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Sian Ka'an
Posted by: HoboSylvain | 2014-03-20 18:07:23 | Tulum, Quintana Roo, Mexico
Keywords: Biosphere, UNESCO
I like nature, but I especially like grandiose nature demonstrations like canyons and mountains. I'm not much in the plain forest type, although I can appreciate it I'm not awed by it. I can certainly appreciate the value of a biosphere reserve for its contribution in preserving the local flora and fauna, but usually the best types of environments for that are marsh lands, which aren't very spectacular. Of course, there are the hundreds of animals and plants to appreciate but not being a zoologist, a bird watcher or a botanist they don't capture my interest unless they catch my photographer's eye. All this to say that if Sian Ka'an wasn't a UNESCO World Heritage Site I probably wouldn't have visited it. But I did enjoy the experience.

First, a word about the biosphere list of the UNESCO. Besides the World Heritage Sites I'm basing my itinerary on, the UNESCO maintains many other lists of important locations in the world. One of those lists is one of biosphere reserves. These are natural areas (which have to be protected locally like a national park) that represent an exceptionally rich environments for local fauna and flora, or are vital in the protection of a specific animal species (like the reserve in Central Mexico for the Monarch butterflies). Their protection is important to preserve the bio-diversity of natural species and help in the global preservation of the planet. There are currently 621 biosphere reserves in 117 countries. Almost 90 of those reserves are also either totally or partially included in World Heritage Sites. In most cases, the reserve includes a WHS of cultural nature (like the Maya biosphere surrounding the Tikal site in Guatemala), but it also happens that a biosphere reserve is 'promoted' to the rank of WHS as it is the case for Sian Ka'an in 1987.

The name “Sian Ka'an” means “Origin of the sky” in Mayan language. It's an extremely rich and diversified eco-system. In terms of environments, the zone begins inland right next to the main regional road (linking Tulum to Chetumal) and extends to the barrier of reef present right off the coast. The barrier of reef is part of the large Mesoamerican barrier of reef, which extends all the way along the Yucatan Peninsula. The reef plays a vital role in protecting the coastal marshlands and mangrove areas. The inland portion also feature numerous cenotes. This reserve covers a total area of 528 000 hectares, 128 000 hectares of these is marine area, including the reef of course.

Boating in the canals in the wet lands of Sian Ka'an.

In terms of species, the reserve can boast an impressive count of both flora and fauna species. There are for example 103 species of mammals, including 5 species of cats (jaguar, puma, ocelot, margay and jaguarondi), 339 species of birds and 42 species of reptiles and amphibians (including turtles and crocodiles). You'll also find 52 different species of fish and over 1 300 terrestrial or aquatic invertabrate species. Over 120 species of trees and shrubs also populate this environment along 120 km of coastline (half of which is sand dunes beaches).

But this reserve isn't all about nature... as it also hosts 23 Mayan sites and structures, with more just outside the park area. A visit around a few of those structures is part of any tour to the Sian Ka'an reserve.

Getting to visit Sian Ka'an isn't as easy as walking in an historical city. It's a very restricted and controlled area to preserve the fragile balance present there. You cannot simply go there with your car or walk at the park entrance and begin to explore. You have to take a tour using one of the few accredited companies. The tours are expensive and since the demand for it is relatively low, they don't run on large groups or every day. They need to have groups of at least 4 people for the tour to leave Tulum. If you're alone like I am, you can either buy the four places or hope to join an existing group to be able to pay only for one person (about US$80). By shopping around I was able to find a departure with an existing group on a decent weather day. I wouldn't have been able to afford to book a private tour. The tour I had was focusing on the canals, it's basically just a boat ride in the canals plus you float down on one of the canals. It's an interesting thing to do, but I would have much preferred to do something more in terms of nature observation.

Me floating down along the current in a canal of Sian Ka'an.

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left this comment on 2014-03-30 10:52:04

Thanks for submitting your honest review, I can't wait to hear about the next leg of your journey, into Belize and Guatemala!! Safe travels.

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