Sian Ka’an is a natural reserve located in the state of Quintana Roo in Mexico. This popular tourist state is home to cities like Tulum, Playa Del Carmen, and Cancun. The Sian Ka’an biosphere covers 10% of the total area of the state, which is simply massive. Sian Ka’an is part of the municipalities of Tulum and Felipe Carrillo Puerto.
- Two distinct areas in Sian Ka’an: Muyil & Punta Allen
- How to get to Sian Ka’an on the Punta Allen side?
- How to get to Sian Ka’an on the Muyil side ?
- My thoughts on tours to Punta Allen & Muyil
- How to a boat at Sian Ka’an and what is the cost ?
- Other costs for visiting Sian Ka’an
- What to bring to visit Sian Ka’an?
- Wildlife in Sian Ka’an
- When to visit Sian Ka’an?
- Where to land to visit Sian Ka’an?
- Where to eat in Sian Ka’an?
- Where to stay in Sian Ka’an?
- Read more about Sian Ka’an
“How to get to Sian Ka’an” is a question many travelers ask. It can sometimes be hard to find updated information on this topic as Sian Ka’an is off the beaten path. Whether you choose to take a Sian Ka’an Tour or decide to go there on your own, we will try to shed some light on this in this article!
Two distinct areas in Sian Ka’an: Muyil & Punta Allen
Before diving in, it’s crucial to understand the geographical division of Sian Ka’an. There are two main areas accessible to tourists: Muyil and Punta Allen.
This differentiation is vital because, given the distances and the distinct operational zones of boat cooperatives, visiting both in a single day is unfeasible. Specifically, a boat cooperative from the Muyil region cannot venture to Punta Allen and the other way around. Beyond these designated zones, the sheer distance between these two sites makes it challenging to cover both in a day’s trip.
As you can see on the map below, the two areas have completely different access points from Tulum. To get to Muyil, you’ll need to head southwest on the road leading to Bacalar. As for Punta Allen, you’ll need to head south on the road that leads to the hotel zone of Tulum (the Tulum-Boca Paila road).
Visiting Sian Ka’an from the Punta Allen side 🐬🐢🐊
Among the two regions, Punta Allen is the more popular choice due to its vibrant attractions and abundant wildlife.
In Punta Allen, visitors can witness dolphins, turtles, crocodiles, and a plethora of bird species. Owing to its seaside location, it’s also the hub for snorkeling adventures.
A boat tour is essential when exploring Punta Allen. Simply visiting Punta Allen without embarking on a boat expedition doesn’t offer the full experience. The region’s marine biodiversity, best viewed from boats or through snorkeling, is its primary allure.
Visiting Sian Ka’an from the Muyil side 🌿🤠
Muyil presents a unique view of the Sian Ka’an biosphere. Unlike the sea-facing areas, Muyil is characterized by its three lagoons and expansive mangroves. A journey through Muyil lets you delve into the ruins that share its name, wander through the nearby lagoons and mangrove forests, and the experience peaks with the unforgettable float through the age-old Mayan canals.
In terms of wildlife, in Muyil, you’ll primarily encounter migratory birds and occasionally monkeys. This area doesn’t boast as diverse a fauna as Punta Allen, mainly due to its lack of direct access to the sea.
Although both Muyil and Punta Allen are part of the Sian Ka’an reserve, agencies, blogs, and tourist guides typically use the name “Sian Ka’an” to refer to the Punta Allen area and “Muyil” to denote the Muyil area.
How to get to Sian Ka’an on the Punta Allen side?
The Punta Allen area is known for its challenging and rugged access due to the road condition. Indeed, a 42-kilometer dirt track connects Tulum to the village of Punta Allen. The state of this track varies depending on the season, but it typically offers a generous display of potholes throughout the year. It’s not the end of the world, but it’s still something to consider.
With a guided tour
The easiest way to get to Sian Ka’an! There are three potential boarding spots for the boat, spread out across the 42-kilometer strip of land, giving you options to somewhat shorten your journey on this track. Keep in mind that the Sian Ka’an reserve’s entrance is a continuation of Tulum’s hotel zone. It’s situated roughly 35 minutes from the city center and a mere few minutes away from the hotel zone’s accommodations. The unpaved road starts right as you enter the nature reserve.
- Visitor Center (Deluxe Tours): The visitor center of the Sian Ka’an biosphere is located about 30 minutes drive from the entrance of the reserve. This is a departure dock for a few boats with a parking area and a small information center about the biosphere, the animals that inhabit it, and the rules to follow.
- Paso Lagartos (Classic Tours): Paso Lagartos is an intermediate spot located about 1h30 drive from the entrance of the reserve. Paso Lagartos is actually a small beach located in the middle of nowhere and not signposted. It’s a boat departure point because this is where the Laguna Catoche begins.
- Punta Allen (Classic Tours) : Punta Allen is the village within the Sian Ka’an biosphere, located about 2h30 drive from the entrance of the reserve. Here, you’ll find a few restaurants and grocery stores. This is also where all the boat captains reside and where all the cooperatives are based. If you’re going to Sian Ka’an on your own, without a guided tour, this is where you’ll need to board the boat.
Sian Ka’an Boat Tour with Pixan Ka’an
Discover the wild beauty of Sian Ka’an by boat! Sail through turquoise lagoons, spot dolphins and turtles, and explore the mysteries of this preserved natural reserve. An unforgettable adventure in Mexico!
🤔 Deluxe or Classic Tours ?
Tours departing from the visitor center are usually termed “Deluxe,” while those leaving from Paso Lagartos or the village are called “classic” or may not have any specific label at all.
All the activities take place off Punta Allen, so you will do the same activities whether you board the boat at the visitor center, Paso Lagartos, or directly in the Punta Allen village. The only difference is the travel time on the dirt track before boarding the boat.
The boat tour will always be the same whether you start from one point or another. The tour allows for the following activities:
- 🐬 Dolphin Watching: Dolphins are typically found in the lagoon area, not far from the junction with the sea. It’s rare not to spot them.
- 🐦 Bird Island Tour: The bird island from San Juan to Sian Ka’an is known for hosting various bird species such as frigates, herons, and pelicans.
- 🐢 Sea Turtle Observation: The turtles in Sian Ka’an can be seen near the reef in the sea area.
- 🤿 Snorkeling: The boat ride includes a stop at the reef for snorkeling. However, please note that this stop depends on the day’s weather conditions. It’s advisable to consider this activity as a “bonus” as it might be canceled if the sea is rough or if the currents are too strong.
- 🏊 Natural Pools: Warm, crystal-clear waters that come up to your waist, that’s what the famous natural pools of Punta Allen offer.
This boat tour typically lasts between 2h30 to 3h00 and is conducted on a small boat from a cooperative (known as “lanchas”) with a capacity of 6 to 12 people.
The DELUXE tours are more comfortable because taking the boat at the start of the reserve reduces the van travel time; however, they are also more expensive.
At Pixan Riviera, there was a time when we offered the DELUXE option to our visitors in addition to the CLASSIC option. However, we discontinued the DELUXE for three reasons:
- ❌ Boat Availability: It’s essential to understand that in Sian Ka’an, there are about ten boat cooperatives, also called “fishing cooperatives”, because fishing is their primary activity. Still, they also offer tourist tours. Only these cooperatives are authorized to navigate within the natural reserve. No excursion agency owns its own boats; all have to collaborate with the fishing cooperatives. These cooperatives are distributed in different territories, and only two of them are allowed to start from the visitor center. This significantly limits the availability of boats.
- ❌ Double schedules and “fast” Tours: Due to the limited number of boats and for profitability reasons, the cooperatives operating the “Deluxe” force their captains to double up on schedules, meaning they do two tours a day instead of just one. Captains, under the pressure of timing, spend the minimum amount of time on each activity. This gives visitors the impression of a rushed tour.
- ❌ Prices: Due to the monopoly they have, the rates of these two cooperatives have skyrocketed, forcing agencies to offer Deluxe tours at high prices.
✅ Boarding at Paso Lagartos, even if the van trip is longer, better reflects the quality of service we aim to offer. It allows us to take our time and enjoy the activities without giving the impression of a rushed tour.
Traveling to Punta Allen side on your own, without a guide
Many people ask, can I visit Sian Ka’an without a guide? The answer is yes. If you’re going on your own, you’ll need to take the boat from Punta Allen. The two other spots (Visitor Center & Paso Lagartos) are just “docks” where boats pick up and drop off agency clients; there are no tour sales points or boats waiting on-site.
⚠️ Alternative tours
On your journey between Tulum and Punta Allen, you’ll come across a few restaurants and places with signs indicating they offer tours. The vast majority of these indeed offer tours, but primarily for fly fishing (sport fishing) or trips to Boca Paila to see the crocodiles and participate in sea-side snorkeling activities. These tours don’t take you to Punta Allen to see the dolphins & turtles.
Visiting Sian Ka’an on the Punta Allen side with a rental car
You can indeed drive to Punta Allen using a rental car. Starting from Tulum, the drive typically lasts around 3 hours, though this can change based on the season and the road conditions. The route entails a 42km dirt path nestled between the sea and lagoons.
Before embarking on this journey, consider the following key points:
- The road to Punta Allen is a somewhat rough dirt track, marked by numerous potholes. Covering the 42 kilometers from the entrance of the Sian Ka’an nature reserve to the village takes about 2h30, translating to an average speed of roughly 17 km/h.
- While a Jeep or a 4×4 is recommended for this route, many tourists successfully navigate it using standard cars, such as the Nissan Versa or Chevrolet Onix. Nevertheless, it’s essential to understand that this journey can be tough on a car’s suspension. If the standard vehicle provided by your rental agency doesn’t seem to be in top shape, especially concerning its suspension, it might be best to reconsider the trip. Furthermore, it’s crucial to remember that there’s no cell service or any kind of roadside assistance available in the area.
- There’s no cell phone coverage inside the reserve.
- There are no gas stations; ensure you fill up in Tulum.
- There are no shops/groceries before Punta Allen; make sure to pack water and some snacks before setting off.
- Several rental agencies may prohibit their vehicles from entering the Sian Ka’an reserve. While they might not have a direct way of verifying if you’ve ventured there, any mishaps or breakdowns within the reserve could potentially void your insurance coverage.
- You’ll be required to pay an entrance fee of 104 MXN Pesos.
Go to Sian Ka’an on the Punta Allen side by colectivo
Colectivos are small public transport vans. There used to be a colectivo that traveled between Tulum and the village of Punta Allen, departing daily at 2 p.m. from downtown Tulum, for a fare of 200 MXN Pesos per person. However, as of 2023, this option is no longer available. ⚠️
👉 Check out our comprehensive and detailed article on how to get to Punta Allen – By car & excursion.
How to get to Sian Ka’an on the Muyil side ?
Accessing Sian Ka’an from the Muyil side is much more straightforward than from the Punta Allen side. This archaeological site is located 23 kilometers from the town of Tulum on route 307 that connects Tulum to Bacalar (roughly a 25-minute drive). Due to its easy accessibility, the Muyil area and the various activities it offers can be covered in just half a day.
Visiting Muyil on a Guided Tour
Muyil is a destination offered by several tour agencies, especially those based in Tulum. The excursion is typically a half-day experience and generally proceeds as follows:
- 🤠 Muyil Ruins: These are located at the entrance of the Muyil area. A tour of the ruins typically lasts around 45 minutes, given that the archaeological site isn’t vast. Muyil served as a significant trading port that maintained relations with southern Quintana Roo and its neighboring country, Belize. The dominant architectural style of Muyil is the Peten style, characterized by buildings with wide bases that lean toward verticality.
- 🍃 Trail to the Lagoons: Following the archaeological site tour, you’ll proceed to the lagoons via a 500-meter jungle trail. This path, named “Canan-Ha,” is well-maintained and includes a “mirador,” a tall wooden tower that offers a breathtaking view over Muyil.
- 🛥️ Boat Tour: Once you reach the lagoons, you’ll embark on a boat excursion lasting approximately 1h30. This tour allows you to explore the mangroves, spot migratory birds, and culminates with the unmissable activity of floating down the ancient Mayan canals.
Muyil on your own
Getting to Muyil on your own is straightforward. Access to Muyil from Tulum is via a well-paved, busy road, which is the main route leading to Bacalar and, more broadly, to Chetumal, the capital of the state.
Driving to Muyil
To get to the Muyil side of Sian Ka’an, take route 307 towards Felipe Carrillo Puerto/Chetumal. After just 25 minutes on this road, you’ll need to turn left at the parking lot for the Muyil ruins.
Taking a Colectivo to Muyil
It’s quite straightforward! To do this, you’ll need to catch the colectivo headed to Felipe Carrillo Puerto from downtown Tulum, from this place. Just let the driver know you want to get off at Muyil. The journey should cost 35 MXN Pesos (subject to change). Colectivos don’t have a set schedule, as they typically depart when full. However, you shouldn’t have to wait long, as this is a popular route.
For your return, simply stand on the main road just outside the ruins. When you see a colectivo approaching, signal with your hand. If they have space, they’ll stop. Colectivos pass by regularly.
👉 Check out our comprehensive and detailed article on how to get to Muyil – Colectivo, car & tour.
✅ My thoughts on tours to Punta Allen & Muyil
As highlighted in this article, Muyil and Punta Allen offer contrasting experiences.
Punta Allen leans towards wildlife encounters, allowing visitors to see creatures like dolphins, crocodiles, and turtles. On the other hand, Muyil offers a dive into nature, with its rich mangroves, jungle trails, and serene canals.
If your heart is set on spotting dolphins and turtles in Sian Ka’an, Punta Allen is the go-to spot and tends to be the more frequented of the two. But if you’ve previously seen these animals and crave a novel experience, Muyil, with its unique flotation activity, is a compelling choice that promises an unforgettable adventure.
How to a boat at Sian Ka’an and what is the cost ?
If you’re heading to Sian Ka’an through a tour agency, the boat is typically included, and you won’t need to worry about booking or paying for the boat separately.
If you’re going to Sian Ka’an on your own, here’s what to expect:
- Booking: No advance booking is required. Upon arrival in the village of Punta Allen, head to one of the boat cooperatives, which are easy to spot since the village is quite small.
- Pricing: The rate is 3500 MXN Pesos for a 6-person boat. The cost will be shared based on the number of people in your group.
- Tour Details: The tour lasts around 2h30 to 3h and offers opportunities to see dolphins, turtles, Bird Island, snorkel in the reef, and enjoy the natural pools. All cooperatives offer similar tours with comparable boats.
- Booking: No need for a prior reservation as captains are typically available near the lagoon, ready for tours.
- Pricing: The standard 1h30 tour, which takes you through the mangroves and channels for a floating activity, is priced at 1000 MXN Pesos per person, irrespective of the group size. Captains usually consolidate arrivals into one boat, fitting 6 to 8 people.
Remember, prices and availability might change, so it’s always a good idea to double-check current rates and offerings closer to your visit.
Other costs for visiting Sian Ka’an
Visiting Sian Ka’an comes with additional costs. Among them, we can list:
- Federal entrance fee to the Sian Ka’an reserve (Punta Allen side): 104 MXN Pesos.
- Boat: 3,500 MXN Pesos for a 6-person boat (to be divided among the number of participants).
- Entrance ticket to Muyil ruins: 65 MXN Pesos per person.
- Boat: 1000 MXN Pesos per person.
What to bring to visit Sian Ka’an?
The Sian Ka’an nature reserve is a protected area with a delicate ecosystem, and it’s crucial to be mindful of preserving it. Here are essentials you should consider packing for your Sian Ka’an visit, be it Punta Allen or Muyil:
- 🩴 Wear light shoes, sandals, or flip-flops for added comfort during water activities.
- 👕 Opt for long clothing to protect against the sun, as even biodegradable sunscreen is discouraged.
- 👒 Remember to pack a hat and sunglasses.
- 🦟 If you’re susceptible to mosquito bites, consider bringing mosquito repellent cream or spray.
- ☀️ Boats at Punta Allen typically have a small canvas roof to shield passengers from the sun. It’s worth noting that this isn’t the case for boats at Muyil, as they navigate narrow channels surrounded by dense vegetation, which could be damaged if the boats had roofs.
Wildlife in Sian Ka’an
Sian Ka’an is home to an incredible diversity of animals, both on land and in the water. Here’s a rundown of the animals you might encounter in Sian Ka’an:
- Birds: Sian Ka’an is a haven for birdwatching enthusiasts. Over 350 bird species inhabit the area, including pelicans, ibises, flamingos, herons, egrets, hawks, toucans, and many others.
- Reptiles: The reserve also boasts a rich reptile population. Expect to see crocodiles, sea turtles, iguanas, snakes, including the coral snake, and lizards.
- Marine wildlife: Within Sian Ka’an’s waters, there’s a good chance of spotting dolphins, manatees, and marine turtles. Bottlenose dolphins are particularly common in the region.
- Land wildlife: Among terrestrial mammals, you might encounter tapirs, howler monkeys, coatis, jaguars (though they are rarely seen), deer, and pumas.
- Fish and other marine creatures: Sian Ka’an’s waters teem with a plethora of tropical fish, corals, rays, nurse sharks, barracudas, crabs, and other captivating marine species.
To reiterate, for the best chance to observe a wide variety of animals, it’s recommended to visit the Punta Allen section of the Sian Ka’an biosphere reserve. This area provides opportunities to see dolphins, turtles, crocodiles, and if you’re fortunate, manatees. Muyil, on the other hand, focuses more on flora. However, it still offers the chance to spot a range of bird species and, with some luck, monkeys.
Drawing from our extensive experience as a tour agency, we have estimated the following probabilities for spotting specific animals during a Punta Allen excursion:
- In 95% of our tours, we spot dolphins and turtles; it’s quite rare not to see them.
- On 60% of the tours, we spot crocodiles.
- In 100% of the tours, we observe numerous bird species.
- In 20% of the tours, we spot manatees; they are very shy and wild creatures.
When visiting Sian Ka’an, it’s essential to remember that the animals are in their natural habitat, and sightings of specific species cannot be guaranteed. Seeking to observe animals in their natural setting is a remarkable experience, but this also means there might be occasions when you don’t encounter them. Nature is unpredictable, which makes each wildlife sighting even more special. It’s vital to respect their space and understand that observing wild animals is a privilege, not a right.
Furthermore, Sian Ka’an holds many surprises. You might encounter animals not listed above, such as pumas on land or sharks and barracudas while snorkeling. The diverse wildlife in Sian Ka’an provides ample opportunities for fascinating observations.
📅 When to visit Sian Ka’an?
The Mexican Caribbean is fortunate to have a favorable climate all year round. However, there are still variations in conditions. The winter season provides dry weather with fewer rainfalls, while the summer brings a humid climate with a higher likelihood of rain.
Given that the main attractions of Sian Ka’an revolve around water activities, the best time to visit isn’t solely determined by the dry or rainy seasons. For Sian Ka’an, we can identify two distinct periods:
🟡 From November to March: This is the winter period when there’s the least rain, making it an ideal time to visit the area and enjoy the beach. However, it isn’t the best time for water activities, diving, and snorkeling due to frequent strong winds from the north and south. These winds often bring significant swells and reduce underwater visibility. However, this doesn’t mean that the entire period is unfavorable; there are still many excellent days for water activities during this time.
🟢 From April to October: This period tends to be more humid, and rain might be more frequent. Nevertheless, the rainy season isn’t very intense here. Moreover, this period is ideal for water activities as there are fewer windy episodes. The sea is usually calm, resulting in clear underwater visibility.
✈️ Where to land to visit Sian Ka’an?
The closest and most convenient airport to Sian Ka’an is Cancun International Airport (CUN). It is one of the busiest and most connected airports in the Caribbean and offers a wide range of international flights. From Cancun, you can easily rent a car, take a taxi, or use other transportation services to reach the Sian Ka’an Biosphere Reserve.
An airport is currently under construction in Tulum and is expected to be operational by December 2023. It is anticipated to accommodate over 4 million passengers annually.
🍴 Where to eat in Sian Ka’an?
While Sian Ka’an Reserve doesn’t boast a plethora of eateries, there are still some charming options available.
- La Palapa Del Flaco: This seafood restaurant is located on the Muyil side. You can enjoy a fresh fish dish here before embarking on your Muyil adventure.
- Los Gaytanes: Located in the village of Punta Allen, this eatery offers a range of dishes including fish fajitas, chicken fajitas, fish tacos, fresh fish, and breaded chicken. The village’s specialty, available in its restaurants, is the lobster – a treat indeed! While it can be a bit on the pricey side, enjoying lobster in Punta Allen ensures optimal freshness. This eatery is beachfront.
- Fisherman Lodge Beach: Among the limited restaurant options in Punta Allen, the Fishermen restaurant is deemed the best. They provide an à la carte menu as well as freshly caught fish of the day, prepared to your liking. Enjoy your meal with your feet in the sand!
🛏️ Where to stay in Sian Ka’an?
We will only discuss lodging options in Punta Allen since there’s no accommodation available on the Muyil side. Additionally, there’s no real need to stay in Muyil since the main town of Tulum is just a 25-minute drive away and offers numerous accommodation choices.
Spending a night or two in Punta Allen offers an unforgettable experience, allowing you to unplug from the world. For parts of the day, there’s no electricity, no cell signal, and typically no loud disturbances, letting you genuinely connect with nature.
The top accommodation picks in Punta Allen are:
- Hotel Cielo y Selva: This is an upscale camping (glamping) option on Punta Allen beach, providing sturdy cabins and tents. They also have a great restaurant. The setting is adorned with amenities like hammocks slung between palm trees, lounge chairs, and kayaks. Prices start at around 800 Pesos MXN for two for a basic tent, going up to 2500 Pesos MXN for two for a more luxurious tent or cabin.
- Fisherman Lodge: This is a reliable choice offering sturdy accommodations in Punta Allen and some unique beachside options. Prices vary based on the type of lodging you prefer and the season, so it’s best to get in touch with them!