The DIY Guide to Snorkeling with Endangered Sea Turtles in Akumal Mexico

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There’s no doubt that Mexico’s Mayan Riviera can be an expensive place to play. Luckily, there are also some great things to do by Playa del Carmen that won’t break the bank.

The little beach town of Akumal wins big points for delivering one of the coolest attractions in the area for almost nothing: snorkeling with endangered green sea turtles.

Need a little more incentive to check it out? I shot this video after about 10 minutes in the water, only 50 feet from shore.

Best of all, you don’t need to rent a boat or even need a guide to go snorkeling with the turtles. They’re a short swim straight from shore. We’ve been to Akumal Bay several times, and we’ve seen sea turtles (and some very strange behavior by fellow snorkelers) each time we’ve visited.

Akumal Mexico Turtle Diving

Diving after a breath at the surface

The ocean floor at Akumal is covered with sea grass, one of the turtles’ favorite foods. They’ll linger for hours in the bay, casually munching on the grass, and giving you a chance to get up close and personal.

Green Sea Turtle Eating Sea Grass Akumal Mexico Mayan Riviera

Up for a snack, anyone?

Aside from turtles, there isn’t much other marine life in the shallow waters of Akumal Bay, except a few stray fish that swim by. The bay’s mostly covered with sea grass, which is great for attracting turtles, but it doesn’t attract many fish, as there are few rocks to hide among. If you’re very lucky, you’ll see a barracuda or sting ray wandering through. If you want to see more than just turtles, be prepared to swim a little farther or even walk over to Half Moon Bay for a little more color.

Fish at Akumal Mexico

Seeking shelter by a rare rock

How do I get here?

Akumal’s a short 22 miles (35 km) south of Playa del Carmen (or 66 miles (106 km) from Cancun), on Mexico’s Yucatan peninsula. It’s also about 17 miles (27 km) north of Tulum.

The most inexpensive way to get to Akumal from Playa del Carmen is by collectivo (a shared van/bus). You can catch the collectivo in Playa del Carmen on Calle 2 Norte between Av. 10 and 15. Collectivos are white with blue writing, air conditioned and hold up to 14 people at a time. The fare is 35 pesos (about $2.75 USD) for tourists. Children who sit on your lap are usually free. Collectivos leave when they’re full, but usually only take a few minutes to fill. Collectivos are small, so if you have a lot of luggage, you may want to take a bus or taxi. When you leave Akumal, you can catch a collectivo where the main road and the highway meet. Just flag down a white van with writing on the side full of people and you’ll do fine.

The collectivo or bus from Playa del Carmen will usually drop you off by the pedestrian overpass on the highway. Cross over the overpass and keep following the road for about 1/2 km and you’ll be walking through an archway. Keep going straight and you’ll be on the beach. If the collectivo drops you off in Akumal town, just follow the road back across the highway and you’ll do fine.

Akumal Mexico Pedestrian Walkway Overpass Across Highway

Walkway over the highway in Akumal

Another option for getting to Akumal from Playa is to take a bus. The ADO buses do not stop in Akumal, so you’ll need to take a second class Mayab bus. Catch the Mayab bus at the terminal on 5th and Juarez – the sign in the window may say Tulum since it’s the same bus. The Mayab bus schedule is very flexible, so for the price and wait you’re probably better off taking a collectivo.

If you drive, simply take the main highway from Playa to Akumal, and park in the public lot near the beach.

You can also take a taxi from Playa del Carmen (which is a great option for larger groups), and should cost around $20 to $25 USD . If you pay in pesos, you should get a slightly better rate. Expect to pay about twice this rate if you need a special van taxi that will hold six or more people. If you’re heading back to Playa after a day at the beach, there are always taxis waiting as you cross under the archway. There’s no fixed price so be prepared to haggle. $20 USD seems to be the cheapest rate.

It’s about a 10 minute walk from the overpass over the highway east to Akumal Bay itself.

Akumal Biblioteca Sign Library

Welcome to Akumal

Akumal’s a tiny beach town, so getting to the bay is a piece of cake. You’ll pass a convenience store on your left side. Prices here are fairly high, but it’s a great place to grab a bottle of water and snacks for the beach.

There’s a small library and playground on your left as well.

The water in the bay is calm, warm and Caribbean clear. It’s a great spot for small children to play, but you definitely won’t be doing any surfing, as the waves are tiny.

Akumal Bay Mexico Beach

A typical day in Akumal bay

There aren’t an overabundance of palm trees offering shade on the beach, so shady spots are at a premium. You should be able to grab a spot in the shade, but expect to be pretty close to other beach goers.

Don’t have your own snorkeling equipment? No problem.

You can rent snorkels, fins and masks right in the bay. The Akumal Dive Center is located next to the Lol-ha Restaurant, while the Akumal Dive Shop is on the North end of the bay. A mask and snorkel cost around $6 USD, fins are about $6 USD and a life jacket (if you need it) will set you back another $6 USD. You’ll need to bring your own towels, ID and a deposit. The dive sites also rent lockers. If you’re staying at a hostel, many hostels will rent snorkel equipment for about 50 pesos.

Snorkelers in Akumal Mexcio

Getting ready for Cole’s first time snorkeling!

Respect the turtles

Remember, the turtles are wild animals in their natural environment. Getting too close, touching them or trying to feed them is a definite no-no. While these turtles are used to people, loud noises (like yelling right beside them as they’re grazing) and getting too close can disturb their feeding patterns and cause them stress.

Where to eat?

The rightfully popular Lolha (sometimes spelled Lol-ha) restaurant is Akumal’s go-to place to eat. It’s right on the beach, and offers up everything from fruit smoothies to seafood and vegetarian options. Check out reviews of Lolha on Tripadvisor and some other Akumal restaurants. If you want to save some cash, bring a picnic lunch and sprawl out under the palm trees on the beach.

More information

Viator Akumal Sea Turtle Snorkeling Tour from Playa del Carmen

Does all this seem like too much work?

We get you; sometimes you just want to relax and have the work done for you. Viator offers a really good sea turtle snorkeling tour from Playa del Carmen. It includes use of snorkel equipment, hotel pickup and drop-off in Playa del Carmen, entrance fees and snacks. Click here to check it out. They also have tours that leave from Cozumel and Cancun.

Barefoot in the Sand Akumal Mexico Mayan Riviera

Barefoot on Akumal Bay

Have you been snorkeling at Akumal? Have any tips? Let us know!



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15 Responses

  1. Kurt

    I always found it funny that fish will gather around a rock or foreign objects floating in the open water. It makes sense, but also makes for a funny picture when you see such a large mass of fish dwarfing any nearby cover.
    Akumal, Mexico looks like a great place to go snorkeling with sea turtles.

  2. Escaping Abroad

    I made this same journey from Playa to Akumal, from the local bus station. But my destination was a dive shop in Akumal that was taking us to dive a cenote. After we got back around 2 p.m. we still had our snorkels and fins and headed out to the beach.

    It was pretty packed with people at the time and despite about an hour of snorkeling I wasn’t ever able to find any turtles. Luckily I saw a few during my dives over in Cozumel on the same trip. Akumal’s beach and water were pretty amazing!
    Escaping Abroad recently posted..Incredible Snorkeling in BelizeMy Profile

    • Micki Kosman

      We’ve generally tried to go snorkeling when there are fewer people in the water.

      I’ve had turtles unintentionally chased away by a loud snorkeler coming by, splashing the water with his fins, and yelling to his companions to come see the turtle. I don’t think the turtles like the noise, so they’ll take off to find a quieter spot once it gets too busy.

      That said, if I float quietly near the turtle, I’ve had them swim up to take a breath within an arm’s reach of me. Pretty damn amazing.

  3. Big Bob

    Akumal Bay is a beautiful sanctuary for the sea turtles and many other fish. Sadly, most days, it has become over-run with people who do not have any understanding of what to do, and more importantly, what NOT to do. This lack of respect for, or ignorance about, the environment is causing damage to the coral and the sea grass from people standing on/in it. By 10:00 most mornings there are tour groups from the dive shops and 2-4 tour boats from other resorts swarming the bay. Yes, some of the “guides” try to keep the novices under control, but, there is a lot of truth in the saying “you can’t fix stupid”. There is an education center right off of the beach with tons of info on the sea turtles and the bay in general that should be a mandatory stop for all visitors to the bay. It is called the “CEA” or Centro Ecological Akumal. The staff, and numerous volunteers, do a lot to preserve the bay environment, with particular emphasis on the sea turtle population. Highly recommend you stop in, and learn about the bay, the sea life, and then leave a small donation to help this organization keep Akumal Bay a healthy place for the turtles and other sea creatures. And, in regards to places to eat near the beach, there are far better/less expensive places than Lol-Ha ! Hint: look right behind the CEA building for an small, and authentic Mayan restaurant or walk back to the beach road and you’ll find many more dining options.

    • Charles Kosman

      Great comment Bob. I’ve never snorkeled someplace with people so careless about their surroundings. I guess it’s the easy accessibility of the bay and the fact that sea turtles are so easy to see there. Last time we were snorkeling I was swimming along when a large turtle swam by me. Next thing I knew I was literally run over by a swimmer trying to touch the turtle. The guy was a horrible swimmer and I had a huge scratch along my back. I don’t remember the last time I was so annoyed with someone in the water. He had a complete disregard for both the turtle and the other swimmers.

      I guess that’s the danger of having a place that’s easily accessible. You’re going to get people there that take advantage of the situation. I love the line “you can’t fix stupid” and that definitely applies in this situation. If everyone stopped at the CEA that would go a long way to educating people on the need to keep their distance from the turtles and to respect the bay in general.

      As to the other restaurants in the bay, I’m sure Lol-Ha is far from the cheapest however the fact that it’s right on the beach (and we can leave our stuff laid out while we have a snack) makes it the to go spot. Next time we head there we’ll try to check out one of the other restaurants. Last time we were there we actually packed a lunch and snacks. Missed the cold Corona though! 😉

      Thanks for the info!

  4. Brandi

    You might also enjoy looking for the submerged canons in the bay. I’ve often seen green moray eels in the bay. At some times of the year, it’s fun to snorkel at night too. When I’ve done that, I’ve found octopus, lobster and crab in addition to sleeping fish! 🙂

    • Charles Kosman

      Brandi, that’s the first time I’ve heard about the submerged canons. We’ll definitely keep an eye out for those! I would love to snorkel the bay at night, it would be a completely different experience. The problem is that we’ve never stayed in Akumal and usually take a collectivo to get there. With the kids it’s hard enough as it is, never mind making the trip at night!

      We’re contemplating getting a car for next week and heading for Tulum for a day or two. Might see if I can convince Micki to stop on the way back up to see what it’s like at night. I don’t have a decent underwater light though so that could prove tricky!

    • Kristine

      Where is the best coral snorkeling in Akumal? I heard right in front of the hotel to the right as you’re looking out to the ocean.

  5. Erica

    Thank you so much for this article! We went to Akumal from Cozumel following your instructions and were able to save a ton of money! Our agent at the hotel said a tour would cost us $150usd each!!!! We did the whole thing for right around $100, for us both- would have been cheaper if we didn’t spring for a taxi on the way back but we were so tired.

    One thing we did learn about the ferry to and from Cozumel- there are 2 different companies. We bought round trip tickets in the morning and stood on line in the blazing heat for a 1pm ferry that was not the company our tickets were for! Had to wait another hour for 2pm. Next time, just buy 1 way, it’s the same cost and you won’t run into our issue!

    Again thank you so much for writing this. The turtles are SO COOL. Very amazing experience and we owe it to your article! Adios!

    • Charles Kosman

      Glad you enjoyed the article Erica and had a great day out because of it. I thought we had mentioned the tidbit about the ferry tickets in one of our Cozumel posts however I just checked and it wasn’t there. Hopefully, whoever reads this post in the future will take note of it so thanks for adding it.

      PS, I love swimming with the turtles as well. 😉

  6. Leonard

    Thank goodness for Google. I’m planning a family trip for 7 this summer and have found your posts to be very helpful. I was cringing while looking at the tour prices for activities nearby, but now feel much more at ease knowing you can do several of the activities on your own.

    Thank you for sharing your experiences with all of us.

  7. Manuel

    Turtle bay in Akumal is a great place to spend a day with friends and family. Plenty of turtles to swim with, and even stingrays and baracuda! I’d recommend joining a guided tour when new to snorkeling but it’s easy to go on your own when you already have some experience. As I live in the area, Akumal is always worth a trip. Also great fun are the whale shark snorkeling tours that run from May to September.

  8. Charrie

    My daughter and I just returned from Playa del Carmen last week and took a collectivo for 35 pesos each to Akumal. We rented all our gear (mask, snorkel, fins & lifejacket) from Element Tours at the first store on your left as you get into town for only $8. Be sure and bypass all the little booths walking into town on the sidewalk who will try and tell you it’s illegal to snorkel without a guide. That’s a farce. We could keep our gear until 4pm. The public restroom cost 5 pesos to use but if you eat in the Lol-Ha Restaurant, your waiter will give you a coupon to use their restroom for free. We saw 3 sea turtles. It was the highlight of our trip and would definitely go back! Compared to Playa, the beaches are so much wider and calmer and the temperatures were even warmer so it was conducive to laying out. 🙂


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