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Journey To "Where The Sky Is Born" - The Yucatan's Sian Ka'an Biosphere Reserve

Dec 9, 2007
As the largest protected area in the Mayan Riviera and esteemed UNESCO World Heritage Site, Sian Ka'an has been the region's premier nature and outdoor recreation destination since it opened 20 years ago. With nearly one-third of Mexico's Caribbean coast dominated by the park, there is also no shortage of nature to explore. Located just south of Cancun near the ancient city of Tulum, Sian Ka'an offers some of the best daytrip opportunities for tourists staying in Cancun.

As the park's name is taken from a Mayan phrase meaning "where the sky is born," it is no surprise that Sian Ka'an is also home to numerous historical sites. Human remains and artifacts found within the largely unexcavated Mayan sites in Sian Ka'an have been traced back over 2,300 years. In addition to the 23 distinctive archeological sites in the park, it is believed that the northern section of Sian Ka'an contains a once-vibrant Mayan trade route. When you visit the park, you will be able to see ancient Mayan temples resting undisturbed amongst the beauty of the natural environment. In fact, several tour operators visit these sites as part of active kayaking and hiking tours, allowing visitors to experience the best of both worlds.

Despite such fascinating history, the true value of Sian Ka'an rests in the fact that the park is one of the most biologically diverse preserves on earth. In fact, within the boundaries of the park, researchers have found 103 unique mammal species and 336 different species of birds. Unlike anywhere else in the world, Sian Ka'an allows visitors to experience several types of natural habitats in a single day. While touring the park, these are just a few of the unique natural habitats that tourists can explore:

* Coral Reef - Along the Caribbean coastline, Sian Ka'an protects over 60 miles of the world's second largest barrier reef system. Besides offering unparalleled diving and sightseeing opportunities, the park's coral reef protects a number of endangered aquatic species.

* Beaches - Four species of endangered sea turtles use the Caribbean beaches of Sian Ka'an as a nesting ground during the summer months. These unspoiled stretches of sand also grant visitors a great opportunity to see many nesting sea birds in their natural habitat.

* Wetlands - The greatest ecological diversity in the park is found in the wetlands. As the classification of wetlands includes such diverse environments as grassy savannas, nutrient-rich swamps and four distinct species of mangrove, these areas are of particular interest to tourists and researchers alike.

* Tropical Forests - The majority of the park's mammal populations are found in the tropical forests. Found inland from the Caribbean coast and the wetlands areas in the western portion of Sian Ka'an, the tropical forests provide many of the favorite sites for visiting nature lovers.

* Lagoons - Supplied by the immense underground waterways beneath the Yucatan peninsula, the numerous lagoons found in Sian Ka'an are home to many unique species. Near the coastline, ocean water mixes with fresh water to support crocodiles and wading birds. Further inland, the fresh water lagoons connect to the underground rivers through cenotes. These large sinkholes found throughout the Yucatan Peninsula have long been popular destinations with divers and water sport enthusiasts.

* Hummocks - The most unique of Sian Ka'an's environments, these forests are found only in Florida's Everglades, parts of Cuba and the Yucatan Peninsula. Known locally as petenes, this particular type of hummock habitat is defined by isolated forests surrounded by swamps or other wetlands. Much like true forests, these tropical hummocks support an incredible diversity of plant and animal life - including exotic birds and mammals.

Many local tour companies and ecological organizations lead groups through the park's diverse habitats each day. One such group is the Centro Ecologico Sian Ka'an (CESiaK), an organization created to educate both locals and visitors about all aspects of the park's environment. In addition to the opportunity to learn about the environment, visitors can participate in tours that feature a number of outdoor sports. From snorkeling and swimming in the park's rivers and cenotes to hiking and bird watching in the tropical forests, Sian Ka'an provides the perfect daytrip for the adventurous tourist.

If you want to experience the natural beauty and incredible history of the Yucatan Peninsula while in Cancun, you won't find a better destination than Sian Ka'an. Make the journey to "where the sky is born" and immerse yourself in one of the most vibrant natural environments in the world.
About the Author
This article was written by Justin Burch. Justin writes select pieces about vacationing in the Caribbean for the Cancun Mexico Resort.
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