Akumal means turtle in Maya. It is also a town between two touristy destinations in Mexico: Playa del Carmen and Tulum. On that beach, the bottom of the ocean is made of a grass carpet that turtles love eating. It is the place to go to if you are around Playa del Carmen or Tulum and want to see wild turtles in their natural environment. Snorkeling in Akumal can be a fantastic experience for those who have never seen sea turtles before.
Locals guarantee that you will see a turtle every time you do snorkeling in Akumal. Even more than one.
When it is the season, you can also see nesting and hatchling turtles. It sounds exciting, doesn’t it? We love these funny creatures, so we visited Akumal to say hello!
You will find in this article our experience snorkeling at Akumal Beach and tips for visitors. If you have ever been there, please share yours in a comment below.
“Turtles! Turtles! Turtles!”
Yes, the locals were right. We did see many turtles when we did snorkeling in Akumal.
We started snorkeling on the right of the channel. The visibility was not good. It took us a while to finally spot something exciting as we were crossing the boat channel. An enormous, impressive ray was trying to hide in the sand. As we entered the second swimming zone, on the left of the canal, we met a big barracuda. We thought for a few minutes that locals exaggerated when they talked about snorkeling in Akumal.
The second swimming area was a lot smaller than the first one and with a lot more people. We did not expect to see much. We were very wrong! All the turtles were hanging there, peacefully eating grass under the watch of groups of snorkellers.
If you have never swum with turtles before, you will love it. Snorkeling Akumal may even reach the top of your list of highlights during your Mexican trip. You won’t care about the poor visibility, the number of people and the lack of beautiful underwater life around the turtles.
We had quite a different experience. We just had a good time. The more privileged you are to be able to travel to amazing places, the harder it is to get the “wow effect”. And snorkeling in Akumal was nowhere as good as our experience on Lady Elliot Island back in Australia.
My point? If you have never seen turtles, go snorkeling in Akumal and enjoy this fascinating experience! It is fantastic to see turtles and other marine creatures. But you are as spoilt as we are and used to seeing turtles, you may want to do something else in the Riviera Maya that you cannot experience somewhere else, like snorkelling in the cenotes or scuba diving Cozumel. Or, like us, you may always be happy and curious to see these cute animals in their natural environment one more time. But don’t have big expectations for the rest, it’s not beautiful underwater scenery.
Snorkelling in Akumal: equipment and tours at Akumal Beach
At the entrance of Akumal Beach, a guy stopped us to offer equipment and a snorkelling guided tour. We already had our mask and snorkel. Still, he insisted that we needed a life vest because we were in a protected zone. We got rid of him by saying we had wetsuits and that we will check what is needed down at the beach. We never saw a sign or any indication mentioning we must have a life vest. Was he lying? I don’t know, but we were told not to trust the street vendors up there. If you know how to swim, no particular difficulty would require a life vest.
Do you need a guided tour to do snorkeling in Akumal?
When we went there in 2016, there was no obligation to join a guided tour. We had a look at the sign about the rules and the restricted zones and went into the water to look for the turtles ourselves. Hint: they’re often under a big group of excited people, but we tried to find a few that weren’t surrounded as the experience is nicer for the turtle and us.
Regulations always change, but you also have to be careful about what some locals are saying to make you pay when you arrive. I have been told that you now need a guide to go to see the turtles, as they want to limit the number of visitors (which is great news for the turtles). If you haven’t made a booking in advance with a trusted source, I recommend walking to the dive shop to read the signs that should contain the official and latest information. Alternatively, Akumal Bay Facebook page publishes regular updates about changes that may impact snorkeling activities in Akumal.
We stayed in Tulum and hired a car to visit Akumal. Click here to read my tips on the best accommodations in Tulum and Playa Del Carmen. If you don’t want to hire a car and drive to Akumal, you can join a tour that includes snorkelling with the turtles (click here to book online*).
Have you ever swum with wild turtles? Did you do snorkeling in Akumal? Share your experience in the comments below!
Where is Akumal?
Akumal is on the Mexican Riviera Maya, 5km north of Tulum. As per the entire coast between Cancun and Tulum, you will find resorts along the beach in Akumal. The town centre is inland, on the other side of the motorway. Go there for food if you are hungry after snorkeling: it’s a lot cheaper than in the resorts, and it was delicious.
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