America,  Mexico,  TDM,  Travel Journal

Road trip in Mexico #4: Sian Ka’an, Dream Beach, Dolphins & Turtles

Starting today, we leave the ultra tourist places and discover real treasures of the Yucatan Peninsula. Today’s visit to the Sian Ka’an Biosphere Reserve has been thought out and researched for weeks. Because I hesitated a lot between visiting it myself and going through an agency. Finally, we decided to trust a French-speaking agency for a dream day in this extraordinary reserve.

Note: this article is part of the series of articles about our 17 days of roadtrip in Mexico. Read the previous notebooks here: part 1, part 2, part 3

Part 1: Travel Diary Part
2: Practical Tips

Part 1: Travel Diary

Day 6 (December 24th): Excursion to Sian Ka’an

I explained in this article that the huge Sian Ka’an reserve had 2 areas to visit: Muyil and Punta Allen. On one side we have Muyil and the Mayan canals but without animals. On the other, we have Punta Allen, with lots of animals (dolphins, turtles, crocodiles) and snorkeling (but without Mayan channels)

I chose Punta Allen because who says dolphins say I arrriiiiiiive (cf. Florida, New Zealand, Portugal and Australia). Following the cancellation of the snorkeling in Cozumel the day before because of the bad weather conditions, I’m super happy that the sun came back today and that our trip to Sian Ka’an is still going on

We have an appointment at 6:55 am in front of a large supermarket in Tulum. The morning alarm clock, it stings. The two vans of the agency are already there. We even have a little time to buy a hot chocolate at the OXXO next door, because the other tourists are late. Bravo! The vans pass by to pick up other tourists in the hotel zone in Tulum. We frankly do not advance quickly because there is already a little traffic at this hour and the road has only 2 lanes.

We arrive at the Mayan Arch where the guide goes down to pay the entrance fee (50MXN/person, included in the tour price). A long road follows to this bridge, where we are supposed to see a dozen of crocodiles. But they aren’t at home today. They seem to be cold too. We are told that these crocodiles living in the lagoon in the middle of the mangroves, can from time to time go straight ahead and go to the ocean. Ahhh. In any case in America, as soon as there are mangroves and fresh water, it is possible that a crocodile or alligator is hiding somewhere

We continue a little bit more until we see a small boat waiting for us (maximum 6 tourists). To go up on the boat, it is necessary to wet its feet. The water is icy. OMG. How am I going to make to bathe and to make snorkeling afterwards? We pass by to see some islets (or cayo) where we can observe birds.

Dolphins & Wild Turtles

Things get serious when JB sees two dolphins and reports it to the captain. Just by the size of their fins, we know that they are super big. The captain looks for them for barely 5 minutes and continues on his way. I’m a bit annoyed, finding that the captain doesn’t make enough effort to wait / look for them … Until we arrive on the other side of Punta Allen. In fact, he doesn’t chase them because he knows we’ll find plenty more further on. The sea water becomes hot and we see in the distance 2 boats (of our agency) observing something.

Via the captain’s radio, I hear “tortuga”. And a tourist actually sees a turtle. Disappointment. I’m not here for turtles OK ?😀

Actually no, we are really following dolphins <3 <3 OMG OMG

I didn’t pay attention at the time but even the guide took his phone out to film. He comes here every day, but today is an exceptional day. We are in the presence ofabout ten dolphins, which is very rare. The underwater pictures you see here come from my sport camera & the video sent by the man from the boat opposite. We aren’t allowed to swim with them but I was able to dive my camera underwater. What I really see… is everything that comes out of the water..

I think that seeing the dolphins made me lose all dignity. I can’t stop shouting, moving… while the other tourists manage to keep their calm and observe the dolphins with tranquility. Oops. If you were in the same boat as me and read these lines, I’m sorry.

The dolphins are very large, they are all adults and since Australia, I have not seen so many large adult dolphins at the same time. It makes you want to jump into the water right away and swim with them. But that’s not allowed here and they swim so fast that even the boats sometimes have trouble following them. This is the best time of the day, we all have stars in our eyes after that. I would say it lasted at least 20 minutes. It was topnotch, really ! Topissime!! Heart heart heart heart <3

Well, now that I’ve seen my beloved dolphins, we can look for turtles. The guide explains us that we are just going to follow the turtles that do not run away and that accept to be followed. Nevertheless, they also swim super fast. They can remain in apnea during long minutes, and after having followed a turtle for a long time, we saw it coming out of the water to breathe 2 times. Ditto, the pictures come from my sports camera. Small surprise when discovering the video: at one point, there were 2 turtles, but we couldn’t see them from the boat because we could only see shadows – difficult to distinguish if they are turtles or corals.

Snorkeling break

After seeing the dolphins and turtles, we are allowed to go down into the water for snorkeling. In the meantime the temperature has risen which makes the exercise more bearable. The equipment is provided and we are given instructions to respect the corals. It is the 2nd largest coral reef in the world (which goes from Mexico to Belize), but the corals are already well damaged. That’s why sunscreens and chemicals are banned. We have to come with anti-UV clothing if we want to protect ourselves from the sun, or reef-friendly sunscreens.

Thanks to another tourist, I was able to see a lobster hidden under the corals. It’s the 1st time I see a lobster while snorkeling <3 The other fishes are rather small. With the absence of the sun, the water isn’t so transparent and you can’t see very well. Compared to Key West, we see much less well. And even less well than in the Philippines. In short, I was a little disappointed by the quality of the snorkeling – but it rained these last days, maybe that’s why we had less visibility?

We are all cold when going back in the boat, because of this very unpleasant little wind. Fortunately the sun is at the appointment otherwise it would have been very sad

The natural swimming pool

Second stop: the natural swimming pool, where the water only reaches the hips. The water is so transparent that you can even see a huge stingray 20 meters away. On the other hand, there are no corals here, the snorkeling does not give anything. The water is rather hot, but the small wind remains unpleasant. Luckily, I provided thick towels to dry myself and protect me from the wind.

Punta Allen

We take back the boat to disembark at Punta Allen. The guide tells us that we will not take the boat any more and that it is necessary to say goodbye to our captain. At the moment, the euphoria to have seen the dolphins blocks my brain and I do not realize that in the program, we were supposed to return by boat then car. Strange.

We make a small tour of the tiny village. Basically, here they only have electricity for a few hours a day – and the running water comes from a cenote.

The restaurant, idem, is a standard restaurant (even if the meal is very good). But the agency sold us a meal in a house far from other tourists.

Note: the agency says to us that our meal is indeed fresher because prepared the same day (we were indeed asked to choose between fish and chicken 1h before the meal) but we were at the same restaurant and not “far” from other tourists (we even got disengaged by a tourist in a hurry to eat his plate) where my incomprehension.

We are here in a village of fish and lobster fishermen. Thus, we could order a lobster for two (550MXN). It is one of the best lobsters of my life. I’m sorry I didn’t take a picture because I ate it too fast.

After lunch, we have about 1 hour to enjoy the dream beach at Punta Allen. When I take a picture, I see a huge black thing in the water… very far away, I can’t figure out what I saw – a ray? a dolphin? In any case the water is perfect, the sand is perfect. It’s a pity that the road is so long and public transport so rare (2 days of public transport to go there and back from Tulum). Otherwise, it would have been the perfect place to enjoy the beach. Without spending a fortune on top of that. For once, we really have access to a beautiful beach, without having to pay for access or consumption for any luxury hotel.

It will take us 3h30 by car to get back to Tulum because of the traffic jams in the hotel area. Compared to the feedbacks from a year ago, the road seems to be much improved, there are still some holes and we are still on the one lane road, but I saw normal cars (not 4×4) coming here. On the other hand, we don’t catch at all the network on the way and indeed, there is no gas station on all this road. If you venture up to here in a private car, it is at your own risk. Personally, I would recommend to come by private car only if it has not rained / isn’t going to rain… and after checking with the locals that the road is still in good condition as on the picture.

We stop at the bridge this morning to check if the crocodiles are “at home”. We are going to see two of them, quite far… so I don’t know if they are American or Mexican crocodiles. But they look very big.

This is how our day in Sian Ka’an ends.

On my way back, I realize that the sea water projected on my camera made it out of order (I was too euphoric to see the dolphins and did not think to protect the camera enough). From now on, you’ll have a jumble of pictures taken by my horrible iPhone, super contrasting pictures of JB’s Huawei and blurry pictures from my sports camera. Sorry 🙁 It’s only after the roadtrip that my camera recovered, after I plugged it into my computer.

We dine / spend Christmas Eve at the only French restaurant in Tulum: the Bistro. I opt for a delicious Tuna Tartar while JB enjoys a good roasted Camembert. I highly recommend this restaurant. It did me too much good to have such a good meal.

I must admit that apart from seafood, we don’t eat very well in Mexico, it’s not to our taste unfortunately. Apart from Guacamole and Tacos, we don’t get much pleasure out of it in Mexico:'( J., my Mexican friend sent me a list of dishes that I’m likely to like. I tried them but I didn’t like them at all :(( bouhouhouuu

To be continued… Our next article is here

Part 2: Practical Tips

My opinion on the French-speaking agency Secretoo

I am not 100% satisfied with the Secretoo agency we went through for this excursion to Sian Ka’an. This agency is unanimously recommended on a Facebook group that’s why I chose it.

After discussions with other tourists who have opted for tours with this agency in Sian Ka’an and Bacalar, the programs sent aren’t always respected.

After exchanging with the agency, we learned that the guide had made the decision the day before to swap the boat for the car for the return trip, for fear that it might rain, but she forgot to keep us informed of the change in the program. The same day, it was very sunny but indeed, the weather can be changeable.

The undeniable positive point of this agency is that we arrived at Punta Allen before the other tourists – so the dolphin watching was done in a small group – only with the boats of the agency. We were thus 4 boats (and moreover that must be the exception because it is December 24th, but in normal time, it had to be 2 boats max).

If you are looking for a tour in Sian Ka’an, choose the tours that allow you to take the boat before and after lunch, so you don’t have to drive to Punta Allen – Tulum, it’s very long and boring. Such an offer exists: 130$US/person chez l’agence iTour Mexico (reservation here) – attention I have not tested this one but it is well noted on Tripadvisor, our guide also works for them, including snack, water, lunch . You take the boat 3 times: to see the mangroves, crocodiles up close – then dolphins, turtles & snorkeling – then part of the return trip is also by boat (possibility to see iguanas). Guide in French, English, German, Italian or Spanish.

Visit Sian Ka’an without a guide

To come to Sian Ka’an without a guide, without a tour, I have already written a long article on this subject here

Secondly, would it have been cheaper to come here as a freelancer?

To get here by public transport, you have to :

  • take a colectivo : 200MXN the outward journey, 200MXN the return : the transport takes 2 days because there is only one colectivo per day leaving early (more info here)
  • spend at least 2 nights on site (at least 400MXN/person/night)
  • pay for the boat tour (at least 900MXN/person)
  • TOTAL : 2100MXN/person = 100€ for 3 days, without food

Otherwise, you have to come by rental car and pay for the boat tour (between 700MXN and 900MXN). In this case, you do all this in one day too. If there are two of you, it will cost you about 1300MXN/person = 62€ per person, without food

With the agency, we paid 86€ per person, round trip in the day from Tulum. The price changes according to the number of people present that day (between 77€ and 97€)

So I advise you, if you don’t have a lot of time and you aren’t motorized, to go through an agency.

Leave a Reply

Your email address will not be published. Required fields are marked *