Just past Tulum’s last cabaña hotel is the entrance arch to the vast (526,000-hectare/1.3-million-acre) Sian Ka’an Biosphere Reserve. This inexpressibly beautiful tract of wild land is the domain of howler monkeys, ocelots, crocodiles, jaguars, tapirs, sea turtles, and thousands of species of plants. The Mexican government created this reserve in 1986; the following year, the United Nations declared it a World Heritage Site. Sian Ka’an protects 10% of Quintana Roo’s landmass, including almost one-third of the Caribbean coastline, from development. Another 319,000 hectares (788,300 acres) of land was added to the reserve in 2010.

The entrance to the Punta Allen Peninsula, a small portion of the reserve, is one of two main entrances to the reserve; the other is from the community of Muyil off Hwy. 307 south of Tulum, where you take a boat down canals built by the Maya to the Boca Paila lagoon.

Legends still swirl about the 4 hours it takes to drive the 50km (31 miles) over potholes, ruts, and rivulets to the town of Punta Allen at road’s end. In fact, the road has been much improved, though it is still dirt, still pockmarked to varying degrees, and subject to weather-related conditions. During the spring of 2014, I made it all the way in 1.5 hours, including a few photo stops. Earlier that year, however, heavy rains closed the road completely. Ask several locals about the road conditions, and give yourself plenty of time no matter what they say. It can be tempting to drive as fast as the locals in four-wheel drive vehicles, leaving you in a cloud of dust, but they know where the next patch of deep ruts is located. Take your time and enjoy the scenery. If you plan on reaching Punta Allen on a day trip, head out early and return way before dark—it’s nearly impossible to see once the sun sets. Bring more water than you think you could possibly need and pesos in small denominations, and make sure you have plenty of gas and oil.  If you don’t fancy yourself a road warrior, you can drive through the entrance arch in Tulum (entry 25 pesos per person) and continue south about 4km (2[bf]1/2 miles) to where a beach comes into view, pull over, and spread out your beach towel.

Entry fee at guard station 56 pesos.

Note: This information was accurate when it was published, but can change without notice. Please be sure to confirm all rates and details directly with the companies in question before planning your trip.