Good luck in finding a quiet and natural spot on the Riviera Maya. It is a busy place with resorts and tourist attractions all the way from Cancun to Tulum. Well, I guess I was lucky to find Sian Ka’an reserve then! I finally felt a relief to leave the buildings behind for a pristine biosphere reserve. You’ll find here more info on how to explore the reserve and find Sian Ka’an tours.
Yes, I found Sian Ka’an Reserve by luck. I had a few hours to kill in Tulum. I did not like all these busy beaches and resorts everywhere.
I saw a green patch on the map and decided to drive towards it. I didn’t know it would lead me to Sian Ka’an Reserve, a UNESCO World Heritage Site!
It was easy to reach: I followed the road with all the resorts, all the way to the reserve gate. I paid a small fee – that supports the conservation of the park – and left the car a few kilometres further, at Bambi’s camping.
The first time I went there, I was by myself. I talked to Bambi to learn more about the park and the excursions he was offering. It sounded fantastic, but it was too expensive for a single person. So I enjoyed the beach, cleaned it a bit and decided to come back the week after with my friends.
We had a fabulous time exploring Sian Ka’an Reserve. We appreciated a lot the change of atmosphere. The resorts seemed so far away! We were in pure and endless nature. There is no other place like this one on the Riviera Maya.
Nature lovers will love Sian Ka’an for its natural beauty and the thousands of species of flora and fauna that are protected in this biosphere reserve. There are Mayan Ruins here and there to add a nice local touch. In Maya, Sian Ka’an means “Origin of the Sky”. The place deserves such a beautiful poetic name.
Only 80,000 people a year visit Sian Ka’an Reserve. Will you be one of them? I think you should!
How to Visit Sian Ka’an Reserve?
Sian Ka’an Tours
Sian Ka’an reserve covers a big area. It is the largest coastal protected area in Mexico. You can book a tour from Tulum, or drive and directly deal with the guides/boat drivers in the park. As we had a car and I had met Bambi before, it was easier for us to go directly with him. If you are on a budget, you can choose just to enjoy the beach and have a look at the stunning shades of the lagoon from the pontoon.
As you leave Tulum behind you, Bambi’s camping is on the left (fee), and the lagoon/pontoon is on the right just after the campsite. But honestly, you would only have a sneak peek of the beauty of Sian Ka’an.
It is when you get on the water for a tour that Sian Ka’an Reserve becomes a lot more interesting.
Full-day tours leaving from Tulum takes you through the jungle in a Jeep convoy or by boat all the way to Punta Allen. There, you can watch wildlife and snorkel on the reef. In Punta Allen, you will experience the ocean side of Sian Ka’an. I did not go there so I won’t write more about it.
I also saw a full-day kayak tour around Sian Ka’an which could have been a good option to get closer to nature and spot more wildlife. However, the boat tour I found with Bambi lasted half a day, which perfectly fit our timetables. If you want to do the tour I did, go and meet Bambi at the campground in Sian Ka’an. The tour was leaving from the pontoon opposite to his campsite which was very easy and quick to access from Tulum.
Sian Ka’an Tours can be booked once you are in the Riviera Maya. But -unless you’re in the area for a long time, it’s recommended to book ahead to avoid any disappointment or miscommunication issues. If you wish to book your Sian Ka’an tour online before starting your trip, have a look at this full-day tour* and this half-day tour* from Cancun, Playa del Carmen or Tulum. The tour I did with Bambi is similar to the Visit Sian Ka’an tours, but you cannot directly book online with them.
DIY Sian Ka’an Tour
If you do not plan to join a tour to visit Sian Ka’an, then driving to Punta Allen may not be the best option for you. I have read a few reviews on the road conditions to reach it. They described it as a long and not very enjoyable drive: three to four hours for 35 miles! Most of the reviews I read would not recommend going that far if it is not on a tour. The better option would be to visit from Muyil or, as we did, by catching a boat just near Tulum’s entrance. This part of the park attracted me more with the wetlands, the mangrove forest, and the canals. I was happy to see something different from the ocean side.
We did not put Muyil ruins on our itinerary as we already visited several Mayan ruins (Coba, Chichen Itza and Tulum). But when I read on Cassie’s guide of the Mexican Ruins that it’s a well-kept secret and a magical place, I think that maybe we should have included it in the itinerary.
We would first explore the lagoon by boat to search for wildlife. Then, we had two options for our Sian Ka’an tour: floating down the Mayan Canal amongst the mangrove or snorkelling. As we already had a lot of snorkelling (in the cenotes) and diving plans for this trip, we picked the Mayan Canal for its originality and the opportunity to relax.
Do you like snorkeling? You’ll be interested in this article about the best snorkeling in Tulum!
What we did during our Sian Ka’an Tour
During the boat tour on the Sian Ka’an lagoon, we spent most of our time watching the birds. We saw pink spatulas, pelicans, cormorants, eagles, herons, aigrets, white ibis… A paradise for bird lovers.
We were lucky also to see manatees and even a crocodile during our Sian Ka’an Tour!
Although we only saw their noses going out of the water, I was very excited to see manatees. One even made a special effort to show us quickly his body and tail. They are fascinating animals. They also live in Australia, but they are hard to spot.
Bambi knows a lot about the species in the reserve. I enjoyed his company. He even did a bilingual tour so we could improve our Spanish a bit!
The lagoon had incredible shades of blue. These variations of blue may be my highlight of the trip. In June and July, Bambi told us the scenery is even better with the orchid flowers going out of the mangrove.
We all loved the boat trip in the mangrove labyrinth to get to the Mayan canal. Bambi was a fantastic captain managing to speed up and take narrow turns to add some sensations and great fun to this beautiful trip.
We left our boat near a boardwalk that took us through the mangrove to reach another pontoon. There, we quickly visited a Mayan temple. In this remote location, it was a simple building, not as complex as the other ruins we saw during the trip. I loved the authenticity. We could get close and even go inside. Bambi had many stories to tell about Mayan history.
Our floating adventure started at the pontoon. We sat on our life jacket and… that’s it. Then, you just let the current take you back to the boat, slowly, as you enjoy the views on the beautiful mangrove and try to spot some wildlife. Sometimes, people spot crocodiles during their cruise. I guess to be that “lucky”, you need to go there early in the day as crocodiles are active at night. We spotted some birds and appreciated the calm and the refreshing feeling.
Note that you’ll have to leave your bag in the boat when you float down the river during your Sian Ka’an tour. Make sure you select the belongings you’ll travel with to Sia Ka’an so you’re not stressed about leaving them alone for a few minutes.
On the way back, we went to Boca Paila, where the lagoon and the ocean meet. Again, the colours were amazing.
Sian Ka’an Tours are not cheap. The Jeep or kayak tours I have found go from USD$130 to USD$185. I read they would charge $600 pesos per person at Muyil boat dock for a couple of hours on the ship. We paid $5,500 pesos for five people for our half-day tour with Bambi.
But this money is very well spent. Not only does it give you access to a stunning place, but it also helps its conservation and locals.
Indeed, Sian Ka’an is protected from mass tourism to benefit the ecosystem and the local economy.
We always had in mind to be a self-sustaining local tourism project, self-promoting our tours without the dependence of the market power of big tour agencies. Although this was surely the more difficult way to go as competition is big, but in the end this is our commitment towards preserving Sian Ka’an! When you buy our tour, you can be sure that your money helps not only preserving the rich ecosystems but also the local economy of Sian Ka’an.
Visit Sian Ka’an – Commitment
Planning a trip to Tulum? Check out my article on the best accommodation in Tulum and Playa del Carmen.
Have you visited Sian Ka’an Reserve? Did you join a tour? Share your experience in the comments below!
Where is Sian Ka’an Reserve?
Sian Ka’an Reserve is in Tulum, on the Mexican Riviera Maya, approximately 2 hours south of Cancun. We spent a few days in Tulum when we visited the Yucatan Peninsula for two weeks.
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This Post Has 3 Comments
Hi Eloise loving your Yucatán articles! I started with the Cenote dive article before I arrived at Siân Ka’an. The 1/2 day trip with Bambi looks amazing. What time of day does the tour leave the pontoon? And is the boat ride suitable to an easy going two year old who loves the water and birds?
Hi, Mandy! Thank you for your kind words. It’s always a pleasure to read that the articles are helpful.
I cannot remember at what time we left, it was a little while ago. I know it was in the morning, maybe somewhere around 9 am but that’s a rough guess.
For your question regarding your kid, first let me tell you that I’m not a parent. I know things sometimes look easier than they actually are for parents. But from my point of view, the boat ride shouldn’t be a problem for a kid who loves being outside and who behaves.
The front of the boat was a bit bumpy when the boat was going faster, but we were very comfortable at the back and never had to hold tight. The lagoon and the river are calm and flat. From my point of view, the biggest danger is the sun! But you’ll need to double check with the organiser if they have an age limit as they may not have life jackets for small kids.
Have fun in Tulum! 😀
Thanks so much Eloise!! We’ll keep that in mind 🙂