How to Visit Mexico’s Sian Ka’an Biosphere Reserve On Your Own (September 2020)

If you’re headed to Mexico’s Riviera Maya anytime soon, you would be remiss not to add a day trip (or longer!) to the sparkling coastline’s hidden gem located just south of Tulum: the UNESCO-protected Sian Ka’an Biosphere Reserve.
Renowned for its preserved, natural beauty and wildlife, the Mayan name “Sian Ka’an” translates to “Gate of Heaven” or “a place where heaven begins.” How beautiful is that? The site remains the largest coastal protected area in all of Mexico, covering a whopping 1.3 million acres (that’s twice the size of Rhode Island).
During our recent (post-lockdown) day trip to the magical site, we were absolutely wowed by Sian Ka’an’s sparkling lagoons and bays, endless mangroves and incredible marine life ranging from wild manatees, dolphins and turtles to the stunning Mesoamerican barrier reef. Not to mention the friendly and welcoming locals of Punta Allen, the tiny, charming and only beach town located within the reserve. *As Punta Allen is a very, very small fishing village with limited resources, please be diligent with wearing masks around town and maintaining social distance during Covid.
For those looking for a truly magical, off-the-beaten-path experience in the Riviera Maya, Sian Ka’an is it! Just be prepared to truly go off-grid. There is zero cell reception within Sian Ka’an, save for spotty wifi at the handful of small hotels and restaurants you’ll find closer to Punta Allen.
How to Visit Mexico's Sian Ka'an Biosphere Reserve, a UNESCO World Heritage Site / Traveling Lamas / photo by @travelinglamas
An aerial look at Punta Allen, the charming (and only) town located within Sian Ka’an.
For our day trip we chose to skip the pricey tour guides out of Tulum, who we found charging upwards of $300.00+ USD per person. Instead, we rented a car and DIY’d it – for a fraction of the cost! You can grab a set of wheels from any number of car rental companies in Tulum for $30.00 – $50.00+ for the day, allowing you to enjoy the scenic drive down to Punta Allen at your own leisure.
You’ll start the journey by driving down the Tulum beach road and through the Mayan arch at the very end of the strip. This is the entrance to the Sian Ka’an Biosphere, where you’ll need to pay a minimal entrance fee of $37.00 MXN (less than $2.00 USD) per vehicle. After rambling along a bumpy, dirt road for over an hour – stopping for plenty of incredible views & photos along the way! – we arrived to the tiny fishing village of Punta Allen. TIP: we made it through the potholes just fine in our compact car, although in rainy conditions we’d only attempt this drive in a larger vehicle.
Once in town, head to the road closest to the beach where you can grab lunch at one of the few ocean-view cafes. Once fueled up, ask around for the boat dock where you can easily hire a guide to take you out on the water. We had no trouble doing this on our own, and the price was $3200.00 pesos for our group of four (that’s roughly $40.00 USD per person).
The boat tour itself lasts around 3-4 hours, where you’ll glide through both lagoons and open ocean, spot wild dolphins, manatees and turtles (we saw all three!), snorkel the Mesoamerican Barrier Reef – second only to the Great Barrier Reef in size, and stop for a swim in a sparkling, natural “swimming pool” that literally made our jaws drop.
Click any image below to launch gallery view.

After the incredibly magical boat trip, we loaded back up into the car to head back to Tulum. But not before stopping for a drink and a bite at Cielo y Selva, home to beachfront bungalows & glamping, palm trees for days, the best micheladas and the most friendly staff. Plus, something we had gone without all day: WIFI! Located just outside of Punta Allen, Cielo y Selva is easily a must-stop during your visit to Sian Ka’an, if not for an off-the-grid overnight (or two).

Don’t just take our words for it! See what you can expect during your DIY day trip to Punta Allen in our video at the beginning of this post, as well as in our Sian Ka’an IG Highlight.

*All images & films in this post courtesy of your favorite pair of @travelinglamas, except where noted.