Tour the Sian Ka'an

You are skimming across calm waters of ever-changing blue and an eagle drops out of nowhere. It glides effortlessly alongside the boat until it suddenly changes speed and direction as if a parachute had opened, and drops onto the highest branch of the small tropical island it calls home. It looks at you inquiringly, but there’s no need to stop the boat; this is just one of many amazing species of birds and animals you’ll see in the Sian Ka’an Biosphere Reserve. So far we’ve spotted 345 different kinds of birds here, and over 100 species of mammals, from agoutis and coatimundis to pumas and jaguars, not to mention the turtles and crocodiles.

In the Mayan language, Sian Ka’an means “Origin of the Sky” and it’s easy to share the ancient Mayan belief that the blues of the heavens were conjured out of this stunning expanse of water. Sian Ka’an is the biggest protected area in the Mexican Caribbean: 1.3 million acres (over 5,000 square kilometres) – that’s almost the size of Devon. It extends along nearly a third of the coast, including part of the world’s second longest barrier reef.


The marine ecosystems only make up about a third of the Reserve, while the rest is equally divided between wetlands, including the mangrove swamps whose tangled roots protect the coast from erosion, and dense tropical jungle. While it’s still possible to rent a villa on the reef between the lagoon and the tranquil Caribbean for a truly unforgettable vacation experience, this paradise is designed for the peace and protection of its extraordinary wildlife.

Clamber through ancient temples, float down canals built by the Maya a thousand years ago, and swim with the gentle manatees. This is a unique experience for the whole family to enjoy.


You take a short boat ride from the mainland to the small but significant Mayan temple of Ixchel. Built of local limestone, it dates from around 1100 AD and was constructed in honour of the Moon Goddess, who had power over life and death. After you’ve soaked up the atmosphere of this ancient memorial to a lost civilization, it’s time to float! Yes float… Instead of jumping back into the boat, Andrés, your guide, hands you a life jacket. He demonstrates that for this armchair ride, it’s best worn around the hips rather than in the conventional manner. Andrés leads the way by jumping into the Mayan canal. The stream takes you very gently at walking speed (3.5 mph; 5.5 kph), from the level of the lagoon towards the ocean, 26 feet (8m) lower down. The effortless ‘float’ takes around 40 minutes, as you relax and chat to your friends. With luck, you’ll see plenty of wildlife along the way.


The second part of your journey takes you across the vast and ever changing turquoise of the lagoon to where you will find a very special and rather contented friend: the manatee. These gentle giants are generally solitary animals. However, in the Biosphere Reserve you often see them in small groups, popping their noses out of the water for air. Apart from feeding and resting – they need a lot of both – their behaviour is best described by Seaworld, “The remainder of their day is spent travelling, investigating objects, and socialising by interacting with other manatees.” Sound familiar? They probably feel the same way about us humans. For the experience of a lifetime, you jump into the water and watch them playing follow-my-leader around you.

Calves Engage In Frisky Manatee Play

If Andrés can drag you away from these astonishing creatures, it’s time to see where the lagoon meets the Caribbean. Here you will see two types of anglers, both very skilled at their trade. As the local Mexicans cast their lines into the shallow waters you will sense an overpowering shadow in the skies above you. A gigantic six foot (2m) wingspan glides through the air: waiting, watching. Then suddenly, in the blink of an eye, wings fold in and the left shoulder drops as the bird hurtles towards the water. There is hardly a splash – an Olympic diver in the wild. It emerges again, this time with something in its throat pouch. It swallows proudly and then takes off in search of its next meal. This is of course the prehistoric pelican. And high, high above, is the monarch of these coastal skies – the frigate bird. Effortless, soaring curves controlled by just a flick of the tail. None of this flapping nonsense. Now that’s how to fly!


Finally Andrés takes you to a cenote, the heart that pumps the Sian Ka’an Biosphere Reserve. This is where the underground water collects among the stalactites of Yucatan’s unique caverns. You dive in and feel the cold water from below colliding with the water above, warmed by the sun’s rays. Refreshing? You bet!

How could you possibly top off such a perfect day? This final adventure is sure to sharpen your appetite. So you treat yourself to a traditional Mayan feast when you finally get back to dry land. This is where you have to make the hard calls: hot, or cold, or both? The choice is yours, because who invented hot chocolate? The Mayans. And who discovered that chocolate and chili go together? The Mayans. Who invented guacamole? You’re right: it was the Mayans. Or how about a plant you may never have heard of: chaya. Its green leaves are packed with more vitamins than spinach. It’s native to Yucatan and the Mayans make wonderfully refreshing drinks with chaya and fruit, perfect at the end of a long day. But don’t try this at home: chaya needs to be boiled for at least 20 minutes to get rid of the toxins and release those vitamins.

That’s the end of an unforgettable day out among the wonders of Sian Ka’an. Another world; another time; another life. And you know you have barely nibbled at the fringes of what this great Reserve contains. It won’t change, although it may change you. Come back soon!

If you are interested in booking a tour please contact us here.

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