Trying to Snorkel with Sea Turtles in Akumal, Mexico
During our recent visit to Playa del Carmen, we kept hearing great stories from people who had gone snorkelling in nearby Akumal with sea turtles. In the wild. For free. Rewind to 2016 and we were snorkelling with a colony of sea lions at an island off the coast of Baja California Sur and that experience ended up being a highlight of our 6 months backpacking through Mexico. Safe to say we knew that snorkelling with turtles in Akumal would prove to be just as memorable.
Or at least that’s what we had hoped.
Trying to SnorkeL with Sea Turtles in Akumal
Despite the success stories from our friends, it seems that there’s quite a bit of conflicting information online about whether or not you can go snorkelling with turtles in Akumal for free. Some videos claim that you can only visit with a certified guide and blog posts state that the charge for tour and equipment rental can be upwards of $500 pesos. With one day left to spare in Playa del Carmen, we set out to debunk the myths and get down to the bottom of it. Can you still go snorkelling with turtles in Akumal for free?
Getting there: Playa del Carmen to Akumal
The trip from Playa del Carmen to Akumal proved to be fairly straight forward. There are of course options to book a tour or head down via taxi but Wes and I opted to go the local route: by combi. A combi/colectivo/shared van, is an expensive way to travel throughout Mexico and is a great option for covering short distances like day trips. If you’re going to Akumal, you’re looking for a combi headed to Tulum and the first stop of the route is at the corner of Calle 20 and Calle 2 Nte. Let the driver know you’re headed to Akumal playa (beach) because there’s also a stop for Akumal pueblo (town). It’s common to pay the driver as you’re about to get off and our fare was $40 pesos per person (Feb 21 2018).
Depending on the time, you may find it a tight fit so this may not be the best option if you're travelling to Akumal with your luggage. Our combi left with all seats occupied and was still picking up people along the way. Luckily we got on at the first stop otherwise we may have been standing all the way to Akumal. We left Playa del Carmen before 9am and most of the passengers were locals headed to work at the various resorts along the main route from Playa del Carmen to Tulum. The driver announces stops along the way but will only stop if a passenger replies to said stop so pay attention.
The ride to Akumal playa took about 40 minutes total and we found ourselves at the side of the highway, about a 10 minute walk from the beach. After consulting Google maps, we crossed the big white bridge and started to make our way to snorkel with sea turtles in Akumal. After the reviews we read online, we expected to get bombarded with guides trying to sell us tours but that wasn’t the case at all. Because it was just after 9am, things were still pretty quiet and hassle free on our walk to the beach.
We bought our own snorkel gear at Chedraui for around $130 pesos each and, if you’re planning on doing more snorkelling on your holidays, I would suggest you do the same. Walmart, Soriana and Chedraui are your best bet for snorkel gear in Playa del Carmen and you may even find some at an OXXO depending on the location. In Akumal, we heard vendors quoting others for gear rentals and the lowest price seemed to $300 pesos per person for a mask, snorkel and jacket.
The beach at Akumal is a public beach. It is free to enter. There is no charge to lay on the beach on your towel nor is there a charge to enter the water (with or without snorkel gear). Some vendors claim that you can’t enter the water without a life jacket but I doubt you’ve ever been to a public beach where life jackets are a must for every man, woman or child. Vendors claim that life jackets are only needed if you plan on snorkelling but I would guess this is just a ploy to get tourists to spend some money. We were among so many others who had brought their own gear and went snorkelling in Akumal without a life jacket.
Why we didn't see any turtles in Akumal
We spent a couple of hours taking turns snorkelling with high hopes that we'd see sea turtles and be able to capture them grazing in our YouTube video. Wes caught a glimpse of a manta ray and a barracuda but I wasn’t as lucky and neither were many others on that day. There are a few reasons why you may not see turtles in Akumal but for us it was definitely the wind. On a windy day, the water is choppier than usual making it both harder to swim and see underwater. It’s not uncommon for snorkel and dive tours to be cancelled entirely on account of high winds and now we can see why. With so much movement underwater, the sea turtles may have been farther from the shore than usual and visibility was pretty poor. I tried to swim all the way to the ropes and even then didn’t see anything other than a few small fish.
Tips for snorkelling with sea turtles in Akumal
- Leave early in the morning to avoid the crowds or go later in the afternoon when tours have left. Once buses start unloading at Akumal, the beach will get crowded and snorkelling is less enjoyable in crowded waters.
- Avoid high rental prices and save money by buying your snorkel gear at Walmart (or similar).
- Life jackets are not mandatory. If you’re not comfortable snorkelling without one, the going rate seems to be $100 pesos per person.
- Don’t pay too much attention to those claiming that certain things are ‘mandatory’ or ‘required by law’ unless you are stopped by the actual police or someone with an official PROFEPA (Federal Attorney for Environmental Protection) badge.
- Consider organic or biodegradable suntan lotion and apply at least 30 minutes prior to entering the water.
- Avoid snorkelling with fins as this can damage the wildlife.
- The turtles will most likely be eating seagrass so keep your eyes on the ocean floor.
- When you spot a sea turtle, respect it’s space, don’t follow too closely and never touch or attempt to feed them.
While we had no luck in this attempt to snorkel with sea turtles, there's still a chance for you. I'm glad we went to at least set the record straight on what is or isn't mandatory and hopefully you'll be able to DIY your own trip to Akumal and spot some turtles. If you found this post helpful or have any experiences to share from your time snorkelling in Akumal, please share them below!