Crocs, Snakes and Flamingos at Celestún
In the southeastern corner of the Yucatán is the Celestún Biosphere Reserve, a natural lagoon home to mangrove forests, flamingos, crocodiles and fearsome snakes.
While booking our tour on the Biosphere’s lagoon, we were the only tourists present. Normally, this is something we’d be pleased about, but not today. “If only some other people would show up,” we wailed. We even waited twenty minutes before buying tickets, just in case. Of course, we weren’t concerned about “sharing the glories of nature” with strangers or anything like that. We just wanted to save a buck. To take a tour at Celestún, you have to rent an entire boat, and it’s the same price whether you’re a group of ten or two. About $120 US.
Alas, nobody came. We cursed and paid up, but at least we’d have a private tour. For two hours, we cruised up and down the lagoon, just ourselves and our guide. Celestún is home to a healthy population of flamingos throughout the year, and we saw plenty of them. They were soaring in from the sky for a graceful landing, running atop the water while preparing for take-off, and wading in the shallows, bobbing for food like the keys of a big, pink piano.
Not far from the flamingos, and surely too close for their comfort, we spotted crocodiles. Well, our guide spotted them. Jürgen and I couldn’t see them until we got very close. A big mother and her son, partially covered by the brush and completely immobile. Shortly thereafter, near the edge of a mangrove formation called “Bird Island”, the guide suddenly stopped the boat and pointed into the bush. It was now that I began to suspect him of being half-eagle. Somehow, from fifty feet away, he had spotted a boa constrictor napping in the tree.
A boa constrictor! It had recently eaten, if its distended stomach was any indication. I’ve never seen such a big snake in the wild, and was mesmerized. Our guide tapped my shoulder and pointed to another boa farther up the tree. And then another a few feet away. I have no idea how he kept spotting them. Later on, while coasting along the river, I nudged Jürgen and whispered, “Watch this.” And then without warning I threw a sardine high up into the air, certain that our half-eagle guide would leap off the boat in pursuit. But he didn’t take the bait.
Midway through the tour, as we were cruising along the river at a rapid clip, we suddenly took a sharp left turn. It looked like we were going to crash into the thick brush, but instead we entered a mangrove tunnel. This was the most picturesque moment of the day, a natural passage through the dense growth, with sunlight filtering through the canopy and pelicans taking a break in the shade.
The long tour finished with a visit to the Ojo del Agua, a natural freshwater spring, and a trip down to the Gulf of Mexico, where we stopped briefly at a petrified forest which had died after the encroachment of salt water. This had been an expensive day out, but was ultimately worth the money. If you’re in a larger group and can split the cost, the boat tour is a no-brainer.
–We Rented A Car From Sixt For This Trip (No Hidden Costs!)