I spent roughly 3 weeks in Mexico, from Mexico City to Holbox Island to Tulum. During this time I had some insane adventures and some time to really soak up Mexico from every angle. Even with hot air balloon rides and cliff-side hot springs, my favorite part of the entire trip was my day tour of the Sain Ka'an Biosphere in Tulum, Mexico.
A small disclaimer to begin, I did receive a free tour in exchange for a mention in a blog post, but this experience was so amazing I decided to write an entire post dedicated to its awesomeness. I mean, I didn’t even really like Tulum that much, it was very touristy and overdeveloped, but also underdeveloped. I'm telling you, the biosphere made my few days in Tulum worth it. Entering the Sain Ka'an Biosphere was a whole other world, away from all the people, the resorts, and the noise. Just a beautiful natural tropical paradise where they do everything in their power to keep it that way. While people are always talking about the beaches, cenotes, and pyramids in Tulum, I want to share with you how you can experience this unique area for yourself. Whether you want to go on your own, or on a tour, the Sain Ka'an Biosphere will be absolutely worth the trip to Tulum Mexico.
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What is the Sain Ka'an Biosphere?
The Sain Ka'an biosphere is a beautiful natural preserve in Tulum, Mexico about 2 hours south of Cancun. If you’re wanting to get out of the city and into nature, this is the place. This area has the most beautiful waters and most biodiversity in the Yucatan Peninsula. It also includes the small fishing village of Punta Allan where you will see white sandy pathways with small shacks built from palm trees. Originally a small locals-only village, it has now opened up to tourists. You can camp there or stay in a small shack overnight. They also offer short boating tours to explore the reserve from there.
Unfortunately, actually getting into the reserve is quite difficult. With one of the roughest roads I’ve ever been on, you aren’t going to make it in your compact 2-wheel drive car rental. Plus, the only real area to stop at in the reserve is Punta Allan about 4 hours in. Otherwise, the rest of the reserve is either privately owned or protected from public use. There is also a 100 peso fee (about $5 US) to enter the reserve.
This is why I decided to take a day tour. For the ease of entering the reserve and for the access to the mangroves, snorkeling, seeing a bird island, insane wildlife sightings, and included lunch in Punta Allan. So while you can try to make it out on your own, personally I think the tour takes all the stress out of the visit. If you keep on reading you’ll see everything you could be experiencing on a kick-ass tour of the Sain Ka'an Biosphere with Mexico Kan Tours.
Things to Note Before Entering Sain Ka'an
Every tour must take great caution when they enter the biosphere because of the delicate ecosystem inside. Because of this, you aren’t allowed to wear sunscreen or bug spray in the water. Even “reef-safe” sunscreens aren’t actually protecting the delicate ecosystems we love to explore.
We were allowed to apply one layer of sunscreen and bug spray at the very beginning of the tour. However, it is highly suggested that you wear a light long sleeve shirt and pants to cover your skin from the hours of sunshine you’ll be getting.
As for footwear, it’s best to bring some sort of shoe that can get wet. Either strap on sandals, crocs, or tennis shoes, you are in a wet boat all day. Speaking of getting wet, you will absolutely want to wear a swimsuit so you can enjoy the beautiful water that surrounds the reserve.
A couple of notable things to bring along on your Sain Kaan tour are:
waterproof phone holder
The dry bag is great for holding important items you won’t want to get wet like your camera or phone. If you want to take pictures under crystal clear waters, an action camera or waterproof case for your phone would be perfect for that. I think the towel and water bottle are self-explanatory.
Getting into the Biosphere
One nice perk of getting a tour is that they will pick you up at your hotel and drive you out into the biosphere. So you don't have to worry about the driving situation. Also, the 100 peso entry fee to the park is included in your tour fee.
The only unfortunate part about entering the Sain Kaan Biosphere Reserve is that crazy road into the area. There is only one road in and it is one of the most insane and bumpiest roads. If you have any chronic body pain, this may be pretty rough for you.
From the van you are dropped off at a restroom where you can change into your swimsuit, cover yourself in sunscreen, and take your Dramamine to get ready for the boat ride.
Starting the Tour
You start the tour on the way to your boat for the day. My tour guide started explaining all of the different types of mangroves you can find in the area. Also, things to look out for while we’re on the water.
Getting to the boat we met our boat captain and we were on our way. It’s difficult to explain just how beautiful the water is out in this area. So clean and clear, and it changed to different blue colors as we went along the tour. Starting in the mangroves, where we could find a lot of wildlife.
To my surprise, the very first animal we saw were manatees! No joke, there were about 5 different manatees swimming around the boat in one area. Apparently, they really like the nearby underground cenote that pushed up fresh water and seagrass.
From there, our enthusiastic tour guide began pointing out more wildlife around us. From manta rays in the water to even small crocodiles hiding in the mangroves! Right out the gate, we were already seeing exotic birds and sealife that I never expected to see. One of the best parts about this area was when the boat captain said I could sit on the front of the boat to get some better pictures! It was so terrifying and exciting to be up there shooting while the boat maneuvered through the mangroves. But I am so glad I went for it!
Heading out into the Open Ocean
From the mangrove area, we soon headed out into the open ocean. This is where the water started to change color to an even brighter turquoise-like blue. When we got far enough out we saw a bunch of boats gathered in one area. Upon further inspection, we noticed a pod of wild dolphins in their center! About 4 dolphins were rolling around in the water together. Our tour guide actually informed us that this formation meant the dolphins were currently having sex with each other. So that was something I never thought I would see in a lifetime.
After the wild dolphin orgy, we headed over to bird island. I was particularly excited about this part because I absolutely love birds! This area was a small island made up of mangrove trees and totally covered in large ocean birds. There were frigate birds, herons, pelicans, and large white ibis. They were all flying around and squawking and I was geeking out like a little girl. Seeing so many of them nest in one area was so cool. Our boat made a full circle around the little island while our tour guide pointed out all of the birds and told us anything we wanted to know about them. I also got to stand at the back of the boat where the captain was so I could get better shots of the island, which was super helpful and added to the experience.
Activities on the Mexico Kan Tour
Once you get your fill of boat time you are taken to a shallow clear area of water to swim around for a bit. This is a nice reprieve when you’ve already been on the boat for quite a while. Also, in this “swimming pool” area you may see some sea turtles around. But they are crazy fast so it may be difficult to see them quickly enough before they are out of there. The main goal of this swimming area is to wash off some of the sunscreen and bug spray left on you before heading out to the Sian Ka’an reef for your snorkeling adventure!
On the way to snorkeling, you’ll be handed your flippers, snorkels, and mask. This is where you will want to bring out your waterproof camera and selfie stick so you can capture all of the incredible things you’re about to see. You’ll also have to keep your lifejacket on as well so that you can’t go below the water to disturb the coral reef below.
The reef in the area is called the Mesoamerican Barrier Reef, and it is the second largest reef in the world just behind the Great Barrier Reef in Australia.
My first look below the water I couldn’t believe how much I saw! We also were lucky enough to go on a sunny clear day so we could see everything. Large schools of fish swimming between beautiful coral structures, even nurse sharks resting on the sandy floor, it was incredible! Not to mention, more sea turtles, huge lobsters, and beautiful plant life. This was an amazing adventure being able to snorkel this wonderfully preserved coral reef. I just couldn’t believe how much I genuinely loved swimming around out there.
Punta Allan Beach Lunch
After all of the exciting adventures of the day, you finally arrive at the small town of Punta Allan. A charming little fisherman village where every home is a shack made out of palm trees, and the streets are sparkling white sand.
Before lunch, you have the opportunity to rinse off the salt water from the day and change if you’d like. Our lunch was a small buffet of locally caught fish or chicken with a choice of rice or noodles to go with it. I basically asked for everything and then poured some homemade salsa all over it. It was simple but actually really good. You also have the opportunity to purchase some alcohol from the bar, of course, I had to order at least one beer, I mean, it’s part of my job description.
After lunch, I wandered a little bit checking out the Punta Allan area. It is quite rustic, but they do have a few shacks you can rent out for the night and even a small camping area that I really want to try out one day.
Finishing the Tour
When everyone finished lunch we all headed back to the boat to return back to the main dock area. That final ride across the ocean was actually just as magical as the rest of the tour. We were moving so fast that it seemed as though we were gliding over the water. Plus, the clouds were rolling in and creating huge beautiful shapes across the sky that I couldn’t look away from.
At the dock, I was sure to tip the boat captain, Gaspar, generously for being so nice and letting me move around the boat for better shots. He also helped me get great shots when snorkeling, pointing out all of the sharks and colorful fish. He was instrumental in how great the entire tour was.
However, the absolute best part of the tour was my tour guide, Nikita, she knew so much about the local area, it was insane. She even had nature ID books with her that she would show you more pictures and info about the animals. You could tell she was incredibly passionate about her job and about the Sain Ka’an Bioreserve itself. She explained how other coral reefs in the area had died due to poor tourism management, which is why we had to be so cautious about wearing any type of chemicals on our bodies. Also, how the mangroves were so important to the local ecosystem and pointed out every cool thing in the reserve.
I know it almost sounds fake how much I’m talking up my tour, but let me tell you something. At this point in my trip, I had been in Mexico for about 2.5 weeks, I was just exhausted and done with any excitement for the rest of my trip. However, this tour changed everything. The excitement from the tour guides, learning about nature in another country, and just enjoying such a well-preserved natural area really was the highlight of my entire trip. Plus, I'm not getting any affiliate money from telling you to go with them, I just honestly loved it.
So, if you’re looking for an amazing and unique thing to do in Tulum (that isn’t just cenotes or fancy cocktails) then I highly suggest booking a tour of the Sain Ka’an Biosphere. If you even remotely like nature (and if you’re reading this blog, I know you do) then you will love this tour.
I went with Mexico Kan Tours, and I did the “Sian Ka’an Adventure Tour” which includes entrance to the park, transportation, the boat ride, snorkeling, seeing tons of wildlife, a local lunch, and an amazing tour guide. This tour seriously cares about the natural environment and they really do their part to make sure we’re not disturbing the reserve. They use very responsible ecotourism practices, and I was just so happy to see that, especially in such a touristy area. Just make sure you ask for Nikita and Capitan Gaspar, and you are sure to have an amazing time out on the water!
Let me know in the comments if you've been to Tulum and heard or been to the Sain Ka'an Biosphere! Also, let me know if you have any questions or concerns about the Biosphere or Tulum, Mexico.
Until Next Time,