Imagine a place of such natural beauty that it seems divine – a place where thousands of species of flora, fauna, and alluring wildlife coexist and create an atmosphere unlike any other on earth. Seem to good to be true? Guess again. Sian Ka’an Mexico fits this description and so much more. Designated as a Biosphere Reserve in 1986 and declared a World Heritage Site by UNESCO in 1987, Sian Ka’an is the largest protected area in the Mexican Caribbean and arguably the most astonishing site in the entire Yucatan Peninsula.
Located just two hours south of Cancun near the small town of Tulum, Sian Ka’an hosts thousands of visitors each year. Comprised of approximately 1.3 million acres (526,000 hectares) of intricately linked marine, coastal and terrestrial ecosystems, this impressive natural reserve is home to extremely diverse terrestrial, air-borne, and aquatic wildlife populations. Walk through its jungles in search of the infamous Mexican Jaguar, search it’s endless skies for exotic birds, or observe its coastal waters for the marine turtles that call it home – either way, you are sure to see nature at its best. For this reason alone, it’s a smart idea to consider Sian Ka’an when thinking about Riviera Maya things to do.
As if the natural beauty of this site wasn’t impressive enough, its history is equally fascinating. Sian Ka’an, which means “Origin of the Sky”, gains its name from the ancient Mayan civilization that once populated the region. While the Mayans mysteriously disappeared long ago, their intimidating structures have passed the test of time, making Sian Ka’an home to some of the world’s most impressive archeological sites – 22 to be exact. Now with numerous Sian Ka’an tours in place, site visits have become quite common, even to more remote locations. Two sites gaining attention, however, are those of Muyil and Chac Mool.
Muyil, which is the lesser known of the ancient Mayan sites, gets its name from none other than one of the two nearby lagoons, Muyil and Chunyaxche. Even the ancient Mayans were struck by this region’s natural beauty. Muyil is believed to have been developed around 300 B.C., well before other famous sites such as Chichén Itza, Uxmal, and nearby Tulum. It is thought to have remained inhabited until the arrival of Spanish explorers in the mid-16th century. It’s architecture and close proximity to nearby lagoons tells the story of an important city involved in trade. Although less popular, this site is a great one-day excursion for those looking to not only witness the region’s natural beauty, but also its rich history.
Another ancient archeological site within the reserve is that of Chac Mool. This small, remote (but very important) site is located deep inside the Sian Ka’an Biosphere Reserve. Getting its name from the site’s discoverer, Thomas Gann, Chac Mool is believed to have had three major responsibilities: spiritual rituals, civil duties, and regional security. As a Caribbean port city, this ancient site once acted as a link to three important trade routes: Central America, Yucatan, and the Usumacinta River. Today, visitors can explore the site and gain a deeper understanding of the ancient Mayan civilization that once inhabited much of Mexico’s lands.
With jaw-dropping natural beauty and fascinating history, it’s no wonder that this Mexican reserve has become one-of-a-kind. Offering a multitude of Riviera Maya attractions that range from bird watching to archeological site exploration, Sian Ka’an has something to offer all of its visitors (a part from its unimaginable beauty). It’s important to remember those who once inhabited the land as you take in its mesmerizing views. Whether via spiritual rituals at nearby cenotes (sinkholes) that were believed to be gateways to the underworld, or by strategically placing their cities next to large, free-flowing bodies of water for trade purposes, the ancient Maya were constantly connecting with their surroundings. It would be hard to experience Sian Ka’an in full without being exposed to the ancient Mayan culture and the truly remarkable structures they left behind.