Sian Ka’an Biosphere Reserve (World Heritage)

Located on the east coast of the Yucatán peninsula, the 5280 km² biosphere reserve is the largest contiguous nature reserve in the country. It has different biotopes with mangrove swamps, rainforests and coral reefs.

Sian Ka’an Biosphere Reserve: Facts

Official title: Sian Ka’an Biosphere Reserve
Natural monument: “The Origin of Heaven”, a nature reserve of 5280 km² with a wide variety of biotopes from mangrove swamps to tropical rainforests to coral reefs; 4080 km² of land and 1200 km² of sea area including a barrier reef system; 23 Mayan sites as well as a 24 km long canal, which was created by the Maya, within the reserve
Continent: America
Country: Mexico, Quintana Roo
Location: East coast of the Yucatán Peninsula, south of Tulúm, north of Chetumal
Appointment: 1987
Meaning: the largest contiguous nature reserve in Mexico with numerous endangered and only native species as well as pre-Columbian sites
Flora and fauna: 859 species of vascular plants and 159 species of algae; Occurrence among others of “white cedar” and “red cedar”; 60% of the natural vegetation of the coastal strip has been displaced by introduced coconut palms; 103 species of mammals, including jaguar, puma, weasel cat, Geoffrey spider monkey, howler monkey, red pintail deer, collar pekari, paka and the tamandua; 339 species of birds known, two thirds of them breeding here, including Occurrence of the magnificent frigatebird and Jabiru; 42 species of amphibians and reptiles, including hawksbill and leatherback turtle, bumpy crocodile, tropical rattlesnake and striped basilisk

“Origin of Heaven”

The boat glides slowly through the water. Mangroves line the shore, a white heron crouches motionless in the tree. The Indians call the tropical forests, lagoons and coral reefs on the east coast of the Yucatán “the origin of heaven”. According to programingplease, today’s Sian Ka’an Biosphere Reserve – a flat region of a peninsula in southeastern Mexico that rises up to only ten meters – has been a Maya settlement for two millennia. Their descendants now live in fairly simple circumstances, mostly in the two coastal villages of Punta Herrero and Punta Allén. The men are fishermen, raise pigs and poultry; the women take care of the maize cultivation.

As on the entire Yucatán Peninsula, the surface of the earth in Sian Ka’an is made of limestone. Water collects in cenotes, underground caves and grottos, over which the thin limestone cover collapsed over the centuries. In this way, numerous natural wells were created from which the people who live here draw their water.

The climate is predominantly tropical and humid. During the rainy season from May to October there are short, heavy rain showers several times a day. Hurricanes are to be expected especially in September; a hurricane in 1995 led to the destruction of the coastal village of Vigia Chico.

Every now and then strangers appear on the “heavenly spot on earth”, as the nature reserve – one of the most important coastal ecosystems in the world – is barely more than two hours’ drive from the tourist stronghold of Cancún. The number of visitors is still very low, because there are only a few, mostly Spartan overnight accommodations. In addition, there are – this is a fortunate circumstance for the preservation of the nature reserve – so far only two unpaved roads that lead into the nature reserve.

Sian Ka’an – these are tropical shrub forests such as wetlands and coasts. The wealth of flora and fauna is impressive. More than a hundred tree species of the semi-evergreen forests have been identified so far. The mangrove species typical of the Caribbean can be found on the edge of the lagoons. By cultivating coconut palms, however, around two thirds of the original coastal vegetation was displaced by the time the protected area was established.

The birds that breed in the nature reserve include the now rare Jabiru and the pink spoonbill. With a little luck you can also spot magnificent frigate birds. Big cats like the spotted, ocher to orange-yellow colored ocelot, a skilful climber who chases pakas, birds and lizards at night, but also the slender, red-brown colored weasel cat, live secluded in the jungle. The jaguar, whose fur has pronounced ring spots, also inhabits the jungle. His “menu” includes not only tapirs that live here, but also peccaries, which are also known as umbilical pigs. Bump crocodiles, on the other hand, populate the coastal region, and four of the six sea turtle species native to Mexico climb the white beaches to lay their eggs on full moon nights. Two large bays and a hundred kilometers long coral reef are habitat for tropical fish of all sizes, shapes and colors. The rare nail manatees, one of three species of manatee, cavort off the coast.

In Sian Ka’an, mainly smaller archaeological pre-Columbian sites and a 24-kilometer-long artificial canal have been discovered. Most of the “finds” are, however, still hidden as green hills under dense shrubbery, as they have not yet been excavated.

The volunteer “Amigos de Sian Ka’an” have committed themselves to the protection and further exploration of the reserve – supported by the World Wildlife Fund. Tourists are offered one-day guided tours with the opportunity to swim and snorkel. The boat trip on the picturesque Chunyaxché lagoon, a historic Mayan waterway, is particularly beautiful.

Sian Ka'an Biosphere Reserve