Los Petenes-Ría Celestún
Los Petenes-Ría Celestún is part of the Tentative list of Mexico in order to qualify for inclusion in the World Heritage List.
Los Petenes-Ría Celestún is a coastal protected area with a variety of ecosystems, from dunes to tropical forests and mangroves, whose vegetation is characteristic of frequently submerged saline environments. It has a rich avifauna, of which the most famous species is the pink flamingo, with a population of 23,000 individuals. There are also 61 species of fish, aquatic grass beds that support a population of manatees, and nesting sites for 4 species of sea turtles.
Map of Los Petenes-Ría CelestúnLoad map
The coordinates shown for all tentative sites were produced as a community effort. They are not official and may change on inscription.
I am quite surprised that there are no reviews about this delightful place, and only a small number of community members have explored this popular tourist spot that is easily accessible. Our visit coincided with our journey from another WHS, Campeche, to Merida. The main roads in Yucatan are modern and well-maintained. We covered two-thirds of the journey on the highway and the rest through picturesque villages, encountering only one police check. Such moments in Mexico can be nerve-wracking, given past experiences of being asked for bribes by the police for unknown and irrelevant reasons. Nevertheless, we reached the boat departure area, Parador Turístico Flamingos Boating Celestún, located just 5 minutes inland from the main beach, without any issues.
Here, the boat fee is per boat, not per person, accommodating up to 6 people despite having 8 seats. The recent increase in boat prices to 3000 pesos + tax from 2400 pesos is noteworthy. We observed groups of fewer than 4-5 people waiting by the ticket booth to form larger groups and reduce the cost per person. Joining forces with a couple from Houston, we formed a group of 4.5, including my 3-year-old daughter. We were informed of a swimming option at the end of the tour, prompting us to change into swimsuits. We even brought our daughter's floaties with us. The facility provides amenities such as toilets, showers, and a restaurant.
The 1.5-hour boat tour, including a short landing, began with sightings of crocodiles and pelicans. Surprisingly, we witnessed some locals fishing with half their bodies submerged, seemingly unbothered by the presence of crocodiles. When questioned, the captain assured us that the crocodiles here do not harm people unless provoked. Thanks but I am not buying it.
After 45 minutes, we reached an area teeming with hundreds of flamingos—a breathtaking spectacle of these elegant birds flying and frolicking in the water while hunting for food. Navigating through tunnels among mangroves became the highlight of the tour. We later disembarked onto a boardwalk, encountering interesting bird species unknown to us. Our exploration led us to a natural pool surrounded by mangroves, where our guide suggested swimming. Just as I was about to dive in, my wife's shout halted me: "Crocodile!" Astonishingly, two men were swimming nearby, seemingly unconcerned. Despite the tempting Instagram story opportunity, my wife, an anesthesiology and reanimation specialist, promptly ushered me back to the boat, explaining she didn't want to attempt resuscitating a foolish individual bitten by a crocodile. All horror movies start with such a stupidity, right? Anyway, we returned to our seats, setting sail back.
Post-tour, we headed to the beach for lunch, choosing "Boquinetes Celestún." We enjoyed the overall quality, sipping on beer-garitas while gazing at the sea, concluding our day with a sense of fulfillment. If cleanliness is a concern, check the kitchen after finishing your meal, as my wife, being sensitive to such matters, suggests. Otherwise, it's a perfect spot to call it a day.
I visited Los Petenes-Ría Celestún during a trip to Yucatán in November 2023. The Reserva de la Biosfera Ría Celestún and the Reserva de la Biósfera Los Petenes cover the north-western part of the Yucatán peninsula, straddling the states of Yucatán and Campeche. The easiest point of access is the village of Celestún. It is possible to stay overnight, but a day trip may be sufficient.
In addition to private cars, there are several ways to get there, with Mérida being the most convenient starting point. Most of the city's tour operators and hotels offer excursions to Celestún. In November, this package cost MXN$1,650 per person and included transport to Celestún, boat trip, guide, and dinner, departing at 8AM and returning at 4:30PM. It is also possible to reach the village by public transport. Buses supposedly depart from Terminal Oriente. Departures were posted on the wall, but no one was at the counter when we tried to get information. Most of these buses would make a detour via Hunucmá, taking over three hours to reach their destination. So we opted for a collectivo. However, we had trouble finding the stop (it's here: 20.961635140864207, -89.61616133941756) and the timetable wasn't really respected. So we waited for the van to fill up, and were at our destination in just over two hours.
Celestún's main attraction is the boat trip through the mangroves and lagoon. It is possible to start from the beach, but the boat captains then must make a detour to enter the lagoon, making the excursion longer and more expensive. You should therefore ask your collectivo driver to drop you off at the Parador Turístico Celestún. The disadvantage of going by public (or private) transport rather than by excursion is that you'll be responsible for making friends at the pier, or you'll have to rent an entire boat. I don't remember exactly, but I think it was around 3,000$MXN. Six people were waiting at the counter when we arrived, so we were able to split the cost and the excursion between eight of us.
I think all the boats do the same route, but the itinerary may vary depending on the season and the location of the birds. We started by seeing the American flamingos for which the reserve is famous. A group of around 200 flamingos were on hand for us. Bring a good zoom lens if you want to take some nice photos. The guide then took us to see some magnificent frigatebirds on an island, a group of roseate spoonbills and an alligator. We then sailed through a narrow channel in the mangrove and stopped for a stroll along a boardwalk in the forest. It's possible to swim here, but another good-sized alligator was watching the water.
After the excursion, we walked to the beach. There are a few more views of the lagoon along the way. More American Flamingos were there. From the beach, we walked north on Route 12, until we reached virtually dry lakes with a pink layer of mud and salt. This road would be the ideal place to observe two species endemic to the region, the Yucatan gnatcatcher and the Yucatan wren. We were only successful with the former. My sighting list for the day also included other interesting species, including black-necked stilt, American avocet, brown pelican, four species of egret, American white ibis, osprey, and olive-throated parakeet.
We ended the day sipping cocktails on the beach. I really enjoyed my visit to Celestún and I think it would be an interesting WHS. I must admit that I'm the target audience, but the boat trip was well organized and a lot of fun. I would recommend that more seasoned birdwatchers spend the night there to take advantage of the cooler morning to make observations. Otherwise, Merida is an ideal base. We also visited Uxmal from there, but other TWHS such as the cenotes and Izamal are also within easy reach.
2008 Added to Tentative List
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