The Mexican government created the huge Sian Ka'an nature reserve in 1986. Its diverse ecosystems spread over 1.3 million acres/526,091 hectares, harbor hundreds of species of plants and animals as well as unexcavated Mayan ruins. It's also a UNESCO World Heritage site, which protects several endangered species of palms plus such animals as the jaguar. About 1,000 inhabitants, mostly Mayan, populate the area and work in the waters off Punta Allen trapping lobsters or as guides for several well-regarded ecotour companies.
The reserve's diversity is evident in the 62 mi/100 km of coastline, freshwater and coastal lagoons, tropical forests, mangrove swamps, river channels, barrier reef and almost three dozen small Mayan ruins used mainly for storing goods during the heyday of coastal trading. Bone fishing on flats among other deep-sea catches spurred the growth of a few fishing lodges, one of which is reached best by air charter.
Much of the reserve is open to the public, but it is best explored through a reputable ecotourism company, since it is quite remote and the road quality is not up to par. Park entrance is about 6 mi/10 km south of Tulum on a badly rutted dirt road to Punta Allen. It's impossible to navigate in the rainy season.
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