Don’t find it the hard way: not all places in Tulum are good for snorkeling. I love snorkeling and the underwater world, so I was very excited to visit Tulum, on the Riviera Maya. Did you know it has the second biggest barrier reef on Earth along its coast, the Mesoamerican Reef? But snorkeling in Tulum is not as easy as taking your mask and snorkel and going in the water from the beach. I have researched and selected places reputed to have the best snorkeling in Tulum and nearby.
I didn’t have time to try all of them, but the places I visited for snorkeling in Tulum (or scuba diving) were fun, and each provided a different experience!
I have listed below the spots we found when we research snorkeling in Tulum for our trip, and also other destinations that are a bit further away but worth considering for a day trip.
Snorkeling in Tulum
Snorkeling in cenotes
A cenote is a sinkhole filled with fresh water from the underground rivers and streams. They can be found all around the Yucatan Peninsula, and some are better than others for snorkeling.
One cenote can look very different from another. Some are completely underground; others are semi-opened like caves or even entirely opened like a river. The water clarity was their common point: in all the cenotes, the visibility was incredible.
When in Tulum, snorkeling a cenote is a must-do.
We found Gran Cenote was great to see rock formations. It’s very easy to access from Tulum. Dos Ojos is a bit further but also a great choice to admire rock formations.
Casa Cenote was interesting to see mangroves and a halocline (when salt and fresh water don’t mix). Many small fish live in the mangrove, but don’t expect to be overwhelmed. It’s nothing like snorkelling a reef. We saw a cormorant diving while snorkeling Casa Cenote which was definitely the highlight of our session. We preferred it to Garden of Eden, but Garden of Eden is more relaxing for beginners.
If you can, it is even better to go scuba diving in a cenote.
Snorkeling in Sian Ka’an
I loved our tour around Sian Ka’an Reserve. I think it’s the best place to go if you want to reconnect with nature in Tulum. We didn’t choose the snorkeling option for our tour but took our masks to go down the river and saw a few fish and crabs. A Sian Ka’an Reserve tour is an excellent opportunity to go reef snorkeling in Tulum if you book one of the more expensive tours. From the comments I heard, the reef was more beautiful in Sian Ka’an than in Akumal, but not as impressive as Cozumel.
You may be interested in reading more about our experience in Sian Ka’an Reserve.
Snorkeling from a beach in Tulum
If you’re in the region for a short time or a beginner looking for places where to snorkel in Tulum, I would not recommend snorkeling from the beach to see the reef. We found other places nearby that were unbelievable, like Cozumel, or unique, like the cenotes or swimming with whale sharks. These were always the top recommendations for tourists, so that’s why we decided not to spend our precious time snorkeling on the reef in Tulum.
But if you have a lot of time in the region, why not give snorkelling from the beach a go? It’s always better to talk to a local to get the best tips or go on a tour*. The clear waters of Soliman Bay are a reputed spot for snorkeling in Tulum. The water is usually calm, and the corals are not too far from the beach in shallow waters. I read you can swim to the reef or hire a kayak to make it easier.
Playa Maya Public beach is another beach we found listed as good for snorkeling in Tulum. But the reef is about 300 metres away from the beach. So it’s a long swim if you’re not a confident swimmer. Even being a confident swimmer, I don’t like the idea of being so far from the shore with boat traffic, especially without a buoy to stay visible. I’d feel a lot safer with a group and a boat looking after me.
However, if I have to pay for a tour to see the reef while snorkeling in Tulum, I prefer to pay more and go to an amazing place like Cozumel. Make sure you ask how long you’ll spend in the water if you book a tour*. Most have a stronger focus on visiting the ruins. Although it’s great to view Tulum ruins from a different angle, it may not be what you wanted to do during your snorkeling trip in Tulum.
I prefer pure nature to a theme park, even if it’s a natural one, so we chose not to visit Xel-Ha. Plus, I’m not sure how it can be an eco-park when it offers the activity of swimming with captive dolphins, so I wouldn’t give them my money. If you don’t know what I’m talking about, I recommend reading these facts about dolphin captivity.
However, I could not keep Xel-Ha off this list. The cove of Xel-Ha is a reputed spot for snorkeling in a cenote and on the reef at the same place, with the opportunity to see a high number of beautiful fish and fish species.
If you do visit Xel-Ha Eco-Park, please think about leaving feedback on the negative image of dolphin captivity. You can read more about what to expect at Xel-Ha here.
Snorkeling near Tulum (day trips)
Snorkeling in Akumal
Akumal means turtle in Maya, so I let you guess what you can see there…! But it’s not only about turtles. At the end of Half Moon Bay, in front of La Buena Vida, you can see coral reefs. It’s not the best snorkeling I’ve done, but it will please those who dream of seeing a sea turtle for real.
If you want to go there by yourself, check out this map of the snorkeling sites, and read about our experience in Akumal here, noting that it is from a few years ago (things may change!). If you don’t have a car, you can catch a Collectivo from Tulum to Akumal, get off at the entrance of the town and walk to the beach.
Alternatively, you can book a tour from Tulum*.
Yal Ku Lagoon is another place in Akumal reputed for snorkeling, but we didn’t have time to check it out.
Snorkeling the reef in Cozumel
Cozumel was one of my best coral dives ever. This place is incredible. So if you love snorkeling (or scuba diving, it could be a great place to try it – check this out*!), you should make an effort to go to Cozumel even if it’s not really in Tulum.
You can reach Cozumel by catching a ferry in Playa del Carmen. We rented a car to go there from Tulum, but you may prefer to catch the colectivo or the ADO bus. The ferry station is only a short walk from the bus stops. Or if you don’t want to bother with organising transportation, you can join a tour* that will pick you up at your hotel in Tulum and arrange everything on Cozumel (click here for more info*).
Once on Cozumel, you can snorkel from shore or join a boat tour. Both have advantages. If you’re a beginner, I recommend booking a tour even if you swim from the beach. A local guide will be valuable in helping you find the best places and creatures to see underwater and will provide an extra layer of safety.
Snorkeling from shore is cheaper than joining a boat, and it’s sometimes better as you may be in shallower waters.
To compare the boat tours, I recommend asking these questions:
- How many people are on board?
- Is the boat a catamaran (less movement if you’re prone to sea sickness)?
- How long is the ride to the reef and are there extra stops on the way to pick up more people?
- Are there any additional fees like the conservation tax?
- Are food and drinks provided?
- Is snorkeling equipment provided?
Snorkeling the Underwater Museum in Cancun
Diving the underwater museum in Cancun was a very original experience. There are a few galleries that are open for snorkeling. Click here for more information about Cancun’s Underwater Museum.
You’ll likely fly from and out of Cancun when you visit Tulum, so it would be best to organise your snorkeling trip when you’re in the north of the region. Otherwise, it takes less than two hours to drive from Tulum to Cancun, or the ADO bus will take you up there.
Snorkeling with whale sharks
The whale shark season is during the warmest months, from June to mid-September. Swimming with whale sharks – the largest fish in the ocean – is a bucket-list item for many travelers. So if you’re traveling to the Yucatan Peninsula at that time, you should consider seizing the opportunity! We were outside the season during our visit but our friends could do it a few weeks later, and their photos made me dream. Their stories about how people were sick on the boat were less dreamy, though!
The whale sharks can be found on the north of the coast, around Isla Mujeres, Contoy, and Holbox. You can travel to Cancun and take a tour from there, or directly book a tour from Tulum or Playa del Carmen*.
The best time for snorkeling in Tulum
The best time for snorkeling in Tulum, and anywhere else, is when there is no wind. Statistics from the Tulum region show that the probability of wind is higher during the first semester of the year, but wind can happen all year round. It can change from one day to another or even during the day. Cozumel should still be protected during a windy day.
If I were traveling to Tulum and wanted to do snorkeling as a priority, I would choose to go there during summer for the whale shark season.
Have you done snorkeling in Tulum? Share your experience in the comments below!
Have you booked your accommodation yet? Read these tips about choosing the best hotel/resort /Airbnb in Tulum and Playa del Carmen before making your decision!
Where is Tulum?
Tulum is a town in the Yucatan Peninsula, on the East Coast of Mexico. The closest airport is Cancun, and it takes just under two hours to get there.
We stayed for a short week in Tulum during our two-week holidays in the Yucatan Peninsula.
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