Akumal snorkeling is the #1 reason why Akumal Beach is so famous. Reviewed by 13,000 people, Akumal Beach ranks #1 out of 725 outdoor activities in the Riviera Maya on TripAdvisor. So, it's popular! Now you can make it an experience of a lifetime with our 14 insider tips for Akumal snorkeling. Find out how to avoid paying parking and entrance fees. And avoid the crowds of tourists. As well as find out about the three species of sea turtles that make Akumal their home. And some of the dozens of reef fish you'll see.
Akumal is located between Playa Del Carmen and Tulum on the Mayan Riviera of Mexico. Driving 30 minutes south of Playa Del Carmen, or 20 minutes north of Tulum, along highway 307, you'll arrive in Akumal. On the ocean side is the beach town, and across the highway is Akumal Pueblo. Getting to Akumal Beach is pretty straightforward. Collectivos (the white vans that travel up and down highway 307) will drop you off on the highway at, or opposite, the entrance to Akumal Bay. It's about a 5-10 minute walk from the road to the beach.
If you're driving south from Playa Del Carmen, take the retorno and go back north, turning right to head into the Bay. There are several parking lots as you enter from the highway towards the beach. Each one costs about 20 pesos an hour to park. But, your first insider's tip to snorkeling in Akumal is NOT TO PAY for parking!
While you can pay for parking, you also have a couple of options to avoid that cost. Instead of pulling into a parking lot, keep driving until you are past the OXXO Store. Then make an immediate right turn. You'll be at the start of an alley with a small rope that runs across the path. You'll also find an attendant there. And here are where your 2 options come in.
If you will take an Akumal snorkeling tour or rent equipment, tell the attendant that you are going to the Akumal Dive Center. If you already have your snorkel gear and aren't going to take a tour, then tell the attendant that you are going to Lol Ha Restaurant and Snack Bar. As long as you rent equipment or take a tour from the Akumal Dive Center, they will let you park for free during your stay at the beach. And Lol-Ha Restaurant and Snack Bar will let you park for free if you buy a drink, snack or lunch, etc., at either their restaurant or the snack bar.
Inform the attendant where you are going (Lol-Ha or Akumal Dive Center), and he'll let you through. Drive down the alleyway until you have to turn left and keep winding your way around. Watch for signs to both the Dive Center and Lol-Ha. Another attendant will likely point you in the right direction as you go. You will arrive at the Akumal Dive Center first, and then a few yards further along, is the parking for Lol-Ha Restaurant and Snack Bar. Either or both are good options allowing you to do some Akumal Snorkeling without paying for parking.
Set on the former site of a coconut plantation Akumal is a quaint Mexican beachfront town. It was first founded in 1958 by Pablo Bush Romero. Because of the exotic coral reef surrounding the Bay, it was set up as a community for scuba divers.
The name "Akumal" comes from the Mayan, meaning "place of turtles." Each year hundreds of turtles arrive to lay their eggs in the sand and feed on the seagrasses. Adding to the allure is that it's home to three species of sea turtles: Green, Loggerhead & Hawksbill.
Akumal beach is actually made up of several different coves along the coastline. These include Half Moon Bay and Yal-Ku Lagoon to the north. South of these is Akumal Bay, Jade Bay, and Aventuras Akumal. But, where you've arrived right now is Akumal Bay proper. This is where the best snorkeling in Akumal occurs. And it's also the central beach hub. Located within a few hundred yards of the beach are many restaurants, stores, local artisans selling their wares, and a couple of ATMs.
Of the restaurants, there are many great selections to choose from. Taverna Akumal serves the best Italian food in the Riviera Maya. While the Turtle Bay Café serves fabulous breakfasts, lunches, and dinners. La Cuerva Del Pescador specializes in fresh seafood and fish. And Lol-Ha Restaurant and Snack Bar have the best beachfront location and fare.
But how do you get to the beach?
In Mexico, all beaches are public. But, the land leading to the beach is another matter. If the land in front of the beach is privately owned, the landowner is not required to allow access across their property. As a result, landowners often charge a small fee to access the beach. For example, the Akumal Dive Shop has access to the beach and charges $5 USD for entrance.
But you don't have to pay to go snorkeling at Akumal Beach. Like the parking tip, you have great options. Firstly, if you take advantage of tip#1 above, you will also receive free access to the beach. But, what about if you are walking to the beach? Fortunately, you can still access the beach for free by walking along the alleyway as long as you are using the Akumal Dive Center or Lol-Ha Restaurant facilities.
And if not, then you have one more option to go snorkeling in Akumal for free. Walk past the OXXO store and towards the Akumal Gate. On the right, you will see the Hotel Caribe Akumal. Entering the hotel entrance, continue walking through the little office area and the set of doors opposite. This brings you out to the left of Lol-Ha Restaurant.
Personally, I usually always access the beach for free when going snorkeling in Akumal. Usually either through the Akumal Dive Center or Lol-Ha Restaurant. It really isn't a hardship to sit under the beachfront palapa at the Lol-Ha snack bar. A refreshing drink or a spot of lunch at hand after your Akumal snorkeling adventure. By frequenting Lol-Ha, you also get to use the bathroom facilities for free too. Otherwise, you will be charged a few pesos to use the facilities if you're on the beach.
Walking out to the Bay, you will see the fabulous powder white sand beach stretching north and south along the coastline. To the left, the beach stretches around the Bay and the next headland around which you will reach Half Moon Bay. To the right, the beach stretches a long way south and to Jade bay. Right in front of you are the azure waters of the Caribbean ocean. A few hundred yards offshore is the 2nd largest barrier reef globally and one of the reasons snorkeling in Akumal is so special.
The Mesoamerican Barrier Reef System is also known as the Great Mayan Reef. It stretches over 1000 km from northern Yucatan down the Riviera Maya coast into Belize, Guatemala, and Honduras. The reef system is home to more than 65 species of stony coral, 350 species of mollusk, and more than 500 species of fish. It also includes sea turtles, rays, manatees, and sharks contributing to the complex ecosystem.
The reef provides for incredible snorkeling and diving experiences. But it also provides protection for the beaches. Akumal Beach is one of the more protected beaches, with the barrier reef actually consisting of 2 reefs. It's one of the reasons that the snorkeling in Akumal is so good. Along with the dazzling arrays of different types of coral form in this underwater wilderness. The coral provides homes and food to hundreds of fish species, marine turtles, and sharks. Along the shores, the mangroves provide habitat for fish and shorebirds too. As well, the mangroves protect coastal areas from damage from intense storms.
The protection of Akumal Bay, the reef, ecosystems, and watercourses are vital for locals and ex-pat residents alike. For example, areas of the reef are cordoned off to prevent erosion and allow regrowth. Several other conservation programs exist that are supported by local businesses. Many of these are initiatives of the Centro Ecológico Akumal.
When snorkeling in Akumal, make sure that you abide by these few rules to help protect the reef and the fish species.
To protect and conserve the coral reef, some areas are prohibited from swimming or snorkeling. If you venture into one of these areas, you will be confronted by a local official. Often they are on small kayaks patrolling the Bay. To avoid this, simply stay out of these areas shown on the map below, courtesy of CEA. Snorkeling in Akumal is prohibited inside the black-lined area on the map.
But the two areas marked by the pink-lined shapes, circuit 1 and circuit 2, are the official areas where you can snorkel in Akumal. Along the bottom right-hand corner of the map, you can see a portion of the barrier reef. You can also snorkel in this area of Akumal Bay, but certain restrictions apply.
One way to go snorkeling is to sign up for a snorkeling tour. Many vendors will offer snorkeling tours, and it is definitely buyer-beware. I would advise going with a well-established dive center or similar organization. An extra advantage of going snorkeling in Akumal via either Lol-Ha Restaurant or the Akumal Dive Center is you avoid being harassed by the many vendors along the way.
Instead, you can sign up with the Akumal Dive Center to rent equipment (from $5US) or take a guided snorkel tour. There are 2 tours that you can buy. The first is to take a tour of the circuits noted on the map. This costs $50 USD. This is in the area closer to shore. As a result, lots of people often snorkel here. So the sand after mid-morning can get stirred up and can reduce the visibility. Also, these areas are closer to shore, so they are easy for you to snorkel along by yourself. But make sure that you don't stray from the circuit and venture into the protected area or the boat channel. The boat channel runs on either side of the protected areas before the circuits.
The best Akumal snorkeling, though, is to take the snorkel tour a little further out from the Bay. This costs $35 USD and includes a short Panga boat ride. Here you're likely to see more sea turtles and more species of fish. If you have 2 days in Akumal, my advice would be to take this tour the first time to get the lay of the land. Then return on another day (preferably a Monday, see below), and do circuit 2 yourself. This circuit is closer to shore and inside Akumal Bay.
The earlier you go snorkeling in Akumal, the better it is. First, there are fewer people, so it's less crowded. Second, the sand isn't as stirred up, so the visibility is better. If you are going on a tour, book the first one, usually at 9 AM. If you are doing it yourself, then you're only limited by the sunrise!
To protect the barrier reef, guiding companies are usually prohibited from taking tour groups to snorkel in Akumal on Mondays. But, if you want some alone time with a turtle, then Monday morning before 10 AM is the best time to go!
Going snorkeling in Akumal with your kids is a great experience. But if you have young kids, make sure that you all have on well-fitted lifejackets. While Akumal Bay is often very calm, strong waves can occur from time to time. And even if you are a strong swimmer, if you are taking your kids with you, wear a lifejacket as well. It's added protection for you and your kids. And if you're unsure, just ask one of the friendly attendants at the Akumal Dive Center. They'll help you out and make sure you have a wonderful family snorkeling experience.
The busiest time of year in the Mayan Riviera is usually mid-December to the end of March. This coincides with winter in North America, and there are often many American and Canadian snowbirds here then. So snorkeling in Akumal will be a busy endeavor then. But, one of the best things about the Mayan Riviera is that it's a year-round vacation destination. Also, turtles are around most of the year and many other species of marine life. So, coming here from May to mid-December, there's often a lot fewer tourists in general, and the snorkeling is just as fabulous.
So the very best time to go snorkeling in Akumal is early on a Monday morning, between May and mid-December! That is if you want to avoid the crowds and get the most affordable accommodation rates.
By far, the biggest attraction of snorkeling in Akumal is swimming with the sea turtles. In 2020 over 1000 turtle nests were counted in the central Bay of Akumal alone. With the rich seagrass for the turtles to feed on and the protected Bay, it's no wonder that the turtles love it here. When finding a turtle, stay at least 15 feet away from it at all times, and never try to touch it.
There are three types of turtles that you can observe when snorkeling: green, loggerhead, and hawksbill. But how do you know which type of turtle you are seeing?
There are three types of turtles that you can observe when snorkeling: Green, Loggerhead and Hawksbill. But how do you know which type of turtle you are seeing?
Only 2 inches long when born, green sea turtles can grow to 5 feet in length. While weighing up to 700 lbs, making them the largest hardshell sea turtle in the world. They have 2 large 'paddle-like flippers. Interestingly their name does not derive from any particular green external coloration of the turtle. Its name comes from the greenish color of the turtles' fat. It is only found in a layer between their inner organs and their shell. When you go Akumal snorkeling, they'll be the most common turtle you see.
The video, right, is of a large green sea turtle I saw surfacing for a couple of breaths before returning to feeding on the seagrasses on the ocean floor. These turtles only bite off the tips of the blades of seagrass, which keeps the grass healthy. It's quite an experience having one of these majestic ocean creatures come swimming towards you.
Near the coastlines, the green sea turtles live within shallow bays and protected shores. In these protected bays, the turtle habitats include coral reefs, salt marshes, and nearshore seagrass beds. The coral reefs provide red, brown, and green algae for their diet and protect predators and rough storms within the ocean. These are all conditions provided by Akumal Bay – hence why the turtle thrives here.
With a lifespan of 50 years or so, Loggerheads weigh in at about 250 lbs and 3 feet in length. They feed on a diet of jellyfish, mollusks, and crustaceans. Their name comes from the 'large log' of ahead, and they have a reddish-brown hardshell and pale yellow underbelly. You are quite likely on your Akumal snorkeling adventure to see a Loggerhead.
Unlike green turtles, Loggerheads feed on bottom-dwelling invertebrates. Using its large, powerful jaws on its prey. Similar to Green sea turtles, female Loggerheads also come ashore to nest and lay eggs. But, unlike Green turtles, after laying eggs for an average of four years, they stop producing eggs for a few years.
Loggerhead turtles spend most of their lives in the open ocean and in shallow coastal waters. They rarely come ashore beside the females' brief visits to construct nests and deposit eggs. Hatchling loggerhead turtles live in floating mats of Sargassum seaweed.
Hawksbill sea turtles are critically endangered and are much less common to see while snorkeling in Akumal than Green and Loggerhead turtles. They are distinguished from Green and Loggerhead turtles by the sharp, narrow head reminiscent of a bird's beak. They are also considered the most beautiful of all sea turtles due to their colorful shells. These shells can amazingly change color depending upon the water temperature.
Adult hawksbill sea turtles are primarily found in tropical coral reefs. They are usually seen resting in caves and ledges in and around these reefs throughout the day. They feed mainly on sea sponges, and as one of the smaller sea turtles weigh up to 200 lbs and 2-3 feet in length. They are less prevalent than both green and loggerhead turtles, but they have started to mount a comeback in recent years.
The best time to see a turtle while Akumal snorkeling is May through November, (great lodging options then too) during their nesting season. But, there are usually turtles all year-round. Ninety percent of the time I have been snorkeling in Akumal Bay, I have seen at least 1 turtle. And usually, there are several more. This includes during the December to April period too. So, really, there isn't a bad time of year to go Akumal snorkeling.
Snorkeling in Akumal isn't only about sea turtles. The crystal-clear Caribbean waters of the Riviera Maya team with sea life. There are literally hundreds of species of fish. Some scuttling along the seabed, others darting in and out of the coral reef. Families of fish that you can observe snorkeling around these waters include Angelfish, Butterflyfish, Surgeonfish, Parrotfish, Hogfish, Puffer, Snapper, Grunt, Boxfish, Triggerfish, Grouper, Barracuda, Jack, Porgy, Tarpon, Damselfish, and Hamlet.
Angelfish are common reef fish to see when snorkeling in Akumal. Many species of Angelfish are fearless and will approach people boldly. Fortunately, they are harmless, beautiful creatures, so you should be able to get some close-up photos! Most species of Angelfish restrict themselves to the shallows of the reef, making them easy to spot when snorkeling.
Butterflyfish are smaller versions of Angelfish and are plentiful reef fish. Like Angelfish, they are brightly colored with striking patterns and also prefer shallower water. They are territorial in nature and can often be seen defending their piece of coral!
Another brightly colored reef fish that are relatively small in size (15-40 cm). Their distinctive characteristic is that they have scalpel-like scales on either side of their tail. Often found feeding in large schools
Named for their parrot-like beak, which they use to scrape algae from the coral. These can be colorful fish, with most species reaching 30-50 cm in length. Parrotfish species often start as females and then change to males in older age. You are pretty likely to see Parrotfish while snorkeling in Akumal.
Another reef fish is characterized by a compressed body and an elongated, 'pig-like snout. Hence the name, Hogfish. The presence of a black spot behind the pectoral fins differentiates between males and females. As a carnivore, it feeds on mollusks, crabs, and sea urchins. Like the Parrotfish, it is a sequential hermaphrodite (changes from female to male during its life). Hogfish have been known to live up to 11 years and weigh in at 11 kg and 91 cm in length.
One of the neatest fish to observe is Pufferfish. The majority of species are toxic and among the most poisonous fish in the world. However, unless you are planning on catching and eating one, they are harmless while snorkeling! Their toxin lies in their skin, liver, and other internal organs. These are fascinating fish to observe, and I have seen them several times while snorkeling in Akumal Bay.
Named for the snapping way these species of fish open and close their jaws, these are common fish. While primarily found around coral reefs, they can be found at deep depths too. Reaching up to 85 cm in length, Snapper fish, such as Yellowtails, feed on shrimp, crabs, worms, and other smaller fish.
Another fish that is often brightly colored is found most often in relatively shallow coastal areas and coral reefs. Triggerfish have oval-shaped, highly compressed bodies, with a large head and a small but strong jaw with teeth for crushing shells. As a protection against predators, Triggerfish can erect two dorsal spines. Feeding primarily on bottom-dwelling crustaceans, mollusks, and sea urchins, their teeth break open the shells. Triggerfish males are known to be very aggressive in their spawning sites and are very territorial. These are often located on a sandy sea bottom or on a rocky reef. Their territory usually encompasses more than one female in the area with which it mates.
Closely related to Pufferfish, Boxfish also have a toxic defense. Under stress, they secrete a toxin through their skin to deter predators. While occurring in different colors, they are notable for their skin's hexagonal or honeycomb patterns. Their scales are made up of these hexagonal, tough scales, which protect the fish-like armor from potential predators.
Groupers typically have a stout body and a largemouth. They can reach lengths of over a meter and are not uncommon to weigh 100 kg. They eat fish, octopuses, and crustaceans by swallowing, rather than biting, their prey. Their powerful mouths and gills suck their prey in from a distance.
In appearance, they are snake-like, with prominent sharp teeth similar to those of a piranha. They have large pointed heads, and many species have an underbite. Barracudas feed on an array of fish by biting them in half. They are fearsome predators relying on surprise and short bursts of speed up to 43 km/hr. Although young barracudas congregate in schools, adults a primarily solitary.
Small Tarpon is found close to the surface in warm waters before migrating to tidal pools, creeks, and freshwater rivers as they age. Tarpons can grow to as long as 2.4 m and can weigh up to 127 kg. They have shiny silver scales that cover their bodies except for their heads. A carnivore, they swallow their food whole and hunt nocturnally.
Most Damselfish have bright, starkly contrasting colors. Many species live in tropical rocky, coral reefs making Akumal a perfect habitat for them. They spend the majority of the daylight hours foraging for small crustaceans, plankton, and algae. Similar to Triggerfish, they are very territorial and will defend their food and reproductive sites vigorously.
Hamlet fish are a common fish found around the coral reef while snorkeling in Akumal. Adult Hamlets are one of the few vertebrates that have both male and female sexual organs simultaneously. When they find a mate, a pair takes turns between which one acts as the male and the female through multiple matings!! And come in many colors.
There are over 200 species of stingrays and are common in the tropical waters of Akumal. Seeing stingrays while snorkeling in Akumal is normal.
Stingrays employ a large variety of feeding methods. Some have specialized jaws that crush hard mollusk shells, while others guide plankton into their mouth. Bottom-dwelling stingrays (common in this area) are ambush hunters. They wait until their prey comes near them with their fins pressed against the seabed. They then raise their head, creating a suction force that pulls their prey underneath their body. Fortunately, stingrays are not very aggressive and only attack humans if severely provoked. While an injury from a stingray stinger can be excruciating, it is very rarely life-threatening. Even so, make sure you give them plenty of room.
When going snorkeling in Akumal or elsewhere, there are a few things you should bring with you or rent from a local supplier. While in Akumal, you don't need flippers close to shore, and they are discouraged to protect the coral. If you are heading out of the Bay to snorkel, you will need them. Obviously, having a mask and snorkel is essential, and you may want a life jacket, too, even if you are a strong swimmer. There you can rent from a dive center if you don't bring your own. At the Akumal Dive Center, the cost for these is $5 USD.
A beach towel is often helpful so you can relax on the beach afterward. As well, you will also want to bring biodegradable sunscreen. Also, don't forget a t-shirt or rash guard, or other garments to protect your neck and shoulders from the sun. And don't forget your sunglasses and a hat, too, along with a bottle of water to stay hydrated.
If you go on a guided tour, you can leave valuables and other items behind in a locker. And you can take a shower after your Akumal snorkeling adventure too. But if you don't go on a tour, you can also leave towels and other items in your car or on the beach waiting for your return.
Snorkeling in Akumal is one of the best things to do in the Riviera Maya. As shown by TripAdvisor, guests rank it the #1 activity in the Riviera Maya. Now to make your Akumal snorkeling experience even better, you have 14 insider tips. So, you'll know what to do, when, and also what turtles and reef fish you see on your Akumal snorkeling adventure.
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