Sian Ka’an means “the place where the sky is born” in Maya, which seems appropriate when you experience the sunrise in this beautiful part of the peninsula. Created by presidential decree in 1986 and made a UNESCO World Heritage Site in 1987, the biosphere reserve is a sparsely populated region sprawling along the coast south of Tulum. One of the largest protected areas in Mexico, it covers 1.3 million acres. Most of the thousand or so permanent residents are fishermen and subsistence farmers gathered in the village of Punta Allen. Most visitors enter at the north border, from Tulum, on day-trips; only a few hardier travellers press on to Punta Allen and stay for a stretch.
The reserve contains all three of the principal ecosystems found in the Yucatán Peninsula and the Caribbean: the area is approximately one-third tropical forest, one-third fresh- and saltwater marshes and mangroves and one-third marine environment, including a section of the Mesoamerican Barrier Reef. All five species of Mexican wild cat, including jaguars, live in the forest, along with spider and howler monkeys, tapir and deer. More than three hundred species of birds have been recorded. The Caribbean beaches provide nesting grounds for four endangered marine turtle species, while extremely rare West Indian manatees have been seen in the inlets. Morelet’s and mangrove crocodiles lurk in the lagoons.