjoy its beauty the next time you visit.

What is Sian Ka’an?

If you have been reading our blog entries about the Riviera Maya and its surroundings, you will surely get an idea of what this place is like.

What is a Biosphere Reserve?

This name was born from the Man and the Biosphere Programme - also known as MaB - by the United Nations Educational, Scientific and Cultural Organization (UNESCO).

According to the UNESCO, this is an intergovernmental programme that seeks to improve the relationship of people with their environment, and Biosphere Reserves are places -which can be terrestrial or aquatic ecosystem.

The Sian Ka'an Reserve is one of the largest reserves in the entire Yucatan Peninsula, and was declared a World Heritage Site in 1987.

Aerial view of Sian Ka'an.
Sian Ka'an is a Mayan term whose meaning is similar to 'gift from heaven', 'origin of heaven' or 'gateway to heaven'; and whose name was given by the ancient inhabitants and it is believed that they were inspired by its incredible beauty.

Its extension is about 528,147 hectares, and it is divided into 3 areas: Muyil, Cayo Culebras and Uaimil. The inhabited settlements are Punta Allen, Javier Rojo Gómez and Punta Herrero.

Although it may seem that the main activity in the reserve is tourism, other economic activities that are carried out are fishing, livestock, agriculture and forestry, all in a measured way without affecting the ecosystem.

What can you find in Sian Ka'an?

The reserve is made up of 9 ecosystems, where you can find medium semi-evergreen forest, medium sub-deciduous forest, low flooding forest, wetlands, chaparro mangrove, strip mangrove, tasistal, dunes, and petenes.

In addition, its aquatic ecosystem has the second longest barrier reef in the world, covering about 110 kilometers.

Within the reserve you can find a great variety of animals, from the 96 species of mammals, to the 326 species of birds.

The jaguar, the puma, the ocelot, the jaguarundi, the spider monkey, the tapir, the tepezcuintle, the tlacuache, the manatee, the toucan, the jabiru, the frigate bird, the cormorant, the estuary crocodile and the white turtle are some of the species that live in this place.

Picture of a jaguar.
The jaguar was a very important animal for the Mayan culture, because it was a symbol of power, and many of its legends revolved around this impressive feline.

And there are also rare species, such as the ocellated turkey, the savannah aura, the white-headed dove, the black mimid, the alpine heron, the Yucatan parrot and the gray-necked ralon.

The Mayan presence could not be missing here either, as about 23 archaeological sites have been discovered, and Muyil is one of them.

However, not all of the reserve is open to the public: the central area is closed and only researchers can access it, while guided tours are allowed in the surrounding areas.

What to do in Sian Ka'an?

You are probably wondering about the activities you can do in this area, as well as its tourist attractions.

One of the must-do activities is to explore the archaeological site of Muyil, which is located in the middle of the Mayan jungle, just like Coba.

There are several constructions, but the main one is El Castillo –the castle–, which has an atypical shape for the region, it is about 17 meters high and at the top it has a temple in the shape of a tower.

This archaeological site is named after the Muyil and Chunyché lagoons because its original name is unknown.

These lagoons were essential for the sustenance of the Mayan people, and to this day they remain a fundamental part of the ecosystems in the area.

Another thing we highly recommend is to take a boat ride on both lagoons.

 Boat in the Sian Ka'an lagoon.
The boat ride goes around Muyil lagoon, the artificial channels -made by the Mayans- that connect with Chunyché, and you can also relax and swim in its turquoise fresh water.  

You will also have the opportunity to swim in one of the natural channels of Chunyché, with the help of your guide and a float.

There are several types of tours that allow you to enjoy the reserve; some of them include hikes in the middle of the jungle, and even buffet lunch -or a la carte- at the restaurants in Punta Allen.

What most of them have in common is that they include boat trips that will allow you to appreciate the birds, dolphins, turtles, crocodiles and fish in their natural habitat.

Tips for visiting Sian Ka'an

Preparation is an essential part of enjoying this ecotourism experience because you will discover all that this paradise has to offer.

So here is a list of the main things to bring with you when you visit Sian Ka'an:

  • Wear cool clothes, a hat and sunglasses. The climate in this area is warm and sub-humid, and you will need light clothing to walk comfortably.
  • Sunscreen and mosquito repellent should be biodegradable to avoid harming the environment.
  • Bring your favorite camera to take pictures of everything you see in the reserve. In Sian Ka'an you will find very beautiful and interesting scenery.
  • Make sure your smartphone is charged, as you will be walking around for a while. Also, we suggest you carry a power bank with you, especially if you plan to use your smartphone's camera to take pictures.
  • If you have the opportunity to carry a drone, do so. This way you will be able to see the jungle from above, capture images that you might not otherwise be able to, see restricted areas and have a wider perspective on the ecosystems.
  • Buy water and food for the tour, as you will not find shops where you can buy these things, and it is important that you stay hydrated at all times.
  • If you have diving equipment take it with you to observe the marine biodiversity. If you don't have your own equipment, you can rent it from the reserve.
  • Hire a guide. This is a protected natural area, and the best thing is to have an expert who can tell you the things you can do without affecting nature, besides that you will know a little more about the context of the reserve, its history and so on.
 Boca Paila coast in Sian Ka'an
And of course, the most important thing is to have fun, learn more things, relax and get closer to nature.

How do you get to Sian Ka'an?

As mentioned above, Sian Ka'an is located in Quintana Roo, and extends through the municipalities of Felipe Carrillo Puerto, Tulum, Bacalar and Othón P. Blanco.

It is very easy to get there if you are in Tulum: you only need to take the highway 307 Chetumal-Cancun to the south, for about 60 kilometers, which would be 1 hour and 15 minutes by car.

From Playa del Carmen you must take the road Tulum-Cancun to the south and passing through Tulum.  You will arrive in about 2 hours.

There are several routes, but the easiest is to take Highway 180D Kantunil-Cancún through Valladolid, then east along the Gulf Coast Highway to Chemax, then Chemax-Cobá and 109 to Tulum, and from there continue south through Chetumal-Cancún.

Traveling from Chichen Itza the trip will take approximately 3 hours and 15 minutes.

The opening hours are from 8:00 to 17:00 hours, and the entry fee is about 50 Mexican pesos.

Banner of real estate developments in Tulum.

Tourist attractions near Sian Ka'an

Now you know what the Sian Ka'an Biosphere Reserve is, its main attractions and activities, you can organize yourself to visit nearby areas and learn more about the Mexican Caribbean.

One of the great advantages of the Caribbean coast is the great amount of tourist attractions it has, both natural and made by people.

The following list includes some of the things to do in the Riviera Maya in places very close to the reserve:

  • Visit the archaeological site of Tulum: One of the closest Mayan ruins to the reserve and at the same time one of the most emblematic, since it is a walled city on the shores of the Caribbean Sea.
  • Visit the nearby cenotes: There is a great variety of cenotes of all types and sizes but our main recommendations are the Gran Cenote, the Carwash Cenote, Coba Choo-Ha, Tamcach-Ha and Multum-Ha cenotes.
  • Visit the archaeological site of Coba: Explore the Mayan ruins by bike, climb the incredible Nohoch Mul pyramid.
  • Go to nearby beaches: Swimming is a fairly obvious activity as the beaches of the Mexican Caribbean are considered among the most beautiful in the world, and Playa Paraiso is a must-see beach.
  • Adventuring to Playa del Carmen: This city is about 126 kilometers away from the reserve -a two-hour drive-, so it's a good option if you want to visit the famous 5th Avenue, go shopping and enjoy its cosmopolitan atmosphere.
  • Go to one of the theme parks: Xcaret and Xelhá have live shows, restaurants, recreational areas, water activities for both adults and children, etc.
Banner of real estate developments in the Riviera Maya.

As you can see, it is very difficult to get bored while you are here: there will always be a new food to taste, ruins to explore, parks to have fun in, and a lot of other things.

Living in the Riviera Maya is like being in paradise

Sian Ka'an is proof of how beautiful nature is in Mexico.

Visiting this place one time is enough to motivate you to want to vacation here every year and continue discovering all the tourist attractions of the Mexican Caribbean.

Thanks to real estate developments -like Destination Hunab-, this place is much more than a tourist destination and living here is like a permanent vacation that allows you to enjoy its tourist attractions, the relaxed atmosphere and nature.

The benefits do not end there: thanks to the flow of tourists in the area, the real estate has high capital gains, which will allow you to generate profits in the long term and have the house of your dreams.

Therefore, Sian Ka'an is a very important place that you have to visit to marvel at its beauty, a reminder of how wonderful it is to live in the Riviera Maya.

If you want to know more about these tourist attractions, we suggest you read the article about 20 things to do in Tulum.

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