If you’re visiting the Yucatan region of Mexico you won’t want to miss the chance to go swimming with endangered green sea turtles at Akumal beach. This activity is not only an unforgettably fun way to interact with wildlife up close but it’s also budget friendly in a place where most activities can get costly. It’s also easy to do and close enough to all the popular vacation areas like Cancun, Playa Del Carmen and the Riviera Maya.
How to Get to Akumal
Getting to Akumal is a breeze from any of the nearby cities. The small beach town sits just between Playa Del Carmen and Tulum.
Distance to Akumal:
- From Playa Del Carmen – 22 miles (35 km).
- From Cancun – 66 miles (106 km).
- From Tulum – 17 miles (27 km).
If you’re on a tight budget or prefer to try out traveling like the locals you can hop on the colectivo. A colectivo is a shared mini-van that runs up and down the highways all over the region. They runs from Cancun to Playa del Carmen and then onto to Tulum, and then back around. A one-way ride costs around 30-35 pesos (Under $3 USD). Many of them are now air-conditioned but not always. Find out more about riding the colectivos and where to find them here and here. If you take the colectivo it will drop you off on the highway about 10-15 minutes walk from the beach, which you can’t miss. When you’re ready to leave the colectivos will be running in the opposite side of the highway and will pull over to pick you up if you wave as they arrive. They generally come by every 5-15 minutes during the day.
Alternative but more expensive options are taxis, rental cars and buses.
How To Swim with Sea Turtles At Akumal
Once you get to the beach you have several choices. If you brought your own snorkeling gear you can get in the water and go turtle searching on your own, 100% free. If you don’t have gear you can rent it or buy from several different shops on the beach for anywhere from $6-$20 USD. If you’re uncomfortable swimming and snorkeling in the ocean on your own you can hire a guide for as little as $25/hour but it’s really not needed.
Just swim out from the beach until the water is at least 7 or 8 feet deep; don’t worry you can easily float on the surface without a life jacket. You should start spotting turtles swimming around within just a few minutes. I’ve been to Akumal a dozen times over the last 3 years and always have seen them. If there’s a lot of people in water, or the weather is less than calm the shallower water can get low visibility from sand getting stirred up and you’ll need swim further out to get clear waters. On a calm day the Caribbean water is crystal clear and it’s an absolute joy to swim around at Akumal.
Since the area just off the beach is mostly filled with sea grass there isn’t a lot of other marine life to see. If you’re lucky and you’re in the water long enough you can see other things. I’ve personally spotted a few stingrays, spotted eagle rays, small squid and the occasional fish.
Respect the Endangered Turtles
Once you spot your first turtles your first instinct will be to rush towards them DON’T! There are tourists swimming at Akumal everyday, these turtles get bombarded with people chasing and harassing them so much that many of them have become easily frightened and they will vanish quickly if you rush over to them. Once you see a turtle try to swim without splashing around a lot and slowly in the turtle’s direction. If you’re calm and respect their space most of them will allow you to get within just a few feet as they dive down to the sea bed and eat the grass.
It’s illegal to touch the turtles and while you may see others doing it please refrain from doing so.
Tips for Visiting
- Bring your own snorkeling equipment to save money.
- Try your luck swimming on your own before hiring a guide.
- Get there early! This beach gets crowded and the more people there are in the water the more stirred up sand there is which means worse visibility.
- Wear high SPF sunscreen. The sun is intense and you can burn very quickly. Don’t forget to keep reapplying more on every hour.