The Sian Ka’an Biosphere Reserve is a unique and diverse natural park in the Yucatan peninsula just south of Tulum. With a multitude of flora and fauna, lush green jungle, spectacular lagoons, Mayan ruins and canals, freshwater marshes, coral reefs, and much much more, there’s so much to explore in this amazing natural reserve.
Sian Ka’an literally translates to “Gate of Heaven”, or “Where Heaven Begins” in the Maya language. The site became a Unesco World Heritage in 1987 and is a popular attraction for tourists in and around Tulum and only around a 30-minute drive, however, the actual reserve is around 1.3 million acres, so it could be an all-day trip depending on how deep you go.
Visiting this massive, natural wonder is one of the best things to do in Tulum, with many attractions within the reserve such as the Muyil ruins, Boca Paila, Punta Allen, and many fantastic lagoons and beaches.
An interesting fact about this reserve is that the reef it’s connected to (Mesoamerican Barrier Reef) is the second largest in the world, stretching from Mexico, Guatemala, Belize, and Honduras over 1,126 km!
How to get to Sian Ka’an Biosphere Reserve
The Sian Ka’an Biosphere Reserve is massive, at around 5,280 km2 it can be quite daunting to know where to go or how to start your journey here. The first thing you should know is there are two entrances to the reserve. One is along the coast and the other is along highway 307.
Entrance Fees and Regulations
To enter the Sian Ka’an Biosphere Reserve, visitors are required to pay an entrance fee, which goes towards the conservation of the area. As of 2023, the fee iss 50 Mexican pesos (around 2.50 USD) per person. Keep in mind that the reserve’s ecosystems are fragile, and you must follow all regulations, such as not littering, not feeding or disturbing wildlife, and staying on designated paths.
Punta Allen Entrance
If you’re a beach lover and looking for more of an adventure, then this is probably the route you want to choose, even though it is a little more difficult. The problem with reaching Punta Allen is the road on the way, it’s a bit rough. If you’re thinking of renting a car and making the trek yourself – think again. You will need at least 4-wheel drive and experience driving in rough terrain.
If you do actually decide to do this, then no problem – just rent a large SUV and prepare yourself. Heading south from Tulum, pass by all of the resorts and beachfront hotels and at the end, you’ll see a Mayan-style arch, go through this and you’ll see the entrance to Sian Ka’an.
Another option to get to this part of the Sian Ka’an Biosphere Reserve is with public transport, or ‘colectivos’ that only depart from Tulum once per day. However, these colectivos don’t normally reach Punta Allen until sundown, so you’ll definitely be staying the night there. There are two options, colectivo or colecitvo + boat.
For the colectivo + boat option, you’ll want to take the minivan from the iTour Mexico agency where the van will take you to the coast and onto a boat. You will reach Punta Allen by nightfall, so stay at least 1-2 days at this beautiful spot to make the most of it. The cost of this journey is around 400 Mexican pesos.
If boats aren’t running, you can find the other colectivos on the corner of Centauro Norte and Avenida Tulum that leave every day at 2:00 pm and take around 4 hours to reach Punta Allen. The departure van from Punta Allen to Tulum leaves every day at 5:00 pm.
Finally, the best way to arrive at this elusive point is with a tour which are typically all-day, all-inclusive expeditions from Tulum. While these tours are typically expensive, you will get a chance to see dolphins, sea turtles, and more while out on a boat in the Caribbean, as well as enjoying hidden beaches and trekking through the remote jungle. If that’s not in your budget then we recommend the other access point: Muyil.
The easiest and most popular way to get to the Sian Ka’an Biosphere Reserve is through the ruins of Muyil entrance. If you’re more into the jungle, lagoons, wetlands, flora, fauna, and Mayan ruins; then this is probably the route you want to take. It’s also way more accessible and logistically possible.
In our opinion, the best way to travel here is by renting your own vehicle. Just simply drive south on highway 307 from Tulum for about 20 minutes and keep an eye out for the Muyil ruins sign, where you’ll turn left.
If you want to take a colectivo, you can find them in the Tulum center, just take the one going to Felipe Carrillo and they will drop you off right in front of the entrance, but the ride can take up to an hour apparently. You can also take a bus from ADO, just look for the location Chunyaxché and they will pass by and drop you off at Muyil as well, this is faster than the colectivos.
If you haven’t already, we’d recommend checking out the Muyil ruins while there. If you’ve already done this, you can skip this part and head directly for the boats to explore the lagoons. Head past the Muyil ruins on highway 307, just before the 205-mile marker on the left side of the highway and you’ll see a dirt road. Walk down here and you’ll see a parking lot and access to the boats.
Now that you know how to get to the Sian Ka’an Biosphere Reserve, let’s take a look at what to do in this remarkable place.
What to do in the Sian Ka’an Biosphere Reserve
The top thing to do in this natural wonder is to explore and enjoy the many beaches lining its coast and of course, snorkel along one of the longest coral reefs in the world. The reef n Sian Ka’an Biosphere Reserve is around 120 kilometers long, so that gives you many untouched places to see and explore.
While snorkeling you’ll be sure to see many species of fish, sea turtles, manta rays, and yes – even sharks. While you won’t see any dolphins here, you can see them in the lagoons of Sian Ka’an. Be sure to follow responsible snorkeling practices, such as not touching the coral or disturbing the marine animals.
Mangrove Boat Tour
One of the best ways to experience Sian Ka’an’s unique ecosystems is by taking a boat tour through the mangroves. We highly recommend this Boat Trip Adventure tour here.
Glide through the narrow channels, surrounded by dense vegetation, and watch for the numerous bird species that call this habitat home. Your knowledgeable guide will point out various plants and animals, and you may even spot a crocodile or two.
With over 350 bird species recorded in the reserve, Sian Ka’an is a birdwatcher’s paradise. Join a guided birdwatching tour or venture out on your own to spot some of the region’s most iconic species, such as the roseate spoonbill, the Yucatan jay, and the ocellated turkey. Bring binoculars and a field guide to help you identify the birds you encounter.
Floating in the Ancient Mayan Canals
A truly unique experience in Sian Ka’an is floating down the ancient Mayan canals, which were once used for trade and transportation. The crystal-clear water is fed by underground rivers and has a gentle current that will carry you through the canals as you relax and take in the serene surroundings.
There is also the ‘river float’ on the main lagoon, found after the path from Muyil is also a pleasantly relaxing thing to do. The journey is around 3 hours in total but you’ll see some amazing things, including freshwater dolphins!
If you make it to Punta Allen, there aren’t a whole lot of things to do, so mostly you’ll just be relaxing and enjoying the beaches and nature. There are only 4 restaurants here and no electricity from 2-7 pm and 2-7 am every day. But you’ll be enjoying the outdoors so hopefully, this isn’t an issue for you.
In Summary, visiting the Sian Ka’an Biosphere Reserve should definitely be on everyone’s to-do list while visiting Tulum, if you’re in the area for more than a week that is. Give yourself at least 2-3 days to explore this magnificent landscape and you won’t be disappointed.
By following responsible tourism practices and supporting local businesses, you can help ensure that this unique destination remains protected and preserved for years to come. Whether you’re floating down ancient Mayan canals, snorkeling among vibrant coral reefs, or simply soaking up the sun on a pristine beach, your visit to Sian Ka’an will undoubtedly be an unforgettable adventure.