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How to Snorkel with Sea Turtles in Akumal, Mexico

One of the Akumal turtles coming up for air during our Akumal snorkeling adventure.

In the blue-green haze, a black silhouette emerges in the distance. Swimming closer, the clear form of a green sea turtle begins to take shape. The goal of our self-guided Akumal snorkeling adventure was to encounter these graceful creatures in the wild. The Akumal turtles did not disappoint and it was the highlight of our trip to Mexico.

We’re no strangers to encountering see turtles in the wild. We got to see them in the Bahamas in 2006 and again last year in the Galápagos Islands. But we learned that you should never pass up a chance to see sea turtles. Each experience is mesmerizing.

While planning our trip to Mexico, we’d heard about the Akumal turtles and how you could swim with these guys in the wild for FREE! But we also saw a lot of pricey tours being offered. Always up for an adventure, we sought out to do this on our own and will share our secrets with you. As it turns out, you can do your own Akumal snorkeling tour cheaply and easily.

We set out from Playa del Carmen a little later than we had expected, arriving at Akumal around 10:45. In retrospect, we should have gotten there earlier. The layout was pretty obvious, except for figuring out where to access the beach (hint: you go through the dive shop; see instructions below).

Akumal beach in Mexico.

Akumal beach

Snorkeling at Akumal is easy. The small bay is protected by a reef. Big waves can’t penetrate the bay, so it is perfect for snorkeling.

The Akumal turtles are plentiful and used to the presence of humans. You can get close to the turtles (while still respecting their space!). As they get used to you, you can appreciate their strong front fins that propel them through the water. As they come up for air, you can look them in the eye and see the strength and grace they project.

After snorkeling, we parked ourselves in the Lol-Ha restaurant to enjoy the shade, the view of the ocean and some amazing lunch delights: chilaquile and a cochinita pibil torta. There’s something refreshing about food and drink after spending a few hours in the salt water.

Chilaquile at the Lol-Ha restaurant in Akumal, Mexico.

Chilaquile at the Lol-Ha restaurant in Akumal

Akumal was a wonderful day in the sun and sea from our base in Playa del Carmen. Of our entire trip in Mexico, snorkeling with the sea turtles at Akumal was the highlight of the trip.

Snorkeling with the Akumal sea turtles.

Planning Your Own Akumal Snorkeling Adventure

The Most Important Thing to Know About Akumal
The small bay at Akumal has a sandy bottom comprised very fine sand. It gets stirred up as the day goes on, cutting visibility significantly. When the tour groups start arriving in the mid-morning (often with very inexperienced snorkelers), the bottom can get stirred up very, very quickly.

Therefore, we recommend arriving at Akumal no later than 10:30am. You should really try being there around 9:30am, if possible. If you can’t get there first thing in the morning, our recommendation is to try on a different day. If you are going with a tour operator and they can’t get you there by 10:30 or 11:00am, look for someone else.

How to Get to Akumal
Akumal is located 23 miles (38 km) south of the hotel zones in Playa del Carmen and 65 miles (104 km) south of Cancun.

Akumal is about half-way between Playa del Carmen and Tulum (however, we do NOT recommend doing both in the same day).

There are several ways to get to Akumal, but there are really only three good ways: rental car, the colectivo (the shared local mini-vans), or a private tour.

The easiest and best way is by rental car. If you’re spending any time in the Yucatan, consider getting a rental car. If you are going to lots of different places (Tulum, the cenotes, Xcaret, etc.), you’ll ultimately save money with a rental car versus booking tours, and you’ll save time over the colectivos. Rental cars in Mexico are very inexpensive and high quality (we had a brand new Volkswagen Jetta).

If going to Akumal by rental car, head south and follow the signs for Akumal. The road to the town and beach is on your left (you’ll go past it about 200 yards, take the “returno” back and then make a right down the road to the beach. It’s only about a half mile to parking. You won’t go very far before people will start waving you down offering tours, parking and “information.” Pass them by.

The parking area on the left as you enter Akumal.

The parking area on the left as you enter Akumal.

There are two parking lots on the right (yes, you can park there). However, we suggest passing those by, going an extra 50 feet and turning into the first parking lot on your left (marked by a small guard shack and a heavy metal gate, which will be open). The prices are the same for all the parking lots (50 pesos; less than $3 for the full day), but the parking on the left has the bonus of having spots in the shade if you head to the back. (See next section for Once You Get To Akumal instructions)

The second way to get to Akumal is the colectivo (the shared local mini-vans). Basically, you’re on the local bus. The colectivos depart Playa del Carmen from Calle 2 Norte at Avenue 15. Look for the white vans heading in the direction of Tulum. The cost is supposed to be 35 pesos per person (less than $3), but some drivers may quote a slightly higher price. Tell the driver where you are going (“Akumal, por favor”).

The driver will leave you off on the side of the road at the base of footbridge. Head up the footbridge and cross over to the other side of the road. Walk down the road approximately a half mile. You’ll know you’re in the right place because you’ll soon be accosted with offers for guided tours and lifejackets. Just keep walking. (See next section for Once You Get To Akumal instructions)

The third and final way is by going with a private tour. All over Cancun and Playa del Carmen, you’ll be approached by people offering you tours to Akumal. You certainly don’t need a tour and you will pay a significant premium for the convenience. If you do want to go the private tour route, you’ll save some cash pre-booking your half-day snorkeling trip online.

Once You Get To Akumal
Orient yourself so you’re looking at the large white gate welcoming you to the village of Akumal. If you need any sundries and beverages, the Oxxo store on the right side is where you should stop.

The main entrance gate to Akumal, Mexico.  Head through the gate to the Akumal snorkeling paradise!

Head through the gate to the Akumal snorkeling paradise!

Head through the white gate. You are looking for the Akumal Dive Shop. The road will almost immediately fork. To the right is the Lol-Ha restaurant. Follow the main road as it goes slightly to the left. You’ll see a car park on the left. The parking here is pay-by-the-hour. We do not recommend parking here. Just past the parking lot on your right side, you’ll find the Akumal Dive Shop.

In Akumal, walk through the dive shop to get to the beach.

Walk through the dive shop area here to get to the beach

Walk up the steps of the dive shop on the left side (see photo below) and head out to the beach. We recommend leaving your gear/towels on the rocks on the left. Do not bring any valuables with you! If you did not bring your own snorkel gear, you can rent it at the dive shop. OR, you can rent from one of the many vendors with plastic tubs on the beach. There is no shortage of opportunities to rent snorkel gear (going rate is between $10-15 for the day). (Note: We strongly recommend buying your own snorkel gear. There’s something about putting your mouth on a snorkel that thousands of other people have used that we don’t love.)

One of the many places on Akumal beach to rent snorkel gear or life jackets.

One of the many places on Akumal beach to rent snorkel gear or life jackets

If you get hungry, head to the Lol-Ha restaurant, where you can sitting in comfy plastic chairs and drink the beverage of your choice while enjoying some pretty decent food. If you need a toilet, Lol-Ha has a pay toilet (5 pesos).

The Lol-Ha restaurant on Akumal beach.

A Note About Scams at Akumal
At some point, you’ll be approached by someone offering to rent you lifejackets. They will probably tell you that lifejackets are required, however, that is not true. If you are not a strong swimmer or snorkeler, you may want a lifejacket, however it is not a law and it is not required.

There are many people offering to rent life jackets.  Some may even tell you that life jackets are required, however, that is not true.

You may also be approached and told that it is required to have a guide. This is also not true. It’s easy to find the turtles. There’s absolutely no need to have a guide.

UPDATE: January 2017
After receiving a significant number of comments and e-mails from people about the ongoing scams at Akumal, we’ve looked into this further. Here is a comprehensive update. The con-artists are becoming increasingly aggressive and, in one instance reported to us, physically pushing people. Our recommended approach is to just keep walking. If someone asks you about life jackets, don’t respond and just keep walking. If someone asks you about a tour, the same thing.

In March 2016, Akumal Bay was declared a marine protected area. The Akumal scammers are taking this as an opportunity to push their agenda. We have contacted Centro Ecologico Akumal (CEA) (the ecological center in Akumal) for clarification. Unless an individual can produce a valid photo ID from PROFEPA (Procuraduría Federal de Protección al Ambiente; the Mexican Federal Attorney for Environmental Protection) they have NO legal standing. Period. They can wear any color vest they want or act as threatening as they possibly can, but they have no official or legal authority. [Note: If you are approached by actual police officers in uniform, that is a different matter.]

We are recommending all independent travelers to Akumal print out this article. We are also recommending you print this page and this page from the CEA in Akumal. These clearly state: “It is free to swim in this area and you do not need to wear a life jacket…” and also “As an independent tourist, do I need a permit to snorkel? Permits apply to businesses who conduct commercial/tourist services, not to the independent individual.”

Finally, as of January 2017, a third scam has begun appearing at Akumal Bay. The con-artists are now trying to get people to pay a $50 fee to access the free public beach and swim/snorkel in the bay. Again, Akumal Bay is PUBLIC. There is no charge to access the beach or swim in the ocean here.

The single best way to combat these scams is to just keep walking. Don’t talk to them. Don’t answer their questions. Don’t make eye contact. Just keep walking.

Where Do I Find The Turtles in Akumal?
Start your Akumal snorkeling adventure within the buoy section of the beach. Look for where the ocean looks darker, this is because of the sea grass on the bottom of the bay. This is where the turtles feed and where you should head.

One of the Akumal turtles feeding on the sea grass.

One of the Akumal turtles feeding on the sea grass.

The easiest way to find turtles is to look for the small groups of other snorkelers. Where you find a group, you’ll find turtles. After a time, the guides from the tourist agencies will move their groups on and you’ll have time with the turtles all by yourself.

Once you feel comfortable, you can swim out beyond the buoys and then work your way to the right down the beach. Be careful of the boats which leave immediately to the right of the buoys.

The buoyed section of Akumal beach with groups of snorkelers.

The buoyed section of Akumal beach with groups of snorkelers.

As you head through the dive shop, you’ll see a sign with rules and a map of Akumal beach. It is worth your time to study the map for a few minutes before you head out.

Leaving Akumal
You’ll be accosted with offers for other tours (Xcaret, Tulum, etc.). You may even be offered special souvenir photos. We recommend avoiding these offers.

To leave Akumal by rental car, reclaim your vehicle and head back out to the highway. Head right for Playa del Carmen or Cancun. Cross over the highway make a left for Tulum. (Note: We do NOT recommend trying to do Tulum and Akumal on the same day.)

To leave by colectivo, walk back up the road (it’s a gentle uphill) to the road and flag any colectivo heading your direction. The price is the same.

Why Not to Visit Tulum and Akumal on the Same Day
The problem with visiting Akumal and Tulum on the same day is one of timing. Visibility in Akumal Bay is compromised as the sandy bottom is stirred up during the morning and makes it very difficult to see the turtles at all later in the day.

Theoretically, you could visit Tulum after Akumal, but there’s just one problem: heat. Tulum is very exposed. There is almost no shade at the archaeological site and it is extremely hot. Both sites should be visited first thing in the morning to have the best experience.

If you are going on your own by rental car, you can do them on different days. If you are doing a group tour, you might be pulled into doing both of them on the same day. It’s possible, but we don’t recommend it. If you absolutely must do them both on the same day, we recommend the turtles of Akumal first (so you can see them) and then suffer through the heat at Tulum (bring lots of water!).

Where to Stay Near Akumal
One of the most common questions we get are for hotel recommendations. The biggest town in the region is Cancun and there are a ton of places to stay in the Cancun hotel zone. We’re big fans of the coastal town of Playa del Carmen with its quiet streets, nice beaches and fantastic food. When we’re in the area, we usually stay in Playa del Carmen.

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What do you think about How to Snorkel with Sea Turtles in Akumal, Mexico?

  1. ActiveTravel.Rocks August 30, 2016 at 2:24 am #

    Loved the detailed description of the place which makes it easy to judge if you want to go there.

    • Lance Longwell August 30, 2016 at 2:27 pm #

      Glad you found it useful!

      • Gaynor January 24, 2017 at 11:09 am #

        Is it safe for me and my 9 year old daughter to rent a car and snorkel with turtles?

      • Ottilia Hoogeslag February 6, 2017 at 7:00 am #

        Hi Lance,

        Very useful article, thanks!
        Do you know if there is a place to store our bag with valuables while snorkeling? Like a safety box (rent)?
        We have booked a hotel in Tulum and are considering visiting Akumal by taxi. Is there a reason that you didn’t mention taxi’s as a transport option?

        Many thanks,

        Ottilia (The Netherlands)

        • Lance Longwell February 6, 2017 at 10:32 am #

          The scuba dive shop has some lockers for rent. Although, while we were there, it appeared all of them were rented out. There are a couple of options: if you have a rental car, keep valuables locked in the car. You could also theoretically pay one of the many vendors on the beach to watch some stuff. Or leave it out and take your changes. For us, we left all valuables locked in the rental car, bringing only the car key and a credit card. When we went for lunch, I actually walked back to the car and got cash, etc.

          No specific reason to not include taxis. In general, many of the “taxis” on the Riviera Maya tend to really just be mini-bus transfers or shared rides (vs. a true point-to-point taxi). However, I’m sure a taxi option would work. I will say, we did not see taxis queuing or waiting at Akumal for fares. So you will likely need to arrange a time for a return taxi. Hope that helps.

      • Chad March 2, 2017 at 3:50 pm #

        Do you know if this is still true. Today is Mar 2 2017. All tours are suspended. But we are told it is okay to take a Taxi as individuals.
        Any updates?
        Thx Chad

        • Lance Longwell March 2, 2017 at 5:09 pm #

          Unknown. Don’t have any information more current than the Feb. 18 article. If you go, we’d love an update.

  2. Dan Smith October 25, 2016 at 4:08 pm #

    I heard that swimming with the turtles is now closed. We are going at Christmas this year and want to book it, but it would be good to confirm if it is still open?

    • Laura Longwell October 25, 2016 at 5:14 pm #

      We went in May, so we don’t have first-hand information about the situation now. However, the snorkeling happens from a public beach and doesn’t need to be done through a tour company. It seems that the only way it could be “closed” is if the government closed the whole beach or took some other action like that. Otherwise, you just walk up, put on your snorkel, and get in the water.

  3. Dan Smith October 26, 2016 at 9:42 am #

    Thank you Laura:)

    • Laura Longwell October 26, 2016 at 10:04 am #

      Hi Dan – We found a bit more clarifying info related to your question. It seems that some regulations were put in place limiting the size of group tours because large groups get in the turtles’ way and destroy the sea grass. Not all companies complied, so some were shut down and some were fined. It’s still possible to go with companies that are operating or own your own, which is what we would recommend. Hope you get to enjoy the experience!

  4. Dan Smith October 26, 2016 at 10:32 am #

    Laura,
    Thank you so much. My family is very much looking forward to this.

    Dan

  5. Athena November 4, 2016 at 7:19 pm #

    We just went today. There is a sign there now that says a guide and life jackets are requred and the beach is roped off. There are men in kayaks making sure people don’t go past the rope to see the turtles without the guide. Either there scam is very convincing or new rules.

    • Lance Longwell November 4, 2016 at 10:49 pm #

      The signs that life jackets and guides are required have always been there…and have always been a scam. PROFEPA (The Federal Office of Environmental Protection in Mexico) has introduced new policies for Akumal Bay. Based on currently published information, those rules only apply to tour operators, not individuals. However, enterprising businesses are using the new rules as a chance to enhance the scam. We do believe that eventually there will be a crackdown in Akumal on individual visits, however, that has not happened yet as official policy.

  6. Maria Bermudez November 7, 2016 at 5:04 pm #

    You just saved us a bunch of money. Thank you so much!

  7. Emi December 5, 2016 at 3:58 pm #

    Great article and very helpful! Thanks guys

  8. Mike January 9, 2017 at 8:37 pm #

    January 9, 2017

    Tried to snorkel todayv at Akumal Bay and was harassed by some aggressive men, claiming to be authorities. I don’t believe it because they didn’t have ID. One recorded me with a go pro the entire time. They claimed life jackets were mandatory and didn’t care where I got it. One person at the dive shop agreed with them. The lifeguard at our resort said it was not true. The excursions representative at the hotel said it was true after all. I’m very confused about what to believe, but even more so, what to do.

    • Lance Longwell January 9, 2017 at 9:56 pm #

      Sorry to hear about your experience. The aggressiveness and the scams have always been part of Akumal’s history. I was able to trace down the first recorded reference on the Internet to the life jacket scam and it was in 2004 that these guys started telling people that life jackets are mandatory. They weren’t then and they aren’t now (although, still a good idea if you are not a particularly strong swimmer/snorkeler). It is a public bay. Anyone is free to swim and snorkel there without charge. There is not any requirement to go with an escorted tour nor is their any requirement to use a life jacket. I will be updating this with even stronger language and links to the official policies. Our recommendation when encountering these individuals, keep walking right past them.

      • Mike January 9, 2017 at 10:42 pm #

        Thank you. Unfortunately many people, including an excursions representative from our hotel, are all telling the same story that wearing life jackets is mandatory, but none of them can substantiate it. It is very troubling since snorkeling in the bay is the only reason we came here.

        • Lance Longwell January 10, 2017 at 9:47 am #

          Intuitively, that makes sense to me. Excursions folks have a vested interest in trying to sell a package tour. The more barriers they put up, the more likely people are to book with them. Again, sorry for your experience. That kind of hassle was exactly why we wrote this article in the first place. On our trip there, we were also approached and hassled about the life jackets and pressured to sign up for a guided tour to make sure we could find the turtles. We’d be warned by a local and just passed them by, but it did prompt us to want to write this.

          The only official documentation available makes it clear: Akumal Bay is a public bay and a public beach; there is no charge to swim or snorkel here; life jackets are NOT mandatory (although still a good idea if you are not a strong swimmer/snorkeler); and there is no requirement to visit the site on a guided tour.

          • Gaynor January 24, 2017 at 11:13 am #

            Do you have a reference to the official documentation that I can print out and take with me? Also, which rental car place do you recommend – we are at the Marriott Casamagane Cancun? Very helpful info! Thank you

          • Lance Longwell January 24, 2017 at 10:02 pm #

            Answering both questions. It is absolutely safe to go to Akumal on your own and snorkel. Renting a car and driving the main road from Cancun to Akumal is also extremely safe. It’s a wide road at least 2 lanes in each direction (sometimes 3 and sometimes 4 lanes). Drivers don’t drive crazy, there are speed bumps and several police check-points (for trucks, but it has the benefit of keeping crazy drivers in check). It’s completely safe. That said, we have not driven in Cancun proper, so can’t speak to that area. Our comments are only for the airport and points to the south.

            References to the official postings (in English) are included in the article above. We recommend printing out our article, plus those two additional documents that we link to. Regarding rental cars, we generally have good luck renting with big, international companies. If you ever have a problem, they’re better in service. On our last trip to Mexico, we rented with Hertz. They were a little slow in the car checkout process, but otherwise it was a good experience and we’d rent from them again. We returned the car very dirty, muddy and with lots of sand in it and they didn’t even bat an eye. Remember, U.S. insurance is not valid in Mexico and liability insurance is compulsory. Good luck!

  9. Holly Robinsion January 10, 2017 at 12:27 pm #

    This looks so cool! Do you have any recommendations for a hotel close to Akumal?

    • Lance Longwell January 10, 2017 at 11:19 pm #

      We recommend staying at a hotel in the Playa del Carmen area. We’ve stayed at the Occidental Grand Xcaret and Hacienda Tres Rios, as well as renting an apartment in Playa.

      • Gaynor January 24, 2017 at 11:06 pm #

        Thanks for your reply!
        I have heard rumours that people may hijack cars and attempt to kidnap us, so my concern around safety was more in regard to how a middle aged canadian woman and her daughter would be treated traveling alone. I love to be independent and teach my 9 year old the same but some people have tried to scare me and tell me that it’s a big risk to drive anywhere in Mexico.

        Also, how about snorkelling with turtles in the Isle of Mujeres as it seems to be closer?

        • Lance Longwell January 25, 2017 at 1:52 pm #

          We have not been to Isle of Mujeres, so can’t comment. This region of Mexico is extremely safe. You should not worry at all.

        • Ellbee April 1, 2017 at 10:17 pm #

          I drove from Cancun airport to Akumal alone with my two teenaged kids. My husband was unable to accompany us. Highway is safe and I’ve had no problems. Here now! Staying at a Vrbo condo at half moon bay. Biking to Akumal beach tomorrow. Will update here about the scammers. We are not taking valuables and I’d just as soon wear a vest to keep the scam artist away and keep afloat off the coral. Im a strong swimmer but my husband and I have snorkeled with vests all over the Caribbean to ameliorate fatigue and last longer!!

          • Ellbee April 2, 2017 at 12:54 pm #

            Went to Akumal Beach today. No harassment whatsoever. Got there plenty early with our own gear and vests. However, due to the windy and rough conditions (red flag) it was very cloudy and visibility was poor. We went out twice and came back empty! Interestingly, while we were not approached by anyone at all, there were 4 men in military fatigues carrying automatic weapons standing sentry. I spoke to one man and asked if there was some kind of threat of danger he said no, they were part of the protection of the turtles. Seemed like overkill, but…… They were all nice enough and I heard them answer many tourists questions. May try again tomorrow, but for the rest of the day back to Half Moon Bay for lots of colorful fish.!!

        • Ellbee April 2, 2017 at 7:57 am #

          It should also be noted that here in Half Moon Bay there is no presence whatsoever of scam artists. We are free to walk off the Beach in front of our rental and enjoy calm, lovely snorkeling, albeit no turtle sightings as of yet! I’d stay here again for sure.

  10. Mike January 25, 2017 at 10:14 am #

    I was in Akumal January 8-15, 2017. My wife and I did encounter very aggressive people in the bay, and on the beach. They claimed that life jackets are mandatory and flippers not allowed. Having been in contact with the Ecological Centre before my trip, I knew this was false. They also claimed that they were federal government representatives. None of them had Federal Government ID. One such person, wearing a “Bay Patrol” t-shirt, was filming me the entire time with a GoPro camera. After a very long and frustrating confrontation with five such men, I left to consult with the nearby dive shop. They also claimed that life jackets were mandatory, and flippers prohibited. A lifeguard at our resort (Akumal Bay Beach and Wellness Resort) said that life jackets are not mandatory, and flippers are allowed. At our front desk however the excursions representative said that as of November 2016, life jackets were mandatory for snorkeling in the bay, and flippers were prohibited. The dive shop at our hotel also told us that life jackets are mandatory, and flippers prohibited. Fortunately, they also gave us life jackets for free of charge if we returned them within an hour, and if we wanted a 24 hour rental it was only $3 USD.

    My wife and I both researched the alleged requirements during our trip. These are the facts of as January 15, 2017:
    1) Tour operators are prohibited from taking more than 12 snorkelers into the Bay daily;

    2) Anyone snorkeling with a tour operator in the Bay is required to wear a life jacket, and is not allowed to wear flippers;

    3) There is no requirement for individual swimmers to wear life jackets in the Bay when snorkeling, regardless of where you snorkel in relation to the bouys (which apparently have been sabotaged and moved by tour operators in the recent past);

    4) Representatives of the federal government must wear proper ID.
    i) We did see representatives from PROFEPA (Procuraduria Federale de Proteccopn al Ambiente) on the beach, wearing shirts showing that they were from PROFEPA.
    ii) The only other federal agencies with jurisdiction are CONANP (Comision Nacional de Areas Naturales Protegidas); and SEMARNAT (Secreteria de Medio Ambiente Y Recursos Naturales)

    5) There are signs erected on the beach and at Akumal Bay under authority of the government agencies listing “Recommendations” for snorkelers. One such “recommendation” is that life jackets are mandatory. Tour operators will try to say that is proof that it is illegal to snorkel without a life jacket. That is false. The signs are just visual representations endorsing CONANP’s Code of Ethics for Snorkeling in Akumal Bay.

    6) As of January 15, 2017, no person has any authority to enforce a life jacket requirement or flipper prohibition against any individual swimmer in the Bay. There is enforcement possible for tour operators, but not individual swimmers in the Bay.

    7) This is probably the most important. While it is not MANDATORY to wear a life jacket in the Bay, the government and its agencies have taken steps, including publishing the Code of Ethics, in an effort to preserve marine life in the Bay. In my communications with CEA, they were very clear that they endorse the CONANP Code of Ethics, and while there is no legal requirement to follow the recommendations regarding life jackets and flippers, they highly recommend it for the protection of marine life.

    That is why after my initial confrontation with the very aggressive and clearly fraudulent individuals in the Bay, my wife and I relented and did wear a life jacket and no flippers while snorkeling in the bay. We saw lots of turtles and stingrays, and fish, and had a great time. It’s unfortunate and a bit of a hassle, but if we’re doing our part to help the marine life in the Bay, it’s well worth it.

    JUST DO NOT GIVE IN TO THE SCAM ARTISTS IN THE BAY! Bring your own life jackets and leave your flippers on the beach.

    Also, note that in the waters directly south of the Bay, there is less, if any, presence of people to try to “enforce” the life jacket and flipper recommendations. My wife and I snorkeled freely in front of Secrets Akumal without life jackets and with flippers. There are fish and coral there, but we did not see turtles. Similarly, in front of our resort (Akumal Bay Beach and Wellness) we snorkeled without life jackets and with flippers. Again, lots of coral, some beautiful HUGE rainbow parrot fish, stingrays, tropical fish etc.

    It’s too bad that the tour operators employ people to harass and intimidate snorkelers in the Bay, but don’t let that keep you from going.

    • Lance Longwell January 25, 2017 at 6:31 pm #

      Thanks Mike. Really appreciate the trip report and current information. I wholeheartedly agree that the further away from the dive shop and the yellow buoys you get, the less hassle you have. Thanks again!

  11. Colleen February 4, 2017 at 7:53 pm #

    This was such a helpful article and comments afterwards. We got scammed last year and paid $30 per person for a guide. It actallyy wasnt terrible as it gave us access to a changing room and they gave us a place to keep our stuff, and our guide pointed out lots of things we would not have seen, and took pics for us, but I had a feeling the entire time that we could have not paid and just done our own thing, and I hate that yucky feeling of knowing I’m getting scammed.

  12. Stan February 11, 2017 at 4:02 pm #

    Aside from scams and overall insecurity in this location, are there any nature preservation laws or restrictions a visitor should know about? Specifically related to turtles and how to act around them?

    • Lance Longwell February 12, 2017 at 9:11 pm #

      There are no special rules in Akumal Bay. However, all visitors should follow eco-tourism principles. Snorkelers should stay off the coral reefs at the far end of the bay, don’t snorkel immediately over the top of the turtles (leaving them a place to surface), and don’t touch the turtles.

    • Mike February 13, 2017 at 9:53 am #

      There are some rules and regulations, but currently they only pertain to guides and their customers. Individuals are free to snorkel in the Bay as they please – but prepare to be harassed by the tour guides masquerading as government officials if you wear flippers and no life jacket. But in the interest of protecting the marine life, it is recommended that you follow the code of ethics for snorkeling in Akumal Bay.

      It is also suggested that you become familiar with best practices of snorkeling with turtles and/or the Code of Ethics by CONANP for snorkeling with turtles. Loosely translated:
      Do not use inflatable lifejackets
      Do not use sun blocks, sun oils or similar products
      Do not harass the turtles
      Do not form a circle around the turtles
      Do not block the turtle’s route of escape/path
      Do not touch, chase, block, accost the turtles
      Do not feed the turtles
      Do not stay less than 3 meters from the turtles
      do not remove complete, parts or derivatives from wild/marine life
      Do not remove, cut or take seagrass

  13. Stacy February 12, 2017 at 9:07 pm #

    February 2017 and we have come across all of the scams you have warned about plus more.
    We were told that flippers are no longer allowed (although the Dive Shop told us that is not true).
    We were told that biodegradable sunscreen is mandatory – it is recommended (we use it), but it is not mandatory, yet. Local shops believe that it will be the only sunscreen they will be able to sell soon.
    We were also told that there were cameras taking photos of all people swimming after hours and without a guide. The cameras in question are webcams that are not very powerful and probably cannot see past the entrance of the shops, pretty sure they are for security for the shop.

    • Lance Longwell February 12, 2017 at 9:15 pm #

      Thanks Stacy. To be honest, you really don’t need flippers in the bay. The turtles are used to snorkelers and don’t swim away. If flippers are ever officially banned, it won’t impact the experience. We frequently snorkel without flippers and it doesn’t diminish the experience. Biodegradable sunscreen is a smart decision. Many of eco-attractions across the Yucatan and Riviera Maya require biodegradable sunscreen, so if you spend any time in the region, you’ll probably end up buying it (or you can save some money and bring from home). Thanks for the updates!

      • Stacy February 13, 2017 at 9:18 pm #

        Today while snorkelling without a life jacket and flippers we got to the edge of the buoys and were told we need s guide, a life jacket and cannot use flippers.
        As I turned to swim away, the man grabbed my flipper and started aggressively pulling.
        My husband came up to us, the man swam off yelling he’ll get the police and my husband had to pull me to shore (I was out of breath after that).
        We got to shore and two more men came up to us saying we were going to be fined. We asked to see ID and they could not produce any. They continued to follow us. We told the lifeguard what happened and he called the police.
        The police came and took both our statements. They said the guys are not official but are local citizens who care about the bay.
        In the eyes of the police the only thing that was over the line was him pulling my flipper off.
        They then said the best way to avoid this is to use a life jacket and no flippers.

        I thought you may like that update for your blog.

  14. Kelly Vierra February 15, 2017 at 11:37 pm #

    I loved your article and read it as a way to reminisce about our wonderful trip to Akumal. We begrudgingly returned last night.

    We stayed at Akumal Bay Resort and were able to borrow snorkel equipment for free from the hotel. The man working at resort dive shop/snorkel gear place informed us that jackets are mandatory to prevent people from diving down and touching the turtles. Having to never want to disturb the majestic turtles, I appreciated this rule.

    We saw lots of people snorkeling without jackets though, and we saw lots of fins. I got kicked a few times as tours swam through.

    Although we were at a resort, the town is easily accessible. We ventured in and no one bothered us or payed us much attention (though I heed by your advice, I am vigilant against scammers and refuse to make eye contact or talk to anyone who looks like they want to sell me something).

    I was happy to wear a jacket and preferred to keep my distance so as to not disturb the turtles. They’re not far down at all and we enjoyed watching them munch and swim up for air.
    It was amazing!!

  15. Rosie February 20, 2017 at 6:31 pm #

    We went Feb 19, 2017. We were told that the snorkeling with turtles was “suspended”, and had been since last week. This was supported by the dive shop – they wouldn’t rent gear or take anyone out for a tour (they didn’t tell us until we bought snorkel gear though). There was a huge sign on the beach and two guys beside it in military fatigues with sub-machine guns, and several government-looking people. The buoys cut us off before the water turned dark and a woman in a CONAMP shirt hanging out at the buoy line politely asked us to not swim past the buoys. There was also a strict prohibition on fins.

    The story seemed to be something like “to protect the turtles they are waiting until any guides are licensed to take people out”. This seemed suspicious since it was clearly never mandatory to go with a guide, but I’m not going to argue with guns! Also they never asked us for any money and there was clearly no way for people to pay money to see the turtles… So I believe it was legit.

    However we were still able to see turtles and rays! A few of them swam in past the buoy line. And the woman Guarding the line eventually left, and some people were seen swimming out in the dark water.

    • Lance Longwell February 23, 2017 at 10:58 pm #

      Thanks for posting. There’s a lot of conflicting information right now.

    • Stephanie Mitz. February 25, 2017 at 1:59 pm #

      I just returned from a week in Tulum (2/18-2/24) and was really looking forward to seeing the turtles at Akumal. We stayed at Ana y Jose Hotel and Spa and worked with our concierge for transportation – he checked daily for access to Akumal and said it was closed by the government pending “an investigation.” Disappointed but sounds like a legit effort to preserve the area. We ended up going down to Punta Allen and taking a boat ride through the lagoon and out to the ocean – saw turtles, dolphins, rays, crocs, and beautiful birds nesting.

  16. Roz March 20, 2017 at 9:42 pm #

    This website is helpful. It seems the suspension is still on, and trying to go is not advisable. There’s lots of other cool stuff to do.

    http://akumalbayinfo.com/?p=526

  17. Charlotte March 22, 2017 at 8:23 pm #

    Thank you for providing the thorough information above! We decided to take a chance and went to Akumal today (March 22 2017). When we arrived, we saw the sign mentioned above but we also saw a couple of people swimming with snorkels and no guards on duty and we therefore assumed that it was all right to go in. We therefore went into the water and saw lots of turtles! However, after maybe 15 minutes or so, a woman on a kayak paddled up to us and asked us to stay within the buoys. She did not explain why though and she left immediately after, but we of course left the water after that. We went quite early in the morning (around 9) so they might enforce it more strictly later during the day. No one tried to sell us any tours or snorkels.

    The buoyed area does not contain any sea grass so I doubt that the turtles would hang around in there for a long time. I would not recommend to go to Akumal at this time unless you go very early in the morning and are an experienced snorkler (who will not store up the sea grass).

  18. Joanne April 11, 2017 at 8:11 pm #

    Great post! We went today (April 11, 2017). Best place to park, great advice to enter by the dive shop it saved going by a long line of vendors. Food at Lol Ha was good. We were told the beach had been closed for 2 months. New signs posted said life jackets were recommended (not required) and fins are not allowed. We were stopped several times and told we needed life jackets and had to be part of a tour to leave the buoyed area. We went anyway. There were several guys along the buoy line. One guy blew his whistle a lot and followed us, told us to go back. It was annoying but nothing else happened. Lots of Sea Turtles, great day.

  19. Casey April 28, 2017 at 6:30 pm #

    My boyfriend and I went earlier this week. Life jackets are now required to get past the buoys to see the turtles. Beyond the second row of buoys a person from CONAMP was on a sea kayak and told us the area was protected and we could not go beyond the area without a lifejacket.

  20. Zac May 5, 2017 at 12:26 pm #

    Just went to Akumal from Tulum yesterday with 2 others. Thanks to the tips above it was a great day. No way do you need a tour.

    Got the colectivo bus to Akumal, 35 peso and then it’s a 5 min walk down to the beach.

    We arrived at 9 and there were a few people offering tours on the walk down, just kept walking with no hassle. Saw someone driving in who was stopped by a guy wearing an ‘info’ shirt who gave him the spiel of the rules and seemed to not let him go with buying something.

    At the top of the beach there a people trying to walk with you to the beach but just say you know the rules and have been there and keep walking. No stress at all.

    Lots of talk about life jackets on here. Because we didn’t have our own snorkels we hired them from a dive shop down there and had to get life jackets too. They said mandatory. We are good swimmers and as annoying it was to swim out with it, it made the turtle watching experience pretty relaxing to just lay on the water. They want you to wear jackets so you cant swim down underwater with them. They are super relaxed animals and showed no distress at all with us there.

    The tours didn’t seem to go out as far as us, we went about 100m to a big white buoy and the light blue water. We saw about 8 different size turtles.

    It was pretty windy but it was still really clear out we’re we were. By like midday visibility out far was only like 2 metres compared to maybe 25 in the morning.

  21. Rebecca May 19, 2017 at 11:50 pm #

    My husband and I just went here Saturday 5/13/2017. First of all thank you SO much for this information, it was by far the most helpful article I could find on snorkeling with the sea turtles. The pictures and directions are still accurate. We had a rental car so parking lot information was great, we also brought our own snorkels and masks but chose to rent vests from the dive shop just to make the experience easier, $4 USD a piece.

    By walking to the left towards the dive shop we were able to avoid some of the hassling by locals for tours and made it to shore no problem. We headed out towards the bouys and did experience a little harassment from someone floating in the water who told us we had to purchase a tour and that he was with the government. He actually harassed us for about 10 minutes before giving up and we tried to argue with him/ignore him/swim away…he was very persistent but eventually gave up. Very annoying but we made it through him.

    Sea turtles were easy to find. Look down as soon as you get to the grassy part because that’s where we saw the largest to see turtles the whole time. We continued out further towards the bouys where groups of people were and saw two babies and a mother. Also saw stingrays, and continued out to the coral where we saw many colorful fish!

    We hit the water about 10 AM and it was still pretty clear, but by the time we were coming back in (around 11-11:30) it had gotten far too sandy to see very well.

    So pleased with this experience and would DEFINITELY do it again!

    • Lance Longwell May 19, 2017 at 11:53 pm #

      Thanks for the great current report Rebecca! Glad you found our guide useful – and that the information was still relevant.

  22. Justin May 29, 2017 at 4:42 pm #

    Trip Report May 29 2017.

    My wife and I went to Akumal today to do some snorkeling.

    Our last trip here was June 2016 – on that trip we were approached on the beach several times by guides and people offering life jackets. Once we got into the water, we were able to snorkel without harassment and we did not have life jackets.

    This trip was TOTALLY different.

    We arrived at 8:30 and were offered life vests by the Pirates of Akumal vendor on the beach. Having read recent comments, in order to avoid harassment, we rented jackets.
    After entering the water, we headed out to sea and within 10 minutes we were accosted by a “gentleman” wearing a pink life jacket, flippers, and carrying a swim ring. He informed us that he worked for the government and that this area was closed. I asked him for credentials and he was able to provide none. I asked him to site which law closed the area, and he simply repeated that the area was closed. I told him that the area is public and that he has no authority to harass people and then he shoved me. I told him that he could not touch me and he ripped my mask off of my face and threw my snorkel in the water and pushed me below the water (luckily I rented that life jacket). After this, my wife went back to shore. Not wanting to be bullied, I retrieved my gear and continued onward. He then kept saying that the area was closed and swam directly in front of me with his crotch in my face while pushing against my progress. After about 30 mins of this, he still had not given up, so I decided to try another approach and asked him to come onto the beach and have a talk. I did see two turtles, despite hiving the view obscured by his crotch (one of which he kicked in the head with his flippers while trying to block me). We made it to the beach and I explained to him that if he could provide some credentials and a citation of the law that said that the area was closed, I would be happy to comply. We argued some more and eventually I told him to summon the police, and he did. The police officer spoke no English, which made explaining the situation difficult. After a while of getting nowhere, the owner of Pirates of Akumal came over and translated. The police officer agreed that the mysterious guy in the pink life jacket had no authority and that we were free to snorkel wherever we liked. The pink guy then started arguing heatedly with the pirates guy and blows were about to be exchanged and the officer stepped in and separated the two. The guy in the pink finally just left the beach.

    After this, my wife and I were able to snorkel in peace for about 45 minutes and were able to see a couple of turtles. As we were working southward, we were approached by a woman in a yellow sea kayak who said that the area was closed. Same song and dance, I asked for ID, and she supplied a PROFEPA badge. She was much more courteous and professional than Mr. Pink. She said that the entire bay north of Secrets is closed to EVERYONE on Mondays. She also said that in order to enter the north bay on any other day, you MUST HAVE a guide. Since we were heading south anyhow and had seen some turtles, we swam the 50 feet in the direction she pointed and made everyone happy. I watched as she continually approached other snorkelers. We snorkeled another hour or so and somehow crossed a boundary that she didn’t like as we were swimming over the coral on the west side of the bay. We were going in the direction that she wanted us to, so again complied with no issues. As we were wrapping up for the day, I swam over to her Kayak and had a 15 minute circuitous conversation with her about what law had closed the bay and required the use of guides. Her position was that no one could enter the bay north of Secrets without a guide. I told her that I believed this to be incorrect and that the only references to closures that I could find are in relation to guides and these DO NOT apply to private individuals. I asked her to provide the law, or even a webpage that stated these regulations, and she could not. She referred me to her “friends with PROFEPA” on the beach. We also talked about my earlier encounter with Mr. Pink and she said that he is not with the government and had no right to assault me and that she would report it.

    After returning from our trip this morning, I have searched for any documentation from PROFEPA that states that the bay is closed on Mondays and/or that Guides ARE REQUIRED on any other days. The only official information is in this press release from CONANP (english translation):

    https://translate.google.com/translate?sl=es&tl=en&js=y&prev=_t&hl=en&ie=UTF-8&u=https%3A%2F%2Fwww.gob.mx%2Fconanp%2Fprensa%2Fse-reanuda-nado-con-tortugas-en-akumal&edit-text=&act=url

    The release does list many requirements that are to be followed by guides but does not say anything about individuals being required to have a guide to enter the area.

    So, as of today 29/05/2017, based upon my experiences, while it may be technically legal for individuals to snorkel freely in North Akumal Bay, expect to be harassed by multiple persons, some of whom may be violent.

    Good Luck!

    • Lance Longwell May 30, 2017 at 10:45 am #

      Thanks Justin. This seems to be a highly fluid situation. We appreciate your trip report!

  23. Emma June 8, 2017 at 11:26 am #

    I am sitting on the beach at Akumal right now, having been told repeatedly that I am not permitted to snorkel without a guide. I’m pleased I found this article, and will try again now!

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