Sian Kaan Nature Reserve

Yucatan's Great Eco-Reserve and Archeological Zone

[history] [description] [activities] [location & directions] [where to stay]

source: Encarta

The enormous 1.3 million acre Sian Kaan (Sian Ka'an) bioreserve, the third largest in Mexico, spreads like a cupped hand along the Yucatan's eastern coastline between Tulum in the north to Mahapal to the south. Here history and nature truly meet. Although still largely unexplored, the Sian Kaan reserve is known to contain twenty-seven archaeological sites, testifying that this was once a thriving and populace area where the ancient inhabitants shared the land with more than 1,200 natural species.


To the Mayans, Sian Kaan means the Origin of the Sky. Abundant as it is with tropical flora and fauna, it is also rich in history. Dating of the oldest artifacts and remains found here suggest a form of civilization as far back as 2300 years,. The ruins are representative of the pre-Classic and Classic periods.

The early Mayans used an ancient trade route found in the northernmost part of the biosphere, navigating their boats through lagoons and mangrove swamps between Tulum and Muyil. One of the buildings found in Sian Kaan is thought to have been a customs check point for the ancient coastal trade.



This sprawling biosphere, covering 1.5m acres, has been classified an irreplaceable natural treasure on the UNESCO World Heritage List. It is a bird-watcher’s heaven and home to more than 300 types of birds but is equally teeming with wild animals and tropical flora.

The Sian Kaan biosphere contains low-lying tropical forests, mangroves and marshes and also includes a part of the barrier reef just off the coast. The wild animals found here include ocelots, anteaters, tapirs, howler monkeys, foxes, jaguars, raccoons, crocodiles, manatees, giant land crabs, snakes and eagles. You may also catch a glimpse of any of 15 species of herons, egrets and bitterns, a toucan, a white ibis, a spoonbill, wood stork or a flamingo.

Not only are the pristine beaches wonderfully remote, they are also the nesting grounds for 4 different types of sea turtles - green, loggerhead, hawksbill, and leatherback sea turtles - which have lost many of their traditional nesting areas from increasing development of the Caribbean coast. The nesting period is between May-August.

The park's wetlands – the swamps, mangroves, savannas and marshes – act as a buffer from storms and is a great example of how wonderfully connected life is in a biosphere. In the wetlands are a type of algae known as periphyton which is crucial to breaking down the hard, nutrient and oxygen-poor limestone bedrock. The algae is also a rich form of food for fish, shellfish and insects which are in turn part of the food chain for the wading birds.

The freshwater lagoons in Sian Kaan are fed by the small springs or the cenotes. Mainly located inland, the freshwater flows towards the sea through channels found in wetlands. Most off the fish and vegetation found in the lagoons are not found on the coast. There are also brackish water lagoons where salt and fresh water meet. These lagoons support a certain kind of salt-tolerant mangrove and grass and two types of crocodiles.

Historical tidbit: The chicle gum which was widely used in the chewing gum boom came from the sapodilla tree found here. Although chicle has been replaced by synthetic materials, it is still used in high end gum sold in Asia. The Mayans chewed chicle and used it as a strong glue for making blowguns and in their crafts and construction.

Most of the 2,000 inhabitants living here are fishermen who live in the small villages of Punta Allen and Punta Morelos. There are no hiking trails in the park and while you can explore the wild on your own, there are a number of English-speaking guides who can conduct birding, snorkeling and nature tours. There is a daily $4 entrance fee per person.



Fly fishing Sian Kaan is world famous for fly-fishing. Although it is carried on year-round, the prime months are between May-August. Bonefish, tarpon, permit, jack, and barracuda, snapper are among the kinds of fish here.

Kayaking You can get a double or single kayak and strike out on your own or with a guide. If you are newbie, guided tours give you training in the basics before you start paddling.

Guided tours Centro Ecologico Sian Kaan (CEsiak) is an NGO operating within Sian Kaan. It has guided tours on the ancient trade canal through both wetlands and the coastal areas. Tours include a stop at a small Mayan temple hidden away in the mangrove swamp and a free float down the canal with life vests. Sunset tours are available.

Snorkeling Sian Kaan is bordered by nearly 70 miles of coral reef in which are starfish, parrotfish, tarpon and a variety of other tropical fish.


840 miles south of Cancun, and just south of the Tulum ruins on Boca Paila Road. It is west of Hwy 307.



There are five entrances at Pulticub, Santa Teresa, Chumpón, Chunyaxché and Chac Mool.


Where to stay

Cesiak has eco-accommodation on the beach. They are basically tents on raised platforms with a private patio. It operates completely off the grid with rainwater collected in big barrels. Buildings are powered by wind and solar energy. Guests share bathrooms.

There are few cabana style hotels in Punta Allen; otherwise Tulum has both hip and homey accommodation.

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