Only a short drive away from Cancun, Playa del Carmen and Tulum, the Sian Ka’an Biosphere Reserve covers over 520,000 hectares of intricately linked marine, coastal and terrestrial ecosystems and is the perfect place for a day trip away from the hustle and bustle of the close by tourist-filled Mexican cities.
Whether you arrive by car, bus, boat or seaplane, Sian Ka’an has a lot to offer. Starting from the sea, the reserve protects 120,000 hectares of marine area, including valuable parts of the Mesoamerican Barrier Reef, also known as the Great Mayan Reef or Great Maya Reef. Home to more than 500 species of fish, 65 species of stony coral and over 350 species of mollusk, be sure to pack your snorkeling gear. Sian Ka’an is also famous for being home to a large number of wild dolphins, a small population of West Indian Manatee in the seagrass beds and in the shallow bays and four species of nesting marine turtles.
Jump from the water onto dry land and you will find 120 kilometers of pristine palm-fringed coastline. Further inland, the reserve covers over 400,000 hectares of tropical forests, turquoise lagoons, healthy mangroves, palm savannas, sandy dunes and one of the most pristine wetlands in Mexico. With pure white sand, blue water, palm trees and almost no people around, Sian Ka’an can also proudly boast with some of the best, unspoiled beaches in all of Mexico.
Due to its protected status, jaguars, pumas, ocelots, black-handed spider monkeys, Yucatan black howler monkey and Central American tapirs are glimpsed from time to time by lucky visitors. Sian Ka’an Home to over 330 species of bird have been recorded, 219 of them breeding in Sian Ka’an, making it a true birdwatcher’s paradise.
The reserve also includes 23 known archaeological sites – reminders of the long lost Mayan civilization. One of them, Muyil, is by far the grandest of them all. Dating back to around 350 BC, Muyil was one of the largest and longest inhabited ancient Mayan sites. Standing 17 meters tall, the grey stone castle is the main part of Muyil, although there are many other smaller structures built around it. Muyil is one of the few Mayan ruins to visit in this area without swarming crowed, but a good mosquito repellent comes highly recommended as it is hidden in the dense tropical forest.
Sian Ka’an is one of the most diverse places on earth and many people are working hard to keep it that way. The reserve was officially made a UNESCO World Heritage site in 1987 and various local and international groups and organisations have since started hundreds of conservation projects. Many species found here are endangered and the threat of growing coastal urbanisation close to the reserve is a growing concern. Tours are limited and those that are allowed have strict guidelines and regulations to adhere to. Low impact tourism is greatly encouraged in Sian Ka’an and all visitors must wear natural or eco-friendly lotions and sunscreens.
Although it is it is possible to visit the Sian Ka’an Biosphere Reserve on your own, you will need a 4WD vehicle and a bit of guts. To enter the reserve costs 50 pesos per person and to visit the Muyil ruins will cost you an additional 45 pesos per person. I do, however, recommend visiting the reserve with an organised tour as local guides are very knowledgeable and will make your time in Sian Ka’n all that more memorable.