Sian Kaan Biosphere Reserve

Sian Kaan Biosphere in Mexico: how to visit with a tour – [2022]

Mexico’s Rivera Maya is known for its incredible beaches, lush jungles, and all-inclusive resorts. Not many travelers know that this region is also home to many protected areas where you can find untouched landscapes and see many animals in their prime habitat. 

One of them is Sian Kaan, a biosphere reserve that is home to an array of biodiversity such as manatees, dolphins, turtles, and rays. Translated as “Entrance to the Sky” from the Mayan language, Sian Kaan is one of the most popular day trips from Tulum, although many travelers still don’t know about it.

In this article, I’m going to give you all the details on how to visit Sian Kaan, one of the best-hidden gems of Mexico’s Caribbean. 

What is Sian Kaan?

Sian Kaan is one of the best places to visit in Yucatan if you are looking to get off the beaten track and spend time in nature. 

Sian Kaan is a designated UNESCO World Heritage Site that covers a whopping 528,000 hectares and is the second-largest biosphere in Mexico. It is one of the biggest protected habitats in Mexico’s Rivera Maya. 

Sian Kaan is home to more than 300 species of birds, 400 types of fish, 100 mammals, and 40 amphibians. When you visit Sian Kaan on a tour, it’s pretty much a guarantee that you will see some animals in the wild.

Sian Kaan has several types of tropical forests, one of the most pristine wetlands in the region, lagoons, extensive mangrove stands, as well as sandy beaches, and dunes. Sian Kaan also protects part of the Mesoamerican Barrier Reef, the second largest barrier reef in the world.

I visited Sian Kaan numerous times and have seen manatees, dolphins, and manta rays on different trips all within a close distance from the boat. 🤩

All animals within Sian Kaan Biosphere Reserve are protected which means you can’s get close to them further than a specified distance. Seeing these animals is not a guarantee on your tour, you can just hope that your boat will pass the spot where you can get a look at dolphins or manatees.

Visiting Sian Kaan is one of the best things to do in Mexico, and I highly recommend you include it in your Yucatan itinerary!

Sian Kaan Biosphere Reserve

Why you should visit Sian Kaan?

Sian Kaan is a perfect getaway from Tulum and other popular places in Mexico’s Rivera Maya like Playa Del Carmen and Cancun. 

The lagoons of Sian Ka’an are framed by the lush mangroves and boast crystal clear waters. When I visited Sian Kaan for the first time, I saw a couple of dolphins splashing in the water, which was magical! And you can even find some crocodiles hiding around in the mangroves. 

Because of its protected status, Sian Kaan has been spared from mass tourism and it is considered a prime destination for wildlife watching. There is a limited number of tours that are allowed in Sian Kaan daily, so it’s better to book your Sian Kaan tour ahead of your visit or get a tour a Sian Kaan tour on the spot in Punta Allen (more about it below).

Book a wildlife watching tour of Sian Kaan

How to visit Sian Kaan from Tulum?

There are several ways to visit Sian Kaan Biosphere Reserve.

Visiting Sian Kaan is possible ONLY with a guided tour, since it’s a protected area, and you have to be accompanied by a licensed guide. There are different points of departure for your tours of Sian Kaan, so depending on your time and budget, here are a couple of options:

Guided tour of Sian Kaan from Tulum

There are daily tours of Sian Kaan from Tulum. You can buy them online or on the spot with one of the local travel agencies (although it is more of a hassle).

Sian Kaan tours pick you up at your hotels or a designated location and transport you to the entrance of Sian Kaan where you get in a boat and begin your tour of this incredible place. 

GOOD TO KNOW: Tour companies in Mexico often use WhatsApp to confirm your reservation and communicate with you prior to the tour. If you book a guided tour of Sian Kaan, download WhatsAppthis is one of my top tips for your Mexico trip as well as booking a Sian Kaan tour.

Most tours of Sian Kaan from Tulum include transportation, lunch, snorkeling gear, and a boat tour of Sian Ka’an lagoons. Carry some change so you could tip your tour guide and a boat driver. Tours of Sian Kaan from Tulum take all day, as they depart early morning and get back around 4-5 p.m.

Snorkeling tours of Sian Kaan 

Sian Kaan is located near the Great Mesoamerican Reef, the second largest barrier reef in the world, where you can spot manta rays, colorful fish, and gorgeous corals. Many tours of Sian Kaan include a brief snorkeling tour, which normally lasts about 40 minutes.

These tours of Sian Kaan include a snorkeling stop:

Guided tours of Sian Kaan from Muyil 

Another option is to get a tour of Sian Kaan from Muyil, an ancient Mayan ruin site about 20 minutes south of Tulum. Muyil is located along Highway 307 between Tulum and Bacalar, and until recently was mostly overlooked by tourists. 

Although Muyil is a small archeological area, it’s still one of the best Mayan ruins in Mexico. Muyil was one of the earliest and longest inhabited Mayan sites, thanks to its strategic location, and it boasts an impressive collection of Mayan ruins including the El Castillo pyramid.

From Muyil you will proceed along the trail that meanders through a beautiful cenote before you arrive at a tall observation tower. Climb 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 Kaan depart from. 

Some offers include both a guided tour of Muyil ruins and Sian Kaan, while other tours include only Sian Kaan

Guided tour of Sian Kaan from Punta Allen 

Punta Allen is a small fishing village within Sian Ka’an where you can buy a tour of Sian Ka’an locally, eat delicious food in one of the local restaurants, and spend the night before going back to Tulum.

Punta Allen used to rely on fishing as its main source of income, now it’s very engaged in sustainability efforts and educating tourists about the importance of Sian Kaan.

Punta Allen has some amenities, but otherwise, it’s a little developed area with a relaxed atmosphere and a tropical vibe that is perfect if you want to unplug and take a break from Tulum. When you arrive in Punta Allen, you can buy a tour of Sian Kaan from one of the local guides who have designed tour stands around the village. 

A tour of Sian Kaan from Punta Allen is typically cheaper than a tour from Tulum because it doesn’t include transportation and food. The downside is that tours of Sian Kaan from Punta Allen typically don’t leave before they fill their boat, which means that if you are short on time and want to take a tour, you will have to pay extra if other travelers don’t show up. 

How to get from Tulum to Punta Allen

To get from Tulum to Punta Allen, you will need to drive toward the end of Zona Hotelera in Tulum, where you will find the big Mayan arch and pay a 100 Pesos cash fee to enter Sian Kaan Biosphere Reserve. Since the road is rough and bumpy, I don’t recommend driving from Tulum to Punta Allen unless you have a 4X4 vehicle. 

The road essentially takes you through Sian Kaan along the coast until you reach Punta Allen. Keep in mind that during the rainy season this road can be very hard to drive on, as it’s essentially just gravel.

Always check the weather, if you plan on traveling to Sian Kaan from Tulum by car. 

A word of caution before driving from Tulum to Punta Allen

The road that takes from Tulum to Punta Allen is VERY rough.

It has many potholes and it’s also not uncommon to see wildlife crossings in the area. You have to drive slowly and carefully not to damage your car when you pass other vehicles on the road. The drive from Tulum to Sian Kaan takes between 3-4 hours one way, and it makes sense to spend your night in Punta Allen, as you will probably be tired after spending a few hours on the road. 

To rent a car for your trip from Tulum to Punta Allen, check out Discover Cars, one of the best websites for car rentals where you can find hundreds of vehicles at competitive rates. 

PRO TIP: Read my complete guide on renting a car in Mexico. It will allow you to save a ton of money and skip some of the most common mistakes that many tourists end up making when renting a vehicle. 

Where to stay in Punta Allen

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

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 glamping experience, check out Hotel Cielo y Selva, neat property with a garden and beautiful terrace. It’s a great place to relax and enjoy the stunning views of the Caribbean.

Villa Roseliz

Villa Roseliz is a self-sustaining villa located in the heart of Punta Allen. This property is 1 minute walk from the beach. Villas Roseliz is a small family hotel that has basic services in the rooms and a well-equipped common kitchen to prepare breakfast and meals. 

Booking.com is an excellent platform to find the best hotels in Punta Allen. Check available options here.

Guided tour of Sian Kaan from Playa Del Carmen

Visiting Sian Kaan from Playa Del Carmen is not one of the most popular options, simply because it’s much further than Tulum. Still, if you are spending your vacation in Playa Del Carmen, you can book a guided tour of Sian Kaan that will pick you up and transport you back to your hotel.

Best tours of Sian Kaan from Playa Del Carmen 

Best time to visit Sian Kaan

Since visiting Sian Ka’an from Tulum, Muyil, and Punta Allen, I want to give you my perspective on when you should visit this place.

December through April is the busiest time for the Mexican Rivera Maya, During this time, many visitors from colder countries of Mexico to escape bad weather. Prices on Sian Kaan tours are the most expensive during this time.

The rainy season lasts from late May through October and brings a lot of hurricanes and hot weather. It’s a low season in terms of visitation and prices on Sian Kaan tours are lower, but the weather could negatively affect your travel plans, so keep it in mind. 

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 Mexico’s Yucatan Peninsula, a getaway to Sian Ka’an, where only a few visitors are allowed daily, makes for a very relaxing experience! 

Tips For Visiting Sian Kaan

Before you begin planning your trip to Sian Ka’an, I want to share some of my tips with you. After all, Sian Kaan is a place unlike anywhere 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 which means you should do your best to protect it. While the sun here is strong, and the boat provides little coverage, you should be mindful of your choices. Regular sunscreen often contains chemicals that can harm aquatic animals and coral reefs, so you should only use 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.

PRO TIP: Want to find out how much to tip your crew? Find out it in my guide to Mexico travel tips

3. Explore all of the options

Not all Sian Kaan tours 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. Make sure to do some research and choose the tour that you like. Platforms like Get Your Guide and Viator are excellent for findings dozens of tours of Sian Kaan. 

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, pick up some Spanish ahead of your trip.

5. Leave your drone at home

Sian Kaan 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 snorkel. Drone use is allowed in Punta Allen where you can fly it over the town and get some incredible shots of the area. 

Final thoughts on booking Sian Kaan tours

Sian Ka’an Biosphere Reserve is a place in Mexico that is often visited as part of the Tulum itinerary. I think it’s one of the most incredible places in the super popular tourist region, and the true beauty of it is that it’s so little discovered. Make sure to take a day trip to Sian Kaan to enjoy nature and see the clear dark skies at night! 

Disclaimer: This post contains affiliate links. At no cost to you, I might earn a small commission if you purchase through the links in this article. 

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