I recently got to experience the Sian Ka’an tour from Playa del Carmen with Kay Tours Mexico. Sian Ka’an Biosphere Reserve is a place I had seen on the map many times but one that I knew very little about. The Sian Kaan tour is a full day wildlife expedition and I had so much fun exploring this magical place with some new blogger friends at Claire’s Itchy Feet and the Tofu Traveler. In this post, I’m detailing everything you need to know about Sian Ka’an and the best way to experience the tour from Playa del Carmen.
What is Sian Ka’an Biosphere Reserve?
Meaning “where the sky is born” in Mayan, Sian Ka’an is a Biosphere Reserve and UNESCO World Heritage site. If you’re like me, you might be wondering what exactly is a Biosphere Reserve? Basically, UNESCO created a world network of Biosphere Reserves to recognize ecologically diverse sites around the world. Biosphere Reserves are securely protected land, coastal, or marine ecosystems.
Each site must be nominated and meet specific criteria before being admitted into the program. The criteria promotes 3 functions which include conservation, development, and a logistic function (which might include environmental education and training). There are currently about 400 Biosphere Reserves around the world in almost 100 countries.
Sian Ka’an became a Biosphere Reserve in 1986 and was recognized as a UNESCO World Heritage site one year later. It’s currently the largest protected area in the Mexican Caribbean and contains thousands of species of flora and fauna.
How do you get to Sian Ka’an?
Sian Ka’an is located on the Caribbean coast just south of Tulum. It’s approximately 2 hours drive from Playa del Carmen. Because it’s so remote, it’s very difficult to get to Sian Ka’an without a tour operator.
It is possible to visit on your own but after some research I found out that it was a little too complicated involving several different buses and colectivos that only run a couple of times a day. You’d then have to hire a boat which seemed like way too much work!
For me, I preferred to go with an experienced tour guide that knows all the ins and outs of Sian Ka’an. Plus, due to the remote location, there’s no cell service in the area which would make it very difficult to navigate if you were to get lost.
About Kay Tours Mexico
Kay Tours Mexico provides customized private and small group tours and excursions in the Riviera Maya region. While there are many tour companies in this part of Mexico, I definitely noticed a few things that set Kay Tours Mexico apart from the rest.
- Kay Tours offers customized private and small group tours. For me, this makes the tour so much more meaningful because you’re not just getting the same cookie cutter experience that hundreds of other tourists have gotten. If you want to spend more time in a certain area, all you have to do is ask your tour guide and they will personalize the tour just for you.
- The personal tour guides are friendly, fun, and extremely knowledgeable. Our tour guide Juan was the source of knowledge for all of the facts about the wildlife and environmental conservation on the Sian Ka’an tour.
- Kay Tours puts a real focus on being environmentally friendly. They provide each guest an aluminum water bottle with your name on it to be used throughout the tour. They also use glass bottles to reduce the use of plastic.
- Free pictures are included in the cost of the tour. After the tour you’ll receive an email with a link to a digital album to view or download all the pictures that were taken on the tour. They use a high quality professional camera as well as a GoPro so it’s great for underwater shots. Most other tour companies will charge extra for photos so this a great perk that is included in the tour.
While you may pay a little more for a customized private or small group tour with Kay Tours Mexico, the elevated experience is definitely worth it.
Sian Ka’an Tour Itinerary
The Sian Ka’an Tour from Playa del Carmen lasts approximately 10 hours. Be prepared the pickup is very early! Luckily you will be provided with coffee and a light breakfast in the van. Note the pickup and drop off times are approximate since the tour is customized to the group’s preference.
- 6:15 AM – Pickup at your hotel in Playa del Carmen
- Travel to Sian Ka’an (approximately 2 hours from Playa del Carmen)
- Arrival to Paso Lagarto where you will board the “Del Mar” boat
- Boat Tour of the Sian Ka’an and Wildlife Observation
- Snorkeling Tour at the coral reef at Sian Ka’an
- Lunch at Punta Allen – Vigia Grande Restaurant
- Return to Paso Lagarto by boat
- Travel back to Playa del Carmen
- 4:30 PM – Drop off at your hotel in Playa del Carmen
What will you get to see at Sian Ka’an?
Sian Ka’an is home to thousands of different types of species so you can expect to see many different kinds of marine animals, wildlife, and plant varieties. On our Sian Ka’an tour we got to see a crocodile, dolphins, sea turtles, stingrays, birds, and massive starfish. We also visited Isla de Pajaros (Bird Island) where you’ll see a large population of pelicans, frigates, and boobies (yes that’s what they’re actually called!)
Sian Ka’an Snorkeling Tour
One of the highlights of the Sian Ka’an tour is the opportunity to go snorkeling in Sian Ka’an. Swimming with the animals is prohibited because it is a protected area, but you are allowed to snorkel in the coral reef.
I have to say that the reef at Sian Ka’an was probably one of the best places that I’ve snorkeled in Mexico. It was loaded with colorful fish (my favorite was the rainbow fish) and huge corals. We even got to see a small shark eeek!
It was also way less crowded than any other Mexico snorkeling tour that I’ve been on. This way you don’t have to worry about bumping into other snorkelers or having their flippers ruin your perfect underwater shot!
How much does the Sian Ka’an Tour from Playa del Carmen cost?
The price of the small group tour to Sian Ka’an is $169 USD per person with a minimum of 6 participants. Here’s what’s included:
- A personal tour guide who picks you up at your hotel
- Certified driver and fully insured car/van with a/c
- Exclusive round-trip transportation
- Full snorkel gear provided, including wetsuits
- Lunch at the fishermen village of Punta Allen (all inclusive)
- Sanitary (WC/Showers) facilities and changing rooms
- Entrance fees, park- and reef fee
- Water, soda, beer, fruit basket and snacks in the van
- FREE PICTURES in a digital picture album, ready to share
What to Bring on the Sian Ka’an Tour
Below is a list of what I would recommend bringing with you on the Sian Ka’an tour. Sunscreen is not permitted (even reef-safe and biodegradable sunscreen) so it’s very important to bring hats or clothing to cover yourself to prevent a sunburn. I didn’t have a rash guard but was luckily able to borrow one and I’m so glad I did.
- Sun Hat
- Rash guard or swim shirt
- GoPro or waterproof camera
- Sarong or wrap
- Flip flops or sandals
- Change of clothes
- Money for tips
Tips for Visiting Sian Ka’an
- Sunscreen is not permitted on the tour (including reef-safe and biodegradable). If you are as sensitive to the sun as me, I would recommend bringing a rash guard to wear in the water as well as a wrap or sarong and hat to cover yourself on the boat.
- There is absolutely no cell service on the tour. It’s a nice digital detox but be sure you attend to any important matters before you reach Tulum.
- Bring a lightweight change of clothes. You’ll go to the restaurant in Punta Allen right after snorkeling and the bathrooms there are a good spot to change into some dry clothes for the return trip.
- The Sian Ka’an small group tour is offered every Tuesday and Saturday so be sure to book in advance to secure your spot.
While there are many options for Riviera Maya tours, I would highly recommend the Sian Kaan tour especially if you are a nature lover. It’s a great day trip from Tulum or Playa del Carmen, and it’s one of the most unique Riviera Maya excursions offering an exclusive way to experience the untouched natural beauty of the region.
I’m so glad I got to witness the wildlife and natural habitat of Sian Ka’an and really hope it continues to be preserved for years to come.
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