Akumal is a small resort town on the coast of Mexico’s Yucatán Peninsula. It’s located along a series of bays enclosed by a coral reef, creating calm, clear waters lined with white sand beaches. Restaurants, bars, homes, and resorts line the shore. Originally founded as a community for scuba divers, it remains a favorite destination for viewing marine life. Snorkeling with sea turtles is the town’s most popular activity.
Above: Akumal Bay
Located about 60 miles south of Cancun between Playa Del Carmen and Tulum, Akumal has primarily served as a day trip destination for travelers. However, with its turquoise waters, charming beach bars, and friendly ambiance, Akumal deserves to be more than just a pit stop. With Akumal as your base, you can still easily explore the rest of Riviera Maya, then promptly escape the hustle and bustle back in Akumal’s peaceful paradise.
Here’s your travel guide for how to spend a few days in Akumal, Mexico.
Above: Akumal Bay
What to Do
The top activity in Akumal is snorkeling with sea turtles. Akumal means “place of the turtles” in Mayan; the turtles venture into the shallow bays to feed on sea grass. Even if snorkeling generally isn’t your thing, there’s something magical about seeing them in their natural habitat.
To snorkel in Akumal, you can simply rent gear and head out in the bay. Alternatively, if you brought your own gear, you can use that as well. Just make sure to get there early, before it’s too hot and the water grows hazy with sand kicked up by fellow snorkelers. To get gear, just visit a dive shop, like Akumal Dive Center, and rent a snorkel and life vest. They have lockers where you can store your belongings, then you just head out and explore! (If you’re at a resort, they generally have their own equipment for you to use as well.) Wade into the warm, clear waters, and observe the sea life.
Above: Swimming in Gran Cenote
There are a few things to keep in mind about snorkeling in Akumal. In 2016, Akumal Bay was named a protected area to save the threatened turtle population, which brought new snorkeling regulations. The rules limit the number of tourists, areas where you can snorkel, and hours you can be in the bay. Just make sure to check the regulations with the dive shop or local officials, be respectful of the marine life, and wear reef-safe sunscreen. (Be sure to apply the sunscreen at least 20 minutes before heading out to snorkel so it has time to sink in, otherwise you won’t be allowed in the water.)
Update: Another note on snorkeling with the sea turtles. After hearing about other visitors’ experiences, I’ve learned that many people have had trouble when coming to Akumal to swim with the turtles. Apparently when walking through Akumal from the highway, it is common to have local people try to convince you that you need a tour guide or need to pay in some way. (We were already staying in Akumal and just walked down the beach, so we didn’t experience this.) Just keep in mind that it is free to snorkel with the turtles and you don’t need a guide. Just be a respectful visitor and carry on your way.
Above: Gran Cenote
Swim in a Cenote
The Mayan Riviera is home to seemingly countless cenotes. Cenotes are natural pits created when limestone bedrock collapses and reveals groundwater below. They’re cavernous swimming holes perfect for taking a dip and catching a glimpse of more local wildlife. From Akumal, two nearby cenotes are Gran Cenote and Yal-ku. Gran Cenote is further south near Tulum, while Yal-Ku is a bit north of Akumal. The cenotes generally charge an entrance fee of around $5-$10 USD and have snorkel gear and lockers available for rent.
Above: Mayan ruins in Tulum
Take a Day Trip to Tulum
The hip town of Tulum is about 17 miles south of Akumal. The city has become increasingly popular and is home to a plethora of yoga studios, wellness retreats, and trendy boutiques. From Akumal, it’s a perfect spot for a day trip; you can get the feel of the lively town and then retreat back to easygoing Akumal. Come for the ruins, stay for the cocktails, then hightail it back home.
Above: Coati playing at the ruins. Photo by Paxton Swafford.
When visiting Tulum, pay a visit to the Mayan ruins. Make sure to get there early to avoid heat and crowds. Keep in mind that there are two entrances to the ruins; go to the entrance to the south near the beach, where there are far fewer people. You can easily buy a ticket at a kiosk and walk right in without much of a wait, particularly if you’re there on a weekday. Spend the morning wandering the 500-year-old ruins and watching the playful coati.
Above: Italian food at Kai in Tulum
Once it’s time for lunch, make your way down the beach. There are many restaurants and bars along the shore. Stop at Kai Tulum Hotel & Beach Club for some good food and drinks. Spend the afternoon relaxing on the beach (perhaps lounging on some beach pillows at Poc-Na) and enjoying the scenery.
Above: The mule at Gitano in Tulum
In the evening, head about three miles south of the ruins to the main area of Tulum Playa. Browse the boutiques and grab a cocktail at one of its hip bars, like Gitano. As the evening draws to a close, head on back to Akumal.
Above: A little bit of everything at Lol-Ha in Akumal
Where to Eat
As Akumal is a resort town with around 1,000 residents, there are only a handful of restaurants. However, they’re all pretty delicious.
For lunch, don’t miss Lol-Ha right on the main bay; the restaurant opens up to the beach and serves amazing food and drink. Do yourself a favor and order a variety of dishes to share.
Above: La Buena Vida
On the further end of town, pay a visit to La Buena Vida. Its bar swings and fun drinks will make you never want to leave.
For seafood lovers, head to La Cueva del Pescador in the main area of town. If seafood isn’t your favorite, they have a some other options as well, plus pitchers of margaritas.
Above: Local beer at La Buena Vida
If you’re in South Akumal, pull up a swing at the Beached Bikini Bar and Grill. Grab some tacos and a cerveza, chat with some fellow travelers and enjoy the view.
Keep in mind that many restaurants and bars in this area are cash only. Many places accept pesos and USD, so just make sure to have enough cash with you.
Above: Vacation rental “Casa de las Conchas” in South Akumal (Akumal Sur). Read more here.
Where to Stay
In Akumal, you can stay at a vacation rental or a resort. It all depends on the kind of vacation you’re looking for. There are many beachfront resorts as well as villas for rent. If you have a large group, your own villa is probably easier, while smaller groups may find a resort a better option.
Above: Exploring the Mayan ruins in Tulum. Photo by Paxton Swafford.
How to Get Around
Getting around the Mayan Riviera is fairly easy. You can take shuttles, rent a car, take taxis, or take collectivos. It all depends on where you choose to stay and how much you want to venture around. Getting to Akumal is easy by shuttle from the Cancun airport and only comes out to a few dollars a person if you have a large group. Try Canada Transfers; they are professional and reliable, and they’ll even make a stop for you (at the grocery store, for instance) if necessary. Once in Akumal, taxis are readily available and fairly inexpensive.
Above: South Akumal
Mexico’s Riviera Maya is full of tourist-friendly resorts and white sand beaches. There’s no shortage of things to do and eat in this bustling coastal paradise. To find a balance of activity and relaxation, spend some time in Akumal. Its beautiful beaches, delicious food, and welcoming locals will have you feeling at ease in no time.