sian kaan biosphere

How to visit the Sian Ka’an Biosphere Reserve in Mexico

While simply lounging on the beach is always a primary objective of mine while traveling in Mexico, there is so much to do here it would be a shame not to explore. And the Sian Ka’an Biosphere near Tulum is a fabulous day trip excursion in the Riviera Maya.

This UNESCO World Heritage site is best known as home to 23 archaeological sites, 336 unique species of birdlife including a large number of migratory birds, and some of the most pristine and untouched beaches on the Mexican Caribbean coast.

Surprisingly, there is very little information available online about this majestic protected area, and what is available online tends to be very outdated. Of course the benefit of this void of information is that you won’t find crowds or traffic in this pristine, 780,000 acre nature preserve.

Here is everything you need to know to make a day trip to the Sian Ka’an Biosphere Reserve.

Getting to the Sian Ka’an Biosphere

There are two entrances into Sian Ka’an. The main entrance is located at the end of the main Tulum beach strip, called Boca Paila. To get here, take the main Highway 307 from Cancun or Playa del Carmen heading south. You’ll turn left at the first intersection in Tulum, where you’ll see supermarket and gas station on your right. Head a few miles down that road until you come to a T intersection. Turn right at the T and drive down the beach road for about 15 minutes, passing all the hotels and restaurants located right on the beach.

You’ll eventually reach the main gate of the Sian Ka’an Reserve and pay a small fee to enter. From there it is a few miles to a parking lot, but it will take you about 30 minutes to traverse the bumpy road. We have made it with no problems in a small rental car.

sian kaan biosphere

There is a second entrance to the Sian Kaan Biosphere at a small town called Muyil, just past Tulum. To get here stay on the 307 all the way through Tulum town (don’t turn left to head towards the beach as per the directions above) and continue on the 307 for about 15 more minutes past the town. The entrance is not well marked so be sure to keep your eyes open.

You will want to use the Muyil entrance if you are specifically interested in viewing the Mayan ruins or taking a boat tour of the reserve.

What do to in the Sian Ka’an Biosphere Reserve

There are a few tour operators who run organized trips in the biosphere. I’ve heard great things about the quality of the guides and tours at this company  as well as this NGO.

But if you’re up for a little adventure, it is totally possible to explore the Sian Ka’an Biosphere on your own – even if you’re traveling with kids.

Be sure to pack plenty of food, snacks and water for your day exploring the reserve. There is one small restaurant in the reserve, but as you’re exploring you may find the most perfect stretch of beach and just want to hang out and relax for a while. So be sure bring in what you’ll need for your family for the day.

Boat Tour of Sian Ka’an Biosphere

This is the most common way to explore the reserve. Upon arrival at the Muyil entrance, park and walk down towards the water. Here you will find a number of boats waiting. These boats can take a maximum of 6 passengers at a time.

The price is between US $40 and $45 per person for the boat ride. While this may seem like a lot per person, I’m told this is the going rate and it’s not negotiable.

The boat tour will take about 2 hours. All of the boats have shade. If you’re lucky you will see dolphins and sea turtles during your boat tour!

Sian Kaan Biosphere

At the end of the boat tour, you’ll be given the opportunity to float down the fresh water channels, which is great fun!

This channel, they say, was originally carved out my ancient Mayans hundreds of years ago. The water is about 3 or 4 feet deep and is crystal clear, so you can see everything in the water below. You guide will meet you at the end of the float in the boat with your belongings.

The float lasts about 30 minutes.

Explore the Biosphere’s Mayan Ruins

There are over 23 Mayan ruins in the Sian Ka’an Biosphere reserve. At only 50 pesos (or about US $3.50) per person to visit the ruins, it’s well worth it if you have the time.

These ruins are much less crowded than the Tulum ruins further north, so you’ll likely have the entire compound to yourself! The largest pyramid ruin there is known as Castillo (Castle).

Find an Empty Beach and Just Relax

And here’s one of my favorite things to do in the Sian Kaan Biosphere. When my husband and I first discovered this nearly 10 years ago, we stumbled upon this by accident, and what a magnificent accident it was!

sian kaan biosphere

If you’re simply looking for a remote, pristine beach to relax on for the day, enter the reserve via the Boca Paila road mentioned above.

Want more? Check out my complete Tulum Family Travel Guide here!

Have you been to the Sian Ka’an Biosphere? What was your experience like?

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