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

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.

Updated for 2017. Click here to see a quick addendum at the bottom for the new restrictions. Because of changes, it may be easiest to snorkel with an organized tour, as your guide will know what’s allowed and what isn’t.

See tour prices here.

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 Click here to check it out. They also have tours that leave from Cozumel and Cancun.

Check Cozumel tour prices here.

Check prices for tours from Cancun.

Check prices here for tours from Playa del Carmen.

Updates for 2017

It seems there have been some changes to the rules in Akumal in regards to swimming with sea turtles. We drove through Akumal in late February however we didn’t have time to snorkel with sea turtles that day. We have talked to a few local “experts” though since it seems people are having issues snorkeling right now.

It appears that the government is a little wary of the number of tourists that are getting a little too friendly with the animals. They’ve changed it so that people now need to wear a life jacket while snorkeling to prevent people from diving down and harassing the sea turtles. There has also been reports that people are no longer allowed to use flippers anymore. There has even been days when everyone was prohibited from swimming past the close buoys due to turtle laying (February is typically green sea turtle laying month).

So what’s the verdict? Can you still swim with sea turtles in Akumal? The answer is yes however the government is still trying to regulate how it’s going to work. That means that there are still going to be some changes going forward and we’ll post back here once it’s all finalized.

For now, it may be helpful to go with an organized tour, as your guide will know what’s allowed and what isn’t.

See tour prices and details here.

As of right now, people are still snorkeling with them, however the life jacket requirement still appears in effect. You can rent a life jacket from the main dive shop for around $5 for the day so it’s still a good deal. You can also opt to get a tour which provides a life jacket, a guide and snorkeling equipment or just rent a jacket and snorkel gear if you need them.

You can still go it alone if you wish and some people have said that if you go further down the beach you can still use flippers however you might get in trouble if you come closer to the main area.

Another option is to go snorkeling in Half Moon Bay. It’s the next bay to the left of the main beach. You can even opt to go snorkeling in Yal-Ku Lagoon for a small fee that includes lockers, washrooms and showers. It’s even further left than Half Moon Bay but it gets decent enough reviews that if for some reason you’re having trouble snorkeling in Akumal, your planned snorkel trip isn’t totally wasted.

You can also go to a local cenote. There’s a few between Akumal and Playa Del Carmen. We wrote about Cenote Crystalino a few years back but the information is still valid.

We’ll post here again when everything is settled regarding swimming with sea turtles in Akumal however the moral of the story is this: Don’t harass the turtles. Not only are you scaring away an endangered animal but you’re also ruining the chances for others to experience them in nature as well. Keep your distance, don’t try to touch them and for God’s sake, don’t flash them. 😉

Barefoot in the Sand Akumal Mexico Mayan Riviera
Barefoot on Akumal Bay

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

32 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!

    • 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. 🙂

  9. Irina

    We just finished snorkeling at Akumal Beach and better believe it saw several turtles! Amazing! We got there at 9.30 not to many tours just yet. But at 10 large groups started to arrive. Had a great time . Thank you for your advice guys!!!

  10. Debbie

    My 18 y/o daughter and I snorkeled at Akumal just last Saturday (8/13/16). We took a cab from our hotel in Playacar and it cost $25.00 USD. The moment we walked onto the beach we were told we needed a tour guide. We paid $40.00 USD per person which included the guide ( Waldo) , snorkel, mask, and life jacket. We saw many sea turtles feeding and coming up for air. We also saw a barracuda (yikes!) and stingray. If I had seen your website sooner, I could have saved myself roughly $60-even more if I had brought my own equipment. But without the tour guide we would not have seen the beautiful coral formations and fish which were about a 5 minute swim from the turtles. Without Waldo, I wouldn’t have known it existed. Do I wish I had done better research before I left for Mexico? Yes. Do I feel I was “ripped off”? No. The 90 minutes we spent in the beautiful, crystal clear water with the turtles and fish was a one of a kind experience.

  11. a

    We just went (12/18/16) at 9am as suggested by all. We were one of the first in the water but there were guards IN THE WATER preventing us from going past the shallow buoys (within which we could still stand) without paying for a tour. They said it was no longer allowed. Had to pay $80 USD for 4 of us to get a tour guide for 30 minutes. Did end up seeing 13 turtles so worth it but curious have the rules changed or did we get ripped off?

    • Charles Kosman

      Interesting. I’ve never heard of them actually stopping people in the water before. Had some friends go recently (about a month ago) and they didn’t say anything about being forced into a tour and I see nothing on TripAdvisor mentioning it either. Possibly it’s new or the locals are just getting more daring. Should be down there in a few weeks again so we’ll find out then!

      • Katie

        Thanks for the informative post. We found we also had trouble in the water (Dec 31) with people telling us we needed a guide/life jacket as well. They were very aggressive and made us go behind the buoys (luckily we saw a turtle in there). They now have signs on the beach saying you require a guide/lifejacket but if you walk down to where the resorts are or farther you can go in there for free and they didn’t bother us.

      • Charles Kosman

        That’s too bad Katie however judging from the amount of people that go there maybe having someone in charge is a good thing. Saw a lot of people getting too close to the turtles and maybe the guides will help with that. Just hope that at least some of the money they charge goes back to the turtles in some way otherwise it’s just another tourist money grab from the locals.

        Hoping to get down there again in the coming weeks so we’ll see what’s up then. Good tip about walking further down the beach though.

  12. AnnB

    I’m curious about the difference between the different bays? Where are and aren’t there turtles?

  13. Roger

    I’m also curious about the different bays. We’ve snorkeled here before, once with a tour on a quieter beach and once near the dive shop where it was a bit hetic. Anyone know where this quieter place might be? It seems as though it was a little bit north of the dive shop area and down an undeveloped road. I remember we paid $5 for a wristband and they had a bathroom, a few lockers, a pop machine and not much else. We have our own gear and just want a chill spot to hang out and be in the water. Thanks for any help in this matter.

    • Charles Kosman

      Hi Roger, there’s a quieter bay to the left (facing the water) in Akumal called Half Moon Bay. To get to it you simply enter the main gate in Akumal and go to your far left. There’s also Yal Ku Lagoon that is a paid park that has much better corral and fish but probably less turtles. It’s even farther to your left past Half Moon Bay down an undeveloped road and is probably the one you’re thinking off.

      You don’t need to pay at Half Moon Bay however people generally prefer the main beach if they’re not staying at one of the resorts on Half Moon Bay. It’s up to you where you want to go but you can do them all yourself and it’s pretty cheap at Yal Ku Lagoon. The cool thing about Yal Ku is that it’s where fresh water meets salt water so you get some interesting perspectives and different fish than the bays.

  14. Amanda

    I was at Akumal Bay last weekend and there was a lot of drama. NO ONE was allowed to swim past the buoys, life jacket or not. There were marines with machine guns, and protestors (I think the people who used to do tours but are no longer allowed to), and local police. There was a woman in a kayak with a whistle herding people back closer to shore. People were still doing tours (illegally. all tours are prohibited now), but the lady in the kayak followed them blowing on her whistle the whole time, and I can’t image it was very enjoyable. From what understood, no one is to swim further than 30 meters offshore, and flippers are prohibited in the whole bay. I did manage to go south on the beach in front of that new resort and sneak into the bay with my flippers and I was left alone. Seems if you stay away from where the turtles congregate no one will bother you. I even had a little turtle swim up to me!

    Please be aware that most of the people still trying to do tours are not locals. They come from all over and while they purport to be fighting for their incomes, they do not pay taxes or contribute to the local economy. The business-owners near the bay are unhappy with these people because they contribute nothing, encourage huge groups of tourists to mov the bay, and use the facilities. It’s a strain on the local businesses. Also, there’s really no reason to take a tour. Just paddle around and enjoy yourselves! You won’t miss anything by skipping a tour.

    While it’s not quite as lovely, Half Moon bay was definitely more relaxing. There is a good access spot about 3/4 of the way north in the bay, and space away from the rentals to lounge. Yal Ku is always amazing as another option!

    • Charles Kosman

      Thanks for the heads up Amanda. Hopefully they figure this all out soon.

      It’s quite the problem they face. As in, what’s best for the sea turtles, what’s best for the local businesses and what’s acceptable to the visitors. Just hope they don’t fully close it down or force everyone to take an expensive tour however, after witnessing some of the shenanigans and disrespect some of the snorkelers have towards the turtles there definitely needs to be some changes made.

  15. Marta

    We’ve been to the beach today and there is really an issue with snorkeling. At the beginning we got confused with all the guys trying to sell us snorkeling with turtles. They wanted 500 pesos per person for 1 hour in the water (gear included). We decided to skip it. We tried to snorkel but at some point there is a guy in a kayak who tells you that you have to go back, because it’s protected area. We managed to see 1 or 2 turtles anyway, but definitely all the fun was reserved for the people with guides. When we were leaving we saw the picture about the rules (which was previously hidden by all the guys selling tours. And now we know for sure that you need to wear a life vest, you can swim between 9 am and 5 pm, “but
    The activity can only be carried out with the permit holders authorized by SEMARNAT. Mandatory presence of a local guide.” It’s good somebody started regulating the whole thing since the turtles were probably in a lot of stress lately. It’s just sad that it’s quite expensive, since the guys should be just watching you that you don’t hurt the turtles.

  16. Vanessa

    It is now definitely regulated at Akumal.
    We went swimming last Friday with the turtles – the tours seem to be 300 pesos each for a group tour and 400 or 500 each for a private tour. It’s horrible the touts and their lies but ignore everyone till you get to the beach huts and book there.
    I am so glad it’s regulated as people who can’t swim were sometimes standing on the turtles accidentally with their flippers and trying to grab them while they were eating! This is an endangered animal and needs to be protected.

    • Charles

      I second this! We just left the bay and I was very upset at the fact that their were SOOO many people and lack of environment awareness. People were EVERYWHERE. You cant fix stupid for sure! Majority of these people are just there to get wasted and have no respect for themselves let alone an ENDANGERED species! Education is key and from my conversations 80% of these people are uneducated and have NO clue whats going on. I feel this area should not have ANY public swimming. On Sundays the locals mix with others and you darn well know they are pissing in the water and disrespecting this extremely FRAGILE environment.

      We are looking to buy a house on the beach and it will def be my duty to help regulate the preservation of these sacred animals.

  17. Peter Togel

    Not free at all. They only let you swim when you buy one of your diving packages. If you just pay for parking and entrance, they don’t let you come close to the diving groups or turtles. IT is a ripoff….

  18. Bianca

    Hello, things have changed in Akumal. Now it is a protected area and snorkeling by yourself can be done in specific spots. Don’t worry you can hire a certified guide that will escort you thorugh the circuits and show you the turtles. Akumal Dive Shop, Akumal Dive Center and Piratas offer this service.

    • Charles Kosman

      Hi Bianca, it definitely seems things have changed in Akumal. It’s probably for the better that they’re enforcing tighter regulations on the area since there are just so many sea turtles in Akumal and should be protected. Hopefully the new setup helps the turtles rather than just filling the locals pockets. Only time will tell and we’ll definitely check it out ourselves next time we’re down there.


Leave a Reply

Your email address will not be published.

This site uses Akismet to reduce spam. Learn how your comment data is processed.