The first time I read about snorkeling with turtles in Akumal, a beach town along the Caribbean coast of Mexico, I knew it was somewhere I needed to go. I love turtles. I seriously love turtles. The idea of being able to snorkel with turtles right off the shores of Akumal beach seemed too good to be true.
I promise, it’s not. It’s everything I imagined it would be times ten.
How to Get to Akumal
A friend of mine that had been here in the past said that she and her boyfriend did a tour from Tulum. They booked with a company along the main street in Tulum and everything was sorted for them. When we inquired about doing the same while we were in Tulum, the prices were more than we wanted to pay – about $50 per person. So we decided to head to Akumal on our own and figure it out once we got there.
Whether you’re coming for the day from Tulum or from Playa Del Carmen, all you need to do it hop in a colectivo – a shared van. From Tulum, head towards Playa, from Playa, head towards Tulum. Akumal is right in the middle of the two. Tell the driver you want to go to Akumal and they’ll drop you off at the bus stop. It’s a 5-minute walk to the beach from the road.
Pay for a Guide or Go it Alone
When we got to Akumal, we decided to pay for a guide. For 500 pesos, about $25, we got snorkels, masks, life jackets, and a guide. It was just Luke, our friend, and myself on the tour, so we got to see loads and we were in the water for almost two hours (I still have the sunburn lines to prove it). We booked with Paseos Akumal – you’ll find their stand right outside Oxxo (the red and yellow convenience store). If you want a guided tour, I highly recommend this one. They kept our bags safe and dry while we were out in the water and they let us keep our snorkels afterwards.
The other option is simply to rent the equipment and head out on the beach yourself. You can hire a snorkel, mask and life jacket (I really recommend the life jacket, makes swimming SO much easier out there). There were plenty of people going it alone. It’s impossible to go out there and not see turtles, there really are that many.
That being said, our guide showed us so much more than just turtles. We spotted crabs, sting rays, colorful school of fish, and beautiful parts of the reef. All of which I’m sure we never would have seen if we’d done it on our own.
When to Visit
The earlier you can get there the better. As the day goes on not only does the sun get hotter, but the water gets busier. We got to Akumal about 10:30 and that was perfect. There weren’t many other swimmers and we didn’t bump into anyone other than each other – why is steering so hard when snorkeling?
After about 1:00 the water was packed with people. As with any sort of shallow snorkeling, the more people there are kicking around, the more sand and sediment gets kicked up and the less you can see.
The beach itself is really quite nice. It’s only a small half-moon shaped bay so it can fill up quickly. We visited in late August and it was sweltering hot. There are a few shaded spots from coconut trees, but they get taken very quickly, so if you have access to a beach umbrella I recommend taking it with you.
Do not let anyone tell you that you have to pay to get on the beach. Beach access is completely free, but some hawkers will try to get a few pesos out of unsuspecting tourists.
The turtles have been in Akumal since Mayans times. Akumal literally means “land of the turtles” in Mayan. The community here takes this responsibility incredibly seriously and they ask that visitors do the same.
One of the reasons I loved our guide so much was that he truly cared for these animals. If he saw someone doing something they weren’t supposed to be – like wearing flippers, getting too close to the turtles, or leaving garbage in the water, he immediately rectified the situation. Flippers damage the sea grass which is the turtle’s main source of food. Getting too close to the turtles agitates and scares them. This is THEIR home remember, you are simply a visitor. Obviously, garbage in or around the ocean is a huge no-no. Not only do the turtles eat it, but all the other sea life nibble too. It simply doesn’t belong there. Please take your trash with you when you leave the beach.
Snorkeling in Akumal was one of those experiences I will take with me for a long, long time. Being able to see beautiful animals like this up close was truly magical.