Swimming with Turtles in Akumal, Mexico
Swimming with turtles in Akumal Mexico: Updated for 2019
Swimming with turtles in Akumal, Mexico:
If you are reading this, than you are interested in swimming with turtles in Akumal, Mexico. I have been twice now over the years to snorkel and both times I was not disappointed!
The combination of white sand and shallow, clear water allows you to spot the turtles with unbelievable ease! The turtles tend to swim in groups close to the shore where there is seaweed for them to eat, so you don’t even have to swim too far out.
Most of all, the experience can be done for FREE, completely independent of tour groups (despite reported scams on beach entrance fees, life jackets and tours – see below)!
Update on the Akumal Turtles Beach Scams:
Since I was there in January 2017, there have been reports of aggressive tour and lifejacket scams, and beach entrance fee scams. Allegedly, men are standing by the entrance to the beach area claiming tours and lifejacket rentals are mandatory to snorkel. While I didn’t experience this because I went so early and no one was there when I arrived, I did experience a man aggressively snorkelling alongside me in the water, blocking me from crossing the roped off area. I simply left the roped off area where he was “monitoring the waters” and went further down the beach to get away from him.
NOTE: This beach is PUBLIC. You do not need to pay to enter or for a tour or life jacket – just keep walking. Apparently as of March 2018, you need to pay $5 USD if you choose to enter through the CEA Centre building, which will include access to their washrooms and lockers. If you don’t need a locker, simply go through to the beach at any of the other entrances.
What to Expect:
I first visited Akumal turtles beach 7 years ago, and wow has it ever changed since then. The beach was once quiet and secluded, but now you will find luxury resorts and tour shacks for guided snorkelling and fishing situated on the shore.
If you are seeking a peaceful experience without the hustle and bustle of tour groups and boating operations, I highly suggest going EARLY in the morning to have a private experience observing the turtles – otherwise you will be surrounded by many other tourists circling the same water and kicking up sand, decreasing the visibility. You will also likely be approached to join a tour, rent snorkel gear or go deep sea fishing.
I arrived in Akumal at 7:00 am, just in time for the gorgeous sunrise! There was no one else there aside from another group capitalizing on the empty beach to do wedding photos. If you arrive early, you will beat the guides who haggle beach-goers to join groups and rent lifejackets, and arrive well before the other tourists.
By 7:30ish, the “snorkel guides” had showed up and one even followed me into the water to push lifejacket rentals on me, literally swimming along side me (super awkward and annoying). According to him, there is a new rule where snorkelers must wear life jackets while swimming beyond the roped off area, regardless of whether you do a tour or not, so his job was to guard the boarder of the rope (snorkel police?!). Note: this is not true!
The area is making huge strides towards turtle conservation so in all honesty, I do believe the tours are part of the plan to ensure tourists do not touch/ harass the turtles (though you shouldn’t need a guide to know not to do this). HOWEVER, this beach is PUBLIC which means you DO NOT have to join a tour or rent a life jacket to swim in the water. If someone is forcing you to do this, it is a scam.
If you are not a confident swimmer or would rather just rent the jacket to avoid the hassle, come prepared with cash (USD or pesos). You can get the lifejacket, as well as a mask/snorkel and fins from the dive shop on site, or from vendors up and down the path to the beach (though if you come early enough like I did, the vendors won’t be set up yet).
Alternatively, you could rent the gear prior to leaving Playa or Tulum and bring it with you. However, I highly suggest you purchase your own mask (I use a Cressi) — if the snorkel is not properly cleaned, you are putting yourself at risk to pick up all kinds bacteria and viruses from who ever used it before you (yuck!). I also highly recommend considering approved reef-safe sunscreen for your trip to protect the turtles and our oceans.
I did not want to use a life jacket and have my own mask and snorkel, so when the
snorkel police tour guide followed me in the water, I simply left the roped off area and walked down the beach, passing the boat area and into the hotel resort’s ‘private’ beach to be on my own. I had no trouble doing this and quickly spotted 3 turtles grazing on the bottom of the ocean!
By 8:30, I was just finishing up and multiple, large tour groups were just getting ready to enter the water. I was SO happy I came early to snorkel with the turtles without having to share any space with the big tour groups! Also keep in mind, the more people swimming, the more sand will get kicked up into the water making the visibility of the Akumal turtles poor.
Getting to Akumal:
When coming from Tulum, take the collectivo headed to Playa del Carmen. The bus begins running each morning at 6:00 and will cost 35 pesos to Akumal per person, one way. You can simply stand at the road in Tulum and flag one down, and tell the driver to drop you off in Akumal. When arriving early, it will still be dark so when you will get off at the side of the highway, look for the large, white pedestrian bridge as a landmark. Take the pathway south of the bridge that veers east towards the water. It is approximately 5 minutes to arrive at the beach, and you will reach what looks like a resort entrance but continue through to the sandy path for beach access.
To reach Akumal turtle beach from Playa del Carmen, simply follow the same directions but with the collectivo headed south to Tulum. You will arrive on the opposite side of the highway and need to walk across the pedestrian bridge to access the pathway to the beach. From Cancun, you will need to take a bus to Playa (i.e. ADO bus line) and then hop on a collectivo from there (or you could try to take an ADO bus to Tulum and see if the driver will drop you off at Akumal – but don’t quote me on this).
Alternatively, you can also take a taxi or rental car (parking is 50 peso for the day). I didn’t do either, but I have heard from other bloggers that car rentals in Mexico are of great value and quality! You could also stay right in Akumal for the night (take advantage of $30 off your first AirBnB rental if you haven’t tried it already!)
Again, even if you are not a morning person, I suggest going early to swim with the turtles before the scammers or big groups of tourists arrive.
I highly recommend investing in your own mask — you don’t want to ruin your trip by catching a cold (or worse, a cold sore) off a dirty rental mask. I use the Cressi Marea (in pink of course — but they make high quality masks in many colours and sizes).
You will want a water-proof camera to capture your experiencing with the turtles in Akumal. I’ve used the same GoPro Hero 5 for over 2 years and still absolutely love it. I know the cost might seem outrageous, but it is 100% an investment that you will use time and time again. If you are traveling solo, no worries: I wrote an entire article on how to take professional photos of yourself with a GoPro.
If you are heading to Western Mexico, be sure to check out these 10 things to do in La Paz.
Have you snorkelled with turtles before?
If not, is Akumal turtle beach on your bucket list?
Let me know in the comments below!
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