The Sian Ka'an Biosphere Reserve is a 1.3 million acre national park, founded in 1986 to protect and preserve tropical jungle, forests, mangroves, savannas, coral reefs, cenotes (underwater caves) and a smattering of Mayan ruins. Designated a World Heritage Site by UNESCO, it is Mexico’s largest wetland nature reserve.
Sian Ka'an marks the end of the Mayan Riviera just south of Tulum. Its endless stretches of untouched mangroves, jungle, lakes, lagoons and deserted Caribbean beaches are home to an extraordinary array of birds and wildlife in an ecologically protected environment. Sian Ka'an is home to many exotic creatures, including 103 known mammal species (such as jaguars, tapirs, manatees, ocelots, crocodiles) and 336 known bird species (pelicans, falcons, vultures, cormorants, storks, and hundreds of exotic birds), amphibians and reptiles.
There are very few inhabited spots along the coast, and development is tightly regulated, which gives this 50-km stretch of Caribbean Sea coastline a feeling of remote tranquility and relative isolation. The atmosphere is in stark contrast to the rest of the Mexican Riviera further north – it is the anti-Cancun. The wild road from Tulum through Boca Paila to Punta Allen at land’s end is one for the adventurous and boasts fabulous views of sea, sky, sand and jungle. Sian Ka'an is truly deserving of its Mayan name, meaning ‘where the Sky is born’.
Sian Ka'an is also an ideal place from which to explore the Meso-American Reef, the largest coral reef system in the Western Hemisphere (and second-largest in the world after Australia’s Great Barrier Reef). It extends over 450 miles from the northern coastal waters of the Yucatán Peninsula in Mexico, along the coasts of Belize and Guatemala, down to the Bay Islands off the coast of Honduras. The Meso-American Reef was recently identified as one of the Top 10 coral reef ‘Biodiversity Hotspots’ in the world.
It contains some of the most highly-developed coral formations in the world (more than 65 species of stony coral), supporting an amazing diversity of marine life. More than 500 species of fish have been recorded along the reef, many of which support the livelihoods of local fishermen residing along the Caribbean coast. It is not uncommon to see dolphins while snorkelling along the reef and sea turtles lolling on the beaches. The Sian Ka'an, and the Punta Allen area in particular, are world-class sites for saltwater flats and fly fishing, and attract light-tackle anglers from around the globe year-round.
Not simply for serious birdwatchers and fishermen, the Sian Ka'an Biosphere Reserve has much to offer anyone with an appreciation for, and a love of unspoiled nature.