Before heading to Mexico I had never considered the possibility of getting to go swimming with turtles. I’d seen photos of the Akumal turtles and of people snorkeling with turtles but just assumed this was a rare thing that only keen swimmers living in Hawaii got to do once in a lifetime or so. Boy, was I wrong. I quickly learned that swimming with turtles was completely doable on my trip to Mexico, and started researching the turtles in Akumal Beach.
On Mexico’s Riviera Maya there is a beach where you can swim with sea turtles, and I’m going to tell you exactly where and how you can do it too! Swimming with turtles is an incredible experience and one that I will gladly repeat on my next visit to Mexico. It was absolutely magical (I’m a Disney geek, so that’s a term I use quite often), and I’ll definitely go snorkeling with turtles again!
I had been lucky enough to swim with sea turtles a couple of times before, but this was completely different. When I’ve done it in the past, it was off a boat, with a guide who knew exactly where to find them. When meeting the Akumal turtles, however, you simply walk out from Akumal Beach, and there’s a bale (yes, I googled the name) of wild sea turtles just waiting to meet you!
Swimming with turtles in Akumal
First things first. Where can I find the Akumal turtles?
Great question. Lots of people have discovered Akumal snorkeling, and it is a popular destination for visitors in the area. The beach has lots of fun activities and restaurants, but the most popular one is obvious: snorkeling with turtles. If you are looking for Akumal Bay snorkeling tips, this article has you covered.
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!
Fun fact: 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.
Getting there is easiest with a car or a taxi, and you’ll find that there is a multitude of taxis 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!
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 if you want to stay near the turtle action. Popular ones include Secrets Akumal (all-inclusive and adults only) and Las Villas Akumal.
Side note: after our adventure I actually bought my friend Ida her first set of snorkels, and she was absolutely ecstatic! I have a long list of travel-themed gift ideas for you if you’re currently looking for presents for someone who loves to travel!
About the Akumal Beach Turtles
My first question upon hearing about Akumal Beach and the turtles 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?
Don’t get me wrong, I wasn’t opposed to swimming with turtles at all, I’m just a very curious person. Also, as a diver I am very weary of potential tourist traps involving animals, and would never join a tour or go somewhere if I was worried that the animals would get bothered.
Side note: 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 to my question is simple: seagrass 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 it.
If you are visiting the Riviera Maya, and more specifically Cancun, you may be wondering about the seaweed situation there. Here’s a great update on the seaweed conditions on the Riviera Maya.
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 nest 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.
Side note: if you want to snorkel here with your family, it’s often easier to bring your own kids’ snorkel gear to ensure a good fit, as the rentals are often standard size.
Akumal Snorkeling: Let’s go swimming with turtles!
Swimming with the turtles in Akumal beach 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 anyway.
There is a rope a little off the beach, seemingly to prevent boats from driving onto the beach outside of their allocated areas, and life jackets are mandatory once you cross this line/rope. I also believe that this area is roped off so that the guides/tours have their own area where they can bring their groups. That’s fine, as the turtles are free to roam wherever, and don’t care about the ropes (but you have to).
Side note: I have been told 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 snorkel 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.
As mentioned above, we saw the turtles in Akumal within 10 minutes of swimming out from the beach, and ended up seeing 5-7 turtles during our swim. Naturally, it is not guaranteed to see the turtles, but I’m crossing my fingers for you!
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.
What do I need to know about the Akumal turtles in 2021?
Naturally, Covid has affected the tourism industry all over the world, and whilst this means there may be less crowds on Akumal beach these days (which I am sure is great news for the sea turtles), the local businesses are likely to have taken a hit. I got this insightful comment from Jacquelyn that I wanted to share with you:
Great post, Lisa! While I got out of the more expensive package tours as I speak Spanish, they [have] the area so roped off now that you can’t get away with just swimming out on your own unfortunately. I understand people need the tourism money from taking a hit with covid shutting things down so I am sure that may be why. I brought my own gear and a guide from the dive shop said he would take me out for $200 pesos (which is way less than the $35 everyone kept telling me when I was driving in) I did appreciate his help finding the sea turtles and some rays though!
As I mentioned further up in this article, there are some ropes in the water indicating where you can (and cannot) swim. I first assumed that this was to prevent boats crossing to close to the water, but now believe it is for the tours and guides to have their own little “private” area of swimming with the Akumal turtles. Still, the turtles will swim wherever they want, so if you don’t want to join a tour, you can swim nearby, float comfortably (with the life vest I already told you to wear) and wait.
Akumal Turtles 2021 FAQ
Got questions? You’re not the only one! Here are some frequently asked questions about the Akumal turtles and swimming with turtles. Have a question that I didn’t answer? Leave it in the comments below!
Where can I swim with sea turtles?
Well, you sure found the right post to answer your question! If you jumped right to this section to get your question answered; you can swim with sea turtles in Akumal Beach, Mexico. This beach is found on the Riviera Maya, not too far from Tulum and Playa del Carmen.
What is the address of Akumal Beach?
The actual address of the beach is Carretera Federal Cancun-Chetumal Km.104, Yodzonot, 77760 Akumal, Q.R., for those of you driving yourself.
When is the best time to see the Akumal turtles? What is the Akumal turtle season?
May to November is the nesting season for the sea turtles in Akumal, Mexico, and when you are most likely to see them near the beach.
Are there any Akumal snorkeling tours I can join?
Yes! Most of the snorkeling tours in Akumal are sold directly on Akumal Beach, and as I mentioned above, I recommend ignoring them and going swimming with the turtles on your own (it’s really not necessary to pay for something when you can just wade out unto the ocean yourself).
However, joining an organised tour can give you peace of mind if you are a little unsure about what to do, and supports local tour operators. Here are some that I recommend:
What are the best hotels in Akumal?
There are some great hotels in the Akumal and Tulum area, and below I’ve included some deals for you to chose from!
How do I get to Akumal from Cancun?
You can rent a car or catch a cab, but as it is a little further to Akumal from Cancun, I recommend going by the local Colectivo. Catch it from Cancun to Playa del Carmen, and change there. From Playa del Carmen, it is only a 30 minute drive, just make sure to say that you are getting off at Akumal Puente. This is a bridge, which you will have to cross in order to get to Akumal Beach.
How do I get to Akumal from Playa del Carmen?
In addition to renting a car or catching a taxi, from Playa del Carmen you can also get to Akumal by the local Colectivo bus, 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).
How do I get to Tulum from Cancun?
This question might not feel super relevant to swimming with turtles and Akumal turtle snorkeling, but since Akumal is quite close to Tulum, it’s a natural thing for anyone visiting the Riviera Maya to wonder.
To get from Cancun to Tulum, you can either go by private transfer, taxi, your own car, or by the ADO public bus. The latter is great if you are on a budget, and you can find the bus schedule in English here.
Is there a bus from Cancun to Tulum?
Yes, there is. As mentioned above, you can go by bus from Cancun to Tulum, and find the bus schedule here.