Rudolf and Larissa Jung


To contact us:

Phone in Germany: 0160 4637 132

Phone from US: 011-49-160 4637 132



             For the active traveler the Costa Maya offers many interesting and extraordinary opportunities for sightseeing and nature explorations. The purpose of this web page is to give some suggestions. Compiling this information is a project in progress. During almost 20 years visiting the Costa Maya we have seen ourselves only a tiny fraction of the wide spectrum of worthwhile destinations and every trip brings new discoveries of its wildlife and its natural wonders.

Chacchoben– a large Mayan archeological site in only 45 min driving distance from Mahahual



Oxtankah-Chetumal-Rio Hondo Springs                Duration of day trip: 10 hours


1. Oxtankah. Take the road from Mahahual to Hwy 307 (55 km) and turn left (south) in direction of Chetumal. On the north side of Chetumal take Avenida Insurgentes - direction Calderitas until you reach the Oxtankah archeological site (2 hrs driving; 2 hrs park visit). 2. Chetumal. After Oxtankah drive along the Chetumal Bay shore into to the center of Chetumal (centro). Visit the Maya Culture Museum and central market (Mercado). Lunch at one of the small restaurants lining Chetumal Bay is recommended (Chetumal total 3hrs). 3. Rio Hondo Springs. Leave Chetumal (direction of Cancun). After about 10 km, turn west onto Hwy 186, direction Escarcega. After another 10 km look for signs (usually include the word “balneario”) to access Rio Hondo springs (south side of hwy). The springs form several crystal-clear pools. Excellent site for taking a bath and for nature observations (birds, tropical freshwater fish, water turtles, plants). There is a small restaurant. Plan having lunch there or on your way back in Bacalar (3 hrs for springs and lunch). Return trip to Mahahual about 2 hrs.

As an alternative to a Rio Hondo Spring visit, you could book a Manatee boat excursion in Chetumal (office at piers across Sams Club at Chetumal Bay; look for signs). Aside of seeing rare manatees, this 2-hour tour on Chetumal Bay and into the Rio Hondo river offers observations of animals that inhabit the river front vegetation. Noteworthy are huge Green Iguanas (a much bigger iguana species than the Black Iguana encountered in Mahahual) that are often encountered on tree branches.

Mahahual birds


For Mahahual bird pictures click here.


Bird populations of the Costa Maya coast line have completely recovered from the impact of hurricane Dean in 2007. Abundant bird species in the jungle around our house are the Golden-fronted Woodpecker, Grackles, Yucatan  Jay, Great Kiscadee, Tropical Mocking-Bird, Southern Cat-Bird, several Flycatcher species, White-winged Doves, several Oriole species and Chachalakas. Hummingbirds, two Amazon Parrot species (White-fronted and Yucatan Amazon), Lineated Woodpeckers, Pygmy Owls, and a small Toucan species (Collared Aracari ) are regular visitors. The Osprey, Yellow-head Vultures and Black Hawks are the most common birds of prey along the coast, but several falcon species (Roadside Falcon, Laughing Falcon), are also often encountered, and you might see King Vultures circling high over the Limones road. Common water birds are Brown Pelicans, Frigate Birds, several heron species (including many winter guests from North America), ibises and terns. We have left a third of our property untouched as an undisturbed jungle. Therefore you can watch a very good variety of birds directly at Casa del Cielo de las Estrellas. For watching water birds a good spot is Rio Bermecho (4 km south of Mahahual, click here for map). Hundreds of water birds use trees along the banks of the mangrove outflow (100-200 feet inland) as a roosting place.


Text Box: Mayan sites/ Sightseeing
Text Box: Animal watching/ Nature tours

Black Iguana

Crocodiles are shy animals and upon approach of humans will hide for a long time under water. Rarely can one be seen at daylight basking on dry land.

Baby Green Turtle. After a storm small exhausted sea turtles are sometimes washed to the shore.

Mexican Parrot Snake. A harmless snake, which can be seen in bright daylight hunting for geckos and other small lizards.

Caribbean Hermit Crab (aka Purple Pincher). In Mahahual most hermit crabs wear as their house the beautiful banded shells of the West Indian Topshell

Yucatan Jay. A beautiful and very intelligent bird. Usually they move in flocks. They are master thieves. Don't leave food untended on a table outside if they are around.

The White Sand Crab also known as Ghost-Crab is a day-active crab. It’s the most abundant crab on the beach and builds its burrows directly at the high water line.

Text Box:

Bacalar. View of Laguna Bacalar from Fort San Felipe.

Chichen Itza– (El Castillo Pyramid). This is the best known ancient Maya site in the Yucatan. From Mahahual about 4.5 hours driving time by car.

Mayan Archeological sites/ Excursions


The Yucatan peninsula was (and is) part of the Mayan heartland and remnants of the ancient Mayan civilization, one of the great civilizations of the Americas, can be discovered throughout the area. The Costa Maya is close to all significant excavated Mayan archeological sites of the Southern Yucatan peninsula. From Mahahual, by car, Chacchoben can be reached in less than one hour,  Oxtankah, Kohunlich, Dzibanché, Kinichna within two hours and Rio Bec, Xpuhil, Becan, Chicanna, Calakmul within 3-4 hours.

Not well known, but the coast line of the Costa Maya is dotted with traces of the ancient Maya along its entire length. Directly at the coast no site has been excavated however. The best known site in the proximity of Mahahual is in the Rio Indio area (small pyramids). Even in the hinterland behind Casa del Cielo de las Estrellas, in the Selva (jungle-forest) only 500 m from the beach, we discovered many signs of previous Mayan settlement and agricultural activities: old field walls, platforms, etc.

Excursion suggestions

· Chacchoben-Cenote Azul-Laguna Bacalar (click here)                Duration of day trip: 10 hours

· Oxtankah-Chetumal-Rio Hondo Springs (click here)   Duration of day trip: 10 hours


· Kohunlich, Dzibanché, Kinichna (possible as one-day trip, consider as overnight trip)

· Xpuhil, Becan, Calakmul (click here)                              Duration:  2-day or 3-day trip

· Chichen Itza, Merida (recommended as 2day or 3-day trip)

Animal watching/ Nature tours


The rich ecological diversity of the Caribbean coastline of south Quintana Roo makes it a paradise for visitors that enjoy watching and studying animals and plants. The ecosystem directly at the waterline is called littoral zone (aka “beach”) which consists in the Mahahual area almost exclusively of coral sand beaches. Land inwards this zone is followed by the mangrove swamp ecosystem (“manglares”, “pantanosos”), in some areas by coastal lagoons, and then by the medium-high evergreen forest (“selva”) that covers most areas of south Q. Roo. Because pressure from development has been low so far, most of these ecosystems are still quite intact and healthy and home for countless beautiful (and also less conspicuous) animals and plants. Below we have compiled information about Costa Maya wildlife, which is mostly based on our own experiences and observations.

In addition to nature activities in direct proximity of Casa del Cielo de las Estrellas, you potentially could see fascinating wildlife at one of the Costa Maya locations listed below or undertake excursions into one of Yucatans spectacular wetland– and jungle reserves.

· Bird islands in Chetumal Bay near Xcalak (half day or full day trip)

From Casa del Cielo de las Estrellas drive the beach road south for about 7 km until you reach the access road at km 15, and via this road, get onto the paved road to Xcalak (click here for map). After about 30 km you reach a T-intersection. Turn right (west; direction La Aguada) and after about 5 km you will find the dysfunctional ferry dock on Chetumal Bay. From here you can see the bird islands in just less than 1 km to the west. For a boat excursion, you either make prior arrangements in Xcalak (ask in one of the local stores or restaurants), or with a fisherman at the dock (if one is present). It is possible you take our sea kayaks for this tour, but please first obtain our permission and discuss proper means of transportation. Depending on the time of the year you can see a variety of nesting water birds (several heron species, spoonbills, frigate birds, and others). This area of Chetumal Bay is also great for fishing (spinning for snooks or fly fishing).  After this excursion, a stop in Xcalak for a restaurant visit could make this a round day. For your way home, coming from Xcalak, consider leaving the paved road to Mahahual already at km 33, at the first, southernmost of the two beach access roads, to get back onto the beach road (sign at intersection reads “Xahuayxol” or similar spelling). It takes more time to get home, but it is a very scenic drive with the chance to encounter more interesting animals.  You drive for about 20 km (1 hr) along the mostly undeveloped coast line. Caribbean at its best. During June– October, between Xahuayxol (km 33) and the next access road (km 15), especially on its northernmost stretch, called Puerto Angel, lots of turtle nests on the beaches. Don’t drive this rough beach road after nightfall.

· Uyumil Che monkey rescue reserve

This is a charitable private enterprise that shelters rescued Spider monkeys that have been taken captive as young animals. Keeping monkeys is illegal in Mexico, but unfortunately, baby monkeys are anyway quite often captured as pets. When grown up, these monkeys become very problematic home companions, but cannot be reintroduced back into the wild. The Uyumil Che non-profit organization has made it their goal to save these monkeys from a certain death. Usually you can see here also some other interesting local wild animals that have been brought here because of injuries. Generally, the reserve is not open to the public, but they don't mind the occasional visitor. There is no entrance fee, but donations are very welcome

The reserve is located near the paved road to Placer/Uvero, about 2-3 km south of the Rio Indio exit. From Mahahual go north on the Limones road and, after 5 km, just before you reach the Pemex gas station, turn north (right) onto the paved road to Placer/ Uvero. After another 5 km watch for the Uyumil Che sign at the entrance of a path on the west side (left) of the road. You can’t see the reserve from the road. It is located in the jungle and you have to follow the path for several hundred meters.


· Crocodile watching at Rio Bermecho (click here)


· Land Hermit Crabs at Punta Herradura-  Bird Watching/ Fishing at Rio Huach (click here)

From Casa del Cielo de las Estrellas drive the beach road south for 25 km (Punta Herradura) or 35 km (Rio Huach), respectively. It is possible you take our sea kayaks for Rio Huach and Laguna Huach, but please first obtain our permission and discuss proper means of transportation.


· Sian Kaan Biosphere Reserve -Vigia Chico Road

The Sian Kaan is one of the largest biosphere reserves of Mexico, covering an area of almost 1.3 million acres of wetlands, jungle, and Caribbean coast line. It provides an important Winter resting place for North American water birds and is sanctuary to many animals that have elsewhere disappeared in Mexico. Even though the Sian Kaan borders the Costa Maya- true to its main function as a nature refuge- it is essentially inaccessible from the south. However, a few guided tours are offered in the north of the reserve, from Tulum, Muyil and Punta Allen (,

If you are an avid and adventurous bird watcher, and do not mind inconveniences, an interesting tour is driving to Vigia Chico. This place used to be a small town and Navy outpost on the Caribbean coast east of Felipe Carillo Puerto. It has been abandoned after it was devastated by a hurricane in the 1950ties. Until recently a few cabanas for accommodation and a small restaurant survived, but these have been finally erased by hurricane Dean in 2007. Theoretically, Vigia Chico can be approached directly via an access road from Felipe Carillo Puerto (distance 70 km).  This is however an extremely rough road and not advisable to undertake with a normal passenger car. Its better you pass through Felipe Carillo Puerto and continue north on Hwy 307 for about 40 km. In this area, between km marker 180 and 181, about 5 km south of the Chompon exit, another and fairly decent access road enters the Sian Kaan. Look for the sign “Vigia Chico Faro” (narrow road; east side of Hwy). It winds through dense jungle from west to east all across the reserve until it ends at the light house (faro) of Vigia Chico. It’s a long and slow drive for about 30 km, but if you start in Mahahual very early in the morning (4:30 am) and enter the reserve at sunrise (6:30 am), you will not be disappointed by the variety and abundance of interesting birds and potentially you may see also other wildlife (deer, havelinas, tapirs, agutis, paccas). At Vigia Chico fishing is very good (mangrove snappers, snooks). Climb the light house tower for a scenic view of the Sian Kaan coast line.


· Active Nature at Villas Ecotucan– Laguna Bacalar

Active Nature, located on the west shore of Laguna Bacalar, offers well organized and expertly guided kayak tours and forest excursions into the virtually untouched wetlands and jungles of the Bacalar lagoons and adjacent Chetumal Bay.  Highly recommended if you like to add diversity to your vacation at Casa del Cielo de las Estrellas (for information click:

Take the road from Mahahual to Hwy 307 (55 km) and turn left (south) in direction of Chetumal. After ~35 km, about 5 km north of Bacalar, watch for the Ecotukan sign (east side of the Hwy at km marker 28) and turn into the access road (500 m).


· Rio Hondo Manatee Excursion (for directions see Chetumal excursion above)

Tours can be booked at a small piers on Chetumal Bay close to the Sams Club in Chetumal. Look for signs across the parking lot of Sams Club. Aside of seeing rare manatees, this 2-hour tour on Chetumal Bay and into the Rio Hondo river offers observations of animals that inhabit the river front vegetation. Noteworthy are huge Green Iguanas (a much bigger iguana species than the Black Iguana encountered in Mahahual) that are often seen on tree branches.

· Suggestions for nature excursions with overnight stay:

Celestun: Wetland and marshes on the Golf of Mexico. West of Merida. High concentration and diversity of water birds, including flamingos. Accommodation in small hotels and cabana places. Boat tours are offered by local fisherman. Driving time from Mahahual ca. 5 hrs (consult maps and internet for directions and additional information)

Rio Lagartos: Wetland and marshes on the Golf of Mexico. North of Valladolid. High concentration and diversity of water birds, including flamingos. As the name indicates, the wetlands are teaming with crocodiles (lagartos). Accommodation in small hotels and cabana places. Boat tours are offered by local fisherman. Driving time from Mahahual ca. 5 hrs (consult maps and internet for directions and additional information).

Calakmul Biosphere Reserve: Largest tropical forest reserve in Mexico. West of Chetumal (drive Hwy 186 in direction of Escarcega). Accommodation in small hotels and cabana places. Includes the Calakmul archeological sites and other important Maya archeological sites are nearby. Tall rainforest habitats. Refuge for several big cats– Jaguar, Jaguarundi and Ocelot. You can encounter tapirs, spider- and howler monkeys, coatis and many forest birds including Toucans, Oscillated Turkeys and Guans. Driving time from Mahahual ca. 5 hrs (consult maps and internet for directions and additional information).



Chacchoben-Cenote Azul-Laguna Bacalar             Duration of daytrip: 10 hours


1. Chacchoben. On sunny days plan for an early morning departure from Mahahual to avoid the midday heat while sightseeing Chacchoben. Take the road from Mahahual to Hwy 307 (55 km) and turn left (south) in direction of Chetumal. After 10 km you pass the village of Dos Santos (locally grown fresh pineapples are sold at the roadside– highly recommended) and turn right (west) onto Hwy 293 in direction of Merida. After 7 km, passing first the village Lazaro Cardenas (good breakfast restaurant), you reach the Chacchoben archeological zone (left side of Hwy, not to confuse with the modern village of Chacchoben, which is 10 km off Hwy 293 to the north). Chacchoben is a large site, with most structures dating to the classical period. Only a small portion has been excavated, but several of its impressive and beautiful pyramids and other buildings have been restored and can be visited. The special charm of this site is brought by its many large trees and adjacent jungle, which surround the structures in a park-like setting. Expect to see a large variety of bird species, butterflies, lizards and iguanas. Spider monkeys and Howler monkeys visit the site frequently to feast on tree fruits (figs, chico zapote). Plan two hours for a tour of the park. 2. Cenote Azul. Head back to Hwy 307 and turn right (south) in direction of Chetumal. After 30 km the Hwy turns around Bacalar and on the south edge of Bacalar watch for signs for “Cenote Azul”, which is on the left (east) side of the Hwy. Cenotes are fresh water-filled lime stone sinkholes and a very typical geological feature of the Yucatan peninsular. Cenote Azul is a particular large, deep (300 feet) and beautiful cenote and its crystal-clear, deep blue water is separated from Laguna Bakalar by an only 300 feet-wide strip of land. A restaurant specialized in Mayan cuisine is located at the west rim of Cenote Azul. Highly recommended as a lunch stop. It is possible to go swimming and snorkeling in the cenote and you can jump from the roof of the restaurant into the water. Most restaurant visitors see this as a special treat. Bring snorkeling gear and, for children, take life vests along! The cenote is also teaming with interesting tropical freshwater fish (Cichlids, Mollies). For lunch or coffee and for a refreshing swim in the cenote, plan a two hour stay. 3. Bacalar. Head back (north) 2 km on Hwy 307 and drive straight into the center (centro) of Bacalar to the main town square (Zokalo). Bacalar as a settlement predates the Spanish conquest and is a small and still very Mayan town. Bacalar Fort (Fort San Felipe) was build in 1733 and is located on the east side of the Zokalo. The fort overlooks Laguna Bacalar, a fresh water lagoon, also called the lagoon of the seven colors. The fort was established to assure colonial control over the area and to protect it from the pirates of the Caribbean. Today it houses a small museum. The exhibition (most texts with English translation) is well designed and gives an excellent overview of the regions Mayan, colonial and modern history and of Bacalar in particular.  For a visit of the fort, a stroll to Laguna Bacalar and perhaps some shopping and a visit to one of the small cafes lining the lagoon or the Zocalo, plan two hours. Your return trip to Casa del Cielo de las Estrellas will last 1 to 1.5 hours. Consider a small detour into Limones for a 50 lb bag of oranges.

Field Guide Books and Equipment

Our library at Casa del Cielo de las Estrellas contains a comprehensive set of field guides to help with identification of encountered animal and plant species. A good optical quality pair of binoculars of  (7 x 50 or 8 x 50) is required for birding. To study smaller creatures bring a magnifying glass or (better) a close range binocular (e.g. Pentax Papilio). For night excursions you need a strong flashlight.


If you venture into the jungle (or into any vegetation) wear appropriate cloths and shoes (long pants, long-sleeved shirt, boots). The heat feels much more intense in the jungle compared to the beach. Carry sufficient water supplies to prevent dehydration. Apply a strong insect repellent (with DEET).

Important: Get familiar with the poisonous Che-chen tree (aka Manchineel tree), and by all means avoid touching it (ask our caretaker to show you one). Che-chen is a very common tree in all Costa Maya jungles and forests. Contact with its resin can cause very severe skin irritations akin to Poison Ivy (in North America) or Bärenklaue (in Germany).


Vigia Chico, Sian Kaan. View from the light house. This place has been erased by several devastating hurricanes and nothing except a few fundaments, eroded pier remnants  and a corroded railroad locomotive is a reminder that this was once a sizable town, port and navy base. 


Mahahual Mammals

For mammal pictures click here.

The Costa Maya is inhabited by a wide spectrum of mammal species, but most of them will avoid human contact and encounters are rare. Nevertheless, sightings of Jaguars and Pumas have been reported and in 2009 a Tapir was hit by a car on the paved road to Xcalak. The most common mammal that can be seen at Casa del Cielo de las Estrellas is the Yucatan Squirrel. One of its favored foods are the berries of the Uva del Mar tree.  Another common animal is the Coati, a small long-nosed carnivore, related (and similar) to Raccoons. The Aguti, a rabbit-sized, dark-brown, tail-less rodent, which is related to Guinea Pigs, was once abundant at the coast and we often saw them running around in the back of our property. Even though they are still common in the hinterland, they appear to have almost disappeared along the beach road. A likely reason is the proliferation of free-roaming dogs. Several night– active smaller mammals, like grey foxes and tree opossums, can be spotted during drives to Mahahual after nightfall. In the evening you can see large numbers of fruit bats, especially when the Guarumo trees on our property bear fruits.

The Costa Maya has a healthy dolphin population. For dolphin observation a boat is needed, because they rarely enter the area between the barrier reef and the beach.  Manatees, which -according to historical accounts- were once abundant along the coast, have dwindled to a small population of about 100 animals in an area of Chetumal Bay that has been declared a Manatee sanctuary. Nevertheless, occasionally Manatees have been seen (and photographed) on turtle grass flats in the Mahahual area by amazed snorkelers or divers. Manatee observation tours are offered in Chetumal (see Chetumal excursion).


Mahahual arthropods and other creatures (incomplete– will add more)

For Pictures click here.

Land Hermit Crabs

Around Casa del Cielo de las Estrellas lives a healthy colony of Caribbean Hermit Crabs, which are Land Hermit Crabs (not to confuse with Land Crabs– see below- which belong to the True Crabs, a different suborder of crustaceans). These are very beautiful creatures! The body of this large hermit crab (adults reach 2-3 inches in diameter) is colored brightly red and it has a very strong left pincer. In Florida this species is therefore also called Purple Pincher. In our area most animals seem to prefer as houses West Indian Topshells (a large seawater snail or gastropod) to protect the soft parts of their bodies. Interestingly, it is very difficult to find empty shells of the West Indian Topshell as virtually all shells seem to be in use by hermit crabs. Recent research has shown shell availability as the determining factor in hermit crab populations size. Hermit crabs are nocturnal. After dark it is almost always possible to spot them using a flashlight in the garden area behind our house. During the day it is difficult to find Land Hermit Crabs, but one can follow their unmistakably recognizable tracks in the sand (left during their night foraging expeditions), which might lead to a hiding place.

An impressively large colony of Caribbean Hermit Crabs lives at Punta Herradura, a small peninsula about 25 km south of Mahahual. Many individuals live at the transition zone between jungle and mangroves and even at daylight its possible to find them walking on the ground. During one excursion we counted more than 50 hermit crabs! A trip to Punta Herradura is also worthwhile because it has a rocky lime-stone beach. The rock-shore ecosystem with tide pools (and associated creatures, like Chitons) is quite special and rare for the Costa Maya. A bit farther south of Punta Herradura you will find the burned-down bridge of Rio Huach, an outflow of Laguna Huach. Rio Huach has an unique ecosystem and is the only place we know of with large oyster banks. It is also a great spot for fishing and bird watching.


Land Crabs

Land crabs are perhaps the most ubiquitous animals of the Caribbean littoral ecosystems and, under optimal conditions, population densities can be as high as one individual per sq. feet. On Casa del Cielo de las Estrellas land you can find at least three distinct abundant species. The medium-sized White Sand Crab or Ghost Crab prefers the sand areas directly at the high water line for its burrows. It is a day active crab. Sit down quietly for a few minutes and you will see them emerging from their burrows and busily running around searching the wrack line for food. The smaller Pink Sand Crab occupies sand and debris areas farther away from the water. Many of these crabs live around our house and have burrows in our flower beds or along the outer house walls. You often find them under rocks. They are nocturnal and are easiest observed after dark with a flashlight. Smaller individuals of Pink Sand Crabs sometimes even find a way (probably below doors) into the house. The third abundant species is the Giant Caribbean Land Crab (commonly called also Blue Crab), which lives farthest inland, sometimes several 100 m from shore. The large entry holes of its burrows can be found everywhere in and at the edges of the mangrove swamps. As the name indicates, this is a very large crab, with adult crabs weighing often more than 1 lb. Once a year, during a full moon night in fall, female Giant Land Crabs emerge from the mangrove swamps and forests and migrate to the sea for spawning. This is an extraordinary event and unforgettable if you are able to witness it. At some sites (including at Casa del Cielo de las Estrellas), crabs aggregate in huge numbers and form a virtual carpet that covers every square inch of the beach. During this night it is impossible to go outside without stepping on crabs! The crabs are everywhere; even palm tree trunks are enveloped with crabs for a feet or two above ground. The million of moving crab feet are able to produce an audible rustling sound. This truly creepy (if not creeping) scenery reminds of Hitchcock movies. Amazingly, this is a one-night event. At dawn of the next day only a few individuals remain on the beach—seemingly lost and hardly evidence of the deluge that happened a few hours earlier.


Mahahual reptiles


For pictures– click here.



The most noticeable reptile in the Mahahual area is the Black Iguana. This is a very large plant-eating lizard. Males can grow as large as four feet. You will find it everywhere along the coast, but especially on or around limestone outcroppings and rock piles. One iguana has been living on our roof terrace for quite some time.

Other permanent dwellers of our house are geckos, small wall-climbing and ceiling-climbing lizards (not sure about the species). There are very many of them. During the day they hide behind pictures or in window frames, but soon after dark they appear and you can observe them darting across the walls in search of prey. Geckos catch insects. Since our windows are screened its not clear what they feed on. When a gecko gets startled, he emits a fairly loud warning call, which sounds like gek-gek-gek. The name “gecko” probably was inspired by this sound.

Another common and interesting reptile is the Brown or Striped Basilisk, a medium-sized lizard. Basilisks prefer water habitats. They are most abundant in the jungle areas that border mangroves. Sometimes, especially when fleeing, basilisks run only on their hind legs and in this bipedal mode they have the unique ability to run over water for considerable distances (30 feet). Because of this “walking-on-water” skill they are often referred to as Jesus Lizard. A healthy population of basilisks lives around Casa del Cielo de las Estrellas.


The mangroves swamps lining the Costa Maya coast are a very good habitat for crocodiles. The species you will find here is most likely Morelet’s (or Mexican) Crocodile. A very similar species, the larger American Crocodile might also be present. To determine the exact species, its jaws have to be inspected for its dentation (not advisable with a living wild specimen). During the dry season, when water in the mangrove areas is diminishing, crocodiles, looking for new bodies of water, sometimes end up on Costa Maya beaches. This is unfortunate for these animals as they will likely perish in pure salt water. These rare beach guests are not dangerous in any way and you don't have to be concerned about your own safety. Unlike the Australian Saltwater Crocodile or the Nile Crocodiles of Africa, crocodiles in the Yucatan Peninsular reportedly are not aggressive toward humans and incidents are almost non existent. Crocodile watching is best done after dark around the Rio Bermecho bridge (km 4 south of Mahahual, click for map). Bring a strong flash light and apply a good repellent to keep mosquitoes away. From the bridge walk inland 100-200 feet along the banks of the mangrove outflow. Search the water surface with your flash light. You will easily detect present crocodiles by their eyes. The eyes reflect the light and appear as bright red spots just above the dark water surface. After you have spotted a crocodile, it is possible to move closer for a nearer observation. If you approach in slow motion without much noise, the animal will not retreat and will stay floating half-submerged in its resting position. Keep a 10-feet distance and stay on dry land. Trees and shrubs behind the Rio Bermecho bridge are a roosting place for hundreds of water birds (herons, egrets, ibises, spoonbills, etc.) and, as prey, this seems to support a good-sized crocodile population. The chances to encounter crocodiles after dark at Rio Bermecho are high (better than 50%). During the day its not as easy to spot crocodiles, as they are more wary to intruders and usually stay submerged.

If stalking crocodiles in the dark seems just a bit too much of an adventure, you still can see local crocodiles if you make a stop at km 38 of the Mahahual-Limones road at Oasis, a small roadside store/ café on the south side of the road. They keep two crocodiles in a small cenote on their property. If you stop there, ask also for smoked pork  (carne ahumada) from wild pigs (Havelinas or Collared pecari; locally called Puerco de Monte). The meat is excellent.


Sea turtles are prominent inhabitants of Costa Maya reefs and on most diving trips you will be able to watch them. They are however rarely seen on the beach side of the barrier reef (in shallow water, while snorkeling), because they prefer deeper reefs and open water. Sometimes, especially after a storm, baby turtles are washed onto the beach. In contrast to the Rivera Maya (North Q. Roo), the Costa Maya does not have many nesting places for sea turtles. The barrier reefs prevent strong wave action. These beaches are consequently not incessantly freed of vegetation and sand is less exposed to wind erosion and dune formation. There are however a few sites with wide plant (and root-) free sand strips with loose sand and high dunes that turtles prefer for nesting purposes. One such stretch is south of Mahahual and extends from a beach called Puerto Angel (km 15 south) all the way south to Punta Herradura (km 25 south). In this area the reef is not protecting the shore and the beaches are wide. During June 2011 we counted more than 60 fresh turtle nests in this area. Since a female turtle nests up to 10 times during a nesting season- there could be several 100 nests by October. It seems, fortunately, that most nests remain undisturbed. If one visits in August-with so many nests- there might be a good chance of observing baby turtles hatching every night (you need a red light for turtle observation to prevent disorienting the hatchlings!). Four different sea turtle species (of the five extant) have been reported in Costa Maya waters and the most commonly encountered among them is the Green Turtle.

The swampy hinterland of the Costa Maya has good-sized populations of several fresh-water and semi-aquatic turtles. Most common is the Mexican Woodturtle, a beautiful medium sized turtle with red markings on its head. It is difficult to spot her in jungle or marsh areas, but during and after rains they seem to wander around and then they are often found crossing roads. If you see one, stop and help her out of the danger zone. Temporarily inundated areas are frequented by several species of mud turtles and musk turtles (related to what is called “Stinkpot” in the US). Favored habitats are water-filled roadside trenches. Look at both sides of the paved road to Xcalak. Sliders are found in more permanent bodies of freshwater. Before development began at km 55 of the Limones road ( about where the office of the Alcalde is now located) a large Slider population inhabited the small ponds and water holes on both sides of the road. This populations seems extinct unfortunately, but Sliders can still be observed in ponds and small jungle cenotes farther away from Mahahual.


The Costa Maya and its hinterland inhabits potentially about 30 snake species (inferred from general distribution maps; a direct study has not been published). However, very few snakes will be ever encountered directly on the beach as this is not a good environment for snakes and, generally, one has not to be concerned about venomous snakes. One of the most common snakes in jungle and mangroves close to the beach– at least in the Mahahual area, and also around Casa del Cielo de las Estrellas- is the Mexican Parrot Snake, a slender, small, green-brown snake. Also Vine Snakes (Mexican and Green Vine Snake) are quite common. A regular visitor of coastal jungles is the Boa Constrictor. This beautiful snake is not poisonous. The Boa Constrictor is the largest Mexican snake. It can grow to a size of 7-8 feet. If not molested, it is peaceful. In defense it can inflict painful bites. Another large snake that occasionally hunts on the beach is the Indigo Snake. Its favored prey are Black Iguanas. The only specimen of a venomous snake that I have ever seen during all my visits since 1993 was a small Coral Snake wiggling at night across the Limones road. Most reports about Coral Snake sightings have to be viewed with suspicion. All snakes that I have seen killed as Coral Snakes were undoubtedly harmless Milk Snakes. Milk Snakes closely mimic the coloring of Coral Snakes as a strategy of protection, because it repels potential predators. However, this mimicry is not helpful to them when they meet ignorant humans. Coral snakes tend to be very shy creatures, and bites are rare. Almost all known incidents of Coral Snake bites involved persons that handled them intentionally.

Caribbean Manatee. About 100 individuals live still in Chetumal Bay

Oxtankah archeological site



Xpuhil-Becan-Calakmul             Overnight trip

It is feasible to visit from Mahahual most of  the Mayan archeological sites of southern Q.Roo as a daytrip. However, many of these sites certainly warrant a more extended excursion. Calakmul in particular is worth exploring for many hours. Since it makes sense visiting some of the smaller sites along the way as well, we recommend an excursion to Calakmul as a 2-day trip and possibly even as a 3-day trip.

Calakmul is a huge and very impressive site. It is surrounded by pristine jungle in the middle of Mexico’s largest biosphere reserve and a visit of Calakmul therefore also has the potential of interesting nature observations. Because of it remoteness and late discovery, Calakmul is not (yet) as well known as other large ancient Mayan cities. However, newer studies indicate that during the classic period it was the center of one of the most powerful Maya kingdoms and a major adversary of Tikal (the most powerful kingdom of the Peten region – in todays Guatemala). It certainly rivaled Tikal in its grandness. Its largest pyramid is the second tallest building ever constructed by the ancient Mayas and it measures a whopping height of almost 200 feet (65m).  Climbing this pyramid (as of Feb 2011 still permitted) and seeing the sunrise or sundown from this artificial mountain in the middle of a sheer endless jungle - is an unforgettable experience.

Day 1.  Xpuhil-Becan. Plan for an early departure from Mahahual to have ample time in the afternoon for viewing both, the Xpuhil  and the Becan archeological sites. Total driving time: 3-4 hrs. Take the road from Mahahual to Hwy 307 (55 km) and turn left (south) in direction of Chetumal. You bypass the town of Bacalar on the beautiful Bacalar lagoon. Consider having breakfast here in one of the café’s at the Zokalo (main town square, next to the Pirate Fort). About 30 km after Bakalar turn right (west) onto Hwy 186 in direction of Escarcega and drive on to Xpuhil  (~100 km). You will pass several Mayan archeological sites right and left of this road (Kohunlich, Dzibanche, Kinichna, Rio Bec). These are all interesting sites, but if you also stop at one of these sites , you will not have much time for the sites around Xpuhil, so it is better to save these sites for an extra trip or plan to extend your trip for one more day. In town of Xpuhil, before going to the Mayan archeological sites nearby, it’s best to first secure accommodation for the night. Currently the best choice is hotel Calakmul at the west end of town (toward Escarcega). The hotel is quiet and clean. Rates are very reasonable: 600 pesos for rooms and 200 pesos for cabins. The associated restaurant is good (Mexican-Mayan) and serves breakfast, lunch and dinner. If you ask in town you will be directed to seedy hotels in the center of Xpuhil (very noisy) or to hotel Puerta Calakmul at the entrance of the biosphere reserve (60 km further west). The latter is nice, but very expensive (1800 pesos/night). For sightseeing of the archeological sites plan for Xpuhil (located directly in the town of Xpuhil ) 2 hrs and for Becan (about 5 miles farther west along the road to Escarcega) 2-3 hrs. The major buildings at both sites are constructed in the so called Rio Bec style. Becan, once seated at the crossing of important ancient trade routes, was a regional power center and features a number of remarkable pyramids. Becan is the more significant and impressive site. If you want to limit sightseeing to one site - pick Becan.

Day 2. Calakmul. For witnessing the sunrise in Calakmul you need to depart from Xpuhil no later than 4 am. The road is 60 km highway and 60 km paved road (with potholes) through the reserve. Driving time 2hrs.  For exploring the archeological site plan at least 3 hrs. Bring food and drinks. There is no restaurant or store at the site. To drive back to Mahahual, depart no later than 3 pm. This will allow you to drive most of the distance during daylight. Total driving time is 5-6 hrs. If it’s getting very late, and you need to find accommodation on your trip back because you feel tired, then Bacalar offers the best options for overnight stays (small, reasonably priced hotels at the lagoon- we usually stay at hotel Bamboo for 400 pesos/night).

Xpuhil archeological site

Becan archeological site. Large pyramid. Climbing is still permitted and it feels like ascending stairs into heaven.

Calakmul. Sundown from top of Estructura II, with 65m the second- tallest Mayan pyramid ever constructed

Fresh turtle tracks ending in turtle nest. In June 2011 we counted more than 60 fresh nests on undeveloped beaches south of Mahahual.