Have you always wanted to visit the mystic Mayan Ruins in the Calakmul and watch the jaguars in its Biosphere Reserve but you’re worried about the impact of your touristic activities on the environment?
Don’t worry, I will show you today how to travel to the most hidden part in the south of the Yucatan Peninsula and explore its beauty without any harm.
In this post, I am going to explain to you how to make the most of the beauties of Nature without causing any damage. Follow me on a journey to the heart of one of the most unknown regions of Mexico: the Calakmul Biosphere Reserve, located in the south of the state of Campeche.
Throughout this article I will explain:
- 🐆 What is the Calakmul Biosphere Reserve and what is the importance of this protected area?
- 📍 Where is the reserve and how to get there? Distance, itineraries and recommended stopover: towns, restaurants, hotels.
- 📅 When is the best time to visit Calakmul and plan your vacations in this part of the Yucatan Peninsula?
- 🐒 What are the ecotourism activities that can be done in Calakmul Biosphere Reserve?
- 💁 Responsible and sustainable tourism: how to make the most of this wild and magical place while minimizing your impact on the environment and supporting the local economy?
Get ready for a trip like never before, an immersion in the green heart of the Mayan jungle, a true hidden gem in the south of the Yucatan Peninsula: Calakmul.
🐆 What’s the Calakmul Biosphere Reserve?
The Calakmul Biosphere Reserve, called Reserva de la Biósfera de Calakmul in Spanish is one of the largest protected areas in México and it covers more than 720,00 hectares, 14% of the total area of Campeche, the state it is located in.
It was recognized as a biosphere reserve in 1989 by President Carlos Salinas de Gortari and has been administered by the state of Campeche since then. What’s more, it’s also part of a bigger, international biosphere reserve recognized by UNESCO together with the Maya Biosphere Reserve in the Petén region of northern Guatemala and Montes Azules Biosphere Reserves in southern Mexico.
In the past, Calakmul was one of the biggest and most important Mayan centers. It was considered the capital of the Mayan territory and had over 50,000 inhabitants.
📍 Where is the Calakmul Biosphere Reserve Located?
The Calakmul Reserve is located on Highway 186 between Chetumal and the town of Escárcega, at the base of the Yucatan Peninsula. The Calakmul municipality borders Guatemala, it’s just 35 kilometers away from the border.
On a clear day, you can even see Guatemala from the highest pyramid in the archaeological site of Calakmul.
To get to the Calakmul Biosphere Reserve, you canfly to Cancun airport and then rent a car. If you go this way, it will take approximately 8 hours of driving to cover the 360 miles (580 km) distance to the Calakmul reserve.
For more information about car rental at Cancun's airport, click here.
The long distance to get to Calakmul from Cancun, compared to that to get to the main destinations in the Riviera Maya, explains why very few tourists go to Calakmul National Park. The trip to the Reserve requires a lot of time, but rest assured that this effort will be worth every minute of your time there.
The trip to the Reserve requires a lot of time, but rest assured that this effort will be worth every minute of your time there. Believe us!
If you are planning to go on a tour to the Calakmul reserve, we recommemd you to make a few stopovers. Choose any of the the towns that you will find on the way to the Reserve to spend the night and make the most of the roadtrip. Visit some other places of interest in the region.
Places you can visit on the way to the Calakmul reserve?
If you are driving from Cancun, you will find in your itinerary places of interest that are worth seeing and even a stopover of one or two days.
Bacalar and its lagoon of 7 colors is a perfect example of a stopover on your way to Calakmul.
Located 4 hours by car from Cancun, Bacalar will offer you rest and relaxation on the shores of its magnificent lagoon with turquoise waters. The perfect place to spend the night before continuing your trip to Calakmul.
If you want to discover Bacalar, check out our article on the subject.
From Bacalar the adventure has just started! You will have to drive another hour to the town of Xpujil, a town that works as the perfect stopover between Chetumal and Campeche, before going all the way into the heart of the jungle towards Calakmul National Park. From this point on, it's better to recharge yourself as mush as you can before going on into the depths of the jungle…
Where can we spend the night before visiting Calakmul?
Xpujil is one of the most common and easiest options to spend the night before visiting Calakmul.
Many tourists choose to stay in this small town from where groups and guided tours depart to Calakmul Biosphere Reserve.
Note: You can get to Xpujil through ADO buses from Chetumal station.
The small town of Conhuas, further west of Xpujil, is another option. There you will also find some hotels to spend the night.
The journey continues...
After a good night's sleep, you will be ready for the last leg of this endless, but no less magnificent, road to Calakmul.
From Cohuas, it is still a two hour journey to get to the reserve.
The ruins of Calakmul are located more than 45 minutes from the entrance to the reserve. We know, it's a long walk but you're almost there!
Once near the site, walking will be the only way to access the ruins. It is important to note that there are some trails where you can also ride a bike.
📅 When to visit the Calakmul Biosphere Reserve?
The best time to visit the Calakmul Biosphere Reserve is during the dry season as some smaller roads are usually seasonal and can be impassable in the rainy season.
If you’re planning on renting a car, choose one that can easily access challenging roads.
Above all, avoid low cars that do not adapt well to rough roads.
The best time window to visit the Reserve is between November and April, but the best time is between December and February, as it is the mating season for Jaguars and they’re easier to spot.
Spring is the most pleasant time in terms of temperatures—warm days and warm nights.
🐒 What to Do and See in the Calakmul Biosphere Reserve?
The Calakmul Reserve offers both encounters with nature and history.
From the majestic Mayan city of Calakmul to the depths of the jungle teeming with wildlife, there is no shortage of activities. Ecotourism is by far the best option to enjoy all these beauties.
The Mayan communities that live in the towns close to the Reserve offer guided tours to discover the archaeological site and the surrounding jungle with an environmentally responsible approach.
Here are the 3 top ecotourism activities to do in Calakmul.
1. Discovery of the Mayan ruins of Calakmul:
The Calakmul Reserve is home to one of the most impressive Mayan cities in the entire Yucatan Peninsula and in the Mayan world as a whole.
In Calakmul, you’ll find more than 7,000 archaeological structures from 700 BC to 900 A.D over an area of approximately 2 square kilometers. .
You’ll also find 108 Maya stelae that are monuments in the form of tall, sculpted stone shafts with carved information about important events and the ruling dynasties
Excavations in the zone have also uncovered “painted pyramids' ', structures decorated with murals depicting daily scenes of the area's inhabitants. Also there, you’ll find the second-largest pyramid after El Mirador in Guatemala.
Finally, Calakmul has the second largest pyramid in the Mayan world after the Mirador, a temple located in Guatemala in the department of Péten (150 ft. tall).
You’ll also be impressed by ancient highways, called sacbés, or sacbeob.
They were white, raised paved roads that connected temples, plazas, and groups of structures.
If you follow the white road to the southeast, you could reach the city of Tikal in Guatemala and beyond!
Did you know that?
The largest ones had more than 300 kilometers and the whole Mayan world on the Yucatan Peninsula was connected by them. For example, there was a scabé from the Mayan Tulum ruins passing through Cobá, Chichen and Itzmal, and Uxmal. If you followed the road southeast you could get to Tikal and beyond.
At the peak moment, the Calakmul settlement was larger than Palenke or Tikal. And in the 6th century A.D., the kind of Calakmul conquered the rival site of Tikal. And Tikal eventually brought it down in the 9th century.
During your visit you will have plenty of time to appreciate the greatness and the peculiar atmosphere of this Mayan city.
Since Calakmul is not as popular as other Mayan ruins, you will be able to enjoy even more the magic of this ancient civilization and its past greatness. Believes us, this kind of experience will be difficult (if not impossible) to achieve in the other great Mayan sites in the peninsula, such as Chichen Itza.
2. Observation of wild fauna and flora:
Walk in the jungle to discover the biodiversity.
There are 86 species of mammals in Calakmul Biosphere Reserve and 18 of them are considered endangered, threatened or under protection.
Jaguars might be the ones you're dying to see, but you might also get a chance to spot other small cats like jaguarundis, ocelots, pumas, and other leopard-like felines known as margays.
Among the other animals you are likely to come across on your visit to Calakmul are: spider monkeys, howler monkeys, blue-crowned motmots (Toj in Mayan), Baird's tapirs, white-nosed coatis, ocellated turkeys, toucans and parrots.
Regarding flora, Calakmul reserve is also a special place to explorer. On a walk through the jungle with a local guide, you will learn a lot about trees and plants, some of which are known and used for their medicinal properties.
The Ceiba (the sacred tree of the Mayans), the Mahogany, the strangler figs, the Chicozapote and the gum tree are some of the iconic trees of the Mayan jungle that you can discover in this area.
There are more than 300 species of birds in the Calakmul reserve, so birdwatching tours are among the things to do.
Most of the birdwatching tours start early in the morning to maximize the chances of getting close to the birds that inhabit the jungle. Birdwatching tours are one of the must-do activities if you are exploring the Calakmul reserve.
Bat cave exploration
Some of the guides are totally specialized in the wildlife of the region. They can take you to the caves full of bats and other animals. Bat watching is another of the emblematic activities of the reserve.
As night falls, these nocturnal animals leave their den by the thousands to go hunting.
It will be an unforgettable experience!!! 🦇 🦇
3. Visit local communities
Local communities living around the Calakmul Reserve organize village tours and workshops for visitors. It is an experiennce that will help you have a better understanding of their way of life.
Meeting these Mayan communities can be an opportunity to share a friendly and unique experience. You can do this through a cooking class or even take advantage of their ancestral knowledge to learn how to make handicrafts such as weaving a hammock.
💁 Responsible and sustainable tourism
A well-informed tourist is a tourist aware of the impact of human activities on their environment. Sustainable tourism, or ecotourism, should be a priority no matter where you travel.
Like any protected area, the Calakmul Reserve is not exempt from the dangers of the modern world. What are the threats to Calakmul?
- - population growth.
- - poaching.
- - deforestation, highways and roads.
- - increase in tourist infrastructure.
- - use of natural resources for human activities.
Each on their own effort, we can try to participate in reducing this impact!
How to make a successful ecotourism excursion?
It’s also possible to travel responsibly to the Calakmul Biosphere Reserve, with awareness of the environment and the locals. Your goal is the same as for regular tourists but you should do it with the local community and nature in mind.
Some principles of ecotourism are sometimes difficult to follow, such as favoring soft mobility.
Indeed, it is not easy (but not impossible) to reach Calakmul reserve without any environmental impact, since the means of transport are limited and, for the most part, motorized.
If you want to reduce your carbon footprint, the best thing is still to favor public transport and take any of the ADO buses that pass through Xpujil coming from Campeche or Chetumal and then look for a bus to share with other tourists.
Getting to Calakmul Reserve by bicycle is another possibility. It is a soft and safe mean of transportation. However, be aware of the distance of this trip and get ready for the physical effort it will demand.
The same for those who prefer to walk. You can access the reserve on foot if you are willing to go on a long hike.
Prioritizing ecotourism activities in the Calakmul Reserve helps preserve the environment and the well-being of local communities.
In order to create a better quality of life and develop the local economy, these communities usually offer excursions to the heart of the Reserve. Going on a tour in the company of a local guide allows them to promote their work, their crafts and help them live off the natural resources of the reserve in a more sustainable and responsible way.
On the website of the reserve Visit Calakmul you can find guided tours that will suit your expectations. Some of the activities that you will find there: local crafts workshop, birdwatching tours, visit to the archaeological site and many other ecotourism activities.
Choose local guides.
You should always hire a local guide. Over the years, the Mexican conservation NGO, Pronatura Peninsula de Yucatan (PPY) has provided education and courses for members of local communities to become qualified tour guides, including the intensive practice of English, and in-depth information about ecology and conservation of the species in the area.
You can hire them in the town of Xpujil or do it prior to your trip through the Visit Calakmul site.
How to reduce your environmental impact?
Choose the right clothes
The Calakmul Biosphere Reserve is a Mexican jungle, a hot and extremely humid jungle. I would seriously recommend long pants and long-sleeve shirts, to avoid scratches and protect yourself from the sun.
However, if you prefer shorts and a t-shirt, beware of mosquitoes. Buy a natural bug spray in any supermarket and cover all the exposed parts and clothes included.
And last but not least, remember to use natural bug sprays as they’re less harmful to the environment.
Avoid excessive consumption of plastic
Reducing your environmental impact starts with simple actions, for example, avoiding buying and consuming products with plastic packaging.
For example, you can drink water from a reusable bottle instead of a regular plastic bottle.
Another action in favor of the planet: buy local local prouducts and favor fresh products instead of buying processed foods in a supermarket.
Be systematic with your waste collection
One of the best actions, and one of the easiest to do when you visit the Calakmul Reserve, is to pick up your waste and, above all, leave with it.
There is no waste treatment and, much less, any recycling plant in a reserve located in the middle of the jungle.
Remember to collect all your waste and store it until you return to a city. This is the best gift you can give to the jungle. 💚
The Calakmul Biosphere Reserve is a true hidden gem that true adventurers will enjoy.
For this wonder of Nature to continue sustaining the Mayan communities and making explorers dream, it is everyone's responsibility to preserve its fragile ecosystem and respect the fauna and flora that inhabit this remote jungle. .
If you liked this article and want to discover other ecotourism activities in the Yucatan Peninsula, check out our section on ECOTOURISM.