Looking to explore a single spot with a nice 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 and the restricting turtles sighting rules) of a great snorkeling experience.

Aerial view of Akumal snorkeling areas, Mexico
The regulated turtles observations areas are located on the seagrass meadows, right in front of the beach.

How to get to Akumal snorkeling spot?

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.

It is not allowed anymore to snorkel with the turtles without a guide in Akumal. To sight the turtles, you’ll have to sign up for a tour. Tours are carried out in groups of max. 6 people plus an authorized guide, and follow one of the two snorkel trails set in the bay (see map, areas 1 and 2). Life jackets are mandatory, to prevent snorkelers to skindive too close to the turtles. Swimming and sighting of sea turtles is only permitted from 9am to 5pm.

Snorkeling freely the barrier reef (zone 3 on the map) seem to be still permitted.

Akumal Bay snorkeling map

Entering the water in Akumal

The authorized turtles sighting area is marked out by buoys. Follow the directions provided by your guide.

Akumal snorkeling tips and recommendations

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. You have to respect a min. 10ft/3m distance from the turtles when in the water. This area can only be snorkeled following the underwater trails with a guide.

Snorkeling with green sea turtles at Akumal Bay, Mexico
Green sea turtles are easy to encounter in Akumal Bay’s shallow seagrass meadows.

If you want to snorkel the barrier reef (zone 3 on the map), you’ll have to swim at right-angles to the beach towards the barrier reef. Do not cross the marked turtles sighting areas (see map). After crossing sandy areas, you will soon see the reef (↕3-20ft/1-6m). It is covered with sea fans and several species of hard coral (porites, branching acropora and lettuce 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 much rougher).

Coral reef at Akumal, Mexico
Sea turtles are not the only underwater attraction in Akumal: the coral reef, covered with sea fans, is also clearly worth exploring.

Restaurants & accommodation around Akumal

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

 

  • 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 costsSnorkeling tour price (around 500 pesos pp., including the entrance fee)
  • 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.