Chronicle of a day tour in the Sian Ka´an Biosphere Reserve
Updated: Jun 20
Sian Kaan Adventure a unique way to visit Sian Kaan reserve.
Our adventure began on a hot summer day, the majestic blue sky above us, the sun high at the center of the sky telling us it would be one of those perfect days. We’d heard stories about the place we were about to visit, but nothing really prepared us for what we were about to experience, Sian Ka´an truly exceeded our expectations.
We entered the reserve from its coastal access, south from all the small hotels along the Tulum coast. There were 12 of us in a van listening to our guide´s introduction, information and recommendations about the place we were about to discover. We drove surrounded by coastal vegetation on a strip of land with the Caribbean Sea on one side and lagoons with mangroves on the other side. This we could only see on the map our guide showed to us because from our window all we could see was thick jungle. Our guides explained that 70% of the reserve´s surface is covered by water, you must take a tour to see Sian Ka´an. So after 30 minutes of a bumpy ride we were happy to see and meet our boat captains. The group got divided into two, each boat with 6 people, a Mexico Kan Tours guide plus a captain.
In our boat we had Aida as our guide, she is a speleologist and someone who deeply cares for Sian Ka´an. Mario was our captain, born in the area and raised in Sian Ka´an, he knew the area like the palm of his hand and his connection with the place gave him a sixth sense for where to find all the animals we saw.
We navigated through the wetlands, an incredible landscape of mangroves in the water like small islands that appeared as if they were reflecting the clumps of clouds above us, we were in heaven. Aida wanted to explain to us the hydrology of the Yucatan by taking us to a couple of fresh water springs in the lagoon.
The color of the water in the lagoon is so clear we could see from our boat something that looked like a hole at the bottom of the lagoon where fresh rain water was coming out. Rain water filters through the limestone inland and travels in underground rivers towards the sea, like most rivers do, but in the Yucatan the rivers are underground, this was quite a sight and very interesting to understand why Sian Ka´an a nature reserve on the coast is mostly water.
This is also where one of the most amazing things happened… we got to see a couple of manatees enjoying the cooler water of this area. These aquatic mammals also known as ¨sea cows¨ due to their mostly vegetarian diet have as their closest relative the elephant!
As we got closer to Punta Allen (the largest village in the Sian Ka´an biosphere reserve), we saw a mangrove island with some birds like frigates, cormorants, a few pelicans, a heron and an egret. Our captain Mario told us that in the migration season between November until March, this same island is full of many different species of birds such as Egrets, Herons, Spoonbills, Ibis and many more that come as breeding species from the north. Not a bad place to escape the winter months I thought.
We continued along and we were now at a point where the lagoon we had been on connects with the Caribbean Sea, at a bay called Ascension Bay. This area was documented by the Spanish long ago as they explored the coast of the Yucatan, but also it is a bay that has been in use by sailors, mainly as a shelter and a good place to stop; even pirates navigated these coasts and most likely used this same bay to take shelter from storms, or to fish, rest and/or explore the firm land. This bay offers and incredible amount of nutrients to many species and it is a popular place for animals such as sea turtles, dolphins, but also birds like the beautiful Osprey (a bird of prey that feeds mostly on fish).
It was in this same bay where we got to see a couple of bottlenose dolphins, I could not believe it! The first thought that came to me was that these dolphins were where they belonged and not in swimming pools as you see them ¨advertised¨ in many places and unfortunately the Riviera Maya is no exception. Aida told us some incredible facts about the ecology and behavior of bottlenose dolphins as well as the regulations everyone in Sian Ka´an must follow when observing these magnificent creatures to ensure their wellbeing. It was time to leave them and head for the second largest coral reef in the world, the Mesoamerican Reef.
We jumped into the water and the six of us followed Aida as she pointed with her finger towards everything she wanted us to see, different shapes and colors of coral, schools of fish, a ray and the most beautiful sea turtle, which later she explained was a Hawksbill sea turtle. I swear this turtle was sparkling beautiful, a sight I will never forget.
After swimming, we all got a snack since there was one more place to visit before lunch. We stopped briefly close to Punta Allen in front of its lighthouse before reaching the next spot. The water was so clear that we could see sting rays and sea stars. Aida told us about the history of Punta Allen, the importance of the lobster catch industry to the local people and how that industry fits into the MAB (Man and Biosphere) UNESCO´s objectives.
Finally, for the last part of the tour (before lunch in the town of Punta Allen), we were taken to a sandbank (a shallow part of the sea) where I felt like being inside a postcard! It was the perfect spot to relax, take pictures and enjoy, but also to reflect upon what I had just experienced.
After all the mesmerizing landscapes and the creatures that we had the chance to admire, this experience with Mexico Kan Tours made me feel that responsible tourism is possible, and that to “Travel with intention”, as the slogan of the company reads, is about being a conscious traveler, to let this type of exposure to the natural world and these type of experiences help us realize the impact, positive or negative we each can have when traveling, but also at home in our everyday lives. The right to travel comes also with great responsibility, by choosing correctly we can contribute to the conservation of this astonishing but fragile ecosystems and their inhabitants.