Ever since a friend told me about a magical tour they took in the Riviera Maya I knew I needed to tour Sian Ka’an for myself. So I did what any good adventure travel blogger would do, I did a lot of research on Sian Ka’an biosphere tours, but mostly so I could figure out how to get there without taking an organized tour.
Sadly my research hit a wall as it just seemed way to complicated to get there solo, and at the time I wasn’t sure if it was really worth the money for a guided tour. So I put my tour of Sian Ka’an on the back burner. But I never stopped thinking about it.
If you want to visit Sian Ka’an in Mexico then you have 3 options:
- Book an organized tour
- Take a colectivo to Punta Allen, stay overnight and do one of the community tours to Sian Ka’an
- Hire a jeep and drive yourself
In this post, I’m going to cover everything you need to know about Sian Ka’an so you can decide which option is best for you.
Why visit Sian Ka’an Biosphere Reserves Mexico
If you don’t know much about the biosphere close to Tulum then take a look at this video I made with Kay Tours Mexico to see what it’s all about. But know this, it’s the best place in the Riviera Maya to see wildlife where it should be, in the wild.
For nature lovers, Sian Ka’an is a Riviera Maya excursion you really shouldn’t miss.
What is a Biosphere Reserve?
Sian Ka’an is a biosphere reserve Mexico, but what exactly is a biosphere reserve anyway? In short, a biosphere reserve is a label given to an ecosystem of unusual scientific and natural interest by UNESCO. This label is important as it helps to protect the site and its fragile ecosystem from things that could damage it, like fishing, pollution, over-tourism, etc.
The reason that Sian Ka’an is a Biosphere Reserve is because it is such a complex environment and a unique place of natural beauty in Mexico. Thanks to the preservation it is still home to dolphins, manatees, turtles, and a lot of birds. It makes a trip to Sian Ka’an pretty special if you are an animal lover.
Where is Sian Ka’an Biosphere Reserve
So now hopefully I’ve convinced you to visit Sian Ka’an you might be wondering where it is, so here’s a map.
Sian Ka’an, Quintana Roo, is just south of Tulum. This is why it’s often referred to as the Tulum nature reserve, but this isn’t strictly true as Sian Ka’an National Park is past Tulum.
But you do need to pass through Tulum to get there. Most of Sian Ka’an is protected land and not inhabited, so if you want to stay there you will need to visit Punta Allen which is a small town within the Biosphere.
How to Get to Sian Ka’an Biosphere Reserve
Now for the tricky part, how to get to Sian Ka’an. As I mentioned above there are three ways to get to Sian Ka’an. Two are tricky one is easy… I chose the easy option haha.
Option 1 – Take the bus to Sian Ka’an
Firstly it’s not really a bus, it’s actually a colectivo from Tulum to Punta Allen in Sian Ka’an. You catch it close to the ADO station in Tulum and unless you are planning on staying over in Punta Allen for a night or two I really wouldn’t recommend this option. I also would absolutely not recommend this option during the rainy season as the road between Tulum and Punta Allen is extremely unreliable and often gets totally washed out.
So, unless you fancy spending hours of your life squished in a collective that has broken down, or is unable to pass a washed-out road, give this a miss.
However, if you really want to go to Punta Allen and are on a backpackers budget then this might be your only option. From Punta Allen, you will be able to book a Sian Ka’an boat tour for the next day so you can see the reserve.
Option 2 – Rent a car and drive to Sian Ka’an
Now I have this as an option, as I know some crazy people might think it is a good idea to rent a car and drive to Sian Ka’an. I am here to tell you it is a terrible idea, just for the record, but I will still tell you how to do this. Because you’re an adult and if you really want to do it who am I to stop you.
Firstly don’t just rent any old car, get a 4×4. For 8 months of the year, the road to Sian Ka’an is extremely unreliable and you never know what kind of condition it will be in until you get there. And secondly, do not tell the rental car company where you are going. Why? Because they know how bad the road is and that it’s very likely you will either get the car filthy driving through the mud, or you will have a flat tire.
Before you rent the car, please read the small print and make sure they have no clause in the contract telling you that you can’t go off-road in the car. Driving to Sian Ka’an is considered going off-road, so you will be breaking your contract going there.
Drive slow, take your time, and make sure you have a spare tire and know how to change it!
Option 3 – Book one of the biosphere tours to the reserva Sian Ka’an
And your final, and most sensible option is to do a Sian Ka’an excursion with a reputable tour company.
Things to do in Punta Allen
If you do decide to visit Sian Ka’an without a tour then you will need to get yourself to Punta Allen. Sian Ka’an boat tours only go from Punta Allen, so you must go here and speak to the boat captains directly to organize your boat tour. If you don’t do the Sian Ka’an boat tour, there really isn’t much point in visiting.
Now here is the sticking point, and why I realized booking a tour was actually the best option.
Community tours Sian Ka’an have fixed prices for renting a boat for the tour, there is no negotiation, and the price is per boat, not per person. What this means is that as a solo traveler in Mexico I would need to pay $300 to do the tour, unless I can find some friends to go with me. The maximum people you can have on the boat is 6, So unless you have 5 friends who you can split the cost with by the time you add it all up it’s cheaper to just book an organized tour.
The tour companies are the only ones who can get a special rate with the captains so actually most of the time it is cheaper to just book a spot on a tour than take the public bus and organize the tour yourself. Plus way more comfortable.
But, if you do have a small group and want to stay over in Punta Allen I would recommend getting there in the afternoon, then booking the tour for the next morning because you have a better chance of seeing dolphins and other wildlife in the morning. Then spend the afternoon and evening chilling in Punta Alen.
So what is there to do in Punta Allen? Well there is only 4 restaurants and they have no electricity from 2 pm until 7 pm each day, then again from 2 am until 7 am, so you will need to bring a book! There really isn’t a lot to do there, but it would be a cool experience to spend a night there for sure.
Looking for a place to stay in Punta Allen?
There isn’t a lot of options, but there three places are where I would recommend staying are:
Booking a Sian Ka’an Tour
Okay so now I’ve told you all the reasons why I decided to book a Sian Ka’an tour, and why I think you should too. Here is everything you need to know about Sian Ka’an tours and my recommendation on who to book with.
I pretty much do all of my Riviera Maya tours with Kay Tours Mexico, why? Because they are the best tour operators in Playa del Carmen where I live and after doing a tour with them you will understand why it’s hard to book with anyone else. Of course, there are other companies you can book with, but this is a small group tour and so there really isn’t much in the pricing between companies.
I was picked up bright and early and welcomed with some fruit and a cup of hot fresh coffee. We were then driven to Sian Ka’an in a well-maintained air-conditioned minibus by a driver and tour guide who knows the road well in case of any issues.
We were met by our boat captain and taken straight out of the tour, which was magical. Seriously. Watching the dolphins swimming in the wild like that was just incredible. They were swimming so close!
Then we saw a lot of birds on Bird Island before we were allowed to do some snorkeling on the reef, where we saw a nurse shark, bloody amazing!!
After snorkeling, we were taken by boat to Punta Allen for lunch before returning to our transport. It really was a magical day and as far as I’m concerned it’s worth every dime!
I highly recommend doing the Sian Ka’an tour with Kay Tours and if you use my discount code SGCIF1990 you can take 20% off their small group tours in October 2019.
My final thought is if you are thinking about visiting Sian Ka’an, do it, visit Sian Ka’an. Don’t wait for a year like I did. I really hope this post has been useful to you. Please share it with others and help spread the word about this hidden gem in the Riviera Maya!
I was invited on this tour by Kay Tours along with two of my good friends Viva La Travelista and Tofu Traveler. However, my opinions are 100% my own and I have received no money in exchange for this post.