If you have traveled to Mexico’s Caribbean Coast, there’s a chance you heard about Sian Ka’an Biosphere Reserve, the largest protected area in the region with over 1.3-million of wilderness.
Home to a wide array of biodiversity such as manatees, dolphins, turtles, and rays, Sian Ka’an was designated as a UNESCO World Heritage Site in 1987, a year after it gained a status of a Biosphere Reserve.
Why visit Sian Ka'an
Located near Tulum, one of the most popular destinations in the Mexican State of Quintana Roo, Sian Ka’an makes for a perfect getaway. The lagoons of Sian Ka’an boast crystal clear water framed by the lush mangroves. And as you swim through the canals, you could even spot a few animals.
When I visited Sian Ka’an for the first time, I saw a couple of dolphins splashing in the water, which was magical!
Translated as a “gateway from heaven,” from the Mayan language, Sian Ka’an has been largely spared from mass tourism because of its protected status and it is considered a prime destination for wildlife watching. There is a limited number of tours that are allowed in Sian Ka’an on a daily basis, so you need to make a reservation ahead of your visit to have a guaranteed spot.
Options for Sian Ka'an Tours
Visiting Sian Ka’an is only possible with a tour. Typically, tours pick you up in Tulum (the closest town to Sian Ka’an) or any other town in the Mexican Rivera Maya by colectivo (a small van) and drive to the entrance of Sian Ka’an, from where you will get on a boat.
Tours to Sian Ka’an range from around $70 to $120 per person depending on what activities are included in a tour, and can be purchased online or at many tour agencies in Tulum and around other places in Quintana Roo.
Most tours include transportation, lunch, snorkeling gear, and a boat tour of Sian Ka’an lagoons. However, keep in mind that most boat tours have fixed rates, which means that to pay the advertised rate, you need to have a certain number of people in your group.
If you are traveling by yourself, and want to get an individual tour of Sian Ka’an, expect to pay up to a few hundred dollars, since you will not have others who could split the cost.
Sian Ka'an Snorkeling
Some tours also include snorkeling at Sian Ka’an. During the tour, a boat will take you to an area rich with preserved coral reefs where you can see colorful fish and gorgeous corals. While a snorkeling gear is typically provided, always make sure to check what’s included in a tour before buying it.
Another option is to get a tour that includes Sian Ka’an and Muyil, an ancient Mayan ruin site about 20 minutes south of Tulum and also provides access to Sian Ka’an.
Muyil was one of the earliest and longest inhabited Mayan sites, thanks to its strategic location, and when you get to the site you will see an impressive collection of Mayan ruins including an impressive El Castillo pyramid.
From Muyil you will proceed along the trail that meanders through a Cenote before you arrive at a tall observation tower. I recommend climbing to the top of the tower as it provides an incredible overview of the wetlands and the surrounding lagoon of the Sian Ka’an.
After climbing the tower, go back to the trail and proceed going straight until you get to the little pier. That’s where the tours of the Sian Ka’an depart from. The tour typically lasts the entire day so in the evening you arrive back at your hotel.
Punta Allen is a small town within Sian Ka’an that where you can stay overnight in one of the hotels and then buy a tour of Sian Ka’an locally.
Punta Allen has some small stores and restaurants, but otherwise, it’s a little developed area with a relaxed atmosphere and a tropical vibe that is perfect if you want to catch a break.
You can catch a colectivo to Punta Allen from Tulum from the ADO bus station.
However, taking a public transportation is a better option during a dry season, when the road between Tulum and Punta Allen is not washed out by rain. You can also come here by car, but I don’t really recommend this option as the road between Punta Allen and Tulum is pretty rough. There’s a chance that some rental companies will not allow you to go there, even if you are renting a 4X4 vehicle.
Punta Allen hotels
There are several hotels in Punta Allen. Since the town is pretty small, they are all not far from one another. Here are a couple of options:
Sol Caribe is a gorgeous property located along a secluded beach of Punta Allen. Visitors get a chance to stay in small beach huts and eat delicious food at a local restaurant. In addition, you can also purchase tours of Muyil and snorkeling at Sol Caribe.
Hotel Cielo y Selva
If you are looking for a cool glapming experience, check out Hotel Cielo y Selva, a neat property with a garden and beautiful terrace. It’s a great place to relax and enjoy the stunning views of the Caribbean.
Casa Camara Sian Ka'an
Casa Camara Sian Ka’an is a self-sustaining villa located in the heart of Punta Allen. This spacious property has 6 bedrooms, a kitchen, living room and a beautiful terrace. It uses solar panels to generate electricity and also comes with a generator.
Best time to visit Sian Ka'an
Since I’ve been to Sian Ka’an a few times, I want to give you my perspective on when you should visit this place.
Spring is the busiest time for the Mexican Rivera Maya, a stretch of the Caribbean Coast that incorporates popular places such as Cancun, Playa Del Carmen, Tulum and also, Sian Ka’an. From mid-to-late winter and early spring, many visitors come to the region from the United States and Canada to escape bad weather.
Meanwhile, summers in the Mexican Rivera Maya have hot temperatures with a lot of humidity, and are generally a low season. If you are ready to brave the hot weather, you could give it a try.
From September through early November, the area sees a lot of rain because of the monsoon season. And finally, mid-November through December is the best time to visit Sian Ka’an as the weather slowly goes back to normal, but the tourist peak is not yet here.
When you see the crowds at a place like Chichen Itza, one of the Seven Wonders of The World, and one of many UNESCO World Heritage Sites in the Mexico’s Yucatan Peninsula, that is visited by a few million people every year, a getaway to Sian Ka’an, where only a few visitors are allowed on a daily basis, makes for a very relaxing experience.
Tips For Visiting Sian Ka'an
Before you visit Sian Ka’an, I want to share some of my tips with you. After all, Sian Ka’an is a place unlike anything else in Mexico, and there are few things to know before coming here.
1. Use biodegradable sunscreen
Sian Ka’an Biosphere is a fragile ecosystem with rare flora and fauna so as a visitor, you should be very careful. While the sun here is strong, and the boat provides little coverage, you should be mindful of your choices.
A regular sunscreen often contains chemicals that can harm aquatic animals and coral reefs, so you should only use a biodegradable sunscreen when you come here. Bringing a hat is also a great idea.
2. Spare some tips for your crew
Since the entrance to Sian Ka’an is allowed only with a guide, you should bring some cash with you so you could leave a gratuity. Tips are highly appreciated and the best time to give them is at the end of the tour.
3. Explore all of the options
Not all tours to Sian Ka’an are the same. For example, some include a visit to Muyil and a swim in one of the canals, while others skip Muyil but offer snorkeling. Other tours include an option for lunch, and some don’t. I recommend making sure that you pick a tour that you like, so read the description carefully.
4. Learn some Spanish
All of the guides who do organized tours of Sian Ka’an speak English or at least understand it, however, if you want to be more in the know and be able to communicate without a language barrier, I recommend picking up some Spanish ahead of your trip.
5. Leave your drone at home
Sian Ka’an is an incredible place unlike anything else you have ever seen. And because it is a protected area, drones are not allowed here. Still, you can (and should) bring your camera and a GoPro, especially if you plan to do some snorkeling.
Sian Ka’an Biosphere Reserve is a magical place unlike any other place in Mexico. Remember to have fun on your awesome tour but don’t forget to be respectful to the environment and the fragile ecosystem around you.
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