Imagine floating down a sparkling-blue ancient lazy river. Well, on your next trip to the Yucatan Peninsula, you can do just that at Sian Ka’an Biosphere Reserve.
The lazy river is actually an ancient canal created by the local Mayans for trade. The canals at Sian Ka’an connect Muyil—a Mayan city right off the Laguna de Muyil—to the Caribbean ocean.
These canals are carved through dense wetlands and have a natural “lazy river” effect—the gentle current pulls you from one end of the canal to the other.
Sian Kaan is located right outside of Tulum, so it’s a place you must visit if in Tulum, but it’s also worth a day trip if you’re in Cancun, Playa del Carmen, Bacalar, or other nearby areas.
Most people choose to visit Sian Ka’an via a tour, but you can also visit without a tour if you plan ahead. Read on for Sian Kaan travel tips and everything you need to plan your visit to the Muyil ruins and Mayan canals.
Floating Down a Mayan Canal & Exploring the Muyil Ruins
Unforgettable Muyil Mexico Canal Float experience at Sian Kaan
Note: This article may contain affiliate links. As an Amazon Associate I earn from qualifying purchases through these links, at no cost to you. But don’t worry, I only share products I’d truly recommend to a friend.
Visiting Sian Kaan Biosphere Reserve
The Sian Kaan Biosphere Reserve is a UNESCO World Heritage site and one of Mexico’s largest protected areas. There are several other things you can do at Sian Kaan, but the Muyil float is my top recommendation for an unforgettable day trip.
On your way to this magical experience, you can explore the ruins of an ancient Mayan city, spot wildlife along a jungle boardwalk, climb a tower to gaze out above the jungle’s canopy, and ride a boat through turquoise blue lagoons.
Sian Kaan is a vast reserve with abundant wildlife and several Mayan ruins. Yet navigating through (and to) certain parts of the reserve can be challenging and even impossible for tourists. Before planning your visit, it’s important to understand your options.
There are two main itineraries for Sian Kaan visitors, depending on where the starting point:
The two main starting points for visiting Sian Ka’an Biosphere Reserve
Starting Point 1: Muyil
Travel time from Tulum (one way): 20 minutes via car, scooter, or colectivo
Typical itinerary: Peacefully float down Mayan canals, explore the Muyil Mayan ruins, walk down a jungle boardwalk, lookout over the jungle and lagoons from a wooden tower, and enjoy a boat ride through bright blue lagoons.
Recommended tour: Sian Ka’an and Muyil Archaeological Site Tour from Tulum
Tips for DIY visits: More details below!
Starting Point 2: Punta Allen
Travel time from Tulum (one way): 3+ hours along potholed roads
Typical itinerary: Snorkel with tropical fish, spot manatees, crocodiles, dolphins, and rare birds, enjoy a boat trip through turquoise blue water and explore the town of Punta Allen.
Recommended tour: Sian Ka’an Adventure
Tips for DIY visits: You can drive to Punta Allen yourself in a Jeep, but the road is in terrible condition, so I recommend taking a tour first.
In this article, we’re focusing on how to do the Muyil river float and experience the other attractions accessible from the first starting point mentioned above.
Peaceful lazy river float alongside mangroves
Is the Muyil River Float worth it?
Yes! Floating down the Mayan canals is one of the most serene and fun things I’ve done on the Yucatan Peninsula.
Only a limited number of people are admitted into Sian Kaan each day, so it feels like you have the place to yourself when you float down the river. The river float lasts for about 45 minutes, and your boat captain meets you at the end with your shoes, where you can walk back to the boat on a boardwalk through the wetlands.
El Castillo at Muyil Archeological Site
Are the Muyil Ruins worth visiting?
For me, yes. I enjoyed walking through the ruins. Muyil (also called Chunyaxche) was one of the earliest and longest settled Mayan cities in the area, and it is home to the tallest pyramid on the Mayan Riviera, El Castillo.
Most of Muyil’s ruins have yet to be excavated, so you can easily walk through the archaeological site in under 20 minutes. There is much less to see compared to other nearby Riviera Maya sites like the Tulum ruins or Coba ruins. Because of this, I hesitate to say that the Muyil ruins are worth visiting on their own. However, it’s definitely worth visiting if you also plan to explore wildlife at Sian Kaan and float down the canals.
Gazing up at El Castillo at the Muyil Archaeological Site near Tulum
Floating down the Mayan canals at Sian Kaan Biosphere Reserve
Best Muyil River Float tours
There are lots of Sian Kaan tours, but the two below are my top recommendations. They both have the following:
★ Five-star reviews
★ Trusted, knowledgeable, and friendly guides
★ Comfortable roundtrip transportation
★ Guided tour of the ancient city of Muyil
★ Nature walk along a jungle boardwalk
★ Boat tour through the Muyil lagoon to the Mayan canals
★ The opportunity to float down ancient Mayan canals
★ Tasty homemade lunch
Important note: Sian Kaan tours can sell out weeks in advance (depending on the time of year). Book your tour now to make sure you can secure a spot! See links to the highest-rated Muyil float tours below.
Why book a tour? Since Sian Ka’an is a protected area, a limited number of entry passes are available each day. In addition, a limited number of boats are available to transport tourists to the Muyil river float. One of the many advantages of booking a tour is that you secure your spot to both enter Sian Ka’an and get a seat on a boat.
Best highly-rated group tour from Tulum
Sian Ka’an and Muyil Archaeological Site Tour from Tulum
Enjoying the 45+ minute Sian Kaan river float
★★★★★ 5/5 Stars out of 450+ reviews
Pickup in Tulum included, pickup in Cancun, Playa del Carmen, Puerto Morelos, Akumal, Valladolid, and other cities for an additional fee.
This is the most reputable and highly-rated Muyil float tour. Upon arriving at the Si’an Kaan Biosphere Reserve, your guide will take you through the Muyil Mayan ruins and then along a jungle boardwalk toward the Muyil Lagoon. Before you board the boat to the Mayan canals, you’ll enjoy authentic Mexican food for lunch. After a short boat ride through Sian Kaan’s stunning blue lagoons, you’ll have the opportunity to float peacefully down the Mayan canals. Your trusty guide will watch your belongings in the boat while you enjoy the serene lazy river float, which takes around 45 minutes.
“This [tour] is a hidden gem. Away from the crowds (small group) walking in the jungle canopy amongst the ruins and end off with a gentle float down crystal clear canals. This was a highlight of a trip to Mexico and I can’t recommend this enough. Great guide (Cesar), great food and snacks and a wonderful experience.”Review from Paul on Viator
Best private tour from Cancun & Playa del Carmen
Private Sian Kaan Muyil Lazy River Tour
My experience floating down the Mayan canals at Si’an Kaan Biosphere Reserve
★★★★★ 5/5 Stars out of 35+ reviews
Includes private transport from Cancun, Playa del Carmen, and other nearby areas
This private tour is led by Salvador, a very knowledgeable and friendly guide. Salvador will walk you through the Muyil Mayan archeological site before leading you through the jungle toward the lagoon. You’ll spot wildlife along the way and enjoy a homemade Mexican meal. Then you’ll board a private boat with Salvador and glide toward the Mayan lazy river through the incredibly blue laguna Muyil. Salvador will wait on the boat while you and your group enjoy a private experience gently floating down the Mayan canals. Salvador will meet you at the end, and then you’ll begin your journey home.
“Salvador was an amazing guide, super sweet with our little daughter and has an amazing knowledge about history and nature. I would say that this is a must do tour.”Review from Taciana on Viator
Muyil float tours vs DIY visits
Since Sian Ka’an is a protected area, there is a limit on the number of tourists who can visit each day. In addition, a limited number of boats can take tourists to the Muyil river float. One of the advantages of booking a tour is that you secure your spot to both enter Sian Ka’an and get a seat on a boat.
If you also want to visit the Muyil archeological ruins, booking a tour with an experienced guide can help you get the most out of your experience.
One of the biggest differences between a tour and a DIY visit is the cost. If you visit by yourself, the largest expense will be the boat ride, which costs around $50 USD. You’ll have to pay the Sian Kaan entry fee ($70 pesos), the boardwalk entry fee ($50 pesos), and transportation to Muyil. Tours cost double or more but are worth it since you get a guide throughout the experience, don’t have to figure out your transportation, and are guaranteed a spot in the park.
The many shades of blue at Laguna Muyil
View of Laguna Muyil from the jungle lookout
How to float down the Mayan canal without a tour
If you missed your chance to book a tour or want to try exploring Sian Kaan without a guide, don’t fear! I’ve visited Sian Kaan and floated down the Mayan canals without a tour and I’m going to tell you how I did it. Here are my top tips for visiting Sian Kaan on your own:
★ Leave early: As mentioned above, a limited number of visitors are admitted into Sian Kaan each day, and there are a limited number of boats. Try to get to Muyil (directions below) by 10am at the latest.
★ Get on a boat as soon as you arrive: Most visitors (and tours) explore the Muyil Mayan ruins first, walk through the jungle, and then board a boat toward the Mayan canals. But if you don’t have a boat reserved via a tour and you visit on a busy weekend, I recommend getting a boat right away. When I visited Sian Kaan, several boat captains were waiting at the park entry, ready to take visitors directly to the lagoon.
★ Bring at least $1200 pesos per person: The boat ride to the Mayan canals costs ~$900 pesos (~$50 USD), the park entry costs $70 pesos and the boardwalk entry costs $50 pesos. Plus, you’ll need a few hundred pesos in case you need to buy food or water before heading back to your hotel.
★ Pack water and snacks: You’ll definitely want a water bottle waiting for you when you return to the boat after floating down the lazy river. And snacks are a must for me on any day trip!
The boat ride through the first set of Mayan canals (before you jump out and swim!)
How to get to Sian Ka’an Biosphere Reserve without a tour
To enjoy the Sian Kaan lazy river float and explore the Mayan ruins, head to Chunyaxché (also called Muyil). See below for directions from nearby cities.
Sian Kaan from Tulum
Distance: 23 miles // 20 minutes
By car or scooter: From Tulum Centro, drive south on highway 307 toward Chetumal. After about 20 minutes you’ll see signs for Muyil. Turn left toward Zona Arqueológica de Muyil and you’ll arrive at the Sian Kaan tourist office.
By public transportation: Colectivos (shared shuttle vans) leave from Tulum toward Muyil every thirty minutes from the side of the road in front of Arcoiris Tulum. (This is how I got to Sian Kaan in 2023, and I recommend it!) a colectivo costs about $50 pesos one way, and the driver will let you know when it’s time to get off, but I recommend keeping an eye on your surroundings or your phone’s GPS to ensure you don’t miss the stop.
Related: How to Rent a Scooter in Tulum
Sian Kaan from Bacalar
Distance: 187 miles // 2 hours
By car: Head north on highway 307 for two hours toward Tulum. You’ll arrive in the small town of Chunyaxché (also called Muyil) after about two hours of driving. The Zona Arqueológica de Muyil will be on the right side of the road.
By public transportation: Take an ADO bus to Tulum. Once you arrive in Tulum, take a short 20-minute colectivo south toward Muyil (colectivo instructions above under Tulum).
Muyil Mayan ruins
Sian Kaan from Playa del Carmen
Distance: 86 miles // 1 hour and 15 minutes
By car: Drive south on highway 307 toward Tulum. After driving through Tulum, you’ll have about 20 minutes until you arrive in Muyil. The Zona Arqueológica de Muyil will be on the left side of the road.
By public transportation: Take an ADO bus or colectivo toward Tulum. Then you’ll likely have to board another colectivo toward Muyil (colectivo instructions above under Tulum).
Sian Kaan from Cancun
Distance: 153 miles // 2 hours and 20 minutes
By car: Leave Cancun and find your way to highway 307. Drive south on 307 for two hours and 20 minutes. You’ll reach Muyil after passing through Tulum. The Zona Arqueológica de Muyil will be on the left side of the road.
By public transportation: Take an ADO bus toward Tulum. Then you’ll likely have to board a colectivo toward Muyil (colectivo instructions above under Tulum).
Magical Sian Ka’an River Float
What to bring for your Muyil river float + my recommendations
While many areas of the Mayan canals are shaded, the boat ride itself is in the direct sun, and it’s HOT! Your tour guide may bring some extra water, but it’s always a good idea to bring plenty of water. My personal favorite reusable water bottle is this Miir bottle.
Sunglasses are not only essential for the archeological tour and boat tour but also for the river float! You’ll wear a life jacket like a diaper (if you know, you know lol) so you can comfortably float down the lazy river with your head up. My all-time favorite sunglasses are SOJOS sunglasses.
Bathing suit + Protective Sun gear
Bring a comfortable bathing suit to float down the Mayan canals. Consider bringing a protective sun shirt with SPF and/or a sun hat. I have yet to find a sun shirt I love, but my husband is a big fan of Patagonia sun shirts for men.
Although you can dry off quickly in the hot Quintana Roo sun, I like to bring a travel towel with me anytime I go swimming in Mexico so that I can use it to wrap my wet swimsuit in my bag to keep my other belongings from getting wet. I’m a huge fan of Nomadix towels. My husband and I each have one, and we bring them everywhere!
As a vegan, I always pack plenty of snacks when traveling. Regardless of your dietary restrictions, it’s always a good idea to bring something to snack on in case you get hungry on the go.
After floating down the Mayan canal, you’ll have to walk back to the boat on a wooden boardwalk for about 15 minutes. Your guide/boat driver will meet you there with your shoes. I recommend bringing sandals you can easily slip into.
GoPro camera or waterproof phone case
Most people want to take photos while floating down the Mayan canals. Bring a waterproof camera (GoPro) or put your phone in a waterproof case. As a traveler and photographer, I highly recommend investing in a GoPro for experiences like this. Once you have it, you’ll use it way more than you’d expect. And the quality of the newest GoPro is incredible. All of the river float photos on the blog were taken with my GoPro Hero11, which has 27 megapixels and screens on both sides (perfect for selfies!) It’s a huge upgrade from my old GoPro that had mediocre image quality and no screen.
You don’t need water shoes for the Muyil float, but they can be helpful. The water is about 5 feet deep, and the bottom is smooth and soft, but some people prefer to bring water shoes for an extra level of protection.
Muyil Lagoon from above
Muyil River Float FAQs
I can’t swim. Can I still do the Muyil river float?
Short answer: yes. Someone on my boat couldn’t swim, but he was fine floating down the river with a lifejacket (lifejackets are mandatory). The river is 4-5 feet deep with a gentle current that pulls you. If you feel safe floating in water that deep with a lifejacket, you can do the river float. Just make sure you go on a tour with other people or bring friends/family, so you’re not alone.
Are there crocodiles in the Mayan canal?
I have not heard of any visitors seeing crocodiles in the Mayan Canal. Crocodiles like hanging out in areas where they can bask in the sun. The banks alongside the Mayan canals are covered in mangroves and other plants, so there isn’t any space for crocodiles to sit in the sun. Plus, the canals are heavily trafficked by humans and boats. Crocodiles are just as scared of us as we are of them!
Do boat drivers at the Muyil lagoon speak English?
I can’t speak for all boat drivers, but my boat driver (in 2023) spoke fairly decent English.
Can you wear sunscreen in the Muyil lagoon?
Although the use of sunscreen is prohibited in many nearby Yucatán Peninsula lagoons, I didn’t see any signs prohibiting the use of sunscreen at Sian Ka’an in 2023. However, opting for reef-safe and biodegradable sunscreen is always a good idea.
Floating down the Mayan canals at Sian Kaan Biosphere Reserve was one of my favorite experiences during my Rivera Maya travels. If you visit Tulum, you can’t miss Sian Ka’an. Book a tour ahead of time so that you make the most of your visit!
Essential Mexico Travel Resources
Have a Mexico trip coming up soon? There are a lot of travel companies out there, but some are better than others. After traveling to dozens of countries and living abroad on several continents, here are some of my favorite websites and resources for planning unforgettable trips.