Riviera Highlights: Sian Ka’an

Sian Ka’an means the place where the sky is born in Mayan and was declared a UNESCO Biosphere Reserve in 1986, and a World Heritage site in 1987. It is the largest protected area in the Mexican Caribbean and runs a distance of 75 miles south of Tulum. As the majority of the area is fairly inaccessible, the reserve’s unique nature, comprised of marine, lagoon and mangrove ecosystems, remains mostly intact

Distance in miles from Cancun: 90; Playa del Carmen: 50


As any true Biosphere Reserve, Sian Ka’an has no paved roads, only a dirt road from north to south. During the rainy season, driving can be challenging due to the road surface and potholes, so be careful if driving and make sure you have an appropriate vehicle. These rustic conditions are why most people decide to take an organized jeep tour, some of which include transportation from Playa del Carmen or Tulum and overnight accommodation. However, it is possible to visit Sian Ka’an independently, and added attractions are the unique starry nights on the beach. There are several cabins for rent and campsites with basic services along the road and also in Boca Paila village. This small village also makes a good base camp for those exploring on their own. Boca Paila is 10 miles south Tulum.

Take the 307 Chetumal-Cancun Highway south. From Tulum take the road to Boca Paila and drive a further 6 miles. You will see the entrance arch where the reserve’s dirt road begins. The trip from Playa del Carmen takes around one hour to the entrance, plus around another hour and a half to the heart of the reserve.

Photos: Creative Commons
Photos: Creative Commons


Boat tour of Sian Ka’an Lagoon. This one-day trip takes you through a wide variety of ecosystems: Boca Paila estuary, where the ocean meets freshwater channels, or cayos; the mangroves surrounded by jungle, and lagoons and bodies of water such as the turquoise Chunyaxche Lagoon, next to the Muyil ruins. There are more than 350 bird species in the Sian Ka’an, including many endemic species of the Yucatan Peninsula, as well as jaguars, ocelots and monkeys. Tours usually include snorkeling the reef next to Punta Allen (16 miles south Boca Paila), kayaking along the channels, and fishing at Bahía de la Ascensión, which is considered one of the world’s best places to fish.

Muyil ruins. A visit to the ruins is normally included in tours of the Sian Ka’an channels. Artifacts found here date from around 300 B.C. and it is one of the Yucatan Peninsula´s most important archeological sites due to its size and steep Peten architecture. Climb El Castillo, the main 55-foot high pyramid, where you can enjoy superb views from the top temple. 

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