Snorkeling with turtles is a popular activity all around the world where they are still present, so it is no surprise that it is a precious activity in Mexico too. The small sandy beach of Akumal is the most famous place around Tulum and Playa Del Carmen if it comes to swimming with sea turtles. Snorkeling in Akumal offers a high chance for sightings, but there are some rules you need to follow. Let’s see now what are these!
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Why visit Akumal?
Akumal in the Mayan language means Land of turtles that refers to the big population of sea turtles present here. Thanks to Akumal Bay’s good geographic features (protected shallow bay, secluded beach and nearby reef) different species of sea turtles (Green, Loggerhead and Hawksbill) come here to feed on the seagrass fields and of course, to rest so it is clear why snorkeling in Akumal became a popular tourist activity.
The seagrass meadows are clearly visible from the shore – where you see darker areas, those are sea grass fields where turtles use to feed. And also, stingrays tend to rest there too! When the sea is calm, you might spot turtle heads on the surface when they come up to breathe.
Is Akumal Beach free?
Akumal Beach is public, but after some the latest developments in the area, new entry rules were introduced on the 5th March 2018. According to the new regulations, entrance from through the main gate is allowed through theCEA Center building only for 100 pesos (~5 USD) for tourists and non-residents which includes the use of facilities like bathrooms, shower areas and lockers. There are also government-designated entry points to Akumal Bay where you can enter for free, find more information on Akumal Bay Info site.
Options go snorkeling in Akumal
During the past few years, snorkeling with turtles in Akumal has become too popular and the beach became too crowded. The amount of people (including too many disrespectful snorkelers who touched and chased the turtles) has become an issue.
Therefore, in March 2016, Akumal Beach was declared a marine protected area, there are different zones in the bay marked with buoys. In rehabilitation zones you are not allowed to swim. There are zones where you can go with guided tours only furthermore you find non-restricted areas where you can enjoy free snorkeling in Akumal and still find turtles. The guidelines although not clear and cause a lot of confusion! Let’s see in details how to snorkel from the shore and how the guided Akumal snorkeling tours work.
Free shore snorkeling in Akumal
If you want to do free snorkeling, keep walking right towards Secret Akumal Hotel’s beach. Since the whole Akumal Beach is public, you can walk through, or stay on it you want. You will find a Secret Akumal’s Snorkeling Rules sign on the beach, and you will see a buoyed section in the sea. This is the place where you can snorkel for free and look for turtles!
You need to stay within the buoyed zone, and of course the rule applies here too: respect marine life, don’t chase turtles! Slowly swim around within the buoys over the grassy area to find turtles. We have been snorkeling here and were lucky to observe one big and one smaller one and 2 different types of rays!
Guided Akumal snorkel tour
Some people might give you the misinformation that you need to sign up for a guided tour to snorkel in Akumal, but this is not correct. What are then these trips, who is organizing them and why? Guided snorkeling tours happen in a designated area that is marked with buoys and ropes and maintained by a local organization. The entry point to this area is in the left corner of the beach.
On July 6th 2016 the SEMARNAT (Secretary of Ambient Environment and Natural Resources) introduced a new law to limit the number of snorkelers. Therefore they established a designated area marked with buoys where only a few local cooperatives are allowed to bring snorkel groups. The limit is around 300-360 people per day (we did not find the exact number, some websites say maximum 300 people per day, but one guy who tried to sell us a tour said it’s 360).
- These tours are often called commercial snorkeling trips on forums
- They operate daily between 9 am and 5 pm except Mondays
- Officially 1 guide can take maximum 6 people per tour
- Snorkel session is maximum 55 mins long
- Tours are suspended during February as well as September
- Wearing a life jacket is mandatory for participants
- There is no guarantee for turtle sightings: if you don’t find them within the buoyed zone, you won’t see any
- You can use only biodegradable sunscreen
- Prices are between 350-550 Mexican pesos (approx 20-30 USD) per person
Tip: Cozumel, the island that lies off the coast Yucatan is also a great place to swim with turtles! Read our best places to snorkel in Cozumel article to learn where exactly!
How to snorkel with turtles?
Swimming with sea turtles is certainly a lifetime snorkeling experience, but there are some general rules that every responsible snorkeler, who respect marine life have to follow. Turtles, like other marine creatures too, have their own personalities, if you spend a longer time underwater and observe them, you will notice this!
Our experience is, that some turtles are really curious about people and tend to swim towards snorkelers/divers. If they decide to give you a few seconds, minutes long contact, feel blessed, and don’t make any sudden movement. While others fear and swim away as soon as they spot you. Always let the turtle decide if he/she allows you to observe him/her or not. If you notice that the turtle feels threatened, leave her/him alone, swim away. Never touch, chase or feed them! Don’t swim too close and never block their way when they coming up for air. Be a responsible snorkeler and respect marine life!
Tip: read our complete post on responsible snorkeling too!
How to get to Akumal Bay?
Akumal is a small town between Playa del Carmen and Tulum, one hour south of Cancun. Akumal Beach is a beautiful bay with a wide white sandy beach and warm blue-green water. Unless you are staying in one of the nearby hotels, the best is to rent a car and drive there if you want to enjoy snorkeling in Akumal. It is an easy day trip from Tulum or Playa del Carmen. The journey is about 30 mins long, you just need to follow the signs on the main road.
If you are not comfortable with driving in Mexico, book a taxi. You can use the local mini-van service called colectivos as well. This service runs between Playa del Carmen and Tulum and is the cheapest way of getting around, around 35 pesos per person per way. You can catch these buses on the main highway. Just stand on the side of the road and the driver will flash his lights if he has room in his van.
Tip: if you consider staying in Akumal, the Hotel Club Akumal Caribe is a good choice!
Renting a car in Mexico
We had a rental car and drove to Akumal from Tulum. It took about 30 mins – there are plenty of parking very close to the Akumal Public Beach (50 pesos parking fee applies but at least it was a closed area with security gate and guard). This parking area is just outside the big white Akumal Village gate – you can park inside too, but we don’t recommend that since you need to pay the rate by hour. Akumal Turtle Beach is a public beach, entry is free for everybody.
We heard many bad stories about renting a car in Mexico prior our trip. Most of them said not to rent because it is not safe, the police stops and fines tourists sometimes with no reason. Well, despite all this, we did rent a car and never had any problem. We take safety precautions, like using the seat belt and indicator (as always) or not leaving valuables in the car and we didn’t have any bad experience.
We were never stopped by the police, although we saw them many times, parking was also not a problem. For us, renting a car was the easiest and most convenient way to go around and visit all the snorkeling places we planned. To cut it short, if you drive following the rules, you won’t get into trouble!
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