Dec 262013

By Theresa Russell

Heading to the Sian Ka'an Channel

Heading to the Sian Ka’an Channel

Comprised of 1.3 million acres in the Yucatan Peninsula south of Tulum, the Sian Ka’an Biosphere Reserve, a UNESCO World Heritage Site, snares adventure-seekers into its vast repository of water, land, nature and culture. The elusive jaguar inhabits Sian Ka’an, but the chances of spotting this Maya icon are slim; birdwatchers will have a far easier task adding a new species to their life lists.

Situated on the Caribbean, Sian Ka’an requires little imagination to understand how appropriate its Mayan name (meaning where the sky is born) befits this relatively unknown gem. Due to the immensity of the area – it extends approximately 120 km along the Caribbean coast – and its limited access, when I first added Sian Ka’an to my bucket list many years ago, I had limited options for exploration.  Upon my return, it was refreshing to find several organized tours operating in the area. I visited twice: the first time kayaking on the big lagoon just a short distance beyond the archway that leads to Sian Ka’an from the coastal road outside of Tulum, and the second time from Muyil.

Kayaking required much effort as we paddled against the wind; only the thought of seeing the roseate spoonbill and other birds kept me motivated. Small islands replete with birds perched in the trees dotted the lagoon and required further examination; a good excuse for a break from the arduous paddling across the water.

Roseate Spoonbills add a splash of color.

Roseate Spoonbills add a splash of color.

Blurred blasts of pink shot into the air as the roseate spoonbills left to forage for food, abundant in the reserve. Off in the distance, the blue water flashed with pixelated pink. Paddling hard, we finally reached a group of flamingos, their appearance preempted any muscle fatigue. Like the multitude of marine birds, they feast in the lagoon.

Our search for the flamingos took us even farther from our starting point at the CESIAK headquarters. The wind strengthened and we stroked hard to battle the effects. Being an open area subject to the weather, the lagoon does not make for a gentle paddle and demands a level of physical fitness without which could lead to a frustrating experience.




Wanting to experience more of Sian Ka’an, I started my exploration the next time that I was in the Yucatan, at the archaeological site of Muyil, just south of Tulum on the road to Belize. Although I had previously visited the archaeological site, I had never done so with a guide. More surprisingly, I had never ventured far on the jungle trail that unbeknownst to me, led to the Caribbean Sea.

Jumping off the trail, I scurried up a rickety lookout tower, where upon reaching the top, I scanned the horizon and absorbed the intense colors of the sea beyond. From my
vantage point, I could see exactly where the sky was born. Reminiscent of the blue and green crayons in the box, the vibrant colors gave a surreal feel to the surroundings.
Our panga boat, its nose high in the air, zipped across the lagoon until it slowed to navigate a narrow passageway, branches hanging low overhead. Another lagoon meant full-throttle ahead with the wind in our hair and the intense sun quickly evaporating the splashes on our skin. We eventually reached another canal where we docked and hiked a very short distance to a small ruined temple.

Floating amongst the mangroves

Floating amongst the mangroves

Returning to the boat, we grabbed life jackets, jumped in the water and adjusted our jackets wearing them like diapers then floated upright and effortlessly in the clear waters, through a natural canal lined by mangroves, the tree canopy shading us from the brilliant sun. As the swift current transported me, I pondered life here millenniums ago while simultaneously scanning the thick mangroves for signs of wildlife and interesting flora.


Adventure means more than physical activity. After our float trip and return to the mainland, we sampled traditional dishes prepared by the locals – tamales, salbutes, empanadas, delicious fresh fruit and horchata, a traditional rice-based drink. One of the local women described the ingredients of the dishes and her role in the tour that I experienced today. Enjoying traditional foods ranks high on my list and Mexican food is one of my favorites.
Nothing beats homemade traditional food.

Nothing beats homemade traditional food.

Community Tours Sian Ka’an provides a sustainable tour experience uses local Maya residents, the protectors of this land, as guides and resources for this project. I couldn’t imagine a more perfect adventure into the Sian Ka’an Biosphere Reserve. I hope to return to discover more of this special off-the-beaten-path paradise just a short jaunt, yet eons away, from the hustle and bustle of Cancun and The Riviera Maya.

Theresa Russell

About Theresa Russell

Claiming her lust for travel began on her first journey through the birth canal, Theresa is genetically programmed to travel and to have fun doing it. She especially enjoys adventure and experiential travel and always finds something at a destination to write home about.

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