Celestún is the point of entry to the Reserva de la Biósfera Ría Celestún, a 220,000-acre wildlife reserve with extensive mangrove forests and one of the largest colonies of flamingos in North America. Clouds of the pink birds soar above the estuary all year, but the best months for seeing them in abundance are November through March. This is also the fourth-largest wintering ground for ducks of the Gulf-coast region, and more than 366 other species of birds, as well
as a large sea-turtle population, make their home here. Conservation programs sponsored by the United States and Mexico protect the birds, as well as the endangered hawksbill and loggerhead marine tortoises, and other species such as the blue crab and crocodile. Other endangered species that inhabit the area are the ocelot, the jaguar, and the spider monkey.
The park is set among rocks, islets, and white-sand beaches. There's good fishing here, too, and several cenotes that are wonderful for swimming. Most Mérida travel agencies run boat tours of the ría (estuary) in the early morning or late afternoon, but it's not usually necessary to make a reservation in advance.
To see the birds, hire a fishing boat at the entrance to town (the boats hang out under the bridge leading into Celestún). A 75-minute tour for up to six people costs about $65; a two-hour tour, around $125. Although more expensive ($70 a person), local tour expert "Alex" specializes in ecotours and donates a portion of the proceeds to the Celestun Conservation Program (call Hotel Xixim to book a tour). Popular with Mexican vacationers, the park's sandy beach is pleasant during the morning but tends to get windy in the afternoon. And, unfortunately, mosquitoes gather in great numbers on the beach at dawn and dusk, particularly during the winter months, making a walk on the beach uncomfortable. Most hotels offer mosquito netting around the beds, but bring along a good cream or spray to keep the bugs away.
Celestún, Yucatán, Mexico
998-916–2100-Tours booked through Hotel Xixim