Nature and Wildlife in Mexico's Yucatan Peninsula
The Yucatan Peninsula is a nature-lover's dream. Beyond the ancient ruins and the idyllic Caribbean beaches which attract many visitors, it is also home to vast tracts of dense tropical rainforest, mangroves and lagoons, and of course the sea surrounding its coastline. In addition to exploring the Mayan pyramids and colonial heritage of the area, the inquisitive traveller will find a myriad of opportunities to learn about the wildlife and ecology of this tropical part of Mexico. Click here for our list of suggested tours in Mexico.
National Parks and Biospheres
The Yucatan has a number of National Parks, Biospheres and Reserves to protect natural landscape from development and deforestation. The Sian-Ka'an Biosphere near Tulum coveres an area of over 6,000 square kilometres, and comprises lowland tropical rainforest, wetland marshes and mangroves, and coastal habitats, such as bays and lagoons. Entry is only allowed with authorised guides, which keeps the area pristine and allows the wildlife to flourish. It is home to several species of big cats including Margays and Ocelots.
The Calakmul Bioshpere reserve is an inland area covering over 7,000 square kilometres, and borders the Guatemalan province of Peten to the south. When including the National Parks and Reserves in Guatemala, it comprises one of the largest contiguous areas of virgin rainforest in the Americas. In addition to the wildlife, which include big cats, monkeys and many endemic species of birds, this area is also rich in ancient ruins. Calakmul, one of the largest known Maya sites, is located within the Biosphere, along with the smaller sites of Becan and Chicanna, all surrounded by the dense jungle. See our Palapa Tour which passes through the Calakmul reserve.
Keel billed tucan, Calakmul Biosphere (photo by Roberto González)
The seas surrounding the Yucatan Peninsula are temperate, good for snorkelling, and contain a huge amount of marine life for those who look for them. The northern coast of the peninsula is well known for its population of Whale Sharks - gentle giants which pose no threat to humans and are easy to spot from a boat or even swim with. Other fish that can often be seen on the Caribbean side of the peninsula are the Barracuda, Catfish, various species fo sharks and rays, including Manta Rays and Stingrays.
The Yucatan Peninsula is home to over 400 species of birds, approximately half of all the bird specias that can be found in the whole of Mexico. These include common species such as hawks, vultures, herons, pelicans, tanagers, flycatchers, and parrots. Flamingos can be found in large numbers in the coastal lagoons or Celestun and Ria Lagartos, and can be easily viewed on boat trips in the area. There are also at least 10 species of birds which are endemic to the area, such as the Yucatan Nightjar and the Yucatan or Red-Vented Woodpecker. We recommend specialist birding guides for those who would like to make the most of the birdlife in the area. See our Balam Tour of the Yucatan.
Tri-coloured heron in Celestun (photo by Katja Schulz)
There is a vast array of mammals to be found across the Yucatan. Many stay hidden within the jungles of the Biospheres and Reserves, but others can sometimes be seen on the edges of small towns. There are 5 species of big cats: Jaguar, Puma, Jacarundi, Margay and Ocelot. Big cats require large areas to roam and hunt, and which is provided by the contiguous jungle between Mexico and Guatemala. Other mammals that can be seen are Howler and Spider monkeys, Opossums, Armadillos, Anteaters and Tapirs.
All of these places can be visited on day-trips from major towns, and there are also excellent lodges in the more important ecological areas for those who would like to explore and experience the wildlife and natural landscape in more depth. These and other excursions can all be built into any one of our suggested tours to the Yucatan.