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Go off the beaten track to Maya Ka’an, an encounter with nature and Mayan culture

Planning your next Cancun or Riviera Maya vacation and looking for new adventures that take you deep into the world of the Maya, then Maya Ka’an is the place for you. This is a region of central Quintana Roo that offers you the chance to reconnect with nature and discover an ancient culture. Picture yourself venturing deep into the jungle in search of rare wildlife; listening to birdcalls as you drift through a coastal lagoon and meeting the Maya to learn more about their traditions, if this sounds like the unforgettable off the beaten track travel experiences you are dreaming of, then Maya Ka’an is the place for you.

Maya Ka’an, a journey to the heartland
The Mexican Caribbean’s latest eco 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.

Maya Ka’an is a sustainable development initiative to bring the economic benefits of tourism to Zona Maya communities while also protecting the Sian Ka’an Biosphere Reserve and the area’s heritage. There are 16 different tours and activities to choose from, which take visitors to nine villages in Sian Ka’an and the Zona Maya. To ensure that local inhabitants reap the benefits, community tour operators handle all the trips. For visitors who enjoy learning about different cultures and like to give back to communities when they travel, Maya Ka’an is the perfect option.

The key Maya Ka’an communities are Punta Allen, Muyil and Punta Herrero in Sian Ka’an, historic Felipe Carrillo Puerto, capital of the Zona Maya, 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 giving visitors a glimpse of Mayan life.

Meeting the Maya
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 Felipe Carrillo Puerto and Tihosuco, visitors 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 Cave of the Hanging Snakes in Kantemó.

The Maya Ka’an trip collection

Tours in the Sian Ka’an Biosphere Reserve

• 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)
Take a guided bike trip from the fishing village of Punta Allen through Sian Ka’an Reserve.

• Wildlife Watching
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.

• Fly Fishing
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 canal filled with crystal-clear water where you’ll simply float, letting the current gently bear you through the mangroves. Gaze up at the sky, listen to the breeze and the distant cries of birds and feel your cares drift away.

• Sunset over Sian Ka’an
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 Sian Ka’an’s jungle and wetland ecosystems, Muyil is the ideal spot to start.

• Mayan 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.

• Mayaking
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.

Tours in the Felipe Carrillo Puerto area

• 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.

• Herbal healing
Return to nature and soothe body and soul with this Mayan healing experience in the village of Raxalaj Mayab. Healers harness knowledge passed down through the ages, music and dance and remedies with plants used in traditional medicine.

• The secrets of Mayan cuisine
Learn how to cook traditional Mayan cuisine in the village of Chunhuhub. Learn about the area’s staple crop, corn, and its importance in the Mayan creation story. Watch women prepare tortillas and other dishes using a pit oven or pib.

• Cave of the Hanging Snakes
Witness an eerie natural spectacle that takes place at dusk. As night falls, thousands of the bats that make their home deep within 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 colonial church and the Caste War Museum to craft workshops, traditional herbal healing and timeless ceremonies, the village of Tihosuco is a window on Mayan culture and history.

• Señor
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 through Maya Ka’an 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.
Please notify the travel agency with at least three days notice in the case of Maya Ka’an village trips, 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.

This post is also available in: Spanish

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