Picture yourself kayaking through winding rivers flanked by the intense green of the mangrove swamp, with the sweet song of the birds and the chatter of monkeys in the distance. Imagine a place where you can explore interesting and mysterious Mayan temples dating back more than 2000 years, and walk along beautiful white-sand beaches to reach the refreshing waves of the Mexican Caribbean. Think of a place where you can , long ago considered the entrance to the underworld by the Maya people. You can experience all these breathtaking activities in a magical expanse of land that is so much more than just a simple park. Welcome to the Sian Ka'an Biosphere Reserve.

Sian Ka'an, meaning "A Gift from Heaven" in the language of the ancient Maya, is a protected natural area, spanning more than a million acres. It was designated as a Biosphere Reserve in 1986 and a little time later it was also named a World Heritage Site by UNESCO. Sian Ka'an is just a few kilometers from the immensely beautiful archeological site of Tulum, in the Riviera Maya.

According to the results of many investigations, in pre-Hispanic times Sian Ka'an was ruled by the Mayan chieftainships of Cohuah and Uaymil. The researchers have also documented a total of 23 archaeological sites throughout the reserve, with the most important buildings being the ruins of Chenchomac and Chunyaxche. Both sites can be visited after traversing the channels of water that cross this idyllic place. Within the boundaries of Sian Ka'an, they have also found human burial sites, containers, figures and tools, all dating back approximately 2300 years.

Nowadays, Sian Ka'an is also a natural sanctuary inhabited by pumas, tapirs, opossums, toucans, white and loggerhead turtles, as well as endangered species such as howler and spider monkeys, jaguars, anteaters, ocelots, and even dolphins and whales. Additionally, the marshy zones of this biosphere reserve are home to a vast population of crocodiles. On the other hand, the human presence is limited to only a few fishermen, farmers and tour and hotel operators (a total of approximately 2000 inhabitants). They predominantly reside in the small towns of Punta Allen, Punta Herrero and Javier Rojo Gomez.

If you want to discover all the treasures that this ''gift from heaven" holds, and you're planning to do so on your own, then your best option is to hire an ATV. Be sure to drive carefully, since the few roads in Sian Ka'an are not paved and the park's animals have a tendency to cross at will.

Don't leave anything unexplored! You should definitely take your snorkeling gear with you, to take a look under the water of the many lagoons in the area. You'll also have the opportunity to snorkel on the second largest barrier reef in the world, located just off the coast of Sian Ka'an, and discover the abundance of marine life that lives beneath the waves. Because of the pristine, clear waters, the experience of snorkeling here truly is awesome. However, don't forget to bring lots of eco-friendly sunscreen and mosquito repellent to protect both you and the environment. Trust us, you'll need them!

There are various self-sustaining ecosystems within Sian Ka'an, including tropical rainforests, wetlands, mangrove swamps, and dunes, places where the many animals and human beings have found a way to coexist in perfect harmony.

To truly appreciate a visit to this small piece of paradise there are tours departing from Tulum. During the experience, professional guides will explain in detail what has to be done to preserve this unique gift from heaven and will answer all your questions about this incredible World Heritage site.

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