Looking to explore a single spot with a superb barrier reef that is well preserved and teeming with fish, and with seagrass beds full of green turtles and stingrays? Then head for Akumal, the most famous and busiest spot in the Mayan Riviera. Facing a white sandy beach lined with coconut trees, the crystal-clear waters are the guarantee (despite the high visitor numbers) of an exceptional snorkeling experience.

Aerial view of Akumal snorkeling areas, Mexico

How to get there?

The small village of Akumal is in the heart of Riviera Maya, about 22 miles/35km south of Playa del Carmen and 15 miles/25km north of Tulum. All the group taxis (known locally as vans or “collectivos”) that travel non-stop along federal route 307 stop there. They come by every 5 minutes, costing 30 pesos per trip and per person from Playa del Carmen, and 20 pesos from Tulum or Puerto Aventuras. Traditional buses stop at the same places and are a little cheaper, but run less often. If you’re coming by car, you should be aware that it can be hard to find free parking.

When you arrive, you will be accosted by a large number of  snorkeling tour guides. They will use every ruse to convince you that this is the only allowed way to explore the area. This is not true: you are perfectly allowed to freely snorkel this spot. If you are a beginner, this could maybe be a worthwhile option (it costs about $25 per person), but you can expect to find yourself in the middle of a group of 8 to 10 people wearing mandatory snorkel vests). If you are not interested, just pass them by.

Akumal Bay snorkeling map, Mexico

Water entrance

You can enter the water anywhere along the beach, near the swimming area marked out by buoys. For a bit more peace and quiet, and to get closer to the barrier reef, we recommend walking along the coast to your left and to enter the water there (see map below).

Exploration

The spot can be divided into two distinct areas: the seagrass beds, visited by green turtles and southern stingrays, near the beach, and the barrier reef, divided at one point by a pass, some 250-300 meters off shore.

The seagrass beds (↕3-7ft/1-2m) begin near the swimming area, and extend for several dozen meters. The green turtles and stingrays that visit the area are the spot’s main attractions. It shouldn’t take too long for you to come across them, and you are practically guaranteed to see them. Don’t disturb the turtles, which come to the spot to feed and rest and don’t forget that stingrays have a sting that can cause serious lesions. This is the busiest area, so watch out for other snorkelers, particularly since many of them will be enjoying their first snorkeling experience.

Snorkeling with green sea turtles at Akumal Bay, Mexico

For a little more peace and quiet, you can leave the seagrass bed area and swim at right-angles to the beach towards the barrier reef. After crossing sandy areas that are of little interest, you will soon see the reef (↕3-20ft/1-6m). This is dominated by sea fans and several species of hard coral (porites, branching acropora and salad coral). Move along in parallel with the beach and here and there you will come across shoals of grunts, Atlantic blue tang, parrotfish or butterflyfish. The area around the pass, shown by buoys, is much deeper (↕20-26ft/6-8m) and the reef drop-off is spectacular. Rays (eagle rays, yellow stingrays) sometimes visit the spot. Be careful when you reach the pass, as boats use it to access the beach. Stay at a distance from the pass (the current is strong in the area) and don’t try to go to the other side of the barrier (the sea is rougher).

Coral reef at Akumal, Mexico

The spot is visited each day by hundreds of tourists, who are not always aware of the rules of good conduct in the water. To guarantee the best possible experience, get there very early in the morning, as the first groups of tourists are already in the water by 8 or 9 a.m.

Restaurants & accommodation

In Akumal (near the beach and on the main street) there are several small supermarkets, snack bars and restaurants. A few luxury hotels have opened on the beach, particularly the Akumal Bay Beach and Wellness Resort, the Hotel Akumal Caribe and Las Villas Akumal.

Species you may spot while snorkeling Akumal
COMMON NAME SCIENTIFIC NAME ABUNDANCE FISHBASE WIKIPEDIA
Green sea turtle Chelonia mydas  
Southern stingray Dasyatis americana  
Yellow stingray Urobatis jamaicensis  
Great barracuda Sphyraena barracuda  
Atlantic blue tang Acanthurus coeruleus  
Doctorfish tang Acanthurus chirurgus  
Banded butterflyfish Chaetodon striatus  
Foureye butterflyfish Chaetodon capistratus  
Porkfish Anisotremus virginicus  
Bar jack Carangoides ruber  
Calamar de récif des Caraïbes Sepioteuthis sepioidea  
Sergeant major Abudefduf saxatilis  
French grunt Haemulon flavolineatum  
Flamingo tongue snail Cyphoma gibbosum  
Purple sea fan Gorgonia ventalina  
Elkhorn coral Acropora palmata  

 

  • Level required Beginner
  • Maximum depth8ft/2.5m on the reef flat, 20ft/6m in the channel
  • Water entranceEasy, from a sandy beach
  • Potential DangersStingrays, boats
  • LifeguardYes
  • Visitor numbersVery high
  • Access costsFree or, if you want, tour price (optional, approx. $25 pp.)
  • Restaurants nearbyYes
  • Public toilets & showersYes

MAP Spot

Sea turtle watching in Akumal Bay

snorkeling-turtle

Sea turtles are a very familiar sight in Akumal Bay. In order to be a responsible snorkeler, be sure to respect the following rules when observing them:

  1. Do not attempt to touch or ride sea turtles
  2. Stay at a distance (6 to 10ft) from sea turtles
  3. Do not chase a turtle swimming away
  4. Avoid sudden movement and allow sea turtles plenty of space when they come up to the surface to breathe

These snorkeling spots are accessible to beginners and kids. You will enter the water gradually from a beach, or in a less than 3ft. deep area. The sea is generally calm, shallow, with almost no waves or currents. These spots are usually located in marked and/or monitored swimming areas. It is not necessary to swim long distances to discover the sea life.

This level only apply when the spot experiences optimal sea and/or weather conditions. It is not applicable if the sea and/or weather conditions deteriorate, in particular in the presence of rough sea, rain, strong wind, unusual current, large tides, waves and/or swell. You can find more details about the definition of our snorkeling levels on our snorkeling safety page.