Sian Kaan tortugaSian Ka’an (pronounced “see on con”) means “origin of the sky” in the language of the Maya people who once inhabited the region more than 1,000 years ago. This is a fitting name for this gorgeous biosphere reserve that contains unique flora and fauna.

Located near the small town of Tulum (widely known and visited for the Tulum archaeological site), Sian Ka’an was designated a World Heritage Site by the United Nations Educational, Scientific and Cultural Organization (UNESCO), and is the largest protected area in the Mexican Caribbean, comprised of more than 1 million acres.

Animals native to Sian Ka’an include jaguars, pumas, manatees and turtles, along with hundreds of bird and fish species. The reserve features tropical forests, mangroves and marshes in addition to a marine area with a barrier reef. There are also a number of interesting archaeological sites on the reserve.

There are three zones in Sian Ka’an where humans are only allowed for scientific research. These zones encompass the majority of the reserve. Low-impact human activities and sustainable development is allowed elsewhere in Sian Ka’an, mostly in areas comprised of lagoons, jungle, and coast. Visitors, with the help of local guides, can travel the area by hiking, boating, kayaking or simply “floating” in the waterways to observe the distinctive environment and wildlife.

Sian Ka’an offers a relaxing alternative to other overtly “touristy” destinations in Mexico. With environmental preservation in mind, visitors can feel good about supporting an area rife with extraordinary natural beauty.

Getting There:

There are two main entrances to Sian Ka’an. The Punta Allen entrance is accessible from route 109. The road is not in the best condition and its safety can be subject to weather. The Muyil entrance is about a 20-minute drive from Tulum off Highway 307.


Many companies offer tours of Sian Ka’an that include transportation from local resorts. This can be preferable to trekking to Sian Ka’an on your own, as from some tourist locales the drive is long and desolate – a problem if your vehicle breaks down for some reason. If you choose to visit on your own, there is a small entrance fee (about $25 pesos) at the gates.

Tours can offer jeep and boat rides, hiking, wildlife watching, snorkeling, visits to archaeological sites, and catered meals. Depending on the length and complexity of your tour, prices can typically range from $40 – $160 USD.

Here are three of the most reputable organizations:


– If you plan to go in the water, make sure to buy reef-safe sunscreen. A popular brand is called Maya Solar. Bring biodegradable bug spray as well.

– Have a flexible attitude : tour plans are sometimes subject to change based on attendance.

– Make sure to leave no mark on the resort. All trash must be removed and elements like shells and flowers cannot be taken.

– If you visit on your own, bring any accessories for your planned activities, like snorkeling gear, water bottles and hiking shoes.

– If you choose to tour the reserve on your own, you may want  to caravan with other visitors in case of car trouble or a need for other help.

by John Jameson


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