Mayan mythology has great ties to Mother Nature. The botanical gardens of “Yaax Che”, take their name from an old Mayan legend about the Cieba tree. This is possibly the same legend that served as the inspiration for the Tree of Souls in James Cameron’s Award-winning movie Avatar. This garden was established in 1982 and is one of the largest Botanical Gardens in Mexico. If you are looking to increase your knowledge about local plants or the Maya, this is the place.
The legend has it that the giant Ceiba tree called “Yaax Che” grows right from the center of the world, with its roots reaching into the underworld and its branches holding up the sky. The Maya believe that the Ceiba tree provides a pathway for souls to reach the heavens by joining the three cosmic levels of the Mayan Universe. Jardin Botanico Yaax Che is a magical place to visit, explore and experience with its unique combination of Maya plants with typical Maya architecture.
With 150-acres of lush jungle and mangrove trees, this is the largest botanical garden both on the coast of Quintana Roo and within Mexico. In addition to the vast selection of plants, Yaax Che Botanical Gardens is home to over 220 rare animal species. This combination makes your trip to Yaax Che an educational visit that shares both Mayan ‘treasures’ and adventures. When the botanical gardens opened its doors to the public three decades ago, Jardín Botánico “Yaax Che” was dedicated to Dr. Alfredo Barrera Marín – a scientist who devoted most of his life to the study and preservation of Mayan traditions and the Yucatan’s natural environment.
Besides hiking the groomed jungle trails and taking pictures of numerous exotic trees, plants and flowers (whose names can be read in English, Spanish and Latin), stay on the lookout for colorful birds, sunning iguanas and playful spider monkeys. Walk a 130-foot suspension bridge, and if you feel up to the challenge, climb a scenic lookout tower. If you make the climb, your reward is the vast panoramic view expanding from the mangrove forest to the sparkling sea and out over the jungle!
As in most natural parks in Riviera Maya and Quintana Roo, Yaax Che botanical gardens holds the traces of the ancient Mayan civilization. Although small, the “El Altar” Mayan ruins date back to 1400 D.C. To give you a better feel of what local life was like before tourism came to the coast, the Jardín Botánico hosts a traditional Maya home and a re-created chiclero camp. What is a chiclero camp? It’s the temporary camps set up throughout the Yucatan where the sap of the zapote or “chicle” tree was boiled down and cast into blocks for transport out of the jungle. It’s where the first chewing gum production took its origins from. The gum derived from the chicle tree served as a base for the then popular “Chiclets” chewing gum brand.
The park is open daily, Monday through Saturday from 9 am to 5 pm (last entry is at 4 pm), so you can easily incorporate a visit to Yaax Che into your vacation ‘agenda’! Remember to wear comfortable shoes, bring sunscreen, water and insect repellent. You’re out in the jungle after all! The Botanical Gardens are located near Puerto Morelos just south of Cancun.