Akumal Town is a small beach town located on the Riviera Maya in Mexico between Playa del Carmen and Tulum. Akumal Beach (Akumal Playa) has white sands dotted with palm trees, coral reefs, and warm waters that are teaming with marine life, including several species of sea turtles.
Akumal Beach is the perfect place to participate in the amazing experience of swimming with sea turtles in their natural habitat.
Fun fact: The name Akumal is actually a Mayan word that roughly translates to “place of the turtle or place of turtles” –Akumal Educational Center
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Akumal Snorkeling at Akumal Beach
After finding out that you can swim with the majestic and oh so adorable sea turtles at Akumal Bay, I knew I had to add it to my Mexico travel 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 snorkeling at Akumal Bay.
The options I ran into included going it on your own, taking a group tour to the bay, or using one of the dive shops in Akumal. Eventually I was able to determine what the best option was for me and will share it with you here.
protecting the turtles at Akumal Beach
Let’s just get this out of the way. Your fun and desire to spend the day at Akumal Snorkeling is in no way shape or form more important than the health and safety of these animals.
Akumal Bay is home to green sea turtles, white, loggerhead sea turtles, and hawksbill turtles. As you might imagine a contained area where you are extremely likely to spot sea turtles makes for a hugely popular tourist destination. Not surprisingly, because humans don’t always use their brains, visitors were not showing the required amount of respect to this fragile natural environment. The sheer number of visitors alone was having a negative impact.
2016 the Mexican government takes action
Thankfully, in 2016 the Mexican government took steps to protect the bay of Akumal, otherwise known as “Bahía de Akumal,” Refuge Area, and classified it as a marine refuge. Their intent was to protect the seagrass, mangroves, and barrier reef, which provide food and shelter for marine life including the turtles and to thereby protect the threatened sea turtle population who feed and rest on the ocean floor 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, more on those later.
new rules regarding Akumal Snorkeling
PLEASE be respectful of these beautiful creatures. 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.
Rules to abide by while visiting the bay:
- do not stand on coral heads (weird rock formations)
- life jackets are mandatory preventing total immersion and tourists from encroaching on the turtles. (life jacket / life vest provided by tour operators)
- Only biodegradable sunscreen is permitted in the protected area. It’s best to go without, consider a rash guard to cover your arms and back. (learn which sunscreens are safe from the Sea Turtle Preservation Society)
- 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 have to must use the bathroom, please don’t go in the water. That just isn’t safe for the turtles.
If you’d like to read more about the program and restrictions you can find more information from the Government of Mexico.
*Disclosure: This post may contain affiliate links at no additional cost to you, for more information see my terms and conditions page, all rights reserved.
Is it ethical?
Look there is hope that the situation will improve but there are also reports of rules and regulations being ignored, even by tour operators. Given this information I’m not really sure if I would participate in this activity again but if you are determined to PLEASE follow the guidelines set out by the government. Ultimately, the goal is to preserve animal life. Keep reading to the bottom for other ways to see turtles on the Rivera Maya. Search for Human Certified animal interaction programs in Mexico.
How to see the Akumal turtles
There are different options to see the sea turtles so let’s discuss our options.
Option 1: You can book a guided tour / excursion
There are tour operators that offer a guided snorkel tour excursion with round-trip transportation from your hotel or resort. I’m not much of a joiner so I didn’t love this option. If you prefer this option here is a list of snorkeling tour operators, transportation included from Get Your Guide: (I try to choose only highly rated tours for you. Always read reviews carefully.)
- Akumal Bay: Cenotes And Snorkeling with Turtles
- From Riviera: Tulum, Akumal – Swim with Turtles Express Tour
- Riviera Maya: Turtles Encounter at Akumal Beach
- Cancun: Snorkeling Boat Trip
- Cancun: Marine Turtle Observation in Akumal
- Cancun: Snorkeling Boat Tour with Hotel Transfer and Gear
- Cozumel: Reef Adventure with Snorkeling and Lunch
whale shark tours: You may also be interested in this whale shark tour: From Playa del Carmen: Whale Shark Tour
option 2: Head straight to one of the dive shops
I believe this is the best way to see the sea turtles at Akumal Bay. Bypass the people on the street hocking tours and head straight to one of the dive shops.
These dive shops offer tours from certified guides. Having a guide will increase your chances of seeing turtles because the local guides are experienced in searching for and spotting turtles. Additionally, having a snorkel 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.
No need to bring your own snorkel equipment since it is provided but if you want to spend an entire day in the area you may want to bring your own for after the tour. Keep reading and I’ll tell you all about how my guided tour went.
option 3: Seeing the turtles without a snorkeling tour
Can you snorkel at Akumal without a guide? Can you swim with turtles in Akumal for free?
You will, as I did, find all kinds of information on the internet about how to swim with the Akumal sea turtles for free and without a guide. 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 protected areas of the bay and if you go it alone you may be breaking the law.
don’t be “that guy”
Here’s some (bad) advice that I found on the internet:
“Eat something at La-Hol so they won’t hassle you about going through to the beach for free “and swim out disregarding the buoys. They will whistle at you from the shore or wave for you to come back, just ignore them. Swim far out quickly and you’ll see turtles!! Lots of cool fish and sting rays too. After 10 a.m. the tour guides tried to get us to scram, and the park ranger too. The park ranger boat followed us everywhere until we finally left. But we saw plenty of turtles!” -A trip advisor contributor
My friends, these are the type of people who give tourists (and humans) a bad name. Ok cool, he saw sea turtles, got away with it, saved $40, and potentially endangered the turtles. Do you REALLY need to save $40 this badly?????????
You can snorkel the perimeter of the protected turtle area.. BUT IF YOU REALLY WANT TO SEE THE TURTLES… I snorkeled around the perimeter for about an hour hoping to catch a glimpse of a turtle on my own. I didn’t see one turtle. You may get lucky, but this is clearly not the best way to see the sea turtles at Akumal Bay.
My experience with Akumal Dive Center for snorkeling at Akumal
There are two dive shops at Akumal Bay. I used Akumal Bay Dive Center located next to the Lol-Ha Restaurant. I had a taxi drop me off just outside of Hotel Akumal Caribe Hotel which is located on the main road through town (Reforma Agraria.) There were taxis waiting just outside so It was no trouble getting a ride back to my resort. It was through the hotel where I gained access to the dive center, just head for the beach.
I arrived at the Dive Center as soon as they opened in hopes of joining the first tour of the day and beating the crowds. Success! There were only 4 other people on my tour, so we got a bit more of a personalized experience.
After I paid for my tour and made use of the locker room the guide took us out into the bay on a boat. We then got into the water and spent some time snorkeling and looking for turtles. The bay is like a lagoon with calm waters.
We spotted around 3 or 4 sea turtles during the time we were out. So amazing, such beautiful sea creatures. This was my first time seeing turtles in the wild. I would have been thrilled to have just seen one. To be honest, I’m not sure if I would have spotted them on my own. The guide was more experienced at finding turtles, so he knew where to look and what signs to look for.
Tours are limited to approximately 1 hour, one of the restrictions are part of the limitations set out by the government. You’ll eventually swim your way back to shore. If you aren’t a strong swimmer you shouldn’t need to worry because you will be wearing a life jacket to keep you out of the water and away from the turtles.
- The tour cost at the dive center: The cost of the tour was only $40 per person. Conveniently, they accept credit card payments.
- Amenities and what’s included: Lockers, snorkeling gear, and access to Akumal Beach are provided at no extra cost. They have a changing room, bathrooms, and a shower.
- Reservations: No reservations are required. Just remember daily numbers are limited.
- address: Carretera Federal Carr. Cancun-Tulum 307, 77750)
Looking for more options? (There is also a Akumal Dive Shop just a short walk from Akumal Dive Center. I don’t have any personal experience with them but if you want to compare, check Google Reviews: Akumal Dive Shop OR Akumal Dive Center.
Akumal 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 of the areas immediately outside of the protected zone on my own. Apparently, the dive center no longer rents equipment. I read on their website that they did so I didn’t bring my own snorkel gear but the dive center was nice enough to let me use their equipment for another hour or so.
They directed me to the swimming area to the right-hand side of their shop, towards the hotels and told me I’d be fine to snorkel there. Although I was just outside of the protected area and was out in the water for about an hour I never saw any turtles on my own.
Is Akumal good for snorkeling?
It’s ok. I’ve snorkled in much clearer water. The draw here is the turtles. Want to snorkel on the barrier reef? Get information from The Snorkeling Report.
Here’s a photo of me snorkeling somewhere not all to far away, but with much clearer water! Find out where I’m at here!
Expectations of seeing turtles
Seeing sea turtles in their environment can be a great experience but in the interest of being transparent I thought that I should give a reminder that this is not a zoo or an aquarium. 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. Your best chance of seeing the turtles is in the restricted area and that must be done with a certified guide.
Akumal Turtle season
When is the best time to go to Akumal Bay to see the sea turtles?
Day of the week and Time of Day
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, so your best bet is to arrive early! Besides, early morning is a great time to be out in the water in this area.
Nesting sea turtles
Turtles come to Akumal from roundabout May to September each year to lay their eggs on the beach.
As you can see on this scientific reports graph from the Nature website, June is peak season, with May and July having the second highest incidence of nesting turtles in Akumal Beach. I think the right thing to do would be avoid this area during these times. Give the turtles a break and let them rest in peace?
If you do happen to be visiting this time of the year, here is some advice from Akumal Direct:
- Keep any artificial lights off – turtles are scared away by bright lights.
- Stay at least 30 to 40 yards away from the shore when observing the turtles.
- Do not use bright lights, phones, or camera flashes this really disorients them. They don’t like it.
- Stay at least 12 feet away from the turtles to avoid disturbing them.
- Keep it quiet – loud noises and sudden movements can scare the turtles away.
- Never step over the turtle nest as this can damage the eggs.
Fun fact: It probably comes as no surprise that sea turtles can be found in Central America and South America, but they can also be seen as far north as Alaska in North America. -NOAA Fisheries
Getting access to Akumal Beach (Akumal Playa)
Public beach access
No one in Mexico can take ownership of the beach. However, you’ll have to cross someone’s property to get to the beach. Local businesses with beach access often charge an entrance fee or entry fee.
Here are the most popular ways to access the beach at Akumal:
- Pay the entry fee: So, if you want to access the beach just resign yourself to paying the small fee that often comes with access to bathrooms, lockers, and showers.
- Use a dive shop: However, if you are intending to patronize one of the dive shops recommended here you won’t need to pay the fee (not taking a tour? You can pay a small fee to Akumal Dive Shop for beach access.)
- Grab a snack or a meal: Another way to access the beach is by making your way to the Lol-Ha restaurant. Stop in and have breakfast or just coffee or a juice. Afterwards, you can get free access to the bay. They open at 8:00 a.m.
- Make a donation: Enter at the CEA for 120 pesos Centro Ecológico Akumal, funds go towards this non-profit dedicated to preserving the turtles and their environment.
- Book a room! Akumal Beach Hotel guests have access to the beach.
- trespass: It’s possible to sneak through in some areas, but I’m not recommending that!
How to get to Akumal Bay Beach
Tulum (coming soon!)
Akumal is an easy day trip from some of the most popular spots in the area.
Cancun (92 km)
Cozumel (56 km)
Playa del Carmen (38 km)
Tulum (29 km)
By car or taxi
Address (Hotel Akumal Caribe): Carretera Puerto Juarez-Tulum Km 104, 77737 Akumal, Q.R., Mexico
GPS coordinates: 20.39708114079445, -87.3146194552499
Just give the taxi driver your location or if you have a rental car plug that address into your Google Maps.
I am not aware of any free parking in the area but there is a nice parking lot between the dive center and the dive shop that charges 20 pesos per hour (or 50 pesos per day.) Open from 8 am to 9 pm.
where to eat
One of the best things about Mexico is its amazing food! There are plenty of places in the area, but my pick is La Buena Vida, a great place to get some grub after a long snorkeling session. It has great Google reviews and is just 1.1 km (a 13 minute walk) from Akumal beach on Half Moon Bay.
where to stay
These are some of my standout favorites. Use this link to search more options on Booking.com.
on Akumal Beach
Las Villas Akumal
This two-bedroom apartment is right on the beach with views of the Caribbean Sea and sleeps up to 4 people. This beautiful resort has paved walkways, a pool and outdoor dining opportunities at their rooftop restaurant. Prices: starting at $235 per night Guest rating: 8.9
Akumal Bay Beach & Wellness Resort
This lovely seaside resort is a splurge. It offers 2 beachside pools and 3 beachside restaurants. Every room offers an ocean view with either a private balcony or terrace.
Prices: starting at $709 per night Guest rating: 8.6
Rent this entire villa that has “wow factor” and the price tag to go with it! For a 6-bedroom beachfront villa that sleeps up to six. prices: start at $548, or can accommodate up to 13 people. Guest rating: 10!
I stayed at both of these and they come highly recommended by me!
Catalonia Royal Tulum
This adult- only all-inclusive is nestled in the middle of the jungle. Just as you emerge from the lush jungle you step onto gorgeous beach property. If you’re looking to relax, this is your spot! Meander the walkways through the jungle, take advantage of the spa, while the day away on a hammock on the beach, and admire the cute coati that roam freely around the resort.
Prices: starting at Guest rating: 8.6 distance from Akumal Beach: 16 km
Get more information: in my full review of Catalonia
Serenity Luxury Glamping Resort
Luxury camping! Get ready for a Zen-like experience at this ultra relaxing camping resort just steps away from the beach. Big bonus, the tents are air conditioned!
Prices: starting at Guest rating: 8.3 distance from Akumal Beach: 16 km
Get more information: in my full review of Serenity Glamping Resort
nearby places to see sea turtles
Just off of the coast of Cancun is a little tropical paradise island called Isla Mujeres. Isla is home to the Tortugranja Turtle Farm. The Turtle Farm is a conservation center that’s dedicated to protecting endangered sea turtles. Visitors can learn about the different species of turtles that live in the water that surrounds the island and witness the release of baby turtles into the ocean. The farm closed down in 2021 but there are plans to reopen it soon.
Get more information: Ultimate Guide to visiting Isla Mujeres
Get the chance at seeing sea turtles in their natural environment: El Cielo and Palancar: Snorkeling with Open-Bar and Ceviche
There are loads of chances for seeing turtles when scuba diving. Check Get Your Guide for options.
There you are folks! The best way to see the sea turtles at Akumal Bay! Traveling with kids? Check out this guide for traveling with kids in Tulum!