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HomeTravel 2023How to Visit Sian Ka'an Biosphere Reserve: Guide & Tips

How to Visit Sian Ka’an Biosphere Reserve: Guide & Tips

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Known for its complex environment, the Sian Ka’an Biosphere Reserve is a unique natural attraction to visit in Mexico. From the thick Yucatan jungle, freshwater marshes extend out through a series of lagoons all the way to a thriving barrier reef in the Caribbean Sea. Perhaps it’s all of this reflective water for which the Mayans called this area “Sian Ka’an,” meaning “Origin of the Sky.”

It was recognized by the Mayans as a special place thousands of years ago. And Sian Ka’an retains its allure today, thanks in part to conservation efforts taking place to protect the reserve as development continues throughout Mexico’s Riviera Maya.

While traveling throughout the Yucatan years ago, we really wanted to visit Sian Ka’an ourselves. But we couldn’t figure out exactly how to get to Sian Ka’an Biosphere Reserve on our own.

Tours to Sian Ka’an from Tulum are the most common way to reach the biosphere reserve and are most convenient. Many of these tours are excellent, have small groups, and use local guides, like these tours on Viator.

But for budget-minded travelers, Sian Ka’an tours can get a bit expensive. We knew that there must be some way to easily get to Sian Ka’an on your own. It turns out, despite a lack of info, Sian Ka’an is, in fact, easily reachable from Tulum, Akumal, and Playa del Carmen, among other nearby Riviera Maya locations.

So we set off on a bus, our feet, and a boat to ultimately have a great time exploring Sian Ka’an on our own. It’s possible to do so by exploring Sian Ka’an’s coastal ecosystem, with stunning beaches, coral reefs, and marine life.

Yet we found that exploring Sian Ka’an’s inland freshwater environments from the Muyil archeological site to be an easier route that takes less time. Approach Sian Ka’an this way, provides the experiences of floating down a Mayan-carved canal, walking through the jungle, and admiring ancient Mayan ruins.

Canal with clear water in Sian Ka'an Biosphere Reserve

After working out the logistics of how to get to Sian Ka’an, we put together this travel guide so other travelers can reach this lesser-visited destination near Tulum.

Since our first visit to Sian Ka’an, over five years ago now, we’ve found this post has become a helpful tool to get to Muyil and Sian Ka’an. As such, we now (2023) try to keep this travel guide up-to-date and even continue to revisit Sian Ka’an during our regular Mexico travels. So we hope this detailed Sian Ka’an travel guide also helps you to reach this special place in the world!

How To Visit Sian Ka’an: Table of Contents

A Brief Background About Sian Ka’an Biosphere Reserve, Mexico

Map of Mexico's Yucatan Peninsula showing the location of Sian Ka'an Biosphere ReserveKnown locally as Reserva de la Biósfera de Sian Kaʼan (in Spanish), the Sian Ka’an Biosphere Reserve is located in the Mexican state of Quintana Roo, on the eastern coast of the Yucatan Peninsula, just south of Tulum. This majestic reserve stretches across over 5,000 sq kilometers of mesmerizing land and sea, making it one of Mexico’s largest protected areas.

The story of Sian Ka’an begins with the ancient Maya, who settled in the region thousands of years ago. These ingenious folks recognized the area’s unique beauty and ecological diversity, and they constructed an intricate network of canals and lagoons to harness its resources.

These waterways, some of which are still used today, connected several Mayan cities. Today, Sian Ka’an boasts 23 known archaeological sites, including the captivating ruins of Muyil. (Later in this guide, we’ll give all the info on how to experience both the Mayan-built canals and the Muyil ruins.)

Yet, it’s the natural beauty that adds to the allure of Sian Ka’an. The Maya inhabitants recognized the scenery of this coastal gem and named it “Sian Ka’an,” meaning “Origin of the Sky.”

Sian Ka’an boasts a diverse range of ecosystems along its 120 km coastline. Featuring tropical forests, palm savannahs, wetlands, lagoons, mangroves, and sandy beaches, it teems with wildlife. Sian Ka’an is home to manatees, turtles, dolphins, crocodiles, various bird species, and even elusive jaguars and pumas, among others mammals.

Although Mayans have long been inhabiting Sian Ka’an, it’s only in the past few decades that travelers have been beginning to dip their toes into Sian Ka’an as a designated biosphere reserve.

As development began to encroach around the region, a nature reserve was created in 1982.  A few years later, in 1986, Sian Ka’an was designated as a national biosphere reserve. Then in 1987, Sian Ka’an became a UNESCO World Heritage Site, one of only six natural UNESCO sites in the country. Read the full UNESCO description and criteria here.

How to Get to Sian Ka’an Biosphere Reserve Mexico

First, it should be understood that Sian Ka’an Biosphere Reserve is a massive area, sprawling across 5,280 km2 (2,039 sq mi). For perspective, Sian Ka’an Biosphere Reserve is even larger than the nearby island of Cozumel and larger than the US state of Deleware!

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Being such a big area, there are multiple access points to Sian Ka’an Biosphere Reserve. Most people start their trip to Sian Ka’an from Tulum. So if staying elsewhere in Mexico, consider reaching Tulum first.

In this post, we’re giving detailed directions on how to get to Sian Ka’an using two different routes and various transportation options.

There are two main access points to set off and explore Sian Ka’an:

Map of Sian Ka'an Access Points from Tulum: Muyil and Punta Allen Source: Google Maps

Base map source: Google Maps, used with permission

Two Ways to Get to Sian Ka’an: Punta Allen vs Muyil

Although you can get to Sian Ka’an Biosphere Reserve from both Punta Allen and Muyil, each of these two access points provides for two completely different experiences and contains two very different ecosystems. A further logistical difference is the feasibility of reaching each of these two Sian Ka’an destinations.

In short, visitors to Punta Allen will experience Sian Ka’an’s marine life, coral reefs, and beaches. But this coastal environment of Sian Ka’an can be logistically difficult to reach and it takes time. Sian Ka’an via Punta Allen can be visited in a single day with a tour. But those attempting to reach Punta Allen independently will need a few days and overnight stays due to the timing of transport. (We’ll explain that in detail next.)

Meanwhile, going to Sian Ka’an via Muyil will expose visitors to the freshwater lagoons, canals, and marshes, in addition to ancient Mayan sites. Logistically, Muyil is much easier to reach and can be visited in a half-day, whether going independently on your own or visiting as part of a tour.

So which section of Sian Ka’an is best to visit, Punta Allen or Muyil?

That entirely depends on your interests, budget, and time constraints.

If you have the time and budget, we’d advocate visiting each of these two parts of Sian Ka’an on two separate days. Because each of these sections of Sian Ka’an is so different from one another, you can go to the oceanic side (Punta Allen) one day and then have a completely different experience visiting the freshwater Mayan environment (Muyil) of Sian Ka’an on another day.

How to Get to Sian Ka’an Via Punta Allen
If you want to see the oceanic side of Sian Ka’an, including beaches and saltwater lagoons, then the Punta Allen route to the Sian Ka’an may be for you. This is the marine part of Sian Ka’an Biosphere Reserve to go snorkeling on coral reefs. While cruising in small boats around coastal Sian Ka’an, passengers often spot marine life such as dolphins, turtles, and manatees!

Experiencing coastal Sian Ka’an is a great trip. The only downside is the extra time & effort or the higher cost it can take to get from Tulum to Punta Allen.

There are four ways to visit the coastal area of Sian Ka’an:

  • 🚙 4WD vehicle: best for adventurous independent travelers with a 4WD
  • 🛥️ Colectivo + Boat: best for independent travelers who can stay 2+ nights in Punta Allen
  • 🚐 Colectivo: generally not recommended, but is the cheapest way, still needs an overnight stay
  • 🚍 Small Group Tour: best way to see the marine side of Sian Ka’an in a single day

🚙 Logistics: Tulum to Punta Allen by 4WD Car

If you have a rental car in Mexico, be aware that it’s unadvised (or impossible) to drive there without 4WD, given the extremely rough road conditions to Punta Allen. Yet if you already have a 4WD vehicle or want to rent one, driving to Punta Allen could be a possibility.

A sturdy SUV with all-wheel drive is needed. When we were last there, the pothole-ridden road to Punta Allen was in awful condition due to rains that have been eating away at this rough dirt road. We attempted the drive in a 2WD rental car but didn’t make it very far after deciding that our rental was definitely going to get stuck or damaged in the process.

The road to Punta Allen is not just potholes, but more like massive craters in some places. The road to Punta Allen is often in bad shape. So just beware of the severe erosion if considering driving, particularly if going during the rainy season (June-Oct). If attempting with a rental car, be sure your vehicle has good insurance coverage, a working spare tire, and a jack.

Entrance and visitor Center to Sian Ka'an Biosphere Reserve on the road to Punta Allen

To get from Tulum to Punta Allen by car, simply head south on the dirt road past Tulum’s beachfront Hotel Zone. When the hotels end, you’ll drive through a Mayan arch. Shortly after passing through the Mayan Arch (Arco Maya), you’ll have officially entered Sian Ka’an Biosphere Reserve. A Sian Ka’an visitor center is just beyond, where you can check in and begin to attempt to drive down the rough road ahead.

The Mayan Arch is where the rough road begins, but it gets progressively worse a few kilometers south. So don’t let the first few kilometers toward Punta Allen give you a false sense of confidence. From the Mayan Arch, it’s a 43-km (27-mile) slow-going drive to Punta Allen.

Also, realize that although the road goes along the coast, the beach is often obscured by shrubbery and beaches are often inaccessible from the road until you get a ways down. Yet once you do, you can find some beautiful secluded beaches.

Although Google Maps estimates a 1 hr 16 min drive, plan for it to take at least a few hours, each way. With a good 4WD SUV, it is possible to reach Punta Allen and drive back to Tulum on the same day. But planning to stay overnight in Punta Allen, would make for a more relaxing adventure. (More info in the next section on where to stay in Punta Allen.)

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🛥️ Tulum to Punta Allen by Colectivo + Boat

If relying on public transport to get to Punta Allen, you must allow for multiple days, given the timing of the once-a-day colectivo (shared van public transport) from Tulum doesn’t reach Punta Allen until evening.

This option is best for independent travelers who have at least 2 nights and 3 days to spend traveling to and from Punta Allen.

The colectivo departs daily from Tulum town and goes to a pier just beyond the Sian Ka’an visitor center, where it meets with a boat. This boat continues on to Punta Allen and arrives before night. The colectivo departs at 2:00 pm from the iTour Mexico agency, located right here. Expect to pay $400 MXN, each way, for the colectivo + boat.

Since you won’t arrive until the evening and there’s no return transport on the same day, you’ll need to stay overnight in Punta Allen. And since return transportation is in the morning, you’ll need to stay in Punta Allen for at least two nights to actually experience this area of Sian Ka’an during the day.

Once in Punta Allen, it’s fairly easy to hire a boat to take you out to see the marine side of Sian Ka’an, for a price, of course. Bring cash. Ask to go to Blanquizal.

Where to Stay in Sian Ka’an Punta Allen Mexico

If making the trek out to this remote town be sure to have a plan for accommodation in Punta Allen. There are a few fishing lodges in Punta Allen and prices vary. But beware that during the off-season of the summer months (May/June through November), camps and even some hotels close up. Check in advance.

For an inexpensive option, there is a hostel in Punta Allen, Las Palapas, run by a friendly retired couple. A bed in shared rooms is usually around US$25/night. Check prices and availability at Las Palapas de Punta Allen.

For a basic yet comfy hotel right on a beautiful beach location, Villa Roseliz usually has prices around US$100. Search your travel dates at Villa Roseliz.

Or consider a glamping set-up on the beach or one of the nicer ocean-view rooms at Hotel Cielo y Selva.

🚐  Tulum to Punta Allen by Colectivo

If for some reason, the colectivo + boat option is not running, there is another colectivo option. It’s cheaper but less practical. Transferring to the boat in Sian Ka’an provides for a smoother and quicker ride. This colectivo from Tulum to Punta Allen departs Tulum Pueblo on the corner of Centauro Norte and Avenida Tulum daily at 2:00 pm.

The colectivo making the daily journey takes about four hours to complete the 55 km (34-mile) ride over the rough road, arriving in Punta Allen around 6:00 pm. If taking this colectivo, also plan to spend at least two nights at Punta Allen, because the return colectivo back to Tulum only departs from Punta Allen at the early hour of 5:00 am daily.

🚍 Full-Day Small Group Sian Ka’an Tours – Oceanside:

A final consideration is taking one of the small-group Sian Ka’an tours that journey by land and sea all throughout this coastal portion of Sian Ka’an, in a single day. These tours of the marine side of Sian Ka’an use small boats in attempts to get passengers up close to nature in wildlife.

There are a few different operators that offer a full day exploring the ocean and beachside of Sian Ka’an Biosphere Reserve. The Sian Ka’an tours tend to be similar to one another, just run by different companies.

During these small group tours, they drive up the bumpy road for about 15 km to the Boca Paila Lagoon, where you’re transferred to a small boat for the remainder of the coastal voyage across Sian Ka’an. Stops for manatee spotting and watching for dolphins ensue while cruising toward Punta Allen. There is snorkeling at a coral reef and a visit to a sandbank with a beautiful lagoon. Then visit Punta Allen for some time to relax and the included lunch. (It can be lobster, when in season!) Keep an eye out for birds and turtles throughout the voyage.

Given all that’s included, these small group tours can be worth the splurge for the convenience of being able to experience this all in one day. These Sian Ka’an tours to the reserve’s oceanic areas are priced around $180 (and upwards).

Two passengers sit on bow of boat, watching wild dolphins during a Sian Ka'an tour

Photo credit: Viator

The following are some well-priced Sian Ka’an tours that have a consistent track record of excellent reviews:

To determine which tour may best fit you, read the full descriptions, scan recent reviews, and check up-to-date pricing & availability.

If the tours of coastal Sian Ka’an are not within your budget or time constraints, need not worry. You can still reach the fresh-water inland environments of Sian Ka’an on your own via Muyil, as described below.

How to Get to Sian Ka’an On Your Own Via Muyil

If you want to see the inland jungle, Mayan ruins, wetlands, freshwater lagoon, mangrove forests, Mayan-carved canals, and float down said canals, you’ll find this all in the portion Sian Ka’an Biosphere Reserve accessed from Muyil.

Logistically, the easiest way to get to Sian Ka’an Biosphere Reserve on your own is by going through Muyil. The Muyil access point to Sian Ka’an is also much more cost-effective compared to Punta Allen. Going to Sian Ka’an through Muyil is also a quicker trip.

Visiting Sian Ka’an on your own via Muyil is doable in a half-day, including a stop at the Muyil archeological site. The remainder of this article provides detailed directions and instructions specifically on how to visit the Muyil section of Sian Ka’an on your own.

There are three main ways how to get to Sian Ka’an Biosphere Reserve via Muyil:

  • 🚗 By car: Best for those who already have a car. Easy 23-km drive, good road.
  • 🚌 By bus: Best for independent travelers. Frequent buses, most economical.
  • 🚐 By tour: Best for those looking for convenience.

Tulum to Sian Ka’an Biosphere Reserve via Muyil by Car:

Simply take Highway 307 south from Tulum to Muyil. The Muyil archaeological site is on the left side of the road, just before km 205.

Signs to Muyil Ruins on Mexico's hwy 307

Although Muyil is on the left, you’ll see signs for Muyil on the right soon before approaching the archaeological site. It’s fairly easy to spot if you know to look. At Muyil, there is a small parking lot that always seems to have spaces available.

From Tulum to Muyil, the drive is roughly a 20-minute south of town (22.5 km). It’s a straight shot on a flat paved highway that’s in good condition.

How to Take the Bus from Tulum to Muyil:

The buses from Tulum to Muyil come frequently, about every 30-60 minutes. So you can go from Tulum to Muyil by bus virtually anytime. There is no need to reserve a ticket in advance. There are usually many seats available. Simply head to the main ADO bus station in Tulum (located on Avenida Tulum between Alfa and Jupiter).

Buy a ticket from the ticket counter (not on the bus) and ask for a ticket to Muyil. The cost for the one-way ticket from Tulum to Muyil is $28 pesos.

Important note: The destination listed on your ticket will NOT read Muyil, but do not fret that the ticket agent misunderstood you. Your ticket will instead list the destination as Chunyaxché, which is an alternate name for Muyil.

Muyil Bus StationThe bus ride is a quick 20-minute straight shot from Tulum to Muyil. The Muyil bus stop is actually a few hundred meters past the Muyil ruins entrance. But if you ask the bus driver nicely to get off at the Muyil ruins, he may oblige which will save you a two-minute walk.

If not, just be sure to get off at the Muyil bus stop (see pic). If you get off here, you’ll simply have to walk a few minutes to get to the ruins.

How to Get to Sian Ka’an Biosphere Reserve from Muyil

Once you’re at the Muyil ruins, you can either:

  1. Visit the Muyil ruins, then walk along a boardwalk in a jungle, climb up an observation tower, and continue to the boat docks. This all takes approximately 1 hour (maybe 2 hours, if you take it really slow). We recommend this option if you have the time to explore.
  2. Go directly to a boat to explore Sian Ka’an. If you opt to bypass the ruins and go directly to the Sian Ka’an boats, then drive or walk south on HWY 307, past both the Muyil ruins entrance and bus stop until you a dirt road on your left (East side) at the km-marker 205. It’s about a five-minute walk (or 1-minute drive) down a small dirt road, where there is a secure parking lot ($ 50 pesos), and a two-minute walk from the boat dock.

We recommend visiting the Muyil ruins and jungle boardwalk first. Detailed directions are in the following section. And below is a map to help understand the layout of Muyil, the lagoon, and other points of interest discussed next.

Map of Muyil area of Sian Ka'an with points of interest: entrance, road to Tulum, boat dock, lagoon, Muyil ruins, parking lot

Source map: Google Maps, used with permission.

1️⃣ Step 1: Enter Muyil and Explore the Mayan Ruins

You’ll clearly see the entrance to Muyil from the parking lot. There’s a proper ticket counter to buy your entrance ticket to this archeological site.

Muyil Info

💲 Muyil entrance fee: $70 pesos
🅿️ Muyil parking: small lot, free.
🕗 Muyil hours: 8:00 am to 3:00 pm.
How much time to spend: About 30 minutes
🚽 Muyil restrooms: There are toilets near the entrance of Muyil.
🌮 Food & snacks: None on-site. There’s a small restaurant and convenience store across the street.
🌐 More info: Official INAH site (in Spanish)

Muyil Entrance and ticket counter. The entrance fee price here is $70-pesos per person to explore the archeological site near Sian Ka'an

Plan to spend about 20-30 minutes exploring the Muyil ruins. It’s an interesting archeological site to visit.

Understand that Muyil was once a prominent Mayan trading port that dates back to 300 BCE and was inhabited for nearly two millennia, until the 16th century. Muyil is the most important Mayan city among the 23 settlements located within the Sian Ka’an Biosphere Reserve. It played a crucial role in connecting the Yucatan’s inland network via its system of canals and lagoons.

To compare Muyil to the nearby Tulum ruins or Coba, it may not quite have the same wow factor. Muyil is a smaller archaeological site. But part of the appeal of the Muyil ruins is that you’ll likely have this archeological site nearly all to yourself. This site is far less visited. So that means no crowds and no hassle.

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The Muyil ruins have not reached the mass-tourism market, so it’s so nice to be able to enjoy the tranquility and history of this important ancient Maya city. Explore the Muyil ruins and enjoy!

2️⃣ Step 2: Locate the Trail from the Muyil ruins to the Muyil Lagoon:

This well-manicured archeological site is anchored by three main structures. You’ll encounter them in this order:

  1. the Entrance Plaza,
  2. the Castle (AKA El Castillo or Building 81-3), and
  3. Temple 8 (AKA the Pink Palace or Building 9k-1)

Once you reach the third main structure, the Pink Palace, do NOT follow the signs toward the exit. Instead, turn around and retrace your steps back to “the Castle,” pictured below.

It’s easy to identify El Castillo (the Castle) in Muyil since it is the largest pyramid structure on the site. There is also a sign to help verify you’re at El Castillo. It’s important to locate this particular ruin because it is behind El Castillo where you find the nature trail and boardwalk to the entrance to Sian Ka’an Biosphere and the boat docks.

El Castillo (Castle) is Structure 81-3 of the ancient Mayan settlement of Muyil in Sian Ka'an Biosphere Reserve

Once you’ve located El Castillo, walk around to the back side of the Castle. It’s here that you’ll find a white plaque on the ground that explains what a Sacbe is (it’s a pathway the Mayans built).

Just beyond that informational plaque, you’ll then see the actual Sacbe. The wooden sign with yellow paint, as pictured below, helps to ensure you’ve found the correct trail.

This sacbe, or trail, is the path from Muyil to Sian Ka'an lagoon and mirador (lookout)

Go on and walk down this trail into the jungle. It’s about a 5-minute walk until you reach a boardwalk with a formal entrance to the Sian Ka’an Biosphere Reserve.

3️⃣ Step 3: Enter Sian Ka’an Biosphere Reserve and Proceed Down the Boardwalk

After the short stroll down the sacbe, you’ll eventually reach a sign about the Sian Ka’an Biosphere Reserve. Behind that Sian Ka’an sign, you’ll see a palapa ticket booth. This is where you pay a Sian Ka’an entrance fee of $50 pesos, per person, to enter the boardwalk, known as “El Sendero Canan-Ha,” or “the Canan-Ha trail.”

Entrance sign to Sian Ka'an Biosphere Reserve located behind the Muyil Archaeological Site

From this point onward you’ll be on this wooden path through the lush Yucatan growth. It’s a scenic 500-meter walk through the jungle marsh that winds over the wetlands.

A sign indicates that it should take about 40 minutes to complete the walk, but we believe a more reasonable estimate is 20 minutes. If the bugs are buzzing (and they likely will be), you’ll walk briskly across the trail.

Be sure to look up in the trees. Monkeys are sometimes spotted along this trail, as are many birds.

Canan-Ha boardwalk trail across the wetlands jungle ecosystem of Sian Ka'an Biosphere Reserve

Observation TowerObservation Tower: Just after you’ve gone about halfway across the 500-meter boardwalk, you’ll come to an observation tower.

This rickety tower allows you to see well above the jungle canopy. Climb at your own risk. We think it’s worth the steep climb to take in the nice view of the nearby Muyil lagoon before continuing further down the boardwalk.

After the tower, the Canan-Ha trail soon opens up to a dirt road, where you’ll clearly see the lagoon and boat docks. If you don’t want to take a boat ride around the lagoons and Mayan canals, you can head back the way you came. Or walk down the dirt road, which is a more direct route back to the main road and Muyil parking lot.

But we instead highly recommend taking in the full experience of a boat ride through the lagoons of Sian Ka’an and even a float down a Mayan-dug canal. This all tends to be the highlight of a trip to Sian Ka’an via Muyil.

Boats on Muyil Lagoon that are used for Sian Ka'an tours of the Muyil lagoon and canals

Sian Ka’an Lagoon Tour and Canal Float

Taking a boat tour through Sian Ka’an Biosphere Reserve is the main event of this half-day DIY trip from Muyil. This boat journey travels across two scenic lagoons and weaves into a narrow canal. It’s a fun ride across a mix of sparkling clear and beautiful turquoise water!

How To Take the Sian Ka’an Lagoon Tour by Boat & Prices

The price of the boat ride into the Sian Ka’an lagoon is firmly a fixed price of $1,000 pesos per person. The price is non-negotiable and no discount is given for groups of two or more. So if there are two people, expect to pay a total of $2,000 pesos and three people will pay $3,000 pesos, etc.

This fixed price of the boat ride (~53 USD per person) is high by Mexico standards. Yet we found it to be such a great experience and hence recommend it. It’s nearly two hours long and you’ll likely even have a private boat, all to yourself.

Once you arrive at the boat docks, simply express interest in taking a boat trip with the guys at the dock. Mayan is their first language, but most speak Spanish. Usually, there is at least one person who also speaks great English.

There shouldn’t be a strong language barrier to break. They’ll know what you’re here for. You already know the price. Miming and smiling can go a long way. The boat guys are all very nice, friendly, and non-aggressive.

So get chatting with them to arrange a boat trip, and then take this tour around the Sian Ka’an lagoons and canals! The guys usually arrive at the docks around 8:00 am or shortly thereafter and the last boat goes out around 4:30 pm.

Here’s the boat route they’ll take you on from Muyil through Sian Ka’an.

Sian Ka'an Lagoon Boat Tour map

Base map source: Google Maps, used with permission

👶 Note regarding children: While the adult price is firmly fixed, the rate for children is flexible. We’ve received comments from readers that pricing for children ranged from $350 pesos to $900 pesos. It’s also been reported that infants and toddlers are permitted to go on the boat tour for free. (But you must bring your own toddler life jacket).

Is the Sian Ka’an Boat Trip Worth it?

The $1,000-peso price of the Sian Ka’an boat trip is a bit steep. Whether it’s worth it may vary from person to person. Personally, we thought it was worth it and think that most others would agree.

We strongly recommend this Sian Ka’an boat tour if you can budget for the price. It would be a shame to come out this way and not experience the waters of Sian Ka’an. This boat trip, and particularly the canal float, tend to be a highlight of any visit to this Muyil area of the Sian Ka’an Biosphere Reserve.

What To Expect on this Sian Ka’an Boat Tour

Here’s a glimpse at what the experience is like to help you decide whether to pursue it. Expect a beautiful boat ride across Sian Ka’an’s lagoons and into narrow canals that are just barely wider than the boat itself.

Sian Ka'an Biosphere Reserve boat tour through a Mayan canal

This is not a guided tour of Sian Ka’an. So don’t expect the boatman to provide details about the places you’re passing through. He’s just there to safely drive the boat to the points of interest you’ll be visiting.

The water throughout this boat trip is crystal clear. You can easily spot fish swimming around. But look up in the air too, as Sian Ka’an is known for over 300 species of birds.

Eventually, you’ll reach a small Mayan ruin that was used for commerce centuries ago. The boat docks here so you can take a look around.

Dock leading to Mayan ruin in Sian Ka'an Biosphere Reserve visited during tour

Yet the highlight of this boat trip is next. You’ll have the opportunity to float down an ancient Mayan canal! The canal is lined with mangroves and the water is very clear. It’s also super refreshing, after that short but sweaty trek through the hot & humid jungle! A lifejacket is provided to float down the canal with.

We recommend packing your own mask and snorkel to be able to view the fish and other critters that live amongst the mangroves. We saw many fish and crabs that we would have otherwise missed during the canal float.

floating down a mangrove canal in Sian Ka'an Biosphere Reserve    Crab underwater in Sian Ka'an canal mangroves.

The boatman stays with the boat as you float down the canal on your own, which takes about 15-20 minutes. He eventually meets you at a spot where you can then walk back to the boat on a scenic boardwalk through a marsh.

Boardwalk through the sawgrass at Sian Ka'an Biosphere Reserve.

Eventually, this magical journey through this inland freshwater area of Sian Ka’an ends and you’ll return back towards Muyil through the same scenic lagoons and canals you had entered. This entire Sian Ka’an boat excursion usually takes between 90 minutes to 2 hours.

Note: There’s also a 4-Hour Boat Tour of Sian Ka’an that Reaches the Coastal Ecosystem

The boat trip, as described above, does not venture into the ocean environment of Sian Ka’an. So understand that you will not see dolphins, sea turtles, etc when taking this 90-minute boat trip from Muyil.

However, there is an expanded 4-hour boat excursion priced at $ 6,000 pesos, per boat, that the boatsmen at Muyil also offer. This expanded tour continues further toward the ocean, so you may see some marine life. But it does not reach the barrier reef for snorkeling.

While the $6,000-peso (~US$320) price seems quite expensive to us, it could be worth it if you have a group that can share the cost. For example, if you happen to have six people, the price for this lengthier 4-hour boat tour would be $1,000 pesos per person, which is actually the same per-person price that’s charged for the 2-hour boat tour.

So if traveling as a group, consider this expanded tour to get more value from your pesos.

Returning to Tulum from Sian Ka’an & Muyil

Upon completing the nearly 2-hour boat tour and floating down the canal, you can either exit the reverse way you came in on the trail back to Muyil. But for a more direct route (recommended), simply walk down the dirt road back to Highway 307 where you’ll find the bus station for the return to Tulum.

Muyil Bus station waiting to return from Muyil to TulumYou can purchase a ticket directly from the bus driver this time, which should cost somewhere around $30-$50 pesos per person. Alternatively, there are many colectivos and taxis that ply this route. Expect to pay $20-$40 pesos per person for a colectivo or perhaps up to $100 pesos for a taxi back to Tulum. If you’re charged significantly higher than that, we recommend declining. There will be more affordable options coming along semi-frequently, whether bus or colectivo.

What to Pack for a Day Trip to Sian Ka’an Biosphere Reserve

Even if just venturing out for a half-day, it’s definitely recommended to bring a daypack. There are some essential items that you’ll need throughout your journey into Sian Ka’an.

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Heather standing in front of a Muyil sign, holding a bag of what to pack for a Sian Ka'an Biosphere Reserve tour: mask & snorkeling gear, natural insect repellent, biodegradable sunscreen and more

Here are some things to pack for a visit to Sian Ka’an Biosphere Reserve:

👙 Bathing suit: Be sure to wear or pack a bathing suit so that you can float through the canal during the boat ride. The canal float is a must-do!

🚿 Towel: You’ll probably want to dry off after that canal float, but your hotel may not appreciate (or allow) taking their towels with you. We love these lightweight microfiber travel towels.

🕶️ Sun protection: The Yucatan sun is strong. Bring sunglasses and a hat.

☀️ *Biodegradable* sunscreen: The chemicals in sunscreen have been found to harm this fragile environment. Visitors to Sian Ka’an are now being asked not to wear any sunscreen at all into the water. But if you’re going to wear sunscreen, ensure that it’s biodegradable sunscreen and does NOT contain oxybenzone and octinoxate. This Alba Botanic SPF 45 is on Amazon. Note, that nearby cenotes are now cracking down on harmful sunscreens too.

🦟 *Natural* Mosquito Repellent: In the area from the Muyil ruins to the boat docks, it can be pretty thick with mosquitos and other annoying bugs. But be careful not to use repellent with DEET since it is found to be highly toxic to fish and marine life. The repellent will wash off when you do your canal float, harming the fish in the biosphere reserve. Instead, consider a natural insect repellent like this plant-based Repel that works well for us at keeping those mosquitos away.

🤳 Underwater Camera: Bring a waterproof camera if you want to take it with you while floating in the canal. GoPros are fantastic but the $400+ price tag is not. Did you know that you can find knockoff GoPros on Amazon for only $50? That’s what we’re using and they work great!  Without an underwater camera, be sure that you’ll be comfortable leaving your phone or camera with the boatman while you’re floating. (Note: The Sian Ka’an boat guides do tend to be entirely trustworthy, but you still may not feel comfortable leaving any expensive equipment).

💦 Waterproofing: There’s not too much splashing during the boat ride, but it would be awful if there was a slip-up that caused your camera or phone to get wet. We use and recommend:

  • A good waterproof case for your cell phone is worth every penny of its $10 price to give you the peace of mind of not ruining your phone. It will also allow you to use your phone in the water during your canal float. (Really!)
  • Also, consider bringing a dry bag to keep all of your belongings safe and dry during the boat ride.

🥽 Mask & snorkel: While you can still enjoy the canal float without a mask and snorkel, we strongly recommend bringing a mask. The boat does not provide them for you. So if you want to see this underwater environment, you must bring your own. The water in the canal is super clear and a mask will enable you to see fish, crabs, and other ecology living in the mangroves that line the canal. If you don’t already own a mask, we can suggest this mask & snorkel which is a fantastic mask for the price. You can also use it to snorkel at the beach reefs and in the cenotes during your trip to the Riviera Maya.
Note: There’s no need to pack bulky fins for Sian Ka’an. It’s a leisurely float.

💵 Money: While the Muyil trip with boat ride should total about $1,200 pesos per person, we recommend bringing slightly more, just in case any pricing has changed, an emergency, or if something else comes up.

🚰 Drinking water: Mexico is hot. Don’t get dehydrated. We recommend packing at least a 1.5-liter bottle of water per person. Bring it with you or purchase it at the convenience store across the highway from Muyil.

🌮 (Optional) Food: There are some small local restaurants and an Oxxo convenience store across the street from Muyil. It’s possible to grab a bite there. Otherwise, you may want to pack some snacks.

👶 (For infants only) life jackets: Life jackets are required for the boat trip and are provided for adults and children. However, they do NOT currently have life jackets for infants. If you are traveling to Sian Ka’an with a baby, be sure to bring your own infant life jacket.

⚠️ Travel insurance – It’s a good idea to have travel insurance, not only for a trip to Sian Ka’an but for any trip throughout Mexico. You never know what could happen during your travels here. You could get sick, a flight gets canceled, hurricanes (June-Nov), your phone falls in the water, your camera gets stolen, etc. Travel insurance will help you and cover the costs of any such unfortunate circumstances. We never roam around Mexico without it. We use and have been happy with World Nomads, which has what we’ve found to be the best price & coverage combination. Usually, we get their regular plan, but you may want to consider upgrading to the Explorer plan if you’ll be doing lots of snorkeling and/or other adventure activities. Enter the dates for your trip to get a quick estimate. (Takes 1 minute.)

🧳 What Else To Pack for Your Mexico Trip? The packing suggestions above are just a few recommendations specific to Sian Ka’an. You may want to check out our Ultimate Packing Checklist for other packing tips and to make sure you haven’t forgotten anything before your trip to Mexico.

DIY Muyil & Sian Ka’an Cost and Prices – Total

This DIY trip to Sian Ka’an, the Muyil ruins, boardwalk, boat tour & float, and busing to/from Tulum comes to a total of $1,188 pesos per person.

To recap, here are the costs for this day trip including all entrance fees and public transport:

  • Tulum to Muyil bus price: $28 pesos
  • Muyil entrance fee: $70 pesos
  • Sian Ka’an Boardwalk entrance fee: $50 pesos
  • Boat tour around Sian Ka’an lagoons price: $1,000 pesos
  • Return bus Muyil to Tulum bus price: ~$40 pesos

=Total: $1,188 pesos

At the current exchange rate, that comes out to about $64 USD per person. We do find the price for this DIY trip to be a bit high, particularly considering recent price increases. Yet visiting Muyil and Sian Ka’an can be justifiably worth it. It tends to be a highlight of many travelers’ visits to this area of Mexico.

The US$64 cost is also significantly less than the Sian Ka’an tours to Muyil and the lagoon, which are priced around US$130. These tours embark on a very similar route to what’s been described in this post, yet include a local expert guide, the seamlessness of door-to-door pickup/drop-off, and the assurance of catching a boat, among other perks.

Whichever way you go, just know that the Muyil, lagoon boat tour, and canal float all makes for a great half-day adventure from Tulum.

Birds-eye view of Sian Ka'an Biosphere Reserve and Muyil Lagoon near Tulum Mexico.

Do-It-Yourself vs. Sian Ka’an Tours

Do you prefer the convenience and seamlessness of a tour? Do you want to learn more about Sian Ka’an from a local expert? Or are you comfortable with public transportation, exploring on your own, and saving some pesos? That’s what you need to decide.

The detailed instructions we outlined to get to Sian Ka’an on your own should get you there and provide for a great DIY trip. But some may run into issues. Those who are not comfortable with independent travel in a foreign country may want to book a tour instead.

If you don’t want to have to worry about the logistics, wait for bus connections, and find your way, then it’s certainly worth considering one of the many tours to Sian Ka’an Biosphere Reserve.

If booking a Sian Ka’an tour, you’ll undoubtedly pay more than going to Sian Ka’an on your own. But small group tours include the convenience of hotel pickup, snacks or meals, drinks, entrance fees, etc. This all can help to justify the higher price.

Yet the biggest benefit to going on any Sian Ka’an tour is the local knowledge you’ll receive from local experts. A guide will be able to share so much more information about Sian Ka’an than what you’ll find by doing it yourself. Many of the tour guides are of Mayan descent and will provide not only Mayan history but also local folklore that’s been passed down. They also know where to find wildlife and what delights their customers.

If taking a Sian Ka’an Biosphere Reserve tour, then we recommend booking through trusted sites like Viator and GetYourGuide. They are always reliable, have an up-to-date calendar, the ability to seamlessly book online in advance, verified reviews, good prices, and generous cancelation policies.

Here are a few recommended tours.

To See the Muyil Ruins, Jungle Walk, Boat Trip, and Canal Float: We recommend this Sian Ka’an & Muyil Tour to experience those sites as part of a tour instead of on your own. It’s the best-priced Sian Ka’an tour we’ve seen listed online that also has consistently great reviews. It does regularly sell out, so book ahead. Check availability and prices on Viator.

To Explore Sian Ka’an Marine Ecosystem: We suggest the 5-star rated Sian Ka’an Adventure on Viator for a full day out on the water, finding marine life, snorkeling, enjoying pristine beaches, and more. Check prices and recent reviews.

Have You Visited Sian Ka’an Biosphere Reserve?

If you’ve ventured out to Sian Ka’an on your own, please let us know in the comments. We’d love to hear about your experience. Also, since this post has become a resource for people traveling to Sian Ka’an Biosphere Reserve, we do try to keep it up-to-date with any changes over time. So if you’ve gone to Sian Ka’an and have noticed that any prices, procedures, or directions have changed, please let us know and we’ll edit the post to ensure it remains up-to-date.

Meanwhile, for more travel tips before your trip, be sure to check out our in-depth guide to the 75+ Best Mexico Travel Tips to Know Before Your Trip. It reveals how to save money, avoid hassle, stay safe, respect cultural etiquette, and have fun all throughout this beautiful country!

You can also find more blogs and detailed travel guides about Mexico here.

Happy travels to Sian Ka’an and have a great trip to the Yucatan!

Publishing note: This post about Sian Ka’an Biosphere Reserve was last updated in March 2023.

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