2 Best Sights in Reserva de la Biosfera Sian Ka'an, The Riviera Maya

Sian Ka'an

Fodor's choice

One of the last undeveloped stretches of coastline in North America, Sian Ka'an was declared a wildlife preserve in 1986 and a UNESCO World Heritage site in 1987. The 1.3-million-acre reserve accounts for 10% of the land in the state of Quintana Roo and covers 100 km (62 miles) of coastline. It's amazingly diverse, encompassing freshwater and coastal lagoons, mangrove swamps, keys, savannas, tropical forests, and a barrier reef. Hundreds of species of local and migratory birds, fish, animals, and plants share the land with fewer than 1,000 Maya residents.

The area was first settled by the Maya in the 5th century AD—the name Sian Ka'an translates to "where the sky is born." There are approximately 32 ruins (none excavated) linked by a unique canal system—one of the few of its kind in Mayan Mexico. There's a MX$50 entrance charge for the reserve, but to see much of anything, you should take a guided tour.

Many species of the once-flourishing wildlife have fallen into the endangered category, but the waters here still teem with roosterfish, bonefish, mojarra, snapper, shad, permit, sea bass, and crocodiles. Fishing the flats for wily bonefish is popular, and the peninsula's few lodges also run deep-sea fishing trips. Most fishing lodges along the way close for the rainy season in August and September, and accommodations are hard to come by.

The road ends at Punta Allen, a fishing village whose main catch is spiny lobster, which was becoming scarce until ecologists taught the local fishing cooperative how to build and lay special traps to conserve the species. There are several small, expensive guesthouses. If you haven't booked ahead, start out early in the morning so you can get back to civilization before dark.

Muyil

This photogenic archaeological site at the northern end of the Sian Ka'an biosphere reserve is underrated. Once known as Chunyaxché, it's now called by its ancient name, Muyil (pronounced moo-hill). It dates from the late Preclassic Period, when it was connected by road to the sea and served as a port between Cobá and the Maya centers in Belize and Guatemala. A 15-foot-wide sacbé, built during the Postclassic Period, extended from the city to the mangrove swamp and was still in use when the Spaniards arrived.

Structures were erected at 400-foot intervals along the white limestone road, almost all of them facing west, but there are only three still standing. At the beginning of the 20th century, the ancient stones were used to build a chicle (natural gum) plantation, which was managed by one of the leaders of the Caste Wars. The most notable site at Muyil today is the remains of the 56-foot Castillo—one of the tallest on the Quintana Roo coast—at the center of a large acropolis. During excavations of the Castillo, jade figurines representing the goddess Ixchel were found. Recent excavations at Muyil have uncovered some smaller structures.

The ruins stand near the edge of a deep-blue lagoon and are surrounded by almost impenetrable jungle, so be sure to bring insect repellent. You can drive down a dirt road on the side of the ruins to swim or fish in the lagoon. The bird-watching is also exceptional here; come at dawn, before the site officially opens (there's no gate) to make the most of it.

Carretera 307, Sian Ka'an, Mexico
983-837–2411
Sight Details
Rate Includes: MX$70