Have you ever heard of Sian Ka’an? The name comes from the Mayan language and means “The place where heaven has been born“. It is a beautiful, huge biosphere reserve south of the Riviera Maya, on the Caribbean coast of Mexico’s breathtaking Yucatan Peninsula. And only in a few places on our planet there is such a great biodiversity.
Location and size of Sian Ka’an
Sian Ka’an has been a UNESCO World Heritage Site since 1987. The national park covers a total area of 5,280 km2 including buffer zones and is more than 120 km long. The region is home to a unique nature with tropical rainforest, wetlands, coastal strips and marine ecosystems.
The Ecopark is located on the territory of the municipalities of Tulum and Felipe Carrillo Puerto in the federal state of Quintana Roo, Mexico. There are five official and controlled accesses to the protected area: Pulticub, Santa Teresa, Chumpon, Chunyaxché and Chac Mool.
The main access to Sian Ka’an is the entrance at Tulum. It is located at the southern end of the Tulum hotel zone and is marked by an archway, the Arco Maya. At this point there is also the only road that runs along the coast through the protected area. It reaches as far as Punta Allen at the end of the last headland in the south and ends at the lighthouse just outside the village.
If you are one of the passionate explorers on your own, be careful. The road is not quite passable in bad weather.
Nature in Sian Ka’an
Sian Ka’an’s unique bioreserve is home to tropical forests, wet savannas, fresh and saltwater swamps with tree islands, mangroves and dunes. The region is home to thousands of species of plants, 115 mammal species, 90 bee species and countless reptiles.
Among the native animals are also endangered cat species. Jaguar, puma, tapir, crocodile, sea turtles, dolphins, monkeys and the rare manatees are living here. Sian Ka’an is also home to about 379 bird species.
In the countless lagoons, canals, sea bays and coral reefs there is a rich underwater world. The beaches of Sian Ka’an are important breeding grounds for four different species of sea turtles. The Biosphere Reserve also includes parts of the sprawling Mesoamerican Barrier Reef with its spectacular stone corals off the Caribbean coast.
The mainland part of the national park is flat and without elevations. In the limestone subsoil of the region there are many sinkholes (Cenotes) filled with fresh water. Parts of the world’s longest known underwater cave system Sistema Ox Bel Ha lie on the northern edge of Sian Ka’an.
People in Sian Ka’an
Sian Ka’an is largely closed to human settlement. However, there are a few inhabitants, mainly Maya, who live in the reserve since generations. They are mainly dedicated to cultivation, fishing and eco-tourists.
The largest settlement Punta Allen is a former fishing village, which in our days is used as a resort for gentle ecotourism.
The core zones of the Bioreserve are not accessible to humans except for special permits for scientific projects.
Ancient Mayan sites in Sian Ka’an
There are 23 Mayan archaeological sites discovered so far in Sian Ka’an. The most famous of these is Muyil (Chunyaxché). The ruins of Muyil are located about 20 km southeast of Tulum. The highway Carretera 307 Cancun-Chetumal was built through this archaeological site many years ago for lack of better knowledge.
Muyil was already inhabited in the Mayan Classic Period (250 to 900 A.D.), but the buildings mostly date from a later period (900 to 1500 A.D.). Similar to Tulum, the ritual temple district was surrounded by a wall. The city was probably inhabited until the conquest by the Spanish.
Other ancient Sites of the Maya are located on the Boca Paila Peninsula, which separates the protected area in the northeast towards the Caribbean Sea.
Tours to Sian Ka’an: Hired car, bike or guided tour
Do you feel like visiting Sian Ka’an? This is more than comprehensible. This place is of incredible beauty and the visit is a unique experience. If you think it’s serious with a tour to Sian Ka’an, then you have three options.
1. Trip to Sian Ka’an in car rental
The advantages are obvious. You are independent and completely private without strangers on the road. At the access to the park you have to pay the entrance fee – and there you go. You explore the track at your own pace and can stop wherever you want.
However, there also are some disadvantages. The road to Punta Allen is not really passable in or after bad weather conditions. But even in fair weather you can expect a lot of potholes. In addition, there are many so-called topes on the road, ground beams to limit the speed. So, you’ll be shaken up and it might not be easy to deliver the rental car undamaged.
2. Mountain bike tour
Here, too, you have the advantages of independence and free planning. And the trip by mountain bike is certainly incredibly beautiful!
However, there are also some drawbacks here. You need a really well spring-loaded mountain bike. With the city bikes or cruise bikes usually rented in Tulum, you can’t get through here.
Then of course you have to constantly curve around the many potholes. Many of them are filled with water – so you’re going to get very wet. And the road down to Punta Allen is about 40 km long. With tropical temperatures and high humidity, this will probably not be a piece of cake, including the way back.
3. Guided Tours to Sian Ka’an
The small drawback of this variant is that you are not going to be independent. But this is also an advantage. Because the tours to Sian Ka’an are carried out in suitable vehicles.
There are excursions that last half a day or a whole day. During these excursions there is always a special program – Boat tours, snorkeling, bird watching or a visit to the ruins of Muyil. Just check the available tours!
Safety and cleanliness in Sian Ka’an
The probability that you will be attacked in Sian Ka’an is relatively low. But it might happen often that city tourists think that in the wild everything is the same as in the city. Just a little bit greener. And that’s why they don’t even come up with the idea that something could happen to them.
In the wild, however, only the laws of nature apply. Therefore, please don’t go deep into the jungle without an experienced guide.
Maybe you don’t necessarily meet someone who thinks you’re a good breakfast. But there are also a lot of smaller creatures that are easily overlooked. They can sting or bite if they feel threatened by your presence. And some of them are quite toxic.
It may also happen that you arrive in the most remote corner of a beautiful natural paradises – and plastic waste catches your eye in a rather unpleasant way. The dolphins and turtles didn’t leave it on the beach.
It was our species that threw it into the sea, and the tides wash it back on to the beach. Don’t get annoyed about it. Learn from that to never throw anything away in nature, keep this teaching in mind for a lifetime and pass it on to others.
Staying the night in Sian Ka’an
There are no hotels in the Sian Ka’an Biosphere Reserve. So, you can forget five-star service and the infinity pool. Well, the infinity pool actually already exists, because the sea is crystal clear in many places and the water only reaches up to your waist.
Therefore, if you want to experience a night full of stars in the place where the sky was born and enjoy the sunrise on the beach, then there are some very simple and affordable accommodations for campers. You can even find some of them on Airbnb. Just check it! However, you should not expect gastronomy or Wi-Fi.
A trip to Sian Ka’an can be an unforgettable experience. We hope to have made it easier for you to plan your tour with this article. And when you’re there – enjoy the incomparable beauty of nature. And remember to protect it too. Because besides us there is no one who could do it otherwise.
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