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Calakmul Biosphere Reserve

The Calakmul Biosphere Reserve (Reserva de la Biosfera de Calakmul) is located at the base of the Yucatán Peninsula in Mexico, in Calakmul Municipality in the state of Campeche, bordering the Guatemalan department of El Petén to the south.

It occupies 7,231 sq km and includes about 12% of the sub-perennial jungles of Mexico. The Reserve, which was established in 1989, is one of the largest protected areas in Mexico, covering more than 14% of the state.

The archaeological site of Calakmul, one of the largest-known maya sites, is located in the Biosphere Reserve. There are also more archaeological sites located in the Calakmul Reserve area: Balamku, Chicanna, Becan, Xpuhil, Rio Bec, and Hormiguero.

Flora and fauna

The Reserve and the contiguous forested areas of the Maya Biosphere Reserve (Reserva de la Biosfera Maya) in the Guatemalan department of El Petén form one of the largest and least disturbed tracts of rainforest in the Americas north of Colombia.

The forest is classified as dry forest to the west and tall and medium-height sub-perennial rainforest to the east. Among the trees, there are ceibas, Honduras mahogany, strangler figs, chaká, and chicle or chicozapote.

The biosphere is home to 86 species of mammals, 18 of which can be found in the Official Registry of Mexican Ecology, a resource that outlines flora and fauna that are in danger of extinction, rare, threatened, or are under protection.

The area is home to 5 of the 6 large cats that are native to Mexico. This includes its small but healthy population of jaguars as well as jaguarundis, ocelots, pumas, and margays.

The fauna also includes Central American agoutis, Geoffroy’s spider monkeys, Guatemalan black howlers, Baird’s tapir, white-nosed coatis, ocellated turkeys, crested guans, toucans, and green parrots.

The reserve has been given a critically threatened designation, which means that prompt measures must be taken to continue to protect and conserve its biodiversity. These threats include Population growth, subsistence hunting and poaching, tourist infrastructure, and the emergence of highways and roads.

The human population within the reserve has been rapidly increasing since the 1980s due to increased migration as well as high birth rates. This has put increasing strain on natural resources due to the locals’ agricultural and ranching subsistence.

Although 80% of the hunting in the reserve is done for personal consumption among the local people, this subsistence hunting has had an increasingly drastic impact on the wildlife populations.

These animals are also being poached by military units that are on active duty within the area.

There has been an increasing amount of tourist activity since the reserve was given the UNESCO designation, which has created several problems. Although water is scarce in the region, the consumable water near villages or towns is reserved for tourists, creating a water shortage among the locals.

There is growing awareness of a possible water crisis due to the inability to meet the needs of the locals and the tourism industry.

Due to problems with the design of the reserve, two main roads have been built that cross through two of the core, important areas of the reserve. There have been proposals for a tourism destination called Maya World which would involve a highway connecting different areas of the biosphere reserve.

Although the plans for the highway have been put aside for the time being, hotel construction continues in those areas.

Political Issues

The area was declared a biosphere reserve by Carlos Salinas de Gortari in 1989. The cited reasons for the designation were the protection of biological diversity, as well as the protection of the numerous ancient Mayan ruins that are within the limits of the reserve.

Since then there has been a disparity between the views and philosophies of the local people who live on the land and those government officials and urban environmentalists who wish to protect its resources.

The people who live on the land are migrants representing 23 of the 32 states of Mexico that were drawn to the land in the 1960s when the Mexican government put land distribution projects in place.

Their cultures may differ, but they share the common identity of “campesinos” and subsistence farmers who live off the land.

As subsistence farmers, they all share the common belief that the environment is a place to work, which contrasts with the agendas of environmentalists and government officials who believe that an “ideal environment is one devoid of human presence”.

These outside parties have the “do not touch” mentality. Thus the Campesinos have created a united front in pushing for access to important resources that enable them to farm and provide for themselves.

In 1991 the Mexican president gave the Campesinos “care for the reserve” which provided funding to aid in the protection of the remaining forests while encouraging self-sufficiency in the local farming sector.

This has been in line with the philosophy that biodiversity is “diversity in use”.

These issues of the debate have led to a resistance movement from the local farmers.

Due to their beliefs surrounding the uses of the environment and work, many believe that those on the other side of the debate (government officials and urban environmentalists) wish to use the land for their own profitable means.

Many farmers recognize the difference between symbolic and actual land ownership and feel as though the government is undermining their subsistence practices.

Whereas the Campesinos practice subsistence farming and therefore do not receive a salary, there is a high vulnerability that they face from others implementing regulations.

Tourist Assistance + Emergency Numbers

You can dial 078 from any phone, where you can find free information about tourist attractions, airports, travel agencies, car rental companies, embassies and consulates, fairs and exhibitions, hotels, hospitals, financial services, migratory and other issues.

Or dial the toll-free (in Mexico) number 01-800-006-8839.

You can also request information to the email


General Information: 040 (not free)

National Emergency Service: 911

Radio Patrols: 066
Police (Emergency): 060
Civil Protection: +52(55)5683-2222
Anonymous Complaint: 089

Setravi (Transport Mobility): +52(55)5209-9913
Road Emergency: 074

Cruz Roja: 065 o +52(55)5557-5757
Firefighters: 068 o +52(55)5768-3700

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