Last Updated: Dec 2018
We really wanted to visit this UNESCO World Heritage outside of Tulum, but couldn’t quite figure out exactly how to get to and tour Sian Ka’an Biosphere Reserve on your own. There are a few packaged group tours available in Tulum. And although some of those tours look great, they can get a bit expensive for budget-minded travelers.
Trying to figure out how to visit Sian Ka’an Biosphere Reserve on our own, we researched on the web and asked locals but got nowhere. Guidebooks only referenced the package tours. I asked our hotel staff… nothing. I talked to a few different guys working at various hostels in town, thinking surely they would know, but they hadn’t a clue. But then I slowly started finding clues on the web that I pieced together like a puzzle, so we then attempted a visit to Sian Ka’an on our own.
Through a bit of trial and error, we were successful and had a great time. So here is our effort to give back to the travel community, since we were not able to find any detailed info on a DIY tour of Sian Ka’an. Here’s the scoop!
How To Get to Sian Ka’an Biosphere Reserve from Tulum
First you need to understand that Sian Ka’an Biosphere Reserve is a massive area, some 5,200+ square kilometers. Being so large, there are multiple access points to the reserve. The two most common access points for tours from Tulum are Punta Allen (“B” on map below) and Muyil (C).
Sian Ka’an: Visiting Muyil or Punta Allen
Although you can access 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.
Punta Allen: If you want to see ocean lagoons, beaches, dolphins, turtles, fish, etc., then the Punta Allen route to the Sian Ka’an Biosphere Reserve may be for you. It seems like an awesome trip, but the downside is that it can take a considerable amount of logistics or cost to pursue. If using public transport you’ll need to allow for multiple days and it’s unadvised to drive there under current road conditions. Alternatively there are some great small group tours that will take you all over the Punta Allen side of Sian Ka’an in a single day, but travelers on a budget may find them to be a little pricey. Rates for tours of this ocean side of Sian Ka’an start at $115 and we’ve listed them in the next section below.
Muyil: If you you want to see the inland jungle, Mayan ruins, wetlands, fresh water lagoon, mangrove forests, Mayan-carved canals, and float down said canals – head to Muyil. Logistically it’s easier to get to on your own and way more cost-effective. Visiting Sian Ka’an from Muyil is a very doable DIY trip that can be accomplished in a half day. This Muyil trip is exactly what we did, which this article goes into great detail about how to get to Sian Ka’an via Muyil on your own.
But first, here is some quick information should you desire to go the Punta Allen ocean route instead.
Visiting Coastal Sian Ka’an Via Punta Allen
You can get to Punta Allen by rental car or from a colectivo that leaves Tulum Pueblo on the corner of Centauro Norte and Avenida Tulum daily at 2:00 pm. I understand that the road is currently in awful condition, ridden with horrible potholes & sand and is not advised to drive down. The colectivo making the daily journey takes about four hours to complete the 34 mile ride, arriving to Punta Allen around 6:00 pm. And if you take the colectivo, plan to spend at least two nights at Punta Allen, because the return colectivo back to Tulum only departs from Punta Allen at the ungodly hour of 5:00 am daily.
Once in Punta Allen, it’s fairly easy to hire a boat to take you out to see Sian Ka’an’s marine side, but we cannot confirm costs of this firsthand. Be sure to factor in lodging costs too, if planning to stay overnight which is necessary if using the colectivo. There are a few fishing lodges in Punta Allen and prices vary. Pre-setup tents on the beach start at $20 per night for travelers on a shoestring budget who want to camp. Meanwhile hotel rooms start at $75 USD at the Ascension Bay Bed & Breakfast, which receives great reviews.
Alternatively, if you do not have three days to dedicate to public transport getting down to Punta Allen and back, you have two other options: (1) rent a 4×4 and attempt the poor driving conditions, or (2) join one of the small group day-excursions.
They are somewhat pricey, but include hotel pick-up, lunch, and drinks. Plus the small size keeps things intimate. If you’re considering pursuing one of these tours to see the lagoons and ocean side of Sian Ka’an, here are a few good options that you can check pricing and availability to book online:
- This Sian Ka’an ocean boating & snorkeling adventure sounds amazing. Instead of dealing with the bad road for hours all the way to Punta Allen, you’re instead driven about halfway, to Boca Paila Lagoon, where you’re transferred to a small boat (5-6 people) for the remainder of the coastal voyage. Stops for manatee spotting and bird watching ensue as you cruise towards Punta Allen. You then go snorkeling in the crystal clear waters at a coral reef before the included seafood lunch. Keep an eye out for dolphins and turtles too during the entire 9-hour excursion which currently has departures every day of the week, and is actually good value for the money, considering everything that they pack in to one day. Check the latest reviews and availability for this tour on Viator.
- Here is another ocean boating & snorkeling Sian Ka’an excursion, that follows a similar track as listed above, but this one departs from Playa del Carmen, not Tulum as the others do. The 13-hour trip departs from Playa on Mondays, Wednesdays, Fridays, and Saturdays.
Visiting Sian Ka’an from Muyil on Your Own
Given the logistics of attempting a Punta Allen trip on your own and the added costs associated with taking an excursion to this coastal side of Sian Ka’an, you may instead decide to explore the more inland, Muyil side of Sian Ka’an. (Or do both!) Visiting Sian Ka’an via Muyil is doable in a half-day and on your own. The remainder of this post provides complete directions and instructions specifically on how to visit the Muyil section of Sian Ka’an on your own.
If you have a car – driving directions to Muyil:
Simply take Highway 307 south to the ruins of Muyil, which you’ll be able to easily recognize and will be on the left side of the road, just before km 205. It’s roughly a 20-minute drive south of Tulum town (22.5 km). There are signs for Muyil and there’s a proper parking lot. You can’t miss it.
If you don’t have a car: Instructions on how to take the bus from Tulum to Muyil:
The buses come frequently, about every 30-60 minutes, so you can go to Muyil by bus at virtually anytime and 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 (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.
The bus ride is only 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 should allow it and that way you won’t have to backtrack a bit.
But if not, just be sure to get off at the Muyil bus stop, which looks like this (below). If you get off here, you’ll simply have to walk a few minutes to get to the ruins. But don’t worry. It’s literally about two minutes to walk from this bus stop back to the Muyil entrance and parking lot.
Once at Muyil, You Have Two Options:
- (1) Visit the Muyil ruins, then walk along a boardwalk in a jungle marsh, climb up an observation tower, and continue along the boardwalk to the boat docks. This 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) Get directly to a boat to explore Sian Ka’an. If you opt to bypass the ruins and go directly to the boats, then drive or walk south on HWY 307 just past both the Muyil ruins entrance and bus station until you get to a dirt road on your left (East side of the road) at mile-marker 205. It’s about a five minute walk (or 1 minute drive) down this dirt road (pic below), which ends at the boat docks.
But instead, we recommend Option 1 (visiting the ruins and boardwalk). Detailed directions are in the following section. And here’s a map we created to help understand the layout of Muyil and the points of interests discussed next.
Directions to the Boat Dock via Muyil Ruins and Nature Boardwalk
Entrance Fees to Muyil and Boardwalk:
Budget $90 pesos per person to tour the ruins on your own and for the marsh boardwalk. That breaks down to $40 pesos to see the ruins and another $50 pesos to access the boardwalk & observation tower. The organized packaged tours to Muyil go to both Muyil and the boardwalk with observation tower, so if you’re trying to mimic such tours, be sure to take in these sites. We found neither site to be particularly awe-inspiring, but we thought they were both well worth what amounts to about $5 USD (just our two-cents). It’s fun – go poke around!
Directions from Muyil to Sacbe & Boardwalk:
After entering the ruins, take a look around the place. The Muyil ruins site is bigger than we had anticipated. And while it may not be quite as impressive as the famed Tulum ruins nearby, you may find that you have the Muyil ruins all to yourself since it’s not nearly as popular. Being at this ancient site with no crowds makes the visit a very pleasant experience, compared to other ruins in the area.
Once you’ve gotten your fill of ruins, head to the large pyramid ruin, known as Castillo (Castle), which looks like this (pictured below).
On the backside of the Castillo, you’ll find a sign that explains what a Sacbe is (it’s a roadway the Mayans built). Just beyond that sign, you’ll see the actual Sacbe itself.
Go on and walk down that trail. After about a five-minute walk down the Sacbe, you’ll reach a sign about the Sian Ka’an Reserve. Behind that Sian Ka’an sign, you’ll see a palapa ticket booth. This is where you’ll be charged $50 pesos per person to enter the boardwalk.
From this point onward you’ll be on this wooden path through the lush Yucatan growth. It’s a scenic slow 10-15 minute walk through the jungle marsh.
Observation Tower: A few minutes before exiting you’ll come across an observation tower, which is definitely worth the steep climb to take in the nice view before continuing further down the boardwalk.
Once the boardwalk ends, the path opens up and you’ll clearly see the lagoon. Here, you’ll find the boat dock and a few guides hanging around. If you’re a penny-pincher and just want to tick Sian Ka’an off of your UNESCO World Heritage bucket list, you can do that, and turn back. But there’s really not too much to see from the shore of the lagoon. As such, we instead highly recommend taking in the full experience of a boat ride through the area, which includes a swim and float down a mangrove canal!
So from here, it’s time to go have a chat with the boat guides.
Cost of Boat Tour and Guide Around Sian Ka’an
The price of the boat ride into the Sian Ka’an lagoon is firmly in place at a fixed rate of
$600 pesos now $700 pesos per person. There seems to be little or no discount given for groups of two or more. So if there are two people, expect to pay a total of $1,400 pesos and three people will pay $2,100 pesos, etc. Also, strangely enough for Mexico, there seems to be no room for negotiation in this fixed price.
At the docks you may expect to be approached by the guides hawking tours (as can be annoyingly common throughout Mexico), but here they do not. The boat men are a peaceful and non-aggressive bunch. So don’t hesitate to approach them to inquire about a tour around the lagoon.
The price of this boat ride may seem high by Mexico standards, so you may think you can negotiate the price down. Unfortunately that doesn’t seem possible. We attempted to bargain hard to no avail. Others have reported exactly the same. It’s a fixed price. And it’s a relatively high price. But we think it’s ultimately quite worth it for the experience.
Update regarding children: While the adult price is firmly fixed at $700 pesos per adult (as confirmed by many readers), some have reported the rate for children is negotiable. $300 pesos seems to be the going rate for kids, while infants and toddlers can likely go for free.
The boat men at the dock speak a Mayan language. Spanish is not their first language, but you can use Spanish to communicate. Don’t know any Spanish? Don’t worry, as often there’s also a boatsman who speaks English too who can help facilitate the boat trip.
If not, you can ask “Cuánto por una excursión en bote para dos personas?”
(Translation: How much for a boat tour for two people?)
If your Spanish is really lacking and you can’t remember that phrase, still you should be able to work it out. They’ll know what you’re here for. You already know the price. Miming and smiling can go a long way.
We found the boat trip into Sian Ka’an to be amazing and worth what is a steep price by Mexico standards. We definitely recommend this Sian Ka’an boat trip. It would be a shame to come out this way and miss it. We were very glad we went. The boat trip is nearly 2 hours long and is highlighted by a magical swim/float through a mangrove-lined canal!
You can read more about our experience on the boat at Muyil and Sian Ka’an here.
Returning to Tulum from Sian Ka’an
Upon completing the nearly 2-hour boat tour and float down the canal, you can either exit the reverse way you came in; or 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. You 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 an entire taxi back to Tulum. If you’re charged higher than that, we recommend to decline. There will be more affordable options coming along frequently, whether bus or colectivo.
What to Pack on Your Day Trip to Sian Ka’an & Muyil
Here are some things to consider packing when visiting Sian Ka’an:
- 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 it if you take their towels with you. We love these lightweight microfiber travel towels.
- Sun protection: Bring sunglasses, a hat, and most definitely apply some sunscreen!
- Mosquito Repellent: In the area from the Muyil ruins to the boat docks, it can be pretty thick with mosquitos and other annoying bugs, particularly so outside of the winter months. But be careful not to use repellent with DEET since it is found to be highly toxic to fish. 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 to keep those pesky mosquitos away.
- Camera: You’ll probably want to take a few pictures to capture this experience, so consider bringing your camera and be sure to charge it the night before. Or at least bring a phone to snap a few selfies.
- 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? We’re currently using this DBPOWER EX5000 for our underwater video and photos and we love it. Without an underwater camera, be sure that you’ll be comfortable leaving your camera with the boatman while you’re floating. (Note: The boat guides seem completely trustworthy).
- 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 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 would recommend bringing a mask or goggles. The boat does not provide them for you, so if you want to see underwater, 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 have a mask, we recommend this US Divers mask & snorkel which is a great mask for the price. You can also use it to snorkel at the beach reefs 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 trip should total about $850 pesos per person, we recommend to bring about $1,000 pesos person, just in case any pricing has changed, an emergency, or if something else comes up.
- Water: Mexico is hot. Don’t get dehydrated. We recommend packing at least a 1.5 liter bottle of water per person.
- (Optional) Inner tube: We didn’t find a tube to be necessary for the float. But if you are a weak swimmer, an inner tube like this may be a good idea to bring to help keep you afloat during the canal portion of the boat trip.
- (Optional) Food: There isn’t much in the way of food out this way aside from a tiny convenience store / little restaurant across the street from Muyil. It is wise to pack a snack. Or if you are going to be making the trip to Muyil over lunch time, then be sure to pack a complete lunch.
- (For infants only) life jacket: 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 travels here. You could get sick, a flight gets canceled, hurricanes (June-Nov), your phone falls in the water, camera gets stolen, etc. Travel insurance will help you and cover the costs from 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. We usually go with 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.
DIY Muyil & Sian Ka’an Prices – Total
This DIY trip of the ruins, boardwalk, boat tour & float, and bussing to/from Tulum comes to a total of $858 pesos per person.
To recap, here’s how the prices breaks down, per person:
- Bus to Muyil price: $28 pesos
- Muyil ruins entrance price: $40 pesos
- Sian Ka’an Boardwalk entrance price: $50 pesos
- Boat tour around Sian Ka’an price: $700 pesos**
- Bus back to Muyil price: ~$40 pesos
=Total: $858 pesos
At current rate, that comes out to about $44 USD per person. We do find it to be a bit high, respective to other activity prices we’ve encountered throughout many months of independent travel across Mexico. Yet we found it to definitely be worth it! It makes for a great half-day adventure. Plus, that $44 is a downright bargain in respect to what you would otherwise pay with a private group tour.
Do-It-Yourself vs. Group Tour of Sian Ka’an
For us, we like getting a good deal and don’t mind doing a little more work and having some uncertainty to save a few bucks. If that sounds like you too, then we recommend giving our DIY instructions a try.
But if you’re short on time, want the ease that comes with a packaged tour, or desire to have more in-depth information about Sian Ka’an, then a proper tour may be the better option. There are a few companies in Tulum that you can book Sian Ka’an tours with once you arrive. The going rate is more than $2,000 pesos per person.
However, there have been some complaints with communications when trying to book tours with these local operators via phone and email. Also, they don’t run every day of the week. So if going the tour route, we recommend booking a Viator tour to Sian Ka’an. They are always reliable, you can seamlessly book online in advance, you can view verified reviews, receive confirmation for your booking, and they have phone support in English if needed.
If booking one of these excursions, you’ll undoubtedly pay more than the DIY version outlined in this article, but the packaged tours do include the convenience of hotel pickup from all over the Riviera Maya, snacks, drinks, entrance fees, guide, etc. This all can help to justify the higher price.
But the biggest benefit to go with the tour is the added information you’ll receive. A guide will be able to share so much more knowledge about Sian Ka’an than what you’ll find by doing-it-yourself. This convenience and knowledge does come at a higher cost, so simply weigh out what is more important to you personally.
Have You Gone to Sian Ka’an?
If you’ve ventured out to Sian Ka’an on your own, please let us know in the comments, as we’d love to hear about your experience. Also, since this post has become a resource for many travelers venturing out to Sian Ka’an, we try to keep it up-to-date with any changes over time. So if you’ve gone and have noticed that any of this (prices, procedures, etc.) has changed, let us know and we’ll edit the post to ensure it remains up-to-date into 2018 and beyond.
Also, if you enjoyed this article or found it helpful and if you like travel, consider staying connected by joining us and a few thousand other travel-lovers on the Roaming Around the World Facebook Page, where we’re continuing to dole out travel inspiration and tips during our 4-year adventure around the globe to over 60+ countries. Come see where in the world we’re roaming around today!
Happy travels to Sian Ka’an and have a great trip to Mexico!