Written by Kitt Karhohs
Traveling has always been a passion of mine for as long as I can remember. Once I began traveling the world in college, I established a goal to visit as many countries as possible throughout my lifetime. Through this goal, I discovered World Heritage Sites.
UNESCO, an agency of the United Nations, provides a list of cultural and natural sites around the world. The purpose of these sites is to encourage protection and preservation of natural and culture heritage around the world. These sites are identified by UNESCO based on a list of 10 criteria and are protected under the treaty, “Convention Concerning the Protection of the World Cultural and Natural Heritage.” There are 936 World Heritage sites identified to date and are spread all throughout the world. I have made it my own personal travel goal to visit as many of these sites as possible. I find myself planning vacations around them, usually to the dismay of the travel companions, and I can’t wait to visit as many as I can!
I have been able to visit several of these sites, however I recently visited my first one in Mexico. Sian Ka’an, located on the eastern side of the Yucatan Peninsula and right outside of the city of Tulum, is a biosphere that contains tropical forests, marshes, and a large marine section intersected by a barrier reef.
This particular area was designated a World Heritage Site based on its superlative natural phenomena and exceptional natural beauty and aesthetic importance as well as for containing threatened species of outstanding universal value from the point of view of science or conservation.
I found this area to be absolutely stunning! Large pale blue lagoons, jungles to hike through, Mayan ruins to explore and cenotes to dive into. Cenotes are characteristic of the Yucatan Peninsula and are natural sinkholes created by the collapse of limestone. Definitely one of the cooler attributes of the area, it allowed us to swim in a deep cave environment which I had never done before!
I began my tour of Sian Ka’an by stopping by the visitor’s center. There they supplied brochures and activities that you can do around the area. I could not believe it when I read the prices on the brochures for kayaking and boat tours! They wanted $90/person to rent a kayak and $110/person to take a boat tour! It was laughable, and so I left, but the visitor’s center at least had a nice view of the preservation area.
I instead found a trail that led into the jungle and took me to a lonely looking cabana that overlooked a large lagoon. I could not believe how peaceful the area was and not a person in site. I drank my Corona that I had gotten from the visitor’s center and continued on.
There are tons of Mayan ruins in the area that can be explored, but with the heat, I only took a few pictures and moved onto the next thing on my list: cenote swimming.
My favorite cenote that I visited had a depth of around 150 feet and a single ladder to climb up from once you had jumped in. Inside were a couple rope swings to hold on to, as there was no shallow area to stand. Once inside, I was able to swim around to the edges of the cavernous void and admire the sparrows flying in and out of cave walls. Fish were swimming all around my legs and light peered in through the porous ceiling. It was absolutely gorgeous and I have never experienced anything quite like it!
My time in Sian Ka’an was short-lived but well worth it. Another World Heritage Site checked off my list and I can’t wait to explore more! I always encourage others to look into these sites when traveling, and sometimes they’re even in your own backyard. A list of all the sites can be found at the link below. Happy travels!