HALF MOON BAY, Calif., August 20, 2012—The coastline of the Riviera Maya is often too crowded for me. Sun worshippers start staking out prime beach space shortly after an early breakfast. Dive boats and snorkelers are scattered across the reef. Restaurants and bars are full of people and house music is blaring. On my recent trip to the region, I searched for one quiet and wide-open place.
I found it in the Sian Ka’an Biosphere Reserve.
In Mayan, the name of the reserve translates to “where the sky is born.” And standing at the edge of one of the vast lagoons, it seems that there is nothing else before you but sky. At 2.3 million acres, the region is the largest protected area in the Mexican Caribbean, and hosts up to 336 species of birds and 103 species of mammals.
Spread across the reserve, there are 23 known archaeological sites; some of the artifacts discovered among them have been dated up to 2,300 years old. The northernmost part of the reserve contains what is thought to be an ancient trade route through lagoons and mangrove channels between the cities of Tulum and Muyil.
The best way to see a small part of the Sian Ka’an Biosphere Reserve is through Community Tours Sian Ka’an, a group founded by Mayans that generates jobs for those who live within the reserve and focuses on conservation of the region.
At Muyil, a place where only about 45 people visit daily, my guide Cesar Rosas led me among Mayan temples—only about 40 percent of which have been uncovered. As we walked through the forest, tiny azure dragonflies draped themselves on my arms as Rosas explained which trees were used for what medicine. The trees with long diagonal slashes were used for chicle production and trade through the middle of the 20th century.
From Muyil, we took a boat to the edge of Chunyaxche, a brilliant turquoise lagoon. Here, in a freshwater canal edged with mangroves, we jumped overboard and floated along with the current for nearly an hour. With the wide expanse of sky above and the vast open space all around, I didn’t miss the crowds I’d escaped for the day.
Where to Stay
Akumal, north of Tulum, is a sweet little beach community that lacks the bustle of the larger towns in the Riviera Maya. There’s a decent choice of places to stay here—many involving condos and vacation rentals. On this trip, I stayed in a bungalow at the Hotel Akumal Caribe, just steps from the Akumal Dive Center. The prices are affordable, and the hotel’s restaurants and bar offer plenty of options when you’re not diving or snorkeling. Plus, for those who can’t live without being connected, Wi-Fi is included. I met plenty of writing deadlines while seated comfortably at the bar and in my bungalow.
Jill K. Robinson is an award-winning journalist and adventure seeker. Follow her adventures on dangerjillrobinson.com and Twitter @dangerjr. Jill is an avid kayaker and owner of Half Moon Bay Kayak Company.
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