Sian Ka’an, Mexico
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.
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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.