There are 27 United Nations World Heritage sites in Mexico and only three of them made the list primarily for their natural significance, as opposed to historical. The most beautiful and diverse is Sian Ka’an Biosphere, a 1.3 million acre ecological park filled with lagoons, forests, marine habitats, and wetlands. It is the largest marine protected area in Mexico and offers one of the few natural treasures of the Yucatan peninsula that is accessible to tourists.
Added to the UNESCO list in 1987, Sian Ka’an translates as “Origin of the Sky”. It provides a habitat for a diverse population of flora and fauna, as well as over 300 species of birds. There is a small ecotourism and education center there that serves as a model for sustainable development in sensitive tropical ecosystems. The center is funded by the various tours, fishing, accommodation on-site, and various other activities offered there. Some of the ecologically responsible techniques the center uses are rainwater collection, using wind and solar power, and employing systems for wetland waste management. It also provides educational outreach and biological research opportunities.
Accommodations at Sian Ka’an consist of tents that are raised off the ground to allow ecological and hydrological processes to continue. They have gorgeous views from private patios, as well as plenty of shade and cooling breezes. Bathrooms are shared, but they are always clean and also have stunning views over the water. The dining areas and kitchens are designed to maximize comfort while minimizing impact on the surrounding environment. The menu for the restaurant is wide and varied, but the best choice would be the fresh seafood dishes that are offered.
Activities in the park include fishing excursions, kayaking, or taking one of several tours that will highlight the canals and the Mayan ruins, abundant flora and fauna, and the history of the reserve. There is also a sunset tour that centers on bird watching where you will float along in an open-air boat through beautiful lagoons while viewing birds, plants, and diverse ecosystems. The tour then culminates in watching the sunset over the mangrove forest and lagoon.
The kayaking tours are designed to give visitors a more intimate access to the natural splendor of the park. Single or double kayaks are available and expert guides, who speak both English and Spanish, can accompany you through the reserve to bird watch and explore the wetlands. Free basic training is provided if you have never kayaked before. If you would like to explore alone, the guides can give you directions and information on where to go to use ancient trading routes through the park used by the Mayans. This is an excellent option for experienced kayakers, but an additional fee can give someone basic training to undertake this more advanced tour.
Sian Ka’an is a beautiful ecosystem to visit and learn about history, ecology, and sustainable technology that will open your mind to possibilities you may never have otherwise known about. At the very least it will give you an appreciation of conservation and natural beauty that should stay with you forever.