| Celestun National Park |
Calakmul Biosphere Reserve |
| Contoy Island Bird Sanctuary |
El Eden |
Triunfo Biosphere Reserve |
| Montes Azules |
Rio Lagartos |
| Sian Ka'an Biosphere Reserve |
| The Maya Biosphere
There are nine different types of natural protected areas. Of these the
Biosphere Reserves and Flora and Fauna protected areas are the genuine
biological diversity zones. In the biosphere reserves, Mexico has
pioneered the use of a zoning system that allows use of parks for tourism
while keeping other areas off limits except for scientific study.
Biosphere reserves allow people to continue to live in these protected
natural areas, however, new population centers are strictly prohibited.
These parks are also inhabited by species that are considered to be
threatened or in danger of extinction. Protected areas have three goals:
conservation, training, and sustainable human development compatible with
conservation. That means that you should visit. Keep at least one of these
ecological sites in mind for your next vacation, you will be doing the
environment a service and enjoy yourself at the same time.
CELESTUN NATIONAL PARK
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Celestun lies about 90 minutes west of The Yucatan
capital city of Merida. The drive to the park takes you through 56 miles
of countryside and small pueblos. It is possible to see some ancient
nearly abandoned sisal (heneken) plantations which in days past was the
life blood of this part of the peninsula. The people along the road side
are, for the most part, descendants of the Maya Civilization.
The park is located on the west coast of the Yucatan on a beautiful
protected estuary which is nearly a mile wide and over 14 miles long. Over
66,000 acres of this park is covered by mangrove forests which provide
excellent breeding grounds and protection for wild life which includes
many riparian species.
A virtual paradise for birds from all walks and wings of life. Over 500
species of birds, mammals, reptiles and tropical fish make up the
ecological system at Celestun. But, of all the wildlife found at the park
the one that attracts more visitors each and every year is
"Flamingos", the American Flamingo, Phoenicopterus ruber.
Celestun provides a feeding, reproduction and nesting sanctuary, in the
estuary. And here they are protected by law.
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These flamingos almost seem to be tame as they have little fear of man.
Up close you can see the white mixed in with the reds and completely
overlaid in pink. The wings are almost solid black on the back side. As
you approach the flocks of flamingos you can see them feeding, dipping
their long bill into the shallow water. They move in groups of two or
three or two thousand. The view of the flamingos at Celestun is a sight
you won't soon forget. Celestun is home to over 30,000 flamingos, the
largest in all of the Americas.
Boats can be hired in a variety of different trips. These boats hold up
to 8 people. The trip to the north takes you to see the flamingos near
"Isla de Pájaros". But, this trip will also bring cormorants,
pelicans, frigatebirds, and great egrets among other birds into view.
On the trip to the south there aren't many flamingos, but there is a
Petrified Mangrove Forest and an abandoned ghost town. You can also hire
boats to visit the lighthouse at El Palmar. The lighthouse is very tall
and you can see for miles in all directions. There are also islands called
hummocks which can be toured.
These islands are individual little ecosystems and are home to many
species of wildlife. Some of these islands have fresh water pools in the
middle of the island as the watershed from the peninsula pushes its way up
at these locations. Truly a wonder to see. Swimming is available in many
of these lagoons.
Celestun has much more to offer than just the beautiful flocks of
flamingos and hundreds of species of birds. The estuary being cloaked by
mangrove trees provides a very tranquil relaxing environment. Celestun may
be home to the birds, but it is a wonder for humans.
CALAKMUL BIOSPHERE RESERVE
The Calakmul Biosphere Reserve covers an area of
723,185 hectares or 1,600,000 acres. The elevation is from 150 ft. to 1140
ft. above sea level in a tropical humid forest. One of the last virgin
rain forests in Mexico.
The reserve is located in the Campeche Tropical rain forest and was
designated as biosphere reserve in 1993. The major projects of the reserve
are agricultural research, soil studies, traditional systems of landscape
development, inventory of fauna and flora including rare endangered
species, forest management research, cultural anthropology and some social
The biosphere reserve has established a wildlife station housing puma,
jaguar, and wild pigs. Another initiative is the Calakmul Botanical
Gardens featuring nature trails and facilities that showcase an impressive
array of local flora, including edible plants and 56 species of orchids
native to the region.
The six-hectare parcel of land is owned by the region and provides a
base for workshops, information sessions, and educational tours to the
local Maya ruins also called Calakmul.
CONTOY ISLAND BIRD SANCTUARY
Contoy Island is located off the coast of
Quintana Roo, just north of Isla Mujeres and can be visited by guided tour
or private boat from Puerto Juarez or Isla Mujeres. The birds, fish and
animals are all protected. And a wealth of wild life there is! Birds from
all walks (or flights) of life can be seen on and near the sanctuary. A
real birding paradise.
The El Eden Reserve was created to protect, manage
and restore the ecosystems of Contoy Island, Rio Lagartos and El Eden
itself. The reserve itself is located at the northeast tip of the Yucatan
Peninsula. The Mayan name of the region is "Yalahau", which
means " where the water is born". while the
reserve is located just north of Cancun it takes about 2.5 hours to reach
because of the roads.
Established in 1990, El Eden is the first privately owned and protected
area dedicated to research in biological conservation in Mexico. The area
was founded by scientists and people interested in the conservation of
northeastern Yucatan. The major ecosystems include medium semi deciduous
tropical forest, low deciduous secondary forests, swamp forests, savannas,
wetlands, micro cenotes and cenotes.
This reserve is the habitat of the spider monkey, jaguar, and many
species of fishes, crustaceans, algae, insects, flowering plants,
crocodiles, amphibia, etc. El Eden is just beginning to study the diverse
biologically-rich area it controls and welcome visitors and see this
reserve as a hands on site. In order to do this El Eden has developed a
series of guided tours for visitors who may want to spent a night or two
at the station and contribute to the conservation of the region.
The whole area has been revealed to be an important rural settlement of
the ancient Maya. Initial archeological research at the reserve has been
very encouraging, with the possible discovery of a major unknown wetland
management system of the ancient Maya. Mapping of the system is being
performed at this time and later reconstruction will be performed.
EL TRIUNFO BIOSPHERE RESERVE
El Triunfo is located in the highlands of the Sierra
Madre de Chiapas mountains. The reserve covers almost 270,000 acres broken
into 5 different zones and has elevations above 6,000 ft and valleys that
drop down to a cool 3,000 ft. The tour of this reserve is not for the
faint hearted and actually takes some doing. The total tour is walking,
and walking... nearly 4 hours of up and down hill trekking. But, what a
Due to the changes in altitude the climate varies from dry-hot to cold
and humid. Different climates, elevation, terrain and types of soil has
created a ultra high bio diversity at El Triunfo. The woodlands range from
Tropical Deciduous Forest, Montane Rain forest , Pine-Oak Forest to
Evergreen Cloud Forest.
In 1990, El Triunfo Biosphere Reserve was established by the federal
government to protect one of the largest water sheds in Mexico, but also
an extremely fragile environment. The conservation of forests in this
region is very important for Chiapas and the whole country.
The reserve has evergreen trees that reach over 270 feet tall. Some of
these trees are covered in vines, moss and beautiful orchids that give the
image of hanging gardens in the mist. There are hundreds of reasons why El
Triunfo is one of the greatest, not only in Mexico, but in the entire
With 392 registered bird species, El Triunfo is considered one of the
finest birding areas in the country where over 37% of Mexican bird species
can be found. And while the reserve is home to the birds it is also the
home to a delicate mix of non winged creatures such as the jaguar and,
Some of the others that seem to attract a lot of attention are the
horned guan, which belongs to a group of birds that can only be found in
the in the cloud forests of the Sierra Madre de Chiapas and Guatemala. The
blue morpho, a beautiful butterfly. The resplendent Quetzal, one the most
beautiful birds of the Americas, was regarded in ancient Mesoamerican
culture as the fertility symbol. Quetzal's feathers were very valuable.
Their plumage varies from golden, blue to green emerald tones. Some
ferns that reach up to 15 meters tall. The yaguaroundi is a small cat,
that lives in the top of the trees. The "turipache de montaña"
lives in the under forest, camouflaging to trap insects for lunch. The
"temazate" is the smallest deer in the Americas, it is easy to
identify for its shorter front legs and reddish color.
MONTES AZULES BIOSPHERE RESERVE
Montes Azules is located in Chiapas. The reserve was
established out of real need to save a rain forest. Because of the efforts
of Montes Azules 760,000 acres of rain forest, both inside and outside the
Reserve, will be saved.
The rain forest is located between the Guatemalan border, including the
Lacantún and Chan-Kin protected areas of flora and fauna, and part of the
Montes Azules Biosphere Reserve itself. Together these three reserves
encompass an area of a million acres.
As with most rain forests the problem has been the absence of viable
economic alternatives in an area suffering nearly 100 percent
unemployment, local residents were basically destroying the rain forest
for subsistence. Slash and burn agriculture and vast amounts of timber
removal among other destructive practices were endangering its ecological
Montes Azules is dedicated to the preservation of the Reserve and the
surrounding region through the establishment of a buffer zone. Local
residents are provided with environmentally sensitive jobs in this buffer
region, enabling them to utilize the rain forest in a sustainable manner.
Current conservation projects include: Extensive Butterfly Ranching,
Edible Mushroom Farming, Embroidery Products, Woodcrafts, Essential Oils
These programs are designed to provide a sustainable livelihood for the
residents while at the same time saving the natural resources and the
forest itself. A visit to this biosphere is one way of helping the rain
The port of Rio Lagartos is situated
in the northern most part of the Yucatan on the gulf o f Mexico . It lies
north of the city of Tizimin and just east of the fishing village called
San Felipe. For more than 50 years the population of Rio Lagartos was 326
The town now boasts more than 3000 inhabitants who are fisherman and
salt workers. The town hasn't only changed in population, there are more
streets, a new large hotel, frozen storage for the town's fishing
industry, new schools... yes, Rio Lagartos has changed.
To the old timers the town is huge and cumbersome, but only to them. To
a visitor from central Mexico or points further away, the town looks like
a picture post card, quiet and serene. A fishing port on one end and a
river delta guarded by a beautiful lighthouse on the other.
The town is surrounded by water on three sides and a 'Malecon' or shore
line drive stretches from the river delta all the way around to the end of
town. This river walk covers almost 2 miles. Watching the sun set into the
Gulf, from anywhere in Rio Lagartos, is a very memorable experience. It
may well be the most beautiful and well preserved estuary on earth.
The Caribbean Flamingo, Phoenicopterus Ruber, has found a feeding,
reproduction and nesting sanctuary, here in the estuary on both sides of
Rio Lagartos. To watch the tall, slender, graceful movement of these
feeding flamingos is truly a wondrous sight. They are, perhaps, in their
own understated way the most beautiful of all winged creatures.
They are the most distinguished and elegant of all the wildlife to be
found in the estuary of Rio Lagartos. In captivity flamingos loose their
incredible pink coloring and replace it with a neutral white color. Here,
however, the flamingos thrive, and most have little fear of man.
Up close you can see the white mixed in with the reds which change to a
solid black on the back of their wings. Each one different and each one
the same. They seem to be wearing uniforms, which would be fitting because
they at times look a bit like a military organization.
When they fly, they fly in columns sometimes as many as three deep. The
leader is followed by the columns with what appears to be military
precision and order. This may well be "follow the leader", but
they do it with a rigor and precision that is well worth watching.
Before the time of boats with motors and all the noise of modern
civilization appeared in Rio Lagartos the flamingos would gather on the
shore and wake the residents, much like roosters wake a farmer. They could
be heard clearly inviting folks to wake and enjoy the soft breeze of
morning. The Flamingos have always been a part of Rio Lagartos, and they
still are today.
There exists, just one kilometer to the east of the port of Rio
Lagartos, a most unusual and wondrous place. It is called "Chiquilá
or Chikilá" by the locals which means in Mayan "something that
moves or bubbles in the water."
It is called that because a natural underground spring has created a
small freshwater lagoon which stands all alone, except for a huge tree
which stands guard. The water is refreshingly cool and fresh since it is
moving spring water. It is one of the favorite swimming holes in the
entire area and for good reason, not only is it incredibly beautiful it
also is said to have some curative properties.
Many of the local bathers believe it is the combination of the natural
plant life and root systems that give the water this healthy aspect while
others believe it is just the water itself sent from heaven to heal the
masses. Whatever you believe, a visit to Chiquila and Rio Lagartos is
always an incredible experience.
SIAN KA'AN BIOSPHERE RESERVE
Sian Ka'an Biosphere Reserve is located just south of
Tulum. Sian Ka'an is Mayan for "W here the sky is born". The reserve was
established as a biosphere reserve in 1986. On the reserves southern
border, is another protected area for flora and fauna.
These areas combined cover over 1.5 million acres and comprise one of
the largest protected areas in Mexico. The diverse makeup of Sian Ka'an
includes semi evergreen tropical forest, low inundated forest, mangrove
forest, "cenotes", abundant wetland marshes, savannas, coastal
dune, reef lagoon, 60 miles of coral reef and marine habitats.
The reserve is also home to more than 345 species of birds, including
over one million wintering migratory song birds and the rare Jabiru Stork.
Ocellated turkey, great currasow, parrots, toucans, trogons, aquatic birds
such as white ibis, roseate spoonbill, the wood stork, American Flamingo,
15 species of herons, egrets and bitterns can also be found at Sian Ka'an.
Endangered cat species including jaguar, puma, ocelot, margay and the
jaguarundi, along with spider and howler monkeys, white-tailed deer,
white-tipped and collared peccary and tapir live on the reserve. The
marine habitats and wetland marshes are home to the American crocodile,
manatee and a variety of sea turtles.
Native Maya communities border the reserve. This area has been home to
the Maya for well over two thousand years. There are over 27 Maya sites
identified to date within the boundaries of the reserve. A trip to this
spectacular reserve is a must.
THE MAYA BIOSPHERE RESERVE
The Maya Biosphere Reserve is
located in the northern part of Guatemala and is connected to the Calakmul
Reserve. The reserve occupies the northern 40% of the Petén, and nearly
10% of Guatemala's land area.
The Petén, is one of the last remaining large
wildland areas in Central America and is plateau at an elevation of 500 to
1000 ft. above sea level. The vegetation is considered subtropical
semi-deciduous moist forest, savanna and contains wetlands. The reserve
contains over 3000 plant species including medicinal plants and over 300
species of useful trees.
The Petén is an important refuge for many animal species, such as
howler monkey, ocelot, margay cat, jaguar, puma, northern tapir, harpy
eagle, macaws, Moreletti's and American crocodiles, iguana, beaded lizard
and boa constrictor.
This includes 1453 vertebrate species (not including saltwater fish);
and 333 bird species. The Petén wetlands provide significant wintering
grounds for many North American migratory bird species.
About 133 of these animal species are considered threatened, however,
no globally threatened bird species are in this rain forest. The area is
of national importance for a number of species of birds of prey, including
the near threatened orange breasted falcon.
The reserve is also home to a number of ruins of the Maya Civilization
including El Mirador, Piedras Negras, Tikal and Uaxactun. These Maya
archaeological sites give the reserve a historical and cultural relevance.
And besides with the Maya Biosphere Reserve you get to see the ruins and
major conservation efforts at the same time.