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Before heading to Mexico I had never considered the possibility of getting to swim with wild turtles. I thought this was a rare thing that keen swimmers living in Hawaii got to do once in a lifetime. But I was wrong.
In Mexico’s Riviera Maya there is a beach where you can swim with wild sea turtles, and I’m going to tell you exactly where and how! The experience is incredible, and one that I will gladly repeat on my next visit to Mexico.
I have been lucky enough to snorkel with sea turtles on a couple of my snorkel trips (like this one!), but the experience of walking out from a beach and meeting a bale (yes, I googled it) of sea turtles is unlike anything else!
Where can you swim with wild turtles?
First things first.
Most likely, there are many different places where you can swim with sea turtles in Mexico, but there is one beach in particular where you are almost guaranteed to meet them! Akumal is actually Mayan for ‘Place of the Turtle’.
The beach where you can meet these sea creatures in their natural habitat is called Akumal Beach. You will find it right in between Tulum and Playa Del Carmen, just a 30-minute drive from both. The actual address is Carretera Federal Cancun-Chetumal Km.104, Yodzonot, 77760 Akumal, Q.R., for those of you driving yourself.
Getting there is easiest with a car or a cab, and there is a multitude of taxi’s waiting near the beach for when you finish for the day. Alternatively, you can rent a car, which is also a great way of exploring the area!
From Playa del Carmen you can also get to Akumal by Colectivo, just make sure to specify that you are getting off at Akumal Puente (meaning bridge, you will have to cross it in order to get to the beach).
The area where you can swim with the wild sea turtles is also known as Akumal Bay, and there are several hotels in the area. Popular ones include Secrets Akumal (all-inclusive and adults only) and Las Villas Akumal.
Why can you swim with wild turtles?
My first question upon hearing about Akumal Beach was a simple ‘but why?‘. Why do these turtles stay so close to the beach that you can see them just by walking out into the water, and more importantly; why do they stick around with such a large number of tourists flocking the area?
Side note: As you can see from the photo above, there weren’t that many people there. Akumal Beach is nowhere near the number of tourists that crowd Maya Bay in Thailand or Surfer’s Paradise in Australia. Being in the water, I did not feel as if we were crowding the turtles either, but there were constantly people out there, which is why I didn’t understand how the turtles could be bothered staying there.
The answer is simple: sea grass and nesting. When you are in the water you’ll notice plenty of seagrass along the bottom, and see that the turtles continuously dive down to eat.
The turtles nest in the Akumal area for several months of the year (May to November), and there are many programs in place to ensure a safe nesting time for them. Both species of sea turtle that nests in Akumal (green turtle and the loggerhead turtle) are endangered, so these programs are vital. Please visit the Centro Ecológico Akumal website for more information, and remember that there are a couple of simple things you can do to help:
- Never touch the turtles. Make sure you give them their space when you are near, and remember that these are wild animals and that you’re the one entering their habitat.
- Help keep the beaches clean. Human waste not only pollutes the ocean but can seriously injure a turtle if they get caught in it or eat it.
How can you swim with wild turtles?
Swimming with the turtles is surprisingly simple. Once you are in Akumal, head straight for the beach. Ignore all tour guides trying to sell you guided ‘turtle tours’, as you do not need to pay anyone to do this.
I repeat: ignore the tour guides and salesmen. They will try to make you believe you need a guide in order to see the turtles, but you do not. When I visited the beach, I met a turtle within 10 minutes of swimming.
Once you are on the beach, you can find a place to rent a life vest and some snorkeling gear. Please note that fins are banned as they can injure the endangered turtles, but we quickly found that they weren’t needed. There is a rope a little off the beach, and life jackets are mandatory once you cross it.
Side note: I read on TripAdvisor that the ‘mandatory life jackets’ is a rule made up by the locals there so that the lifejacket rentals can make money, but I wasn’t going to argue with the man in the canoe when he told me to put one on. Also, life jackets were included in our rental, so I don’t see how this theory makes sense.
The point is: wear a life jacket. This also prevents panic and too many unnecessary movements, which in turn, can bother the turtles.
Once you have your gear in place, simply start walking out into the ocean. You don’t have to swim far at all, and once you are out (approximately 30-40 meters off shore), just relax there for a while. Try to float as flat as possible, and just wait.
2017 Side Note: While I am telling you to ignore the guides/tour operators trying to scam you out of money, please do not ignore any official information passed on to you. As the turtles are an endangered species, and the beach is public property, the laws and restrictions set by the government are to be respected.
How else can I help?
Need another great activity in the Riviera Maya area? Check out my review of Xel-há Park!
Get the CityPass to save up to 50% on admission to must-see attractions!
Need a rental car? Get 15% off from AVIS through this link!
Joining a boat tour is always a good idea – in this post, I share my experience!
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