Visiting Sian Ka’an Biosphere Reserve – Tours, Guides, and Tips
Sian Ka’an is a biosphere reserve located just south of the town of Tulum in Quintana Roo. As a UNESCO World Heritage Site since 1987, Sian Ka’an is a definite must-visit. There are tons of activities for the whole family, and it truly is one of the most unique places to check out in Mexico.
Sian Ka’an Biosphere Reserve has been home to over 200 conservation projects over the past three decades. The focus has been on the conservation of natural resources and the sustainable use of land. At over 5,000 square kilometers, it includes both land, ocean, and coral reefs.
Because the land has been conserved, it offers a beautiful experience for nature-lovers from around the world. You can find some incredible snorkeling, world-class birdwatching, and monkey, jaguar, and crocodile habitats. Although definitely a place for those who love nature, our experience is that most people love visiting, including children and families.
Activities and Tours at Sian Ka’an
There are quite a few things you can do when you visit the reserve. From kayaking and snorkeling to visiting Mayan ruins, Sian Ka’an Biosphere Reserve seems to have it all. It’s on our list of 9 Best Things to Do in Tulum Right Now, and is one of our personal favorite places to travel to in Quintana Roo. Here are a few things you can look forward to when visiting.
Snorkeling and Diving
Sian Ka’an has great opportunities to get in the water and see some wildlife. As Tulum and Akumal (two of the best snorkeling spots in Mexico) are close by, people seem to forget that there’s a reef right off the coast here. One of our favorite spots is Punta Allen, located right about in the middle of the reserve.
To get out there, you will pass through mangroves and get the chance to see some sea turtles, dolphins, and manatees. Punta Allen is right on a little quiet bay, and you can snorkel out on coral reefs and in the calm waters of the bay. If you want to check it out, you can take this tour. Don’t forget there are also dive shops where you can go out on diving expeditions with dive masters who know the area!
One of the most relaxing and fun activities you can do in the biosphere reserve is to kayak. There are over 120,000 hectares, or almost 300,000 acres, of water included in the reserve. Like many places on the east coast of Mexico, the water is crystal clear, warm, and full of wildlife. You can rent a kayak in the reserve and paddle your way through some of the most beautiful water on the planet.
Our favorite tours and kayaks come from Yucatan Outdoors. They have a pretty solid reputation, and have always provided great experiences when we’ve gone with them ourselves.
In addition to over 100 species of mammals (including Tapirs, Dolphins, Pumas, and many more), there have been over 345 species of birds found. Many of these species are endemic to the area, and the wildlife in Sian Ka’an is truly amazing. There are different woodpeckers, kingfishers, storks, terns, spoonbills, herons, egrets, ospreys, hawks, and many more. If you are a birtdwatcher or nature-lover, you should probably make visiting Sian Ka’an a priority.
If birding is your thing, you may be disappointed with many of the tours offered in the area. Many of them offer just about thirty minutes of looking for birds, while the focus is on swimming or snorkeling. We recommend checking out Mexico Kan Tours for the best true birding tour of Sian Ka’an. You can see from the tour schedule that they’re pretty serious, and your guide will actually know about the local wildlife.
The saltwater lagoons within the biosphere reserve are truly known around the world in flyfishing communities. Because the water is calm and clear, the fishing here is unparalleled. There are many tours that go out, and you can catch barracuda, tarpon, snook, bonefish, and more. As you may expect in a reserve and with these fish, this is game fishing and all are catch-and-release.
Although we don’t fish ourselves, we have had many friends and family members take fly fishing tours with different companies. The ones that come most highly recommended are from Sol Caribe and Visit Sian Ka’an. To learn more about fishing in the area, you can read our post on fishing in and around Playa del Carmen at https://therivieramaya.org/fishing-in-playa-del-carmen/.
Visiting the Ruins near Sian Ka’an
As you probably already know, the Riviera Maya is home to many different sites of Mayan ruins. One of these sites, Muyil, sits right at the edge of Sian Ka’an, and is one place we recommend people to visit. In fact, it made an apperance in our post about ruins near Playa del Carmen. If you’re planning a trip to Sian Ka’an or staying nearby in Tulum, you should definitely head to Muyil for an hour or two.
Muyil is an older Mayan site, and one of the less-visited ones. With a fair amount of well-preserved buildings, you can take a tour through Muyil or guide yourself. It’s not a full-day activity, so you can see Muyil in the morning and head into the reserve in the afternoon. You can learn more about visiting Muyil in our Muyil Travel Guide at https://therivieramaya.org/ruins-near-playa-del-carmen/.
Relaxing and Floats
One thing people love to do when they visit is just to chill out. There are quite a few incredible beaches in Sian Ka’an, and they all are sure to provide a relaxing and beautiful spot to spend some time. You can sit on the soft sand of lagoons or the Caribbean Sea, swim in calm and clear waters, or wade in one of the many shallow lagoons.
With the lagoons, mangroves, and tidal flows between water bodies. Whether you’re with a life vest or on a tube, the canal floats are a great way to spend a day chilling in the water. You can go by yourself, but we recommend taking a tour like this one to get the most out of your day. A full-day of relaxation, you get the opportunity to see the environment closely, learn about this important site, and spend the day kicking back.
If you’re interested in a more full-featured tour, there are many options. Some are better than others, and we’ve heard from quite a few people about tours where the guides don’t seem to know much past their normal script. However, there are many great tours out there with knowledgeable and passionate guides.
You can take a jeep expedition tour that includes a boat ride, swimming in natural pools, snorkeling, birdwatching on Bird Island, and local snacks. There are also tours like this one that focus on boat tours through the mangroves, observing the plants, coral reefs, and various forms of wildlife that live within them. If you really want to get the full experience of Sian Ka’an, we recommend trying a full tour.
Getting to Sian Ka’an
Sian Ka’an is pretty easy to get to. It’s just a few minutes south of Tulum. You can take your own car, take a tour, or take a cab. The two main entry points are at Muyil and Punto Allen. Remember that this is a huge area, so you can get in many ways. However, these two are by far the most convenient and accessible. If you’re renting a car or worried about guiding yourself through the park, you may consider reading our post Is Travel Insurance Worth It? – Guide to Mexico Travel Insurance.
If you aren’t comfortable going yourself, go on a tour. Many tours handle all of the logistics for you. They will pick you up at your hotel or wherever you are staying, and drop you off at the same place after the end of your day. This makes it easy and painless, so you don’t have to worry about getting to and from the reserve.
To read about hotels and places to stay in Tulum, check out Our Favorite Hotels in Tulum.