As our time in Tulum came to end, we had a choice to make. We had just one day of adventures remaining and the decision came down to a literal fork in the road.
The first option was to head northwest of Tulum to the famous Coba ruins. Everything we read had told us not to miss out on the Coba ruins but then we got another tip from our Airbnb host to instead turn south towards Sian Ka’an and try something a little different.
Ever since our blah experience in New York City, we’ve made a point of watching which direction the rest of the tourists go and turning the other way. I don’t intend that to sound pretentious but in truth, every single time we’ve found ourselves at one of these places we’d wished we were elsewhere. There’s something about it that just feels so staged. Like we’re just checking something off a list and going home.
Whenever we travel, the thing that really gets us excited is finding somewhere a little off the usual tourist paths. We prefer somewhere that rides the line between getting really uncomfortable, and feeling safe and in control. Why travel to the other side of the world to do the same things you can do from your own backyard?
So we went south.
WHAT TO DO IN SIAN KAAN
- Muyil Ruins
- Boardwalk through the mangrove jungle
- Sian Ka’an Biosphere
- Lookout tower
- Boat tours
WHAT YOU’LL NEED
- Either a car or a scooter.
- Comfy shoes for lots of walking over slightly rough terrain.
- Plenty of water and snacks.
- Swimming gear and towel.
- Bug repellent!
- Four hours of spare time at a minimum. If you choose to go on a boat tour it could turn into a full day trip.
HOW TO GET THERE
We chose to go by scooter/moped. We felt like a car would be more cumbersome and I’m so glad we made that call. This was the second time I had ever driven a scooter and the first time with another person riding with me but it was such an easy and enjoyable ride! The furthest point is a mere 20 minute ride down a very calm highway. The area is so bike-friendly that even the highway has a bike lane. By staying in this lane, we weren’t phased by passing cars.
As you’ll see on the map, Kaan Lum Laguna is the first checkpoint but we’re going to save that for the way back.
THE MUYIL RUINS: $50 PESOS
Disclaimer: we are not history buffs. So visiting ruins has never been high on our list. This fact made our choice between Coba and Muyil a lot easier because to us it all feels the same.
Naturally, we weren’t particularly excited for this part and so I can’t give you an insightful review of it for this reason.
However, it was a very magical place! They’ve created pathways that lead you between each notable area within the ruins and they’re lined with unusual jungle foliage and twisty trees. The path itself is decorated with beautiful pink stones that give it this other-worldly feel. Honestly, I had more fun strolling the paths between the different structures than I did viewing the ruins but that’s not because the ruins weren’t worth the trip — I just really liked the landscapes.
The ruins were really pretty. Nature has done a number on the temples, many of them reduced to rubble or covered in vines. It was fun to picture what it would’ve looked like or what life would have been like for the Mayans when these buildings were fully functional. Each one provides a plaque with some background about it’s history. One of them has a pelican emblem carved into it. I challenge you to find the pelican!
The best part though? It’s nearly deserted. The entire time we were there, we saw two other couples. There were more employees taking the admission fee than there were tourists paying the admission. Compare this to what we’ve heard about Coba and it’s a completely different and arguably better experience!
But be warned! The mosquitos here are hungry. Slather on that bug repellent everywhere because I assure you, they will find that one spot that you missed. We put on an average amount and still left with at least ten bites each.
SIAN KA’AN: $40 PESOS
If you follow the path to the main temple and go behind it, you’ll see a well-worn trail.
Follow that path. It’ll feel kind of fun, like you’re a regular and know about some top secret area hidden behind the ruins. There aren’t any signs directing you this way.
After a very short walk, you’ll find a small palapa with a man in a hammock. Beside that will be a wooden map and a gate. As you approach the man, he will ask for the small admission fee (which is totally worth it) and will escort you through the gate.
You've now entered the Sian Ka'an Biosphere. Nature has gone all out here. This national reserve covers a huge portion of land south of Tulum and there is plenty more to see if you continue south but this particular area is as far as we went.
The gate opens up to a wooden boardwalk that takes you right through the jungle. You’ll traverse over swampy lands and crystal clear pools of water fed by natural springs. You’ll rejoice over the birds you hear overhead and concern over those creatures that you do not.
Twisting and turning through the mangrove trees, you’ll eventually find an observation tower that you can climb. After five or six sets of increasingly steep stairs, you reach the top of the covered tower. The view is incredible!
Now above the trees, you can see how far the jungle goes (hint: forever) and the lagoons in the distance.
When you’ve taken in the views, continue along the trail. Take a quick pitstop at the washroom.
LAGuNa BOAT TOURS: $500-600+ PESOS
Nestled at the edge of the Sian Ka’an Biosphere are a group of large lagoons of various sizes. The most notable are Laguna Chunyaxche and Laguna Kaan Lum.
I’m afraid you’re on your own from here. With heavy hearts, we had to walk away from this portion due to time restraints. But here is what I know!
At the end of the boardwalk, after the washroom, you’ll find a laguna. This one is not swimmable. But if you go to the pier there will be plenty of men in uniforms asking if you’d like more information. They’re not pushy but they are there to sell you boat tours.
The tip we got was to pay no more than $500 pesos (they were asking $600 initially). Caution: some say it's a cost per boat, while others say the cost is per person. It will likely vary from one person to the next so be prepared to haggle for the best price.
They will take you across the smaller laguna, through the small canal and into the very large Laguna Chunyaxche. You’ll get a tour followed by the option to get in the water with a lifejacket and float down a river. Apparently this is a fantastic experience and well worth the money.
Alternative Tip! If you’d prefer to skip the ruins and boardwalk altogether, you can drive a tiny bit further south on the highway and down a rocky dirt road. Not far along that road you’ll see a parking lot with plenty of vehicles. You can pay your admission to the reserve here and walk a short (but mosquito filled) path to the boat pier. This route avoids the fee into the ruins if that’s not your thing.
Laguna Kaan Lum: $50 pesos
Now let’s hit the highway again! Head back north until the highway curves west toward Tulum. You’ll be about 10 minutes ride from town at this point. The entrance to Kaan Lum is easy to miss so keep your eyes open. You’ll travel another bumpy dirt road until you reach a dead end parking lot.
Once you’ve paid your entry fee, you’ll have access to a dark, stinky bathroom (but honestly it could be much worse). There is a picnic area to your left as you enter the pier, a sitting area to your right and directly ahead is the famous pier.
This laguna itself is actually an 80-metre deep sinkhole filled with water. The deep area is roped off and you can only access it if you pay a diver’s fee (as I understand). The rest of the surrounding water ranges from knee deep to shoulder deep and its crystal clear!
The soft sandy bottom is easy to walk on and gives the water it’s green shade (on a clear day it is more of a blue).
Visitors will generally lounge along the pier and dangle their feet off the edge where little friendly fish will nibble the dead skin off of their feet. Others prefer to hang out in the perfect-temperature water.
It was the perfect way to end a day of exploring! Just make sure you plan it out properly as the laguna closes promptly at 4:00pm.
BACK TO TULUM
By this point you’ll be hungry. On the way back, I suggest capping off your adventure at Burrito Amor to catch the sunset from the bar.