If your idea of paradise is tropical, turquoise-blue waters lapping up against mile after mile of powdery white beaches to a backdrop of sweeping palms and lush jungle, then the Sian Ka’an Biosphere Reserve, on Mexico’s south eastern Caribbean coast, is it.
Factor in mystical temples, pyramids and the remains of ancient cities from lost civilisations, along with an extravagant array of flora and fauna, and you have the distinctly fairytale destination of Sian Ka’an (whose original Mayan translation means ‘Origin of the Sky’).
Established as a biosphere reserve in 1986 – the same year that I saw Diego Maradona destroy all before him (ref. my blog reflection on Mexico’s 1986 World Cup) – the region was established as a UNESCO World Heritage Site a year later in 1987.
It is without doubt one of Central America’s most exciting natural wonders, covering 120,000 hectares of marine area with 120km of coastline, flush up alongside the world’s second largest barrier reef (Mesoamerican). Wildlife, although often camouflaged by their natural surroundings, is prolific, with over 300 species of bird, hundreds of fish species and over a hundred documented species of mammals (including puma, jaguar, black-handed spider-monkey, howler monkey and the Central American tapir.
Whenever visiting the Yucatan Peninsula region I have delighted in delving as deep as possible into all aspects of life at Sian Ka’an. I highly recommend allowing time to float through the crystal clear inland waterway system, while exploring the underground cenotes, or natural sinkholes. We at Nomadic Thoughts also recommend exploring the different ancient Mayan sites – in particular Muyil. Which, as these photos show, is charmingly set in verdant jungle a short distance from the calming inland waterways that lie between the mangrove swamp interiors and Caribbean Sea beaches.
The beauty of the Reserve is that once you disappear into the jungle, through the inland fresh water channels, or along the never-ending bounty-bar white beaches, you feel as if you have stepped away from all of mankind, into an unexplored, wondrous, wilderness.
On many an occasion we have walked for hours as a family, diving into the gentle ocean surf, with a palm fringed beach disappearing into the distance, without a soul in sight. The jungle areas, although no more remote, do however require knowledgeable guides. They can steer you though the Biosphere’s interior, allowing you to enjoy the Mayan settlements and the exciting combination of wildlife opportunities, which include turtle spotting, dolphin swimming and birding opportunities.
As ever the hope is that an area of such outstanding natural beauty can not only be preserved, but also enjoyed by all with minimal impact. The recent US$3.5m incentive to link the conservation of biodiversity with sustainable tourism at six World Heritage Sites – including Sian Ka’an – is cause for celebration.
However, slowed-up and ‘beach scene’ you are feeling… don’t miss it. It will be one of the memories that lives with you.