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Sian Kaan 3

Chris and I are normally DIY travelers, both for budget reasons and because we’ve had mixed experiences with guided tours in the past. But today we took what was quite possibly the best tour we’ve ever taken: to visit the Sian Ka’an Biosphere.

Pronounced like shaan kahn, it’s a UNESCO World Heritage Site made up of jungle, freshwater lagoons and archaeological sites. We took a tour with Community Tours Sian Ka’an to see just a sliver of the huge preserve, as well as visit a campamento chiclero, or chewing gum camp, to learn more about gum’s Mayan roots.

One of the best parts of the tour we have no photos of: a 45-minute float only in our life jackets (worn upside down, like diapers) through a crystal-clear canal with fish, mangroves and sun. Super. Cool. OK, here are the rest of the photos.



Welcome to the chewing gum camp


Valentin 2

This is Valentín — he learned to harvest sap for chewing gum when he was 12; he’s cutting canals into the tree so the sap all falls into the same path and into a single bag



He has these spikes that he attaches to his shoes so he can scale the tree safely, which his father handed down to him; you can see the white sap starting to make its way out


Cooking Chicle 2

We cooked some sap he collected yesterday over the fire; this is a very small batch since it was just me and Chris


Chris Chicle

You must keep stirring the gum!!!


Cooking Chicle

After it heats up, it starts to ball up like this…


Rinsing Chicle

…and then you rinse it in water and it’s ready to chew


Cesar Humo

This is our main guide Cesar — he grew up in San Francisco but fell in love with Tulum — messing around with natural incense


Sian Kaan View

These freshwater lagoons are light where it’s shallow and darker where it’s deeper, and they’re connected by small canals that eventually lead to the Caribbean


Chris Sian Kaan Tower

Chris striking a pose from the viewing tower


Sian Kaan 2

No caption needed


Sian Kaan Canal

A canal connecting the lagoons from west to east


Sian Kaan 1

Looking out into the grassland


Sian Kaan 4

An ancient “customs inspection” building, which would monitor boats going through the canals with goods for trading, including chewing gum



The roof of the restaurant where we ate at the end of the tour; Valentín was part of the crew that made the roof


Pollo Pibil

Pollo pibil — the perfect ending


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