best way to see the sea turtles at Akumal bay

When I heard you could swim with the majestic and oh so adorable sea turtles at Akumal Bay, I knew I had to add it to my itinerary! When I began doing my research on the best way to see the sea turtles at Akumal Bay, I ran into some confusion as to the best way to go about it. Eventually I was able to determine what the best option was for me and will share it with you here.

First a little about the bay

Akumal Bay is home to green/white, loggerhead, and hawksbill sea turtles. As you might imagine, a contained area where you are extremely likely to spot sea turtles was a hugely popular tourist destination. You may not be surprised to know that people were not respectful of this fragile natural environment and the sheer numbers alone were having a negative impact.

In 2016 the Mexican government took steps to protect Akumal Bay, otherwise known as “Bahía de Akumal,” Refuge Area, and classified it as a marine refuge. Their intent was to protect the mangroves, barrier reef, and the threatened sea turtle population who feed and rest in the bay. Initially tourism in the bay was suspended for 51 days which allowed for a jumpstart of the restoration of the natural area. They have now set forth procedures where we can again enjoy the company of the turtles.

Your options to see the turtles

There are different options to see the sea turtles so let’s discuss our options.

You can join a tour

There are tour operators that will pick you up, take you to the bay for your excursion, and drop you off afterwards. I’m not much of a joiner so I didn’t love this option. If you prefer this option, you can find tour operators with a google search or go through your hotel or resort to help book.

THE best way to see the sea turtles at Akumal Bay: Head straight to one of the dive shops

I opted to take a taxi to the dive center. The dive shops offer tours from certified guides. Having a guide will increase your chances of seeing turtles because the guides are experienced in searching for and spotting turtles. Additionally, having a guide who is familiar with the rules and regulations of the preserve will ensure that you remain in compliance and keep you out of trouble with the authorities.

akumal dive center sea turtle tours akumal bay mexico
The Akumal Dive Center, Akumal Bay Mexico

Can you go to Akumal Bay to swim with the turtles on your own?

You will, as did I, find all kinds of information on the internet about how to swim with the sea turtles on your own. Since the 2016 order from the Mexican Government that protects this natural environment there are rules and regulations that apply to the turtle area, including restrictions on the number of daily visitors. Tour operators are required to have a permit to take people out into the bay and if you go it alone you may be breaking the law. Spend a little money (the cost is minimal) and go out with someone who has the proper permits and knowledge.

There are areas where you can snorkel along the perimeter of the turtle area. BUT IF YOU REALLY WANT TO SEE THE TURTLES…I had the idea that I would snorkel around the perimeter of the the turtle area after my tour, hoping to catch glimpses of the turtles on my own. I was out for a good hour and did not see any sea turtles while on my own. You may get lucky but this is clearly not the best way to see the sea turtles at Akumal bay. Indeed, the best way is with a certified guide.

When is the best time to go to Akumal Bay to see the sea turtles

Swimming in the restricted areas is limited by regulation to certain times of the day (currently from 9 am to 5 pm) and not permitted on Monday’s. (Dates and times are subject to change. Always confirm before you go.) To maintain the integrity of the fragile environment the Mexican federal law has limited the number of people who can access the bay each day (less than five hundred) which means that to increase your chances of getting out into the bay you should either have a reservation or show up early. The dive center does not take reservations and word is the water gets murky through the day with all the people swimming around, I arrived early!

The Akumal Dive Center option

There are two dive shops at Akumal Bay. I used Akumal Bay Dive Center, Carretera Federal Carr. Cancun-Tulum 307, 77750, located next to the Lol-Ha Restaurant. I arrived at the Dive Center as soon as they opened, and they sent me out on their first tour of the day with four other people. Conveniently, they accept credit card payments. Further north is the Akumal Bay Dive Shop, which also provides this same service if you are looking for more options.

The tour cost at the dive center

The cost of the tour was only $35 and for that price I got the use of their snorkel equipment, lockers, and access to the beach area.

The tour

After I had paid for my tour and made use of the locker rooms they guide took us out in a boat, and we swam/snorkeled our way back to shore spotting sea turtles along the way. Our guide was experienced at finding the turtles, pointing out 3 or 4 during our time in the bay, which is limited to approximately 1 hour. It may seem like a short amount of time but the time restrictions are part of the limitations set out by the government.

akumal bay dive center sea turtle tours mexico
Akumal Dive Center Sea Turtle Tours, Mexico

akumal dive center guided sea turtle tours akumal bay mexico
tour guide Akumal Dive Center

snorkeling on your own after the tour:

My plan was to take the hour-long tour and then rent snorkel equipment from the dive center afterwards and do a bit of exploring on my own. Apparently, the dive center no longer rents equipment, but they were nice enough to let me use their equipment for another hour or so and directed me to a good snorkeling spot.

angie kunze toto's travels snorkeling akumal bay mexico

Expectations of seeing turtles

I just wanted to note that this is not a zoo. This is the wild and although your chances are good of spotting sea turtles in Akumal Bay, there is the chance you may not see any turtles.

Respect the natural environment and the creatures that live here

PLEASE do be respectful of these beautiful wild creatures. They were NOT put here for our enjoyment and this is their home. With our cooperation and adherence to the rules we can continue to observe the turtles in their natural environment and their populations will continue to flourish and grow.

best way to see the sea turtles at Akumal bay
sea turtles

Rules:

There are a few rules to abide by while visiting the bay. If we are to be allowed to continue our time in the bay it is important to adhere to these rules.

  • do not stand on coral heads (weird rock formations)
  • life jackets are mandatory preventing total immersion and tourists from encroaching on the turtles.
  • Only biodegradable sunscreen is permitted in the protected area.
  • You must maintain a distance of three meters from the back of each turtle, observation time not to exceed 5 minutes.
  • You must maintain a distance of three meters from the back of each turtle, observation time not to exceed 5 minutes.
  • No touching, feeding, chasing, harassing, annoying, retaining, removing, holding or damage to any kind of any specimen of wildlife in this area.
  • Notice from the Mexican government: “If the turtle shows signs of rapid movement, avoidance, or sudden changes in direction, or longer dives, viewing activities will be discontinued immediately.

 If you’d like to read more about the program you can find more information from the Government of Mexico.

There you are folks! The best way to see the sea turtles at Akumal Bay! Have a wonderful time!

If you are looking for a place to stay in the area:

Serenity Luxury glamping experience

Check out my review of the Catalonia Royal Tulum, 5-star all-inclusive resort.

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