Unique things to do in Tulum, Mexico: Floating the secret Mayan rivers in Sian Ka’an Biosphere

Feb 22, 2023

Like with many popular travel destinations, the best things to do in Tulum are rarely what you see on Instagram (aside from tacos and tequila- that’s all true). 

After spending 4 weeks there, I can tell you that the top thing to do in Tulum isn’t party, get wafted by burning sage, go to faux-spiritual classes, spend hours waiting in line at the “best IG spots in Tulum,” or try psychedelic drugs– it’s to visit the Sian Ka’an Biosphere!

And not just visit- you can actually float the crystal clear natural lazy rivers winding through the tropical mangrove forests used by the ancient Mayans!

What is the Sian Ka’an Biosphere?

Visiting the secret ancient Mayan rivers of the Sian Ka’an biosphere is one of the most unique things to do in Tulum.

This biosphere is an incredible collection of quiet freshwater rivers connecting saltwater lagoons that wind through tropical mangrove forests, then emerge into open water bustling with dolphins, manatees, stingrays, reefs, and more! The Mayans used these channels to connect villages for trade and commerce.

At Zona Arqueológica de Muyil, which borders the lagoons, you can see some of the best (and least crowded) ancient Mayan ruins in Tulum. 

How far is Sian Ka’an from Tulum?

Located on the east coast of the Yucatán peninsula, Sian Ka’an is a nature lover’s paradise- a peaceful and interesting escape from the bustle and fakeness of Tulum located 15-20 minutes outside of the city center. In the language of the Mayans that inhabited this region, Sian Ka’an means ‘Origin of the Sky.’ 

Can you visit Sian Ka’an without a tour?

Yes! If you want to visit Sian Ka’an without a tour, head to Zona Arqueológica de Muyil. You’ll pay an entrance fee (100 pesos in 2022). If you’re on a tight budget, take the ADO bus from Tulum city center to Muyil for ~30 pesos instead of getting ripped off by a taxi for 500-600 pesos.

What’s the best tour of Sian Ka’an Biosphere in Tulum?

After my own experience and hearing about several other people’s experiences, I can confidently recommend this experience as the best tour of Sian Ka’an biosphere in Tulum

You’ll adventure into the tropical jungle and stunning, cool rivers to experience the natural beauty, liveliness, and Mayan history in the biosphere. You’ll access the biosphere with your local guide via the Muyil archaeological site, one of the oldest Mayan cities in the area. After you walk through the temples and jungle trails, you’ll hop on a boat and sail into the Chunyaxché lagoon through the winding river routes used by the Mayans. Then, you’ll slip into the CRYSTAL clear freshwater lagoons (life jackets provided!) winding through the mangrove forests and float the natural lazy river.

Last, we went to our guide’s favorite taco place for lunch (easily the best meal I had in Tulum) and were dropped off at the hotel. The entire experience was about 6 hours and was really reasonably priced!

What’s the best time of year to visit Sian Ka’an?

December-April is the best time to visit Sian Ka’an and Tulum because it’s the dry season. Expect sunny days (and fewer mosquitos)!

Is visiting the Sian Ka’an Biosphere in Tulum worth it?

Only you can answer this question, but this was hands down my favorite day in Tulum. The experience was about 6 hours and worth every penny! It was the perfect balance of adventure, relaxation, and fun. It was so easy with the guided tour, which was led by a local who was super knowledgeable, fun, and obviously passionate about the history and unique natural environment.  

Is Tulum safe for women traveling alone?

If you’re wondering if it’s safe to go to Tulum alone, or whether Tulum is safe for female solo travel, I went alone and never felt uncomfortable. Tulum is a tourist destination, but like anywhere else, it’s important that you take basic safety precautions for solo travelers:

  • Be aware of your surroundings (don’t walk around with headphones in or glued to your phone)

  • Be extra careful at night and don’t drink too much

  • Don’t tell strangers you’re traveling alone or disclose where you’re staying

  • Pick up some of these travel safety products for women (under $20 on Amazon)! I especially like the little personal alarm (carry-on luggage friendly!) and the scrunchie with a zipper pocket for me to hide some cash.

Looking for more? Don’t miss the best-of-the-best!

Are you new here? Let’s be friends! I’m Sarah— a solo female traveler (& world’s okayest travel blogger) helping you travel the world, discover surprising destinations, & have a laugh getting off the beaten path. Scroll to the bottom of this page to sign up to stay in touch (I promise not to spam you- just to share the best travel hacks, guides, itineraries, embarrassing stories, and unmissable experiences)!

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