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Enjoying The Wildlife Of The Yucatan

Nov 27, 2007
Though Cancun and the Yucatan Peninsula are known by travelers as premier beach destinations, the area is also one of the most bio-diverse regions in the world. On all sides of Cancun, national parks and nature preserves provide visitors the opportunity to see unspoiled ecosystems and all their unique species. From observing marine life while scuba diving to bird watching amongst Mayan ruins, exploration of wildlife has become one of the region's most popular activities. As you explore nature in the Yucatan, keep an eye out for some Mexico's most interesting creatures.

The Yucatan Peninsula is home to at least 125 species of mammals and approximately 25% of Mexico's total mammal population. When touring the sites outside of Cancun, try to spot some of following creatures:

* Central American Spider Monkey - Some of the best sites to spot groups of playful spider monkey are the ancient Mayan ruins of Chichen Itza and Coba. Each of these popular sites is visited by numerous tours from Cancun and highly recommended by tourists and travel experts alike.

* Jaguar and Puma - There are five species of large felines native to the Yucatan. Though these cats can sometimes be difficult to find, plenty of tourists have photographed these beautiful animals throughout the local nature preserves.

* Coatimundi and Kinkajou - As two of the region's most unique small mammals, a chance encounter with one of these oddly-named creatures is always a treat.
Of all the mammals native to the Yucatan, nearly 25% of the species spend their lives underwater. The warm, peaceful waters off the coast of Cancun have long had the ability to attract scores of whales and dolphins unlike anywhere else in the world.

* Whales - In the waters surrounding the Cancun area, at least 19 different species of whale can spotted throughout the year. While there are some aquariums and aquatic preserves that house whales, the best way to see these great open-water creatures is aboard a Caribbean tour or charter boat.

* Dolphins - Favorites of children and adults alike, 11 different species of dolphin inhabit the Yucatan waters, including the playful Bottlenose Dolphin.

In addition to the diversity of aquatic mammals found in the Yucatan, divers and marine experts come to Cancun to catch a glimpse of the wide array of tropical fish and unique sea creatures. At least ten species of shark patrol the Caribbean waters surrounding Cancun, including the peaceful Whale Shark. Here are a few of the other creatures to look for while out in the water:

* Local Freshwater Fish - In addition to the incredible diversity found in the Yucatan's freshwater populations, there are a handful of local species sought out by experts and curious travelers alike. Two of the most popular local species are the Yucatan Mosquitofish and the Mojarrita. For more of a challenge, try to track down the rare Blind Eel or Blind White Dama.

* Rays - While common varieties of rays can be found near Cancun (Southern Stingray, Manta Ray, Spotted Eagle Ray), the most interesting species is the Cownose Ray. Known for their domed heads that split into two distinct lobes, the Cownose Rays migrate south each year from the Gulf of Mexico in schools as large as 10,000.

The Yucatan Peninsula is also an excellent destination for bird watching as nearly half of all Mexico's winged creatures reside in the area. One of the best sites for bird watching is the Ria Celestun Biosphere Reserve, a natural area known for its incredible flamingo population. The Isla Contoy is another favorite destination of bird watchers and one of the best sites in the world to see nesting seabirds. At the ancient city of Uxmal, Cave Swallows are known to take flight en masse and float above the ruins. Even if you don't have a chance to visit any of these special sites, you will be granted excellent bird watching opportunities wherever you travel in the Yucatan.

One of the primary reasons that the Yucatan is able to support so many diverse species is the support of the government and environmental groups. Unlike any other region in Latin America, the Yucatan Peninsula features an incredible number of sprawling national parks and private preserves. Marine life is supported by sites such as Xcalak National Marine Park and the Banco Chinchorro Biosphere Reserve, part of the important Mesoamerican Barrier Reef System. On land, plant and animal species are protected in sites such as the 1.8 million acre Calakmul Biosphere Reserve and Sian Ka'an, one of the largest wilderness areas in Mexico.

All of the sites mentioned here can be visited as part of tours departing from Cancun. If you have a specific wildlife interest - for instance, bird watching or a chance to see jaguars in the wild - you can find specialized tours to fit your needs. However, even if you don't stray far from the beaches of Cancun, you will still find plenty of wildlife to enjoy.
About the Author
This article was written by Justin Burch. Justin writes select pieces about vacationing in the Caribbean and travel in Cancun for the Marriott Resorts.
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