Snorkeling with turtles is a popular activity all around the world where they are still present. Turtle snorkeling is a precious activity in Mexico too. Akumal Beach is the most famous place around Tulum / Playa Del Carmen if it comes to swimming with sea turtles. Akumal’s shoreline is perfect for sightings, but there are some rules you need to follow if you want to snorkel with turtles. We share the latest information with you in this post!
Table of Contents
- 1 Getting there – How to visit Akumal Beach?
- 2 Akumal Turtle Beach – Where to find the turtles
Getting there – How to visit Akumal Beach?
Akumal is a small town between Playa del Carmen and Tulum, one hour south of Cancun. Akumal Beach is a beautiful bay with wide white sand beach and warm blue-green water. Unless you are staying in one of the Akumal Beach hotel, best is to rent a car and drive there. Easy day trip from Tulum or Playa del Carmen, about 30 mins drive, follow the signs next to the main road. If you are not comfortable with driving in Mexico, book a taxi. You can use the local mini-van service service called colectivos as well. This service runs between Playa del Carmen and Tulum. Cheap way of getting around, around 35 pesos per person per way. You can catch the colectivos off the main highway. Just stand on the side of the highway the driver will flash his lights if he has room in his van.
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, police will always stop you and want to pay a fine sometimes for no reason. Well, despite of all this feedback, we did rent one and never had any problem. We followed some common and safety things, like always use seat belt, indicator or never leave valuables in the car and we didn’t have any bad experience. We were never stopped by policy, although we saw them many times, parking was also no problem. Basically, if you drive like you should, you won’t be in trouble! For us, renting a car was the easiest and most convenience way to go around and visit all the places we planned. We stayed in Airbnb apartments (Hotels around Akumal) and our car helped us a lot with the shopping too!
Akumal Turtle Beach – Where to find the turtles
Akumal in the Mayan language means Land of turtles – thanks to Akumal Bay good geographic featues (protected shallow bay, secluded beach and nearby reef) different species of sea turtles (Green, Loggerhead and Hawksbill) come here to feed on sea grass and rest. The sea grass areas 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.
Update: After latest developments at Akumal Beach new etrance rules were introduced on 5th March 2018. According to new regulations, entrance from the main gate side is allowed through CEA Center building for 100 peso (5 USD) for tourists, non-residents which includes the use of facilities like bathrooms, shower areas and lockers. There are government designated entry points to Akumal Bay where you can enter for free, find more information on Akumal Bay Info site.
Please note that because of these changes, the information we provided here might not be accurate and we are sorry about this. The situation was different at the time of our visit, and we don’t have personal experience since the new rules were introduced.
How to snorkel with the turtles in Akumal?
If it comes to snorkeling with turtles, or with any other sea creature, respect and being responsible is the most important. We believe, you share our opinion! Unfortunately in the past few years snorkeling with turtles in Akumal has became too popular… Akumal Beach became way too crowded every day, all year round. The amount of people (including too many disrespectful snorkelers who touched and chased the turtles) has become an issue.
In March 2016, Akumal Beach was declared 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. The guidelines although not clear and cause a lot of confusion! Let’s see the truth about snorkeling with turtles in Akumal Mexico!
Tip: if you would need equipment you can rent in the Akumal Dive shop, although we recommend to have your own snorkel set due to hygienic and practical reasons.
New snorkeling rules with sea turtles in Akumal
First of all, the most important is, that snorkeling in Akumal is still allowed for free! As you are walking towards the beach, tour operators will try to convince you (sometimes they are a bit aggressive) to sign up for guided snorkel trips. That happened to us as well! Salespersons stopped us nearly every 10 meters and kept telling that snorkeling is possible only by joining guided tours. This is just not correct. Yes, you can join guided snorkel tours but you don’t have to. It is only optional!
Akumal free snorkeling
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 anywhere you want. You will see the Secret Akumal’s Snorkeling Rules sign on the beach, and you can 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 type of rays!
Guided Akumal turtle tour
What are then these guided snorkel trips, who is organizing them and why? Guided snorkeling tours happen in a designated area marked with buoys and ropes. Entry point is just right in front of you when you walk in from the gate side.
On July 6th 2016 the SEMARNAT (Secretary of Ambient Environment and Natural Resources) introduced a new law to limit the number of snorkelers. They established a designated area marked with buoys. Only few local cooperatives are allowed to bring snorkel groups here. The limit is around 300-360 people per day (we did not find the exact number, some websites say maximum 300 people per day, 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 9am and 5pm except Mondays.
- Officially 1 guide can take maximum 6 people per tour.
- Snorkel session maximum 55 mins
- 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 sunscreens
- Prices are between 350-550 Mexican pesos (approx 20-30 USD) per person
Respect the turtles in Akumal
And not only in Akumal! There are some general rules that every responsible snorkelers, who respect the marine life have to follow. Turtles, as other marine creatures too, have their own personalities, if you spend 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. But never touch, chase or feed them! Don’t swim to close and never block their way when they coming up for air. Be a responsible snorkeler and respect marine life!
We tried our best to bring you the most reliable information and the facts we shared here are based on our personal experience (we visited Akumal in Dec 2017). Hope our post helps you to plan your snorkeling holiday! It seems, regulations and rules are changing continuously in Mexico therefore we are sorry if any information is inadequate. Do you have any update, new information on Akumal snorkel rules? Share with us and help snorkelers together!