Discover the Emerald Canals of Sian Ka'an in Mexico

Sian Ka'an Biosphere Reserve is massive, covering over 2000 square miles (5,180 square kilometers), from tropical forests inland to coral reefs offshore.
Photo of James Smart
26 February 2020

People have known this place of mangroves, beaches and bright blue water was special for a long time. The Maya called it Sian Ka’an: ‘the place where the sky is born’.

Sian Ka’an Biosphere Reserve is massive, covering over 2,000 square miles (5,180 square kilometers), from tropical forests inland to coral reefs offshore.

You can explore the Mexican canals by swimming or by boat | © Culture Trip

You can explore this pristine slice of Mexico’s Yucatán Peninsula by boating through spectacular inlets, on snorkelling trips, birdwatching tours, or via guided hikes deep into the wilderness.

The highlights of Sian Ka’an

Sian Ka’an has been a reserve since 1986, and became a UNESCO World Heritage Site in 1987. There’s plenty to protect here, with tapirs, jaguars, giant land crabs, more than 300 bird species (including distinctive toucans, roseate spoonbills and frigatebirds), rare manatees, monkeys and crocodiles. There’s a long history of human settlement too, with more than 20 Mayan sites and the remains of a railway that once transported troops and rubber through the region.

The landscapes are beautiful – this is a place where sea and land meet, a lush area of emerald saltwater lagoons, colourful reefs and thick rainforest, where beaches are visited by turtles and the sun glints off Caribbean waters.

How to visit Sian Ka’an

The reserve is on the Yucatán Peninsula, a two- to three-hour drive south of Cancún. The main access point is Tulum, a popular town with some great beaches that’s just north of the park. Numerous companies can arrange tours, which will help you get the most out of your visit and can be geared towards wildlife-spotting, snorkelling, fishing or walking. If you’re visiting on your own, Muyil, on the edge of the reserve, is a good place to start.

Day trips are a great way to get a taste, but it is also possible to camp in Sian Ka’an, or stay in the remote, laid-back village of Punta Allen, which is inside the reserve, and has good sports-fishing options and a reef.

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