Akumal is a relaxed seaside town on Mexico’s Yucatán Peninsula. Located about an hour south of Cancun and about 20 minutes north of Tulum, this small resort town is a favorite day trip spot for travelers.
The most popular thing to do in Akumal is snorkel with wild sea turtles. Akumal is located along a series of bays where the turtles come to feed on sea grass. The area has been known for its sea turtle population for generations and the town was originally founded as a community for scuba divers.
Due to over tourism and other factors, the local turtle population has become endangered and the habitat has become more fragile over the years. However, you can still snorkel and observe these extraordinary creatures, as long as you do so responsibly. By taking steps to protect the environment, like wearing reef-safe sunscreen and staying a safe distance from the marine life, you can play a part in conserving the habitat while still having this magical experience.
Here’s how to snorkel with sea turtles in Akumal, Mexico.
Above: A walking trail in Akumal
Getting to Akumal
When going to Akumal to snorkel with the sea turtles, it’s important to get there early. As the day goes on, the weather gets hotter, the beach becomes more crowded, and the sand from the ocean floor gets kicked up, making it more difficult to see. Get there as early as you can for the best conditions.
One option for getting to Akumal is taking a colectivo. Colectivos are inexpensive public transportation vans that run along the main highway from Cancun to Playa del Carmen and Playa del Carmen to Tulum. Akumal is between Playa del Carmen and Tulum, so you’ll need the collectivo that runs on that route. Get off the colectivo in Akumal and walk about five minutes to the beach. Get specific information on your local colectivo schedule, stops, and fares from your accommodation or local information stand, if there’s one near you.
Another option is taking a taxi. Depending on where you’re coming from and the size of your group, this can also be a pretty inexpensive choice, plus it’s very convenient. Just make sure to negotiate and agree upon the price of the trip beforehand.
If you’ve rented a car, you can easily drive to Akumal and park in a parking lot in town. It’s a pretty small town, so it’s quite walkable.
Easiest of all, if you’re already staying in Akumal, just walk over to the main bay near town.
Above: Boats and snorkelers out in Akumal’s main bay
It’s difficult to find official information about what is allowed or forbidden when it comes to snorkeling in Akumal. It’s clear that the habitat has become endangered and the area crowded with tourists, but official rules are hard to determine when you’re there.
Apparently some have taken this opportunity to try to take advantage of visitors. You may be approached by people who tell you that you must go into the water with a guide. Someone might tell you that you are required to rent certain equipment. There apparently are some new laws that apply to tour operators, but to go snorkeling on your own, not much is required of you. Of course, it’s important to pay attention to officials or authorized notices, just be wary of anyone just trying to sell you on a tour.
We were staying in Akumal and didn’t actually run into any issues. We simply walked down the beach, rented some gear, and got in the water without any trouble. However, from hearing about other visitors’ experiences, this does seem to happen, especially if you walk into town from the highway.
If you do want to go with a tour, you can find several options in town. However, you can easily head into the water on your own. There is a roped-off section of the bay where you are allowed to snorkel. While equipment isn’t necessarily required, it will make the experience better. Stop into a dive shop along the beach, such as Akumal Dive Shop, and rent goggles with a snorkel and a life jacket. It’s recommended to skip the fins because they can be more disruptive to the marine life. The dive shop will also have lockers where you can store your belongings. Alternatively, if you’re staying in a nearby hotel or vacation rental, they sometimes have snorkeling equipment you can use.
Once you’re all set with your equipment and your belongings are safely stowed away, head out into the bay. Within a few minutes of swimming, you’ll see lots of fish, and likely a few sea turtles. (We saw some turtles and unfortunately don’t have any photos of them, but photos really don’t do the experience justice, anyway!) You’ll be amazed at the magical undersea world that awaits you!
Above: Along the beach in Akumal
Due to the fragile ecosystem and endangered sea turtle population, it’s essential to be a responsible visitor. There are a few things you can do to make sure you’re being respectful of the area.
One very important thing you must do is wear reef-safe sunscreen. The chemicals in traditional sunscreen are damaging to coral reefs and marine life. Make sure to buy reef-safe sunscreen before you visit this area (or any area with coral reefs). It doesn’t blend in as easily as you might be used to, so make sure to apply it at least 20 minutes before going into the ocean.
Another thing to do is make sure not to disturb the sea life. Don’t touch the turtles, fish, or any other marine life in any way. Keep a safe distance to make sure your hands and feet or fins don’t disturb the underwater life. You are a guest in their home and must be respectful of that.
Overall, just make sure to leave the area as you found it. Use natural products, like the reef-safe sunscreen, observe the marine life from a safe distance, and don’t leave anything behind. If there is anything you are unsure about, consult with your host at your accommodation or ask for advice at the local dive shop.
Above: Tacos, ceviche, queso, and other snacks at Lol-Ha Restaurant in Akumal
Stay, Hang Out, and Relax!
After you’ve finished snorkeling, you can relax and enjoy this small seaside town for the rest of the afternoon. There are a few great restaurants right along the beach, such as Lol-Ha Restaurant. Have a cocktail and some tacos and enjoy the view!
For our full Akumal travel guide, click here.