Nestled in the Yucatan jungle and among the freshwater marshes, you’ll find the Sian Ka’an Biosphere Reserve just 2 hours south of Cancun near the small town of Tulum. Sian Ka’an Biosphere Reserve is home to thousands of species of flora and fauna. The biodiversity found there is why the region became a designated Biosphere Reserve in 1986 and declared a World Heritage Site by the UNESCO a year later.
About Sian Ka’an Biosphere
This UNESCO world heritage site is breathtaking – partly due to the thick humid air of Mexico’s tropics but mostly because of its beauty. The Mayans called this area “Sian Ka’an” which means “Origin of the Sky.” This natural wonder is known for its complex environment and biodiversity. Featuring marshes, lagoons, Mayan built canals, and beautiful clear waters it is one of few places in Mexico that doesn’t attract large numbers of tourists. Today it remains the largest protected area in the Mexican Caribbean.
Sian Ka’an Biosphere Reserve is an excellent place for bird-watching! Though there is plenty to do like kayaking, snorkeling, or some of the Mayan ruins still standing the bird watching in Sian Ka’an Biosphere Reserve is world class. You can see various species of water birds year around. About 350 species of birds call Sian Ka’an home including male frigates as they show off their big red balloon-like chests in winter months.
How To Get to there from Tulum
Booking a tour is the easiest way to get to Sian Ka’an Biosphere Reserve and take a guided trip to Bird Island and other spots known to reward eager birdwatchers. Tours often offer a variety of tour options the most popular combine bird watching with snorkeling. You can easily arrange a tour from your hotel if you are staying in Punta Allen as well as from some of the local shops in Tulum. Prices for tours are generally done per boat (not per person) so ask other travelers in your group or at your hotel if they are interested in joining your group. For serious birdwatchers, we recommend a customized private tour. Visit Sian Ka’an (Whatsapp: +(52) 1 984 141 4245) is a great option for experienced bird watchers. Keep in mind that tour groups to Sian Ka’an Biosphere Reserve are limited so make sure you book a few days in advance to secure a spot.
If you are the adventuring type, you can get to Sian Ka’an Biosphere Reserve on your own. It actually is pretty easily reached from Tulum, Akumal, and Playa del Carmen, among other nearby Riviera Maya locations. Sian Ka’an Biosphere Reserve is a massive protected area sprawling across more than 2,000 square miles making it larger than Cozumel! That being said, keep in mind there are multiple access points but the two most common from Tulum are Muyil and Punta Allen.
Access Points: Punta Allen vs Muyil
You can access Sian Ka’an Biosphere Reserve from both Punta Allen and Muyil but keep in mind that each of these two access points provides for two completely different experiences and contains two very different ecosystems so depending on your bird watching goals, one might be a better-suited option for your trip.
To see the oceanic side of Sian Ka’an Biosphere Reserve’s beaches and saltwater lagoons Punta Allen is the way to go. This is where you want to go for marine part of Sian Ka’an Biosphere Reserve to go snorkeling on coral reefs. And keep an eye out because you can see dolphins, turtles, and manatees!
Punta Allen is well worth the effort but be advised that it isn’t easy when it comes to getting there solo. You’ll either need a 4WD vehicle or give yourself a few days to take the once a day van system (colectivo) that leaves Tulum and reaches Punta Allen in the evening.
To see the inland jungle, Mayan ruins, wetlands, freshwater lagoon, mangrove forests, Mayan-carved canals, and amazing wildlife, Muyil it is. you’ll find this all from the Muyil access point to Sian Ka’an. It is easier to get to Muyil on your own that it is Punta Allen.
The mangroves at Sian Ka’an Biosphere Reserve provide an ideal nesting spot for water birds. Along the coastline, you can see roseate spoonbills, reddish egrets, brown pelicans, white pelicans, fish crows, and herons. Sometimes other wildlife like tapirs, deer, ocelots, jaguars, panthers, and tamanduas can be spotted too!
Bird-watchers eagerly hope view aquatic birds such as white ibises, roseate spoonbills, the rare jabiru stork, wood storks, flamingos, egrets, or one of the park’s 15 species of heron.
What to pack
Bathing suit: Be sure to wear or pack a bathing suit so that you can float through the canal!
You’ll want to dry off after being in the water. Many area hotels don’t allow guests to take towels off property so bring your own. We love these lightweight microfiber travel towels. We’ve used them for days at the lake or on the boat and have traveled with them often.
The Yucatan weather and sun are no joke so bring sunglasses and a hat!
Visitors to Sian Ka’an as well as many other natural destinations in the area are being asked not to wear any sunscreen into the water due to its harmful environmental effects. Make sure if you do bring sunscreen it’s biodegradable and does free of oxybenzone and octinoxate. We love these Alba Botanic SPF 45 or Reef Repair ones found on Amazon.
Natural Mosquito Repellent
Just like sunscreen, mosquito sprays and repellents contain harmful toxic ingredients that are detrimental to marine life. To help protect Sian Ka’an Biosphere Reserve’s fauna and flora bring a natural insect repellent like this anti-bug spray.
Visiting Sian Ka’an Biosphere Reserve is not something everyone who visits Riviera Maya does. But it is well worth spending some time in the natural wonder and seeing its biodiversity first hand. You won’t be surrounded by tourists like you will on the beaches of Tulum instead you’ll be engulfed in clear blue waters, beautiful landscapes, and colorful, songful birds.