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 Riviera Maya. 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.
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 ($1.7) per trip and per person from Playa del Carmen, and 20 pesos ($1.1) 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 firms organizing snorkeling tours. They will use every ruse to convince you that this is the only way to explore the area. If you are a beginner, this could indeed 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 your obligatory lifejacket). But if this is not the case, you can pass them by.

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).

Aerial view


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 yards 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 Report Turtle Akumal Bay Mexico
Green sea turtle at Akumal Bay

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).

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.

Snorkeling Report gives the most precise tips possible about the snorkeling spots and potential dangers, but each one of us is responsible for our own safety in the water. For more information, take a look at the snorkeling safety page. If you want to add extra information or make any corrections to the spot descriptions, please contact us.

Spot’s weather forecasts (°C)

Spot tips

  • Type of spot
  • Level of difficulty
  • Maximum depth
    8ft (2.5m) on the reef flat, 20ft (6m) in the channel
  • Water entrance
    Easy, from a sandy beach
  • Potential Dangers
    Stingrays, boats
  • Lifeguard
  • Visitor numbers
    Very high
  • Access costs
    Free or excursion price (approx. $25 pp.)
  • Restaurants nearby
    Yes, inexpensive
  • Public toilets & showers

Spot map

Spot photos

Underwater spot photos

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
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
Show all species
You encountered a specie at this spot that is not listed here?
  • Nick

    This recommendation sounds like Akumal is one of the best snorkeling places in Riviera Maya if not all Mexico. Not in our experience. We just went there. It was awful. The beach is a public beach, very crowded in high season. You need to watch for your items… To use the only bathroom you need to pay a cashier and then stand in line… It was not clear why it is so popular with locals as there’s nothing there, just a small strip of sand. They have fishing and snorkeling boats coming right at the beach. The water was murky, almost cannot see anything first 100 feet. It is very shallow and grassy. Yes we saw the turtles and a few large fish but there’s no any reef anywhere near the shore. Just lots of grass. You may need to swim to the barrier across the boat routes to get there, not sure, it didn’t look like a good idea. We got out in 30 min max.

    • Luca Intini

      Thanks Nick.
      Which place do you prefer for snorkeling in the area?
      Cheers, Luca

    • Bendette

      My family as well went here based on the article above. My 14 year old son noticed the sign states “No public access, Visitors Welcome.” We realized that after we hauled our cooler packed for the day, an umbrella and chairs many hundreds of yards as access isn’t clear. I now realize that visitors must pay to access, use a bathroom, etc. This place is highly regulated and we swam for 20 minutes max and left. My fiance swam out to the barrier yet it wasn’t any better. It was easier to spot fish standing above the water and saw nothing in the murky, shallow water. It is true the attendants at the entrance and managing parking will sell you on life jackets. My logic was if it’s so shallow life jackets are not needed? It was pretty obvious once you get inside (inside a beach!) you have a sense of having to pay to join a jackets group to get out far enough to see anything. There were no showers to rinse off unless I missed them. I was lucky to negotiate a stop into the restroom just to change into my suit. Who knew carrying cash 24-7 was the theme of this beautiful area. I was greatly disappointed & my son exclaimed after our very shortened trip: “Well mom, that was an EPIC fail. Let’s go back to Cozumel!” That’s what we are planning on doing.

    • Cya

      This is not accurate. It seems you only swam in the area of grass. The reef is more towards the south end of the bay and not in the area of public beach

      • Nick

        Well we were just describing what was our factual experience. We swam right where the picture says “snorkel here”. If the reef is somewhere else, ok then, you can try looking for it.

  • Wei

    We were there early in the morning (8:30) and there were not many people. Actually the beach was almost empty. It surely isn’t the best reef as a lot of corals are dead and for that you have to swim quite a bit. But we saw sardine swam near the shore, turtles and rays.

    • Lucy Van Pelt

      Hi Wei.When you were snorkeling in Akumal Bay, were you able to snorkel on your own or did you have to be part of a group? I’m seeing web pages about some new (Fall 2017) regulations for swimming with the turtles, but I’m confused about whether these stories are true. Thanks!

      • Marc-andré Valiquette

        We where there a few days ago. You can still swim on your own, but the best part of the sea turtle habitat is now protected (wich is a good thing, actually). Two guided “trails”, delimited with buoys, are on the pristine turtle habitat and you have to pay for those tour. By walking a few hundreds meters south on the beach, you will reach an area where you can swim up to those buoys. There is still turtle habitat (seagrass beds) there, where you can observed turtles without guide. There is also some coral formations along the buoys that deserved to be explore. Don’t be fool by the vendors just before the beach : their look like officials, but are just there to sell you tours and misinforme you about the regulation. You can swim all along the beach up to the buoys. On two days last week, we spot 4 differents green sea turtles, 2 southern stingray, 1 spot eagle ray and a lots lots of reef fish.

        • Lucy Van Pelt

          Thank you for the information!

          • Patrick Van Caesbroeck

            I have been snorkeling there last year and it was great for me. I saw a lot of turtles, coloured fishes, a big stingray and 2 times a great barracuda who tried to intimidate me the first time. The vendors at the entrance were very agressive. Just ignore them and walk along the beach to the big hotel. There you can snorkel on your own for free and there are no big groups. Now I read that, since a few days, you have to pay 100 MXN at the entrance.