This uninhabited island reserve north of Isla Mujeres is home to a huge range of sea birds, including pelicans, boobies, and frigate birds, and contains mangroves, turtle-breeding beaches, and superb coral lagoons. One-day tours are run by many dive shops and agencies from Isla and Cancún; check what is included in your tour.
Boats for hire in the village of Isla Arena, and tours are offered in Campeche
The north of Campeche State behind the coast consists of petenes, which are “islands” of solid land within the swamp that have special microclimates all of their own, and mangrove lagoons. Within the area are flamingos, deer, and even pumas. Visitor facilities are very limited.
The reef off Puerto Morelos is one of the least disturbed sections of coral near the mainland in the northern part of the Maya reef and is now protected as a marine park. Snorkelers can see spectacular marine life – lobsters, giant sponges, luminous parrot fish, and angelfish. Dive operators in the town offer low-impact snorkel and diving tours.
Biggest by far of the Yucatán’s nature reserves, this vast expanse of empty forest, mangroves, and lagoons gives an extraordinary glimpse of nature almost untouched by human habitation, and in all its complexity. Tulum is the starting point for organized trips into the reserve.
Spider monkeys are quite common in the Yucatán but often hard to see. Set in very dense forest around a lake near Cobá, this village-run reserve (see Punta Laguna) is one of the places to find them. Villagers will guide you to the best spots, and monkeys are most likely to be around in the early morning and early afternoon.
A huge, long, narrow lagoon of creeks, mangroves, and mud and salt flats runs along the north coast of Yucatán and it is tinged pink with colonies of 20,000 flamingos in the peak August breeding season. Fascinating, great-value boat trips are run from Río Lagartos and nearby San Felipe.
Boatmen in Río Lagartos, San Felipe, and Dzilam Bravo can be hired to take you to the mangrove lagoons • Trips last a full day
Much more remote, this giant expanse of uninhabited mangrove lagoons extends west of San Felipe and also contains flamingo colonies and a variety of birds and other undisturbed wildlife. Getting there, with a boat trip over open sea, is a real adventure.
The most famous flamingo colonies in the Yucatán are in the lagoon beside this little town on the west coast. Launches run from a visitor center toward the pink streaks of flamingos on the horizon, passing fishermen’s huts and ibises and many other birds – an ornithologist’s delight.
This large area (see Punta Sur Eco Beach Park) across the southern tip of Cozumel has an impressive variety of landscapes – forest, dunes, turtle beaches, reefs, and tranquil mangrove lagoons – plus crocodiles, flamingos, and countless other birds. There are observation towers, an information center, and a maritime museum, and you can climb the Punta Celaraín lighthouse.
For easy bird-watching in the lagoons along the northern Yucatán coast, this free viewing tower by the coast road east of Progreso is a good option; it even provides binoculars. The top offers spectacular views over the wetlands to the south, and you can see flamingos, ducks, egrets, and, in winter, countless migratory birds from North America.