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Shian Ka-An Biosphere

A Lot of things happen in the place where the sky begins, or Shian Ka’an, the name given by the ancient Maya to nearly 1,300,000 acres of low growth jungle, savannah, hummocks, costal mangroves and lagoons in the Shian Ka’an Biosphere reserve. Over 350 resident and migratory species of bird have found a refuge here, along with a hundred species of mammals and a thousand types of exotic plants. Some twenty-three archaeological sites are hidden amongst the vegetation bear witness to the grandeur and glory of the pre-Hispanic Maya culture in this region.
Today the third largest protected area in the country – encompassing the barrier reef more than 60 mile long – is a wonderful natural attraction. Visitors come from far and near to explore this virgin land, study the exotic vegetation and observe the wildlife in its natural habitat.

Do to its enormous biodiversity and the importance of its marine, land and coastal ecosystem, the area was designated a Biosphere Reserve in 1986 and one year later UNESCO declared it a World Heritage site.

Exploring the lagoons and canals.
Some excursion leave from the beautiful Muyil Lagoon, located beside the ancient Mayan city of the same name. Its transparent mirror-like surface reflects the intense blue sky dotted with small clouds, giving visitors the surreal impression of sailing between two skies. An artificial canal drug by the ancient Maya to transport trade goods inland connects with Chunyaxche’ Lagoon. This was indeed a great feet of engineering if you consider that the pre-Hispanic Maya had no metal tools. The canal opens to the tall Savannah grass and passes close to some hummocks-islets of tropical woods with a spring in the middle that are a refuge to many species of animals.
The Lagoons lead to remote places where the only things you can hear are the sound of nature. Visitors often catch glimpses of endangered species like the jabiru stork, pink flamingo, toucans, ospreys, howler monkeys, manatees and crocodiles.
During the summer, three species of sea turtles – the green, hawksbill and loggerhead – come to nest on Shian Ka’an’s beaches under the light of the full moon. Behind the riverbank’s shrubs, at the mouth of a natural canal, rises a small white building: Xlapak (300-600 AD) was a customs outpost for the active Mayan trade routes.
The clear, fresh canal water between the mangrove forests entices you to jump in. Drifting softly to the current, you delight to braches filled with delicate orchids stretching out on their long stems to reach the sunlight. As you watch humming birds busily cross-pollinating the flowers, suddenly you see a sea turtle slip by on the bottom of the canal. Shian Ka’an truly is paradise.

Human Activity in the reserve.
Contrary to many national parks, the Biosphere reserve is filled with people dedicated to some kind of economic activity. One of the great challenges facing Shian Ka’an is to integrate these activities in a way that does not affect nature. Sian Ka An’s 1000 inhabitants are mainly located along the coast in the small towns of Punta Allen and Punta Herrero. Most are lobster or crab fishermen and cultivate native plants for tourist resorts.

From Boca Paila to Punta Allen        

If Shian Ka’anis the “door to heaven”, Boca Paila its is living room. Its pristine white-sand beaches dotted with palm trees and covered with beautiful shells, extend as far as the eye can see. At the edge of the turquoise sea, some small hotels – mainly dedicated to the fly-fishing trade – offer a peaceful retreat to the dedicated fisherman or anyone else wishing to commune with nature. Punta Allen also have a respectable supply of small bungalows and guesthouses. On the town of Tulum’s beaches, just a few miles from the Arch that marks the entrance to the Reserve, you will find bungalows and thatched-roofed cabanas for all tastes and budget.

The Reserve’s huge virgin lagoons and Ascencion and Espiritu Santo Bays are a paradise for sports fishing enthusiasts, especially for fly-fishing aficionados. Sportsmen come here for the challenge of catching any of the species that thrive in these waters: bass, makabee, milkfish or palometa. If a sportsman catches all four species in a single sortie it’s called a super grand slam. Fly-fishing is the ecological sport par excellence. No bait is used; fish are caught with showy hooks and then returned to the water. Shian Ka’anattracts anyone looking fir the thrill of communing with nature and the wish to further conservation.

Getting to Shian Ka’an
It is easy to reach the Biosphere Reserve. Shian Ka’anis located in the center of the state of Quintana Roo, 1 ½ from Playa del Carmen, between the Riviera Maya and Cost Maya. It’s best to rent a jeep and, from Tulum, follow the coastal road that leads to Punta Allen, the fisherman’s port located in the heart of the reserve. You can also visit the area by boat through the fishing co-ops that have authorized guided tours from Cancun and the Riviera Maya.


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