Mexico is one of the countries with the most nature reserves and natural parks in the world. It has over 40 UNESCO-designated Biosphere Reserves. The Yucatán region has a lot to do with this, as it offers a unique geographical layout with jungles, mangroves and estuaries. Here is a selection of those in the Yucatan that are worth the detour.
Part of the UNESCO World Heritage since 2004, it is located at the mouth of the largest groundwater basin in Yucatan, between the cities of Celestún and Maxcanu. The Ría Celestún Nature Reserve is a wonder of Yucatán and Mexico. In this natural area of 230 miles² (368 km²), there are more than 300 species of aquatic animals. The site is a resting place for a large number of migratory species. You can also see flamingos, sea turtles, crocodiles and different species of birds. Pink flamingos alone account for 23,000 birds.
An impressive area of mangroves forms a natural tunnel of tree roots that extends over 2,600 feet (866 meters) in length. This amazing ecosystem is made up of a shallow continental marine platform, coastal dunes, mangroves, lagoons, swamps and low rainforests. You will be able to see raccoons, ducks, herons and crocodiles early in the morning. In addition, in this nature reserve there are “Ojos de agua” which are freshwater pools where you can swim with small fish. There is also a forest nearby where the trees are white from the salt water.
The lower beaches and dunes of the biosphere reserve are used as nesting sites for turtles. The Ría Celestún Nature Reserve is also made up of miles of white sandy beaches and clear blue sea water.
Located on the Eastern end of the Yucatan peninsula, the Biosphere Reserve has managed to stabilize the number of various endangered species. It became part of the UNESCO World Heritage the same year as Ría Celestún. The impressive pink lakes or characteristic salt marshes are called “Las Coloradas” and are within the Ría Lagartos Reserve. It was here that the Maya produced salt. At the edge of this marsh, you can see different animal species such as crocodiles, sea turtles, flamingos and all kinds of seabirds.
The pink color is due to tiny shrimp, red algae and plankton in the water. The large number of shrimp is the reason why there are so many flamingos in the water. These marshes are the only nesting site for the Caribbean pink flamingo and an important nesting site for turtles like the critically endangered Hawksbill sea turtle and the green sea turtle. Many birds spend the winter here as a break in their migration.
Unique and endangered flower species such as the Rhyncholaelia digbyana, a species of orchid occurring from Honduras to Belize, Guatemala, Mexico and Costa Rica can be seen here. This reserve isn’t only an ecotourism destination, it is also a place for locals to fish, producing salt and also agriculture.
The pre-Hispanic technique called “milpa” or the three sisters, consists of three crops planted close together that benefit from each other. The locals produce corn, beans, pumpkins and peppers. You can hire a guide in Las Coloradas, or just walk on the lakeshore.
Out of sight, the El Corchicto ecological reserve is located on the northern coast of the Yucatán Peninsula. It differs from other nature reserves because it is more hidden. It is accessible only by boat and is mainly composed of mangroves and cenotes. This reserve has three cenotes which are all different. The first cenote, called Helechos (ferns), is shallow and is perfect for children. The Venado (deer) cenote, a little deeper, allows you to relax and enjoy the serenity of the reserve. To get there, you have to go over a bridge that gives you a magnificent view of the place. If you like to explore, you can take a long path to cross the mangrove. At the end of this “White Road” you will find a third cenote. The last cenote Pájaro (bird) is the largest and deepest, and ideal for cooling off and swimming. This reserve is home to coatis, birds, turtles, iguanas, fish, raccoons, and even snakes and crocodiles. Raccoons are harmless here and do not hesitate to go to tourists to get food since they are used to human activity. You can bring hammocks as it has 3 palapas for resting as well as a camping and dining area.
It is the only Yucatán reef in Mexico, located 83 miles north of the state of Yucatan, it is also the largest coral structure in the Gulf of Mexico. It was built by the calcification of overlapping colonies of various coral species for thousands of years. It is a protected national park that is part of the UNESCO World Heritage since 2006. Thirty-four coral species can be found on the reefs.
Arrecife Alacranes is composed of five sandy islands: Isla Blanca, Isla Chica, Isla Desterrada, Isla de los Muertos and Isla Pérez. You can go to Isla Perez, the only inhabited island, and see turtles, shark rays and more than 116 species of birds, including rare birds such as the endangered masked booby. You can also climb to the top of the lighthouse to see the Gulf as far as the eye can see.
Many activities are also proposed: diving, snorkeling, coral reef observation. Several initiatives to implement sustainable fishing techniques and to add value to lobster fishing have been implemented in order to tackle overfishing and promote development for the local population. It is also possible to swim, see fish such as the parrotfish, squid, lobsters, dolphins, and many others. If you have an authorization from the National Commission of Protected Natural Areas, you can even camp there between June and October.
Yucatan state is incredibly rich in biodiversity. We know you will love discovering these beautiful and precious places as much as we do. Buen viaje!