Celebrating its 30th anniversary in January, Sian Ka’an Biosphere Reserve is a wild wonderland of jungle, wetlands, beaches and coral reefs that is home to a host of species of birds, mammals and marine life, many of them endangered. If you have never visited Sian Ka’an, this is one adventure that you should not miss if you are a nature lover. Several different day trips are available, some taking you through the jungle and wetlands, others giving you the chance to meet some of the inhabitants of the area.
About Sian Ka’an
Straddling northern and central Quintana Roo, Sian Ka’an is a huge reserve and UNESCO World Heritage Site protecting 1.3 million acres of tropical forest, mangroves, Caribbean beaches and a 110-kilometer-stretch of pristine coral reef.
Protected by government decree since 1986, Sian Ka’an is home to 103 different mammals including the jaguar, peccary, tapir, howler and spider monkeys, and the West Indian manatee. It has one of Mexico’s largest crocodile populations and is an important nesting area for sea turtles. However you are most likely to see birds on your trip: over 330 resident and migratory species have been registered here in the jungle and wetlands.
Sixteen varieties of heron nest in the mangroves along with cormorants, frigate birds and pelicans. Flamingos are occasional visitors in the winter, feeding in the coastal lagoons. Toucans, parrots, motmots, ocellated turkey, chachalaca and great curassow are some of the forest dwellers. The reserve also has a large breeding population of ospreys and protects a tiny colony of the rare jabiru stork, the largest bird in the Americas.
Sian Ka’an means “where the sky is born in Maya” and there is compelling evidence that the Maya hunted, fished and traveled the wetlands. To date 23 archaeological sites have been registered in the reserve and Mayan communities are still clustered on the borders of the reserve.
Muyil, gateway to the wetlands
Many visitors start their Sian Ka’an adventures in Muyil, an archaeological site in the jungle that is a short walk from Muyil or Chunyaxche Lagoon. As you walk through the forest past the crumbling temples you may see woodpeckers, hawks and trogons. Look out for hummingbirds busy among the flowers in a clearing near one of the wooden observation towers en route to the lagoon.
Lagoon side, northern jacanas step daintily through the shallows and herons stand motionless on the wooden dock as you prepare to board your boat for the next stage of your journey. Many more herons, including the green, tiger and agami heron, ibis, roseate spoonbills and wood storks take to the wing during an exciting boat trip through the wetlands.
Once you cross Muyil Lagoon you enter a channel through the mangroves that was widened and dredged by the Maya in ancient times and used as a trade route between the Caribbean and inland cities. A small temple guards the waterway and after you have visited it your tour guide gives the signal for everyone to jump into the channel. The water is clear, shallow and you are wearing a life jacket. It’s time to lean back, forget your cares and drift with the gentle current.
Many tours take you as far as Boca Paila, a white sand beach where the channel meets the turquoise sea. If you book your boat trip directly from the Muyil cooperative it may be possible to arrange extra time to venture deeper into the chain of lagoons running parallel to the coast.
Maya Ka’an, More ways of Exploring Sian Ka’an & the Maya Heartland
Another Sian Ka’an trip offered as part of the Maya Ka’an community tour collection, will show you how the villagers of Muyil harvest the white sap of the chicozapote tree to make chicle, the natural gum that is the base for chewing gum.
Alternatively, choose one of the Maya Ka’an trips offered by the inhabitants of Punta Allen. On the shores of Asuncion Bay, the fishing village of Punta Allen is the largest community in the Sian Ka’an Reserve. The inhabitants earn their livelihood from the sustainable capture of lobster and from taking visitors on boat trips for birding, fishing and diving. As part of the Maya Ka’an tour collection, community operators are also offering nature walks, kayaking, bike trips, wildlife watching and fly fishing.
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