In the Mayan language, Sian Ka'an means ‘where the sky is born’, or ‘gift from the sky’. The Sian Ka'an Biosphere Reserve is a 1.3 million acre nature reserve just south of Tulum in the Riviera Maya. This protected reserve is inhabited by countless plant species, bird and animals. Add 23 known archaeological sites to the list of attractions and you are bound to have an adventure.
Welcome to the nucleus of sustainable travel and eco-tourism in the Riviera Maya. Sian Ka’an is a UNESCO World Heritage site and protected biosphere in the southern portion of the Riviera Maya. This protected national treasure is enormous, approximately 1.3 million acres in total, spanning 120 kilometers from north to south and comprising almost one third of the Caribbean coast of Mexico. With a rich historical background, diverse ecosystem and large waterways, the Sian Ka’an Biosphere is treasured by locals and visitors alike.
The northernmost section of Sian Ka’an contains what is thought to be an ancient trade route through the lagoons and mangrove channels between the cities of Tulum and Muyil. Parts of what is now the Reserve were once areas of chicle production and trade through the middle of the twentieth century. The fishing industry is still one of the most important economic activities for the residents in the reserve. Common species include spiny lobster, tarpon, grouper, permit, and snapper. Tourism is one of the main sources of income for fishermen in Sian Ka’an, who are hired to run boat trips to the reefs and lagoon systems with local guides who share the history and environmental richness of this area.
The reserve contains three large core zones where human activity is limited to permission for scientific research only. These areas, known as the Zonas Nucleares of Muyil, Cayo Culebras, and Uaymil cover a total area of almost 700,000 acres. Low-impact human activities and sustainable development occur in the area of the reserve known as ‘the Buffer Zone’. This area is comprised of lagoons, the Caribbean coast and jungle. With the assistance of local guides, visitors can travel by boat or kayak and learn about the flora and fauna indigenous to the area and observe over 300 species of birds, both migratory and local. The human population is estimated at 2,000 inhabitants, the majority of which are located in the coastal regions, especially in the fishing villages of Punta Allen and Punta Herrero.
The main entrance is located on the Tulum beach road to the south of the Tulum hotel beach zone. There is a stone archway at the entrance to the reserve where a small fee is charged, and sign-in is required. There are few services in Sian Ka’an other than pre-booked guided tours and a few random small restaurants so come prepared wth water, snacks and lots of gas in your tank. Vacation properties located in Sian Ka’an run on alternate energy and use sustainable building practices. The area is known for its fly fishing, bird watching and other eco-focused activities.