11 Sep 2017
The Riviera Maya is filled with spectacular spaces where nature rules and Punta Laguna Reserve near the Coba ruins is one such place. Punta Laguna was set aside as a protected area by the Mexican government in 2002 (35 years after the owners originally petitioned for such) and was given the official name Otoch Ma’ax Yetel Kooh, Maya for “the home of the spider monkey and the puma.” What makes this place so unique, besides it’s incredible jungle beauty and rich natural resources, is that the Mayan families who live on the 5, 367,423 hectares of protected land own and operate the reserve’s tourism co-op that supports their village. Punta Laguna is a perfect model of sustainable tourism, local people co-existing in harmony with nature.
Getting to Punta Laguna
The journey to the reserve is almost a straight shot from Tulum via the Coba road located at the crossing just north before the Tulum pueblo. Take a right there and go toward Coba ruins. When you get to the fork in the road before the ruins go right and continue toward Nuevo Xcan until you see the sign for Punta Laguna. Along the way on the Coba road you will pass a few small towns where you can stop to get fresh fruit, drinks, snacks and handicrafts.
The Spider Monkey Project
The reserve is home to over 600 spider and howler monkeys. For over 40 years, scientists from around the world have been using Punta Laguna as a primate observation center. The research carried out here is the most extensive continuing scientific study of spider monkeys ever done because researchers are able to get up close and personal to watch these animals in their natural habitat. At the entrance of the reserve, there is a small museum that documents the growing monkey family and tells the history of this very special community.
While hiking along the trails, you will likely see monkey families swinging through the trees, but keep in mind this is not a zoo and the animals are not on a schedule. However, hiring one of the local guides, some of whom have lived their entire life on the reserve, increases your chances as they usually know where to find their furry friends.
While the monkeys are certainly the big attraction, the reserve is full of exotic wildlife. Pumas, crocodiles, deer, coati and a wide variety of tropical birds live here too.
Preserving a Cultural Heritage
Visiting Punta Luguna will offer you a glimpse into the Mayan way of life as it is lived in the jungle today. With thatched roof houses made of local materials, cooking over open fires and farm animals roaming freely, these families have lived on the reserve in pretty much the same way for decades and are the original descendants of the chicleros (men who harvested chicle from the zapote trees) who originally settled here. Today they make their living off the land by giving guided nature tours of the reserve and working a few local cornfields. Women in the village also make and sell traditional Mayan embroidered dresses.
Catholisism and Mayan gods even reside side by side here at Punta Laguna. Throughout the village you will see alters with offerings honoring both religions. Before entering the jungle, visitors to the reserve are asked to participate in a Mayan cleansing ceremony preformed by the elders of the community.
Fun and Exploration at the Reserve
Aside from the guided nature tours, the reserve has ancient ruins to explore, a 90 hectare wide lagoon for canoing, freshwater cenotes for swimming, subterranean caves for rapelling and ziplines to swoop over the jungle canopy. To begin your Punta Laguna discovery, you will need a pair of comfortable walking shoes, bottled water, biodegradable insect repellent, pesos for a guide and a readiness for adventure!
Discover more places to get back to nature in the Riviera Maya.