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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.
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. You can easily reach the area with group taxis (known locally as vans or “collectivos”), regular bus lines, or taxi. 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 below, areas 1 and 2).
Life jackets are mandatory, to prevent snorkelers from skindiving and disturbing sea turtles. Swimming and sighting of sea turtles are only allowed from 9 am to 5 pm. Snorkeling freely on the barrier reef (zone 3 on the map) seems to be still permitted.
The authorized turtle sighting areas are marked out by buoys. Follow the directions provided by your guide.
The spot can be divided into two distinct areas: the seagrass beds, visited by green sea turtles and southern stingrays, near the beach, and the barrier reef, divided at one point by a pass, some 250-300 meters offshore.
The seagrass beds (↕3-7ft/1-2m) begin near the swimming area, and extend for several dozen meters. The green sea turtles and the 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 minimum 10ft/3m distance from the turtles when in the water. This area can only be snorkeled following the underwater trails with a guide.
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, including Porites, branching Acropora, and leafy coral. Snorkeling along the reef, you will come across shoals of grunts, 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. Spotted eagle rays and yellow stingrays sometimes visit the area.
Stay away from the pass, as boats use it to access the beach and the current being strong in the area, and don’t try to go to the outer reef.
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.
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:
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.
The above statements are misleading. It is obligatory to have a guide and to wear a pfd. Additionally it’s 100 pesos per person for entry.
Dear Ray, thank you so much for your comment and for helping us keeping our pages accurate and up to date. This page has been updated with the latest info.
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Snorkeling spots are part of a wild environment and their aspect can be significantly altered by weather, seasons, sea conditions, human impact and climate events (storms, hurricanes, seawater-warming episodes…). The consequences can be an alteration of the seabed (coral bleaching, coral destruction, and invasive seagrass), a poor underwater visibility, or a decrease of the sea life present in the area. Snorkeling Report makes every effort to ensure that all the information displayed on this website is accurate and up-to-date, but no guarantee is given that the underwater visibility and seabed aspect will be exactly as described on this page the day you will snorkel the spot. If you recently snorkeled this area and noticed some changes compared to the information contained on this page, please contact us.
The data contained in this website is for general information purposes only, and is not legal advice. It is intended to provide snorkelers with the information that will enable them to engage in safe and enjoyable snorkeling, and it is not meant as a substitute for swim level, physical condition, experience, or local knowledge. Remember that all marine activities, including snorkeling, are potentially dangerous, and that you enter the water at your own risk. You must take an individual weather, sea conditions and hazards assessment before entering the water. If snorkeling conditions are degraded, postpone your snorkeling or select an alternate site. Know and obey local laws and regulations, including regulated areas, protected species, wildlife interaction and dive flag laws.
Shallow rocky lagoon with colorful fish
Shallow reef with coral and colorful fish
Marine reserve with shallow lagoon and colorful fish
Freshwater pools and caves
Freshwater pools with rocks, algae and fish