Venturing deep into the jungle in search of rare wildlife; floating along clear canals winding through the mangroves; learning about Mayan culture and witnessing a timeless ritual, all these and more unforgettable experiences await visitors in Maya Ka’an, the Mexican Caribbean’s new ecotourism destination.
Maya Ka’an is a large expanse of central Quintana Roo comprising the Sian Ka’an Biosphere Reserve and the traditional Mayan heartland known as the Zona Maya. Formed by the districts of Tulum, Felipe Carrillo Puerto and José María Morelos, the Zona Maya is rich in natural beauty, history and traditions.
Visitors can choose between 16 different tours and activities taking them to nine different communities in the Sian Ka’an Biosphere Reserve and the Zona Maya. Community tour operators handle all the trips, thus ensuring that local inhabitants benefit economically from tourism. With a master plan developed by Cancun-based conservation NGO Amigos de Sian Ka’an and funding from the Inter-American Development Bank, the goal of the Maya Ka’an project is to protect Sian Ka’an, a UNESCO World Heritage Site, and bring sustainable development to villages in the Zona Maya.
The core Maya Ka’an communities are Punta Allen, Muyil and Punta Herrero in Sian Ka’an, historic Felipe Carrillo Puerto, capital of the Zona Maya, and Tihosuco (site of the Caste War Museum), Señor, Chunhuhub, Noh Bec and Kantemó. They all offer a range of activities, some showcasing natural attractions and others a glimpse of Mayan life.
Visitors can watch craftsmen at work and traditional cuisine being prepared, find out about farming techniques and the healing properties of native plants used since time immemorial. They’ll listen enthralled as village elders tell stories of the mythical Xtabay, a temptress part woman, part serpent who lures men to their doom deep in the jungle, and the Aluxes, the guardian spirits of the corn fields. On trips to Muyil, Felipe Carrillo Puerto and Tihosuco, they’ll learn about the history of the area from the days of the ancient Maya to the coming of the Spaniards and a series of Mayan uprisings against social injustice that culminated in the Caste War in 1847. In Muyil they’ll see men climb the trunks of chicozapote tree armed with machetes that they use to slash the bark and harvest the white sap as it begins to weep from the deep v-shaped gashes. This latex-like resin is collected, heated and processed to make bricks of chicle, the natural source of chewing gum.
Eco adventures include bird watching safaris in search of more than 350 species of birds that make their home in the jungle and wetlands, nature walks, boat and kayak trips through the lagoons and bays of Sian Ka’an and visits to the famous Cave of the Hanging Snakes in Kantemó.
Unique & Unforgettable Experiences
In Sian Ka’an
Laguna Negra (Punta Allen)
Enjoy a nature walk to a watchtower for panoramic views of the wetlands and lagoons of Sian Ka’an, followed by a kayak trip through the mangroves to Laguna Negra.
Bicycle Adventure (Punta Allen)
From the fishing village of Punta Allen take a guided bike trip through Sian Ka’an Reserve.
Board a boat from Punta Allen for a trip through the lagoons, mangroves and out to the reef in search of birds and marine creatures such as dolphins, sea turtles and myriad colorful fish. Includes snorkeling.
Punta Allen is one of the top locations in the Mexican Caribbean for fly fishing. Your guide will show you the best spots for permit, tarpon and snook in the area’s lagoons.
Muyil Jungle & Float
Discover the archaeological site of Muyil and then board a boat for an exciting journey through Muyil and Chunyaxche lagoons to a crystal-clear canal where you’ll float, letting the current gently bear you through the mangroves and your cares drift away.
Sunset over the Wetlands
A boat trip through the lagoons is followed by breathtaking sunset views across the immense wetlands of Sian Ka’an Biosphere Reserve.
Bird watching in Muyil
See some of the 350 species of birds that inhabit the reserve’s jungle and wetland ecosystems, Muyil is the ideal spot to start.
Maya Heritage: Chicle
Learn about the chicozapote tree and chicle, the latex-like sap that has been extracted from its bark since the days of the ancient Maya. In the 19th century, chicle became the natural raw ingredient for the chewing gum we know today. The chicle demonstration by inhabitants of the village of Muyil is followed by a boat trip through the lagoons and mangroves.
Follow the route taken by ancient Mayan trading canoes as you row your kayak across Muyil and Chunyaxche lagoons towards the Caribbean using a natural channel through the mangroves that the ancient Maya widened. You’ll see herons, egrets, ospreys and other birds during your journey.
In Felipe Carrillo Puerto
Kayaking in Siijil Noh Ha Lagoon
Try your hand at kayaking in the Siijil Noh Ha Lagoon and dive into the cool, clear waters of a cenote. You’ll also follow your guide along a trail to learn about the plants grown or harvested from the jungle by the Maya for their medicinal and cosmetic properties.
Restore balance, go back to nature and heal your mind, soul and heart with this experience in the village of Raxalaj Mayab. Healers harness knowledge passed down through the ages, Mayan music and dance and remedies with plants used in traditional medicine.
Discover the secrets of traditional Mayan cuisine in the village of Chunhuhub. Learn about corn, the staple crop of the area and the origin of mankind in Mayan mythology. Watch women prepare tortillas and other dishes using a pit oven or pib.
Cave of the Hanging Snakes
This cave is the site of an eerie natural spectacle that takes place at dusk. As night falls, thousands of the bats that make their home in the cave begin to stir and emerge from their roost to hunt for insects. As they take wing, snakes hidden in crevices in the cave roof hang down with gaping jaws, snapping up the bats in mid-flight, hence the name Cave of the Hanging Snakes.
Mayan Culture in Tihosuco
From the colorful mural in the roofless church, the Caste War Museum, craft workshops and the art of cotton spinning to the use of herbs for traditional healing and timeless ceremonies, the village of Tihosuco is a window on Mayan culture and history.
Meet the village elders of Señor and hear tales from the past and of life in a traditional Mayan community. You’ll learn about the stingless bee and Mayan honey, traditional medicine, sisal rope and craft making.
Ximbal Maya Circuit
This is a two-day trip that gives visitors the chance to spend more time in a Mayan community and wake up to the sounds of the jungle. The circuit includes Muyil, Felipe Carrillo Puerto, Tihosuco and Señor.
Visiting Maya Ka’an
Thomas More Travel offers small group eco trips to Sian Ka’an Biosphere Reserve and can help you arrange Maya Ka’an tours www.thomasmoretravel.com. If you would like to go on one of the Maya Ka’an community trips please notify the travel agency with at least three days notice, as time is needed to contact the community tour operators. Visit http://mayakaan.travel/index.php?route=common/home for much more information on Maya Ka’an, a photo gallery and videos.