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