The Calakmul Biosphere Reserve


The Calakmul Biosphere Reserve


Mexico’s largest protected tropical forest area is a treasure trove of Maya history.

The ruins of the city of Calakmul, located in the middle of almost two million hectares of jungle, cover nearly 8 square miles. Given its current isolation, it may be surprising to learn that it was one of the greatest rivals of Tikal, a major Maya city in northern Guatemala.

For those who climb to the top of one of the two great pyramids of Calakmul (“the city with the two adjacent pyramids” in the Mayan language), the spectacular view extends as far as Guatemala, and other distant ruins can be seen on days when the weather is particularly good (this is more difficult during the wet season between May and September).


The Maya jungle covers almost 15% of the Mexican state of Campeche and extends into Guatemala and Belize.

The Calakmul reserve, whose surface area is slightly smaller than that of Corsica , is home to many animal species: jaguars, crocodiles, tapirs, and around 230 species of birds.

Since 2007, the US-based environmental NGO The Nature Conservancy has been working on a project to create a corridor linking Calakmul and Sian Ka’an, a biosphere reserve in Quintana Roo. The idea is to help migratory birds (and other species, such as jaguars) get from one to the other.

But nature cannot be protected at the expense of the needs and desires of the local inhabitants. Both Calakmul and Sian Ka’an are bordered by villages whose economies rely on the resources offered by the jungle, particularly chicle (the resin of a Central American tree called the sapodilla) and timber. The Nature Conservancy is working with local organizations to develop these activities while protecting the jungle, in particular by organizing workshops where chicle workers can share their practices to improve production and better sell the product of their labor.


In 2007, Hurricane Dean severely damaged the region.

Some of the communities around Calakmul reported having come through the hurricane relatively well, thanks to the protection offered by the forest. Many trees had fallen, however, and The Nature Conservancy helped to find ways to use the “free” timber and to rebuild the homes that Dean had destroyed.


The beauty and value of Calakmul lie in the balance between its obvious appeal to tourists and Maya history buffs from all over the world and the need to maintain it for the animals that inhabit it and the communities that depend on it.