Kayak in the Sian Ka'an Biosphere Reserve
Mexico › Tulum, Mexico
Added by Melanie Zaffran
Kayak your way through the wetlands of the Sian Ka'an Biosphere Reserve and discover the wealth of wildlife this UNESCO World Heritage site has to offer!
Located just south of Tulum, Mexico, along the eastern coast of the Yucatan peninsula, the Sian Ka'an Biosphere Reserve is considered a UNESCO World heritage site due to the exceptional diversity of fauna and flora it hosts. Spreading over 500 000 hectares of land and water, it is one of the largest protected area in Mexico, and a «must-explore» for nature and wildlife lovers.
A variety of companies offer tours through the biosphere, most of them by way of jeep or motor boats. But if you prefer (as we did) a more eco-friendly and less «beaten-path» type of exploration, you can go on a guided kayak tour through the reserve’s wetlands. We decided to go with Yucatan Outdoors, a (very) small company committed to sustainable tourism. They serve both an educational purpose, by introducing visitors to the fauna and flora of the biosphere in the least impactful way possible, as well as monitoring and reporting purpose, tracking with each exploration any changes or unusual fauna behaviors that could be a sign of endangerment to rare species.
Y.O. offers two options for the kayak tour – either the Sunrise tour or the Sunset tour. We went with Sunset.
Our group of 4 met with our two guides, Antonio and Frankie, at the entrance of the Reserve. They first took us to a secluded mangrove cenote for a very enjoyable swim/snorkeling session, then got us prepped for the 3-hour kayak excursion.
Although the water is only a couple of feet deep, the ground underneath is a very soft clay in which walking would be impossible without sinking through the ground. As we started paddling away from the dock, we first went through a network of water canals between what seemed like a maze of mangrove walls. Eventually the canal opened into a much larger body of water, extending as far as the horizon and punctuated in the distance by varying-size Islands covered in dense vegetation.
Antonio and Frankie guided us around the various mangrove islands. They gave us a wealth of information on the local wildlife – especially the incredible variety of birds (about 330 species recorded) that migrate through the reserve and establish their nests in the bigger mangrove islands. We got to admire pelicans, herons, ibis, and the elusive and beautiful Roseate Spoonbill, amongst many other species. For bird lovers, it is truly paradise !
Aside from the incredible natural beauty, one of the things that made the tour so remarkable was the quiet and serenity of the area. For 3 hours, the 6 of us were the only humans in this vast expanse of flat, calm water, spreading all around us as far as the eye could see. We were away from any sound of civilization, surrounded only by bird cries and the rumble of the ocean in the distance - the wetlands are only separated from the actual ocean by a long and narrow stretch of land which basically supports the dirt road providing the main access to and through the reserve.
We made our way back to the dock as the sun was coming down towards the horizon, and stopped in the middle of the water to admire the sunset, in probably one of the most serene and vast yet isolated settings that I’ve come to experience. It was truly an unforgettable moment.
The day ended with dinner. Antonio and his wife Jessica actually live on the reserve, in a sustainable "eco-house" made with material from the land – mainly wood, clay and palm fronds. We shared with them a delicious feast of cactus salad, chicken in a rich pepper sauce and of course tortillas.
I would like to note that this post is in no way sponsored by or meant to specifically promote Yucatan Outdoors, but they were an integral part of this adventure and I couldn’t talk about it without talking about them. As I mentioned at the beginning, a lot of other companies offer tours of the Reserve, with varying degrees of consideration for the impact their touristic business has on this protected site. If you’re going to explore the area, I would strongly recommend going with a guide such as Yucatan Outdoor, who provided us with an incredibly unique exploration experience, while helping to protect and maintain the area so that others after us can continue to explore and enjoy it in the same amazing conditions as we did.
Above all else, bring protection from the sun and hydration! There is no natural shade in the wetlands!
- Wide-brimmed hats
- Long-sleeved shirts and pants
- Gloves (which can also help have better grip on the paddles)
Please refrain from using chemical sunscreen before hoping into the cenote water, however, while kayaking it is advised to apply sunscreen on any skin area not otherwise covered. Our guide actually provided use with fresh clay to spread on our faces, the most ecological sunscreen there is!
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I too did this with Yucatan Outdoors. They are sensational. Antonio was our Guide and he couldn't have been more knowledgeable, hospitable, and helpful. The tranquility of getting lost in the reserve is something to behold. The vastness and quiet is hard to find on other adventures in the area. Dinner was incredible as well and after we went for a moon lit walk on the beach in search of sea turtles laying their eggs. It is a pretty special experience!
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