For people who like to snorkel, Akumal is a great place to visit. The main beach is wide, spacious, sparsely populated with palm trees and beautiful white sand. It is long and not lined with imposing hotels and resorts, instead its shore are backed by small private condos, quite hidden by the palms; and many of these are for rent during the summer months. Not only is this area very serene and beautiful, but there are lots of snorkeling opportunities right off the shore, and in the bays around the corner. Along this shoreline runs the Mesoamerican Barrier Reef System, or the Great Mayan Reef; it is the second largest reef system in the world and home to more than 65 species of coral and 500 species of fish! The turtles that can be seen here are: green sea turtles, loggerhead sea turtles and, if your lucky, hawksbill sea turtles.
Akumal’s shore line can be divided up into three separate sections; the very long Akumal Bay, Half Moon Bay and Yal-Ku; all of which offer different unmissable snorkeling opportunities!
You will need:
- Snorkeling gear
- Biodegradable sunscreen
- Some patience
In Mayan Akumal means “the place of the turtles”, and this is the most famous place on the Riviera Maya for snorkeling and seeing turtles; if you are going to spot them anywhere it will be here! There are equipment rental locations along here and tours available for booking; however these are not necessary to actually find the turtles (besides snorkeling gear, they do also rent life vests). The turtles like to graze on the algae plains that lie in-between, and in front of, the reefs. This area is sheltered by reefs at the back so it also provides
perfect snorkeling conditions with minimal currents and drag. Certain areas of the bay have been roped off for snorkelers but feel free to venture outside of these and explore yourself; these areas mark out some of the plains, but outside of them still lie other plains and coral reefs full of aquatic life.
Although Akumal Bay is extensive, and turtles can be witnessed all along it, the best snorkeling locations lie close to the main entrance to the beach.
Half moon Bay
Named so because of its shape, this beach is much more like a private beach for the condos that run north along the coast from Akumal Bay. It can only be accessed by non residence through the bar La Buena Vida, on the Southern corner. It is a fifteen minute walk from Akumal Bay itself and can be found by heading out of Akumal Bay and down the road that leads to the condos that line the shore north of Akumal Bay (also sign posted for Yal-Ku)
The Bay itself is large and, for the purpose of snorkeling, can be broken down into three sections:
- The right third (the one in front of La Buena Vida) contains some shallow plains, but this area is mainly a field of coral. There won’t be too many turtles here but it is a lovely experience swimming amongst the landscape of coral and the many marine fish that inhabit it. When swimming in the coral be wary of the long-spined sea urchins which are particularly populous on this part of the reef.
- The middle part of the bay is unprotected by reefs and can therefore have quite a tidal tug on it at times; it also gets quite deep quite quickly as you head out. There is not really a great amount to see here with regards to marine life, but some sea turtles will use this as their entrance to the bay.
- The left hand section of Half Moon Bay is the best spot for snorkeling. It is protected by the reefs at the back, leaving a large expanse of sand for algae to grow on, and for the turtles to graze on. Dotted here and there on these plain are lonely mountains of coral, that also have fish wrapped around them.
Yal-Ku is another mile or so further down the road than Half Moon Bay, keep walking from La Buena Viva and simply follow the signs for it. This is the only place along this shore line which is not a public place and you have to pay to enter; it is open from 9am until 5pm and costs $186 pesos (15USD). Here you can hire out private Palapas for the day and also rent lockers for your belongings. Yal-Ku is not a beach, it is a small lagoon where the water from the cenotes joins the water from the ocean. Here they have created an ecological reserve to protect the habitat and the marine creatures that call it their home.
Take a walk along short paths through the jungle until you reach one of the many sets of entry steps. Once under the water you can explore an enchanting landscape of rock formations, swim with shoals of fish through underwater canyons and search through mangroves that protrude through the surface; natural stalactites for the beautifully coloured tropical fish to find refuge in. As the two different types of water mix throughout the lagoon they can slightly distort the visibility, but this can only add an interesting and alternative angle to what your witnessing. Birds such as herons and pelicans can also be seen here, perching on the rocks waiting for the opportune moment to grab their their next snack. Turtles can sometimes be found grazing close to the oceans entrance to the lagoon and barracudas are known to frequent it.
Because Yal-ku is the only location with a closing time, the only enclosed one and the one furthest away from Akumal, we would recommend this one to begin your day. Get there early to avoid the tour groups and less motivated tourists. After this you can walk back down the road visiting Half Moon Bay and then finally Akumal. This way also leaves you without a long walk home after a long day of snorkeling.