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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 Ka’an, 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 Ka’an is one of the most popular day trips from Tulum.
In this article, I’m going to give you all the details on how to visit Sian Ka’an, one of the hidden gems of Mexico’s Caribbean.
Why visit Sian Ka’an Biosphere Reserve?
Sian Ka’an 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 528,000 hectares and is the second-largest biosphere in Mexico. It is one of the biggest protected habitats in Mexico’s Rivera Maya.
The biosphere is home to more than 300 species of birds, 400 types of fish, 100 mammals, and 40 amphibians. When you visit Sian Ka’an on a tour, you will likely see some animals in the wild.
Sian Ka’an 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. It also protects part of the Mesoamerican Barrier Reef, the second largest barrier reef in the world.
I visited Sian Ka’an 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 Ka’an 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 Ka’an is one of the best things to do in Mexico, and I highly recommend you include it in your Yucatan itinerary!
How to visit Sian Ka’an in Mexico?
There are several ways to visit Sian Ka’an Biosphere Reserve, and I will cover them in this article:
- Book one of Sian Ka’an tours online
- Rent a car and drive from Tulum to Punta Allen
- Take a colectivo from Tulum to Punta Allen
Booking one of Sian Ka’an tours
Sian Ka’an 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! If you get lucky, you can even spot some crocodiles hiding around in the mangroves.
1. Sian Ka’an tours: wildlife watching
Because of its protected status, Sian Ka’an has been spared from mass tourism and it is considered a prime destination for wildlife watching. There is a limited number of Sian Ka’an tours 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).
2. Sian Ka’an tours from Tulum
There are daily Sian Ka’an tours 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. After booking one of Sian Kaan tours, download WhatsApp – this is one of my top tips for your Mexico trip.
Most Sian Kaan tours 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.
3. Sian Ka’an tours: snorkeling
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 Ka’an include a brief snorkeling tour, which normally lasts about 40 minutes.
These Sian Kaan tours include a snorkeling stop:
4. Sian Ka’an tours from Muyil
Another option is to book Sian Ka’an tours from Muyil, an ancient Mayan ruin site about 20 minutes south of Tulum. Muyil sits 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 Sian Ka’an tours depart from.
How far is Muyil from Tulum?
Muyil is about 24 kilometers south of Tulum. You can get here by colectivo or car, and leave you vehicle in a parking lot near the entrance.
5. Sian Ka’an tours from Playa Del Carmen
Visiting Sian Ka’an 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 one of guided Sian Ka’an tours that will pick you up and transport you back to your hotel.
How far is Sian Ka’an from Playa Del Carmen?
Sian Ka’an is roughly 100 kilometers away from Playa Del Carmen. It’s an amazing day trip, if you want to escape a busy destination for a day.
Driving from Tulum to Punta Allen
Punta Allen is a small fishing village within Sian Ka’an where you can buy Sian Ka’an tours from local guides, eat delicious food and spend the night gazing at the clear dark skies.
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 Ka’an.
Punta Allen has some amenities, but overall, 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.
Sian Ka’an tours from Punta Allen
Sian Ka’an tours from Punta Allen are typically cheaper than from Tulum because they don’t include transportation and food. The downside is that Sian Ka’an tours from Punta Allen often don’t leave before they fill their boat. 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 do I get from Tulum to Punta Allen?
To get from Tulum to Punta Allen, you will need to go 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.
Do not rent an old or compact car and go to Sian Ka’an! This is a very rough and bumpy road and you need a 4X4 vehicle to navigate it safely.
The road takes you through Sian Ka’an along the Caribbean coast until you reach Punta Allen. Keep in mind that during the rainy season this road can be very hard to drive, as it can get completely washed out. If you are visiting during the rainy season, booking one of the guided Sian Ka’an tours is a much better idea.
👉 Always check the weather, if you plan on traveling from Tulum to Sian Ka’an by car.
A word of caution before driving from Tulum to Punta Allen
The road that takes from Tulum to Punta Allen is rough. It has many potholes and it’s also not uncommon to see wildlife crossings. 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 Ka’an takes an average of 2,5-3 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 great rates and no hidden fees!
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.
Best hotels 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 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 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.
Take a colectivo from Tulum to Punta Allen
Taking a bus is the most economical option for visiting Sian Ka’an Biosphere Reserve. It’s actually not a bus, a but a colectivo (a small van) that takes you from Tulum to Punta Allen in Sian Ka’an. You can catch it near the ADO bus station in Tulum, but keep in mind that it’s going to be a slow and long ride.
Catching a colectivo from Tulum and Punta Allen is a good option if you plan on spending the night in Punta Allen, or visiting during the dry season. It’s also great if you are traveling on a budget and can afford to spend more time on the road.
Once you arrive n Punta Allen by colectivo, you will be able to book one of Sian Ka’an tours on the spot.
Sian Ka’an Biosphere: FAQ’s
Where is Sian Ka’an Biosphere Reserve?
Sian Ka’an Biosphere Reserve is located on the eastern side of the Yucatan Peninsula, just south of Tulum.
What is the best time to visit Sian Ka’an
Since I visited Sian Ka’an several times during different seasons, 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 Ka’an 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 Ka’an 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!
Is Sian Ka’an worth it?
Yes! Sian Ka’an is one of the most beautiful corners of Mexico’s Caribbean. It’s a protected area with unspoiled natural beauty and wonderful biodiversity that makes a perfect getaway if you want to spend time in the nature and escape the crowds.
How to get from Tulum to Sian Ka’an?
There are several ways to get from Tulum to Sian Ka’an. The most convenient way to get from Tulum to Sian Ka’an is by joining a guided tour. This way you don’t have to worry about the logistics and can enjoy your time as everything will be organized by your tour operator.
You can also rent a car to get to Sian Ka’an or catch a bus from the ADO bus station in Tulum – a perfect option for budget travelers who don’t mind spending extra time on the road.
Are there crocodiles in Sian Ka’an?
Sian Ka’an Biosphere in Mexico is home to many species including crocodiles. They tend to hide in mangroves, and are usually hard to find, but an experienced guide can help you to spot one.
Is Punta Allen worth visiting?
A gateway to Sian Ka’an, Punta Allen is a sleepy village that makes for a perfect stop on your itinerary. After touring Sian Ka’an spend some time wandering the quiet streets on Punta Allen where you can buy fresh coconut juice and grab delicious food in one of local restaurants.
Can you drive to Sian Ka’an?
Yes, you can drive to Sian Ka’an. Take a State Highway 15 past Tulum and drive through Tulum Zona Hotelera before you get to the arch, which is the entrance of the Sian Ka’an Biosphere Reserve.
Tips for visiting Sian Ka’an Biosphere
Before you begin planning your trip to Sian Ka’an, I want to share some of my tips with you. After all, Sian Ka’an 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, as the sun can be strong here.
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 Ka’an 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 Sian Ka’an 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 Ka’an.
4. Learn some Spanish
Most guides who offer Sian Ka’an tours speak English or at least understand it, but 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 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 snorkel. Drone use is allowed in Punta Allen where you can fly it over the town and get some incredible shots of the area.
Visiting Sian Ka’an Biosphere: final thoughts
Sian Ka’an Biosphere Reserve is the kind of place that you must visit at least once. It’s home to dozens of species, incredible landscapes and clear dark skies. I hope this guide helped you to plan your adventure whether you want to take one of Sian Ka’an tours or rent a car for your trip to Punta Allen.