Not too far from the gorgeous beaches and exciting nightlife of Tulum is a little slice of heaven. It’s a spot not too many travellers know about or care to visit, but what they are missing out on is natural beauty at its finest.
South of Tulum you can find La Reserva de la Biosfera de Sian Ka’an, a delicate jungle ecosystem brimming with life!
In the ancient Maya language, Sian Ka’an means, “where the sky is born,” and this region was thought to have a magical aura. Just a couple of hours here and you will understand why!
At first, the reserve was not on our radar, but the stories Jordan and I heard from a kind expat named Moira changed our plans immediately. Just a chance encounter on our plane ride to Mexico led to something amazing!
Moira let us in on a little known DIY experience that is easy for travellers to undertake themselves without breaking the budget!
We spent a whole day exploring the haunting ruins of Muyil, exploring dense jungles, and floating amongst mangroves in the grand lagoons that call Sian Ka’an home.
Here is how you can get in on the secret as well.
Temples of Muyil
Start your day by visiting the Muyil archaeological site at the northern end of Sian Ka’an.
And do you hear that? That is the sound of the untamed jungle singing in concert, undisturbed by the chatter and camera-clicks of tourists. Pure bliss!
What makes Muyil so interesting is that the ruins are scattered throughout the jungle. I felt like Indiana Jones slicing through the jungle and trekking underneath the thick canopy only to see the forest open up to reveal the shadowy structures of Muyil.
The largest structure of all is saved for last close to the outer limits of the archaeological site. Most of the pyramids are still in pristine shape, and the grand temple’s stature over the jungle is awe-inspiring.
At the grand temple we encountered a guide named Ernesto who worked for the Sian Ka’an reserve. When you come to Muyil, you will surely find one of these guides hanging around!
With him were the only other travellers we saw in the reserve, Guilio and Francesca, and Ernesto offered to take us to the lagoons located deeper in the reserve. From there, we could take a boat ride out into the mangroves for a lazy river float that would trump any waterpark! Since we already had a good idea of what was to come (thanks again, Moira!) we went along with Ernesto.
Jungle Trek into Sian Ka’an
As we walked to the lagoon our guide showed us some of the endemic plants of the region and spoke to the reserves incredible biodiversity. Having this guided tour deeper into the jungle is what really unearthed the magic of Sian Ka’an.
We had only been walking for 5 minutes and our guide had already shown us dozens of flowers, trees, medicinal herbs, and palm ferns unique to the region. To our delight we were also made aware of the stunning variety of poisonous plants growing all around us. My personal favourite was the cheekily named “Tourist Tree”, a poisonous giant that drips rash-inducing sap on unsuspecting tourists who hide underneath them for shade.
I remember Ernesto emphasizing to us, “Take your time to experience the jungle. Breathe it in!” It seemed so simple, but it made a world of difference. Relax, and allow your body to tune-in to the jungle to bring on the sensory overload!
The steamy air carpets your body while the crisp scents of the rainforest break through to offer refreshing relief from the heat. Even the smallest flower petal our guide picked from the jungle floor packed a poignant citrus scent. Pausing to listen to the chorus of birds in the canopy singing their tune was maybe the most enjoyable experience. So simple, yet so amazing!
Not to mention the environment gradually changed to swampy wetlands the closer you get to the lagoons, giving life to an entirely new collection of flora and fauna. Just before you reach the water you’ll have the chance to climb up an observation tower to take in the amazing views of the reserve, the lagoons, and the oceans afar.
Our walk through the woods was inspiring. Yes, I felt inspired by the natural wonders of Sian Ka’an!
Float your Day Away!
After an hour exploring the bounties of Sian Ka’an we arrived at Laguna Chunyaxché. Here you will have a chance to haggle with the boat “captains” waiting for you (our guide referred to them as captains, which is a bit of a stretch seeing you are renting out a small dingy).
This part of the trip is the most expensive, and totally optional! But trust me. You won’t regret taking a boat tour to explore the lagoons.
Setting out into the open-waters is breathtaking. The water is so clear you can see the hundreds of fish swimming along the shallow sandy floor.
After buzzing around for a bit, we headed straight for the mangroves. I have to give our “captain” some credit as he navigated a boat as wide as the channels themselves with ease. The boat drops you off on a small dock, which is nearby an ancient Mayan trading post you can check out as well!
Now it’s time to take a dip!
We buckled up our life jackets and jumped into the channel. All we had to do was lie back and enjoy the gentle current as we floated amongst the green mangroves for a good 45 minutes. Seeing we were at the end of our trip through Mexico, this was the perfect excursion for two tired backpackers. I could have easily taken a nap!
This is definitely the closest you will get to being one with nature. For safety reasons, we must mention that this is a wild habitat, and we did spot a baby crocodile, with no lurking mother in sight, just before jumping in. A little unnerving, but the relaxing river float will surely wash away all of your worries. Just watch out for anything that might nibble your toes!
How to Get to Sian Ka’an and Back
Take one of the many shared taxi’s on Tulum’s main street heading south. Ask the driver to drop you off at “Muyil, por favor.” These guys leave once they are full.
For your return trip you will have to wait by the roadside directly outside of the Muyil site for another passing taxi going back to Tulum. This may take some time so be patient.
If you need some more swimming time, you can ask the driver to drop you off at Cenote Cristal and Cenote Escondido just outside of Tulum. One ticket gets you into both!
How Much Does it Cost
The whole day cost each of us about $680MXN pesos (about $38USD). That includes everything from the taxi trips, entrance to Muyil, tipping the guide, the boat trip… everything.
Your taxi trips should not cost anything more than $50MXN/person, especially for the trip back.
The cost of your day really depends on how much you can bargain for the boat trip. For Jordan and I, as well as the two travellers we met, we bargained for $500MXN/person. Organized tours will take you on the same excursion, but for WAY more. It is expensive, but a good portion of the cost goes to funding conservation efforts within the reserve and the experience itself is well worth your while.
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