Interesting facts about the Mexican Jungle

The word jungle usually conjures up images of Mowgli and Baloo and that catchy ‘Bare Necessities’ song, but there are actually many interesting facts about the Jungle, especially those found in Mexico.

The term Jungle means land covered with dense forest and tangled vegetation. A forest has tall trees through which little light can penetrate, and a jungle usually has low growing plants with a tangled mass of fauna. So what’s a rainforest? It’s a forest with humid temperatures and only two seasons – rainy and dry.

Read on to find out some more interesting facts about the Mexican Jungle.

Mexican JunglePhoto: travel-project.com

How large is the Mexican Jungle?

Between 25-30% of Mexico is made up of forest land, this is 1.3% of the world’s total jungle. Not as big as the Amazon, but still a great contribution to our eco-system. With 64 million hectares of jungle, it’s not surprising that Mexico is home to thousands of different tropical animals and birds such as Spider Monkeys, Howler Monkeys, Eagles, Swamp Crocodiles, and even Jaguars.

The biggest Mexican Jungle is the famous Lacandon Jungle. It runs from the State of Chiapas, into Honduras and through the southern part of the Yucatan Peninsula.

Of all the animals, birds, fish and tree species found in Mexico, the Lacandon Jungle is host to 16% of total fish species, 33% of bird species, 25% of all animal species, 1500 tree species and a whopping 56% of all Mexican Diurnal butterflies. This jungle has become famous because of the conservation efforts against deforestation and its Mayan history.

Red Macaw parrot in the Lacandon Jungle Mexico

Interesting Jungle facts:

– There is more than one type of jungle in Mexico! They are divided into two categories: dry and humid.

– Mexico has the highest number of oak and pine species in the world.

– The Usumacinta River runs between Chiapas and Honduras, either side of the river there is dense Lacandon Jungle. This river is the largest in Mexico and the 7th largest in the world.

Sacred trees of the Mexican Jungle

We know that rituals and objects of worship are still to this day, very important to the Mexican people and living things are especially sacred, as they are considered as gifts from the Gods. Trees are no exception; aside from providing shelter, food, and building materials, they also have medicinal qualities.

Here are some of the most sacred trees to be found in the Mexican Jungle.

Ceiba Tree:

These are huge trees that can be found just about everywhere. Traditionally they are the connection between the heavens, earth and the underworld and images of the trees have been found in artwork from many cultures, not just the Mayas.  The Ceiba tree plays a part in Mayan Weddings and religious or holistic ceremonies, they are also found near cemeteries. Ceiba trees are clever too when they are young, they grow spikes to avoid animals damaging them!

Copal Tree:

This actually refers to different tree species but the one thing they all have in common is they produce copal. The resin is used to produce incense (which the Mayans called Pom). The Pom is used as an offering to the guardian spirits which protect an altar or shrine.

Sip Ché:

This is, of course, a Mayan name and it is unlikely that you know it by any other name since this plant is endemic to the region of the Yucatan Peninsula. In ancient times, this evergreen tree was used to heal those afflicted with evil; a Shaman would use the yellow-flowered plant to purify bad energy and brush away the evil.

Jungle Civilizations in Mexico

Because the jungle is so dense in some areas, Mayan dwellings and even cities have been found as recently as this decade. In 2013 an ancient Maya city was found in the midst of the jungle in Eastern Mexico. As these discoveries are made, there is hope that they can unravel more of the mysteries about the Mayan civilization and how it collapsed over a thousand years ago.

One civilization which does remain to this day is the Lacandon Maya.

Lacandon Jungle Chiapas Mexico

The Lacandon Maya are a small civilization made up of approximately 700 people, a self-sustained community who ‘live off the land’ and were originally opposed to commercialization and western living. At one point, there were differences within the civilizations and they subdivided into two settlements. Language, dress, and customs sometimes caused friction between these two settlements but nowadays they have begun to merge, so the cultural differences have lessened.  As such, to this day, they still stick to botanical medicine using berries, leaves and plants found in the area.

Medicinal plants found in the Mexican Jungle

Mexico is the second in the world when it comes to medicinal plants and the variety that can be found throughout the country. Here are a few examples:

Aloe Vera:

Usually used for skin conditions, antiseptic, anti-inflammatory and it’s good for sunburn! (For the ultimate sun protection, make sure to protect your skin with a reef-safe sunscreen.)

Jamaica Cherry:

These can be eaten raw and are used to treat stomach pain, some processes involve distilling and soaking the cherries.

Jamaica Cherry Tree

Trumpet Tree:

The crushed leaves are soaked in cold water and used to treat listlessness, fatigue, and chills.

Although nowadays the Lacandon people have wider access to medical clinics and accept western medicine, they also practice a non-religious system of healing using the many wonders of the Mexican Jungle. It has to be said that life may get easier with dentists and clinics near-by but you have to wonder how many dwellings there may be deep in the heart of the jungle, that no-one has come across yet.

So where is the Jungle in Cancun?

Even though you might think that Cancun is now full of hotels and there is no jungle left, you’d be mistaken. In fact, if you’re willing to tour the whole state of Quintana Roo, you could see the two types of jungle previously mentioned. Of course, not everybody has the time (and money) for that; thankfully, there are places nearby to immerse yourself and get a taste of the Mexican jungle during your vacation. 

The Jungle Place:  This place doesn’t seem to be very well known but the work they do is amazing. Years ago, this couple rescued a spider monkey and since then have built a sanctuary for abused, homeless and orphaned spider monkeys. This species is almost extinct so their work is really important. The sanctuary is located in Tulum and tours are available, all funds go to the cause.

Crococun Zoo: Even though the Word ‘zoo’ is used in their name, Crococun is not a typical zoo. The animals that live in Crococun were donated or rescued from dangerous and live threatening situations. Whilst the zoo predominantly cares for crocodiles, there are also a variety of other jungle animals such as wild birds, snakes, deers, spider monkeys, and even the iconic Xoloitzcuintle (traditional Mexican hairless dogs). It’s very easy to get to as well, a short taxi ride down to Puerto Morelos. Even though it’s located right on the highway, the sanctuary is surrounded by jungle vegetation and greenery. A truly exotic option and kid-friendly!

Other Mexican Jungle Treats

couple driving yellow speedboat across mangrove jungle

One of the most popular tours in Cancun is the famous ‘Jungle Tour’. The Jungle Tour is a signature name for a speedboat/snorkel tour (but it doesn’t mean you will come face to face with dangerous critters or secret lost cities). It does, however, offer a great adventure driving your own boat through the mangrove ‘jungle’, out to the reef and then you can snorkel on the coral and enjoy the marine life that populates our waters.

woman snorkeling in a coral reef

During your boat ride, you may well come across marine birds, frogs, and iguanas as they flit over the water, and as you wind your way through the mangrove canals, they can get pretty narrow with the plants covering you overhead, so, all in all, it does feel pretty junglelike.

For more exciting Aquaworld tours, check out our DAY PASS – up to ten activities to take in one day, including the Jungle Tour.