Around the Lagoon in Síiyil Noh-Há

Síijil Noh Há: Off the Grid with Local Maya in Quintana Roo

Síijil Noh Há means “Birth of the Great Water”. It is an expression in Yukatek Maya, and I asked one of the Maya ladies there for the translation. I knew Há means water, but I could not figure out the rest. I love how poetic and descriptive these names are. This is what she said:

“Síijil Noh Há is written in our mother tongue, Maya, and means Birth of the Great Water because it has a cenote in which water is emitted throughout the year.”

We swam in this cenote that seems to be drawing water from deep inside the Earth. Connected to a lagoon, not stand-alone like most others, the color of the water is a good indication of where the cenote ends and the lagoon starts. The water is crystal clear and extremely deep in the cenote.

Siíjil Noh Há: A Tiny Vacation Spot in the Middle of the Jungle

A small establishment on the shore of the lagoon and cenote, Síiyil Noh Há is the ultimate get-away-from-it-all travel destination. To reach it, we drove on a narrow dirt road in the middle of a patch of jungle, just a few miles from the over-crowded, touristy “Riviera Maya”.

This is not the Maya-Land the tourists see. It is the real deal, where people speak their ancient language and a little Spanish on the side. The cabins you rent are traditional Maya huts. You feel like you live with the locals. You don’t see tour buses, you don’t have a phone signal, wi-fi, or TV. It is the place where you can truly get away from it all.

Síijil Noh Há is one of the most beautiful, pristine jungle-on-the-side-of-water place I could have ever imagined. After our first time there, we made sure to return during our next trip to the area.

Around the Lagoon in Síijil Noh-Há
Around the Lagoon in Síijil Noh Há

On the Road to Our Little Hut

The turn-off road to these huts in the jungle is only about an hour and a half from Tulum, one of the biggest tourist destinations on the Yucatan peninsula. But you wouldn’t know it when you’re there; seems light-years away from the busy tourist zone.

As soon as we left the busy intersection to the Tulum Ruins and town, the road became less traveled. The farther south we went, the fewer tourists we encountered. We finally started to feel like we were back in the Yucatan we fell in love with years ago.

We had to keep our eyes open for the turn-off. It was a dirt road, and it wasn’t advertised. Thanks to Google Maps and a hand-made sign on the main road, we found it without a problem though.

The dirt road, which seemed a track through the jungle at times, was narrow, with vegetation grown so close that we kept brushing the trees and bushes with the car. We were driving in the middle of a nature preserve. The potholes – and there were many of them – were filled with water. It was hard navigating the rental car and trying to keep it from getting too scratched up.

Young girls on tiny motorcycles passed us, rickety cars with large Maya families that barely fit into them drove out in the opposite direction. Considering it was so out-of-the-way, the road was getting a lot of traffic. All locals though, not one rental car, not one bus.

When we finally got there, they were waiting for us. We got a key and the groundskeeper showed us our “cabin”.

It was a true Maya hut, just like the ones the locals build for themselves.

Our New Home for a Few Days

The hut was big enough for two people, and by renting two of them, next to each other, we had the perfect opportunity to let the girls have one on their own. We felt safe there, I had no problem letting them sleep in a whole other structure. Of course, we let them choose the cabin they wanted.

Our Maya hut
The girls had their own hut

The beds had mosquito netting around them, and while it is very pretty, I knew from previous stays in Yucatan that it was not there for the show.

As soon as we got settled, we climbed up on the “mirador”, the lookout tower, set up in front of our huts.

El Mirador, the Lookout Tower
El Mirador, the Lookout Tower in Síijil Noh Há

Since the whole thing is made of wooden ladders, open on all sides, it was a bit nerve-racking the first time I climbed to the top. But once there, above the jungle canopy, the views on each side were spectacular, enhanced by thousands of birds fluttering above the canopy behind our huts. On the other side, we saw the end of the lagoon, and far in the distance, more jungle.

View of Our Hut from the Mirador.
View of Our Hut from the Mirador.

Dinner. Fish with Teeth

By dinner time the few locals who were there earlier left and we remained the only guests on the premises. We walked over to the outdoor dining area, a large wooden platform under a large palapa, and sat at one of the long community tables.

“Empanadas o pescado?” asked the Maya lady when she came out oof the kitchen to take our order. The girls went for the empandas, while my husband and I opted for fish.

The empanadas were the best I have ever seen or tasted. (I had to try them.)The girls loved them and even had seconds.

When I first saw my fish, I wished I ordered empanadas instead. It was fried whole, with the head still on. Growing up in rural Romania, this was not unusual for me. However, the teeth were. I have never seen fish with teeth on my plate before. They looked like human teeth, too, only much tinier. Once I got over my first shock, and tried it, I realized it was a tasty fish – and cooked to perfection. I didn’t touch the head, (naturally), and it took me while to work my way around the tiny bones, but in the end, it was a great meal. Though I still decided to go for empanadas next time if they ask.


While we tried eating our dinner, the mosquitoes came out. And for whatever reason, they love me more than anyone else. Or I am simply allergic to their bites. Since I knew this, I came prepared. I had my essential oils that normally work as bug repellents. For most people, including my family. As I found out the hard way though, they did not work for me.

Finally, we borrowed some local mosquito repellent from the staff. It worked, but it was too late for me. My legs were filled with huge swollen bites for the rest of the trip.

But that didn’t stop me from having a great time.

I was sad to opt out, but I didn’t join the rest of my family climbing up on the lookout tower again after dinner. It was too hot for long pants and jackets, and I was already half-eaten by the mosquitoes. I was listening to their chatter and laughter from the safety of the closed hut, behind my mosquito-net.

Nights in the Jungle

Thanks to the mosquito netting on the beds – as pretty as they are, they have a purpose – we had a good night sleep.

But first, we had to “save” the girls from a huge bug that made its way into their room. Since we didn’t know what it was, (I was hoping it might have been a mosquito-eating bug), we managed to get it out of the room instead of killing it. It might have been hard to kill, given its size, anyway.

We had to get used to the constant noise of little birds and probably iguanas and lizards moving around in the canopy, and the sounds of the surrounding jungle. Since it was quieter than we ever experienced nights in the city, we noticed the smallest noises, a bat flapping its wings outside the hut, the buzz of insects, birds nesting in the canopy above.

Doing “Nothing”

With no TV, phone service or wi-fi on the premises, we had to get used to a different pace of life. Though we could get phone signal on top of the lookout tower, we didn’t have it anywhere else. So we had to relearn to relax, to watch the wildlife surrounding us, to connect with the few people we met.

In the mornings the chatter of birds woke us. As we sat quietly on the porch, we noticed different types and recognized some of them from our books. The distinctive mot-mot birds were making a racket early in the morning, and we watched them sitting on branches, their long tails moving like pendulums off the side.

The Mot-Mot Bird
The Mot-Mot Bird

We swam in the lagoon, though I was trying to stay close to the shore after eating a fish with teeth. They were supposed to be in the deeper ends of the water, and I did not want to experience a bite of those tiny teeth.

Lagoon at Síijil Noh-Há
The lagoon at Síijil Noh Há

Later in the day, we rented a boat. The lagoon proved to be bigger than we thought when we tried crossing it. Of course, we didn’t realize that the wind was stronger out in the open water.

We took walks into the jungle, on the trails that led to the cenote and beyond. We swam in the cenote, its water much deeper and clearer than the rest of the lagoon. Tiny fishes were nibbling our toes. They were cute, with no teeth here.

In the late afternoons, we sat out on the water’s edge and watched turtles coming close to the shore. At dusk we watched the bats come out and I was hoping they eat a lot of mosquitoes.

Sunset Over the Jungle Canopy.
Sunset Over the Jungle Canopy.

We Said Goodbye, but Not for Long

By the time we were leaving Síijil Noh Há, I felt like I could live there. Well, if I learned some Maya and more Spanish. We would need to communicate with the locals.

It was hard to leave the laid-back, quiet surroundings, and know that I was going to be back in the hustle-and-bustle of the overcrowded coast, then in the city at home. On some level I know we all missed “civilization”, the usual, but I could get used to living off the grid.

Once back in the city, I did miss it. So, when the opportunity came, we went back, less than six months later. This time, it was winter, New Year’s Day, according to our calendar.

Winter in Síijil Noh Há

It was my birthday trip. This time, we only took our youngest daughter, and we rented one cabin, instead of two.

As we turned onto the dirt road leading to Síijil Noh Há, I felt like coming home. But this time the place wasn’t deserted. We got there late in the day, and it seemed that all of the cabins were occupied. Large groups of locals gathered on the shore of the lagoon, and around tables in the outdoor restaurant. Others were sitting in hammocks on the front porches of a few huts.

We were lucky to call ahead, I thought. They only had the one cabin free that we reserved. But little by little, everyone left. By nighttime, we were once again the only ones there.

We realized that they rented out cabins for daytime use to locals, for half the price. And since it was a holiday, locals celebrated by getting together by the side of the lagoon. So, the next day, we enjoyed once again the company of local Maya families.

The trees were much greener, the jungle canopy denser this time of the year. It was also colder, which in the tropics meant comfortable. However, not warm enough for me to get in the water.

Above the Jungle Canopy in Síiyil Noh-Há
Our hut is not even visible from the Mirador in the winter. The jungle canopy covers it.

The people there remembered us, and treated us like family, even though we still could not talk much. But to communicate in a slower setting, language is less important. We felt we knew each other since our last visit.

To make our stay even more special, we spotted a toucan in one of the trees above the huts. It is very rare that toucans show up so far north on the peninsula, so it was truly a treat.

We Will Return

It might take us longer than six months till our next visit, but we will be back. No matter how long will be till our next visit, it’s nice to know thought that this place is here, off the grid, off the beaten path. I don’t know for how long. But since they have no known ruins and they are away from the beach, it might take the tourist crowd a bit longer to discover this gem.

The locals who run the place told me that they were trying to learn English to communicate with some of their visitors. I told them they shouldn’t. I’ll try to learn more Spanish and Maya before I return, and other foreign visitors should do the same. After all, we are visiting their ancient land, we should be the ones to learn their language to communicate with them.

But even if I don’t add much to the little Spanish and few Maya words I understand, I know we are always welcome in that tiny spot by the water, in the jungle.

Update: January 2024

We did return in January 2024, but things are changing even in this remote area of the Yucatan, thanks to the new Maya Train. The quiet of the night and early morning was replaced by noise of construction, I noticed fewer birds and wildlife. The “Maya Train” is ruining the peninsula, and since it will run only about three miles from this tiny eco-resort, it brings changes. For example, now we had to go through a gate to enter the area, a gate they close overnight. The noise and pollution from the construction – and probably later from the train itself – is causing damage to the ecosystem. This last trip left me with a sad feeling for the future of the area and the whole peninsula…

Siiyil Noh-Ha
Scroll to Top