If you are looking what to do in Punta Allen, snorkeling on the Sian Ka’an Reef is a must-do activity. The Mesoamerican Barrier Reef goes through Sian Ka’an for about 120 kilometers and offers many treasures to its visitors. This article will explain everything you need to know about the Sian Ka’an Reef, what to see and how to get there…
What is a reef ?
A coral reef is an underwater mountain made up of coral skeletons. Reefs are also made up of other living beings, such as algae or shellfishs. The brightly colored coral reef can grow for hundreds of years without being damaged by the ocean.
Coral is a structure made up of millions of tiny marine animals called polyps. The size of the polyp, which is shaped like a tube, is only an inch.
Corals can have many different colors, shapes and sizes. They can be soft or hard, smooth or rough, black, white or any color… Polyps are hollow and attached to each other or to limestone rocks to form large structures. Corals live together in groups called colonies and very large colonies are reefs. Polyps collect calcium from seawater and turn it into limestone around their lower part.
What to see on the Sian Ka’an Reef ?
As mentioned at the beginning of this article, it’s the Mesoamerican Barrier Reef that goes through Sian Ka’an. More than 120 kilometers of this treasure are located in the territory of the Biosphere Reserve. It is the second largest coral reef in the world, from Honduras 🇭🇳 to Mexico 🇲🇽 via Guatemala and Belize.
The corals are very colorful and many animals are living in the reef. You will have the chance to see lots of multicolored fishes.
🤿 When exploring the Sian Ka’an reef, here’s what you can expect to see:
- Coral Formations: The reef is home to various coral species, creating intricate structures and formations. You might encounter brain corals, staghorn corals, elkhorn corals, and more.
- Colorful Fish: The coral reef is teeming with a diverse range of tropical fish. Expect to see angelfish, parrotfish, butterflyfish, damselfish, and schools of blue tangs, among others.
- Marine Turtles: The waters of Sian Ka’an are known habitats for several marine turtle species, including the loggerhead, green turtle, and hawksbill turtle.
- Marine Mammals: While less common than other species, it’s possible to spot dolphins and manatees in the reserve’s waters. It is possible but rare to see turtles on the reef. They are mainly located a few kilometers away at the connection between the lagoon and the sea.
- Other Marine Life: Keep an eye out for nurse sharks, rays (like the spotted eagle ray), moray eels, lobsters, and a variety of crustaceans.
It is also important to note that the famous animal of the reserve, the dolphin, cannot be found on the reef but in the lagoons further upstream. In Sian Ka’an, it is not possible to swim with dolphins. Only to observe them from the boat in the lagoons.
How do you get to the Sian Ka’an reef ?
To snorkel on the Sian Ka’an reef, you’ll need to take a boat, as the reef is not reachable by swimming from the beach. Thankfully, Sian Ka’an provides numerous boat tour options for this adventure!
These boat tours are operated by the fishing cooperatives of Punta Allen. They all have the same small and fast motor boat with a capacity of 6 to 8 people maximum. As Sian Ka’an is a nature reserve, tourist activities and boat tours are very controlled, only this type of boat is allowed to navigate.
✅ There are many captains in the village always ready to take visitors on a boat tour. The cost of this tour is around 3,500 Pesos MXN, for a 6-seater boat, to be divided between the number of participants.
🛥️ The “classic” boat tour departing from Punta Allen typically lasts 2.5 hours and includes many activities :
- Dolphins & Turtles watching 🐬🐢
- Birdwatching at birds island 🐦
- Snorkeling on the coral reef 🤿
- Punta Allen’s natural pools 💦
If you’d rather not make the trip to Punta Allen on your own, consider opting for an all-inclusive guided tour from either Playa Del Carmen or Tulum with a tour agency. Prices generally range from 130 USD to over 180 USD, per person. You’ll then enjoy the same boat tour, but it will also include a guide who speaks your language, as well as transport to and from your hotel.
How long does the snorkeling activity last ?
The snorkeling activity during the boat tour doesn’t last very long… around 25 to 30 minutes. This rotation ensures the Sian Ka’an reef isn’t overwhelmed by too many visitors at once.
When is the best time to snorkel in Sian Ka’an ?
For safety reasons, if sea conditions are bad, snorkeling may not be permitted at Sian Ka’an. This decision is taken by the port authority in the morning.
There are many factors to consider, such as:
- Wind conditions.
- Current strength.
- Underwater visibility.
👉 For predicting sea conditions, I recommend using windguru.com.
🟢 April to November: This is the best period for diving and snorkeling activities, with good underwater visibility and few windy episodes.
🟡 December to March: This period offers excellent and pleasant weather for enjoying the beach. However, it’s not the best time for snorkeling activities due to numerous episodes of northern winds.
How to get snorkeling equipment ?
Most boat tours typically include and provide snorkeling equipment. However, it’s always a good idea to inquire before booking.
For those with children, feel free to ask the boat’s captain if they can supply gear suitable for children.
If you want to buy personal snorkeling equipment for your trip to Sian Ka’an, you can easily find it in well-known supermarkets in the area, such as Chedraui or Walmart. Basic kits cost less than 300 Pesos MXN and include a mask and snorkel.
Is snorkeling in Sian Ka’an safe ?
Snorkeling in Sian Ka’an is generally considered safe, especially when undertaken through established guided tours or with experienced individuals. Here is what you should know :
- Currents and Tides: While many snorkeling spots are sheltered, it’s always good to be aware of and respect ocean currents and tides.
- Marine Life: Sian Ka’an hosts a diverse range of marine life. While encounters with dangerous species are rare, it’s essential to be cautious and avoid touching or disturbing animals and corals.
- Guided Tours: For those unfamiliar with the area or less experienced in snorkeling, joining a guided tour can be a safe option. Guides are knowledgeable about the best spots, potential hazards, and safety protocols.
- Equipment: Whether renting or buying, ensure your snorkeling gear is in good condition. If you opt to purchase your own equipment, stores like Chedraui or Walmart in the region should have what you need.
- Mandatory Life Jacket: For safety reasons, wearing a life jacket is often obligatory, ensuring buoyancy and an additional layer of security.
Preserving the Sian Ka’an Reef
It is essential to preserve this wonderful coral reef. Not to impact the biodiversity of the protected Sian Ka’an Biosphere Reserve, everyone’s effort is a big step that helps to protect this magical place. This effort involves using biodegradable sunscreen instead of chemical sunscreen, picking up litter, and using a life jacket when snorkeling the reef, so you don’t touch the corals. 💚