This post is also available in: Dutch

Latest update: 12 May 2023

Akumal is a fun day trip from Playa del Carmen or Tulum for many people. Because who wouldn’t want to swim with turtles? I’ll give you useful tips for your snorkeling adventure, plus a different snorkeling spot nearby (Laguna Yal-Kú) in Akumal.

Snorkeling with turtles in Akumal

For years, people have been visiting Akumal Beach, also known as Akumal Bay, to see the enormous sea turtles with their own eyes. Until February 2018, visits were utterly unregulated. Just hit the beach, bring your snorkel gear and get into the water. It’s quite easy to understand that this was not a sustainable situation. When I first visited Akumal in February 2018, the new rules had just come into effect. I was not allowed to just go on the beach – I had to pay. I thought that was such nonsense at the time: all travel blogs and websites still stated that it was freely accessible. I was convinced that I was being ripped off. So I refused and walked a little further to the part where I could go to the beach for free. But, of course, there was no turtle in sight there.

Akumal Beach in Mexico

Swimming with turtles in Akumal is no longer free

So I’m trying again a few years later. It immediately strikes me that Akumal has become 100x more touristy. It is not necessarily busier, but as soon as I get out of the colectivo and walk down the street towards the beach, so many people try to sell me tours and snorkeling gear. They all put signs with ‘official tours’ on their stall. But no, don’t fall for it! Most Mexicans try to sell you an overpriced tour (750 pesos – 2019 prices) and rent you life jackets that are NOT mandatory. So don’t do it. No really. Even if a life jacket does become mandatory at some point, you rent then at the official entrance. Seriously. In the end, I rented one for 150 pesos, and I brought my own snorkeling set (how chill are those snorkeling masks? Very chill!).

Go explore: snorkeling in Akumal

You pay a 100 pesos entrance fee for beach access only. Just before the entrance, you can rent a safe for 100 pesos at the tiny building. You’ll get your money back on departure. Beach beds have to be rented separately. You walk to the right with your entrance ticket, where you can freely enter the water, but only within the cordoned-off area. If you go beyond the marked area, an angry man in a canoe will chase you back (a fun sight to watch from the beach). While snorkeling, I spot many fish and two rays here, but not a single turtle. You can spot them here too though if you’re lucky.

Increase your chances: do a snorkeling tour in Akumal

Actually, a tour is your best chance of seeing turtles in Akumal. This tour should cost around 500 pesos. You get to swim with a guide between the buoys where the turtles are usually hanging out. They love seagrass. So it’s no wonder that the freely accessible area is exactly where there is no seagrass.

The underlying reason for this strict approach is that the turtles in Akumal, the green sea turtles, are a protected species. That is why their habitat has been protected since the beginning of 2018.

So you can just arrange your snorkeling tour with turtles in Akumal on the spot. Or book a more extensive tour and visit nearby cenotes, for example.

Laguna Yal-Kú in Akumal

If you have a bit more time in Akumal, keep following the long road past the turtles. It leads to Laguna Yal-Kú. Laguna Yal-Kú is a beautiful lagoon to snorkel in. It is expensive by Mexican standards: 300 pesos for the entrance, 230 pesos for the snorkel set, and 60 pesos for a locker in 2019. You can already buy a ticket online in advance. I reluctantly pay when I arrive and notice the stiff prices: I’m here now anyway, I feel sweaty, and want to get into the freshwater as soon as possible.

The underwater visibility is not good in Yal-Kú; the haze in the water is caused by mixing fresh and saltwater because the lagoon flows into the sea. I thought the haze was sunscreen, but you cannot enter the water with sunscreen (except biodegradable variants) – to protect nature. The water is lovely, and the further I go into the lagoon, the fewer tourists. You won’t get to snorkel with thousands of fish, but the lagune is unique because of the setting (right on the sea and surrounded by mangroves).

From Yal-Kú, it is more than half an hour’s walk to the main road where you can take the colectivo back to Tulum or Playa del Carmen. Taxis charge about 100 pesos for the ride.

If you do go by foot, a nice place to catch your breath is La Buena Vida. Have a drink in a treehouse on the beach. Or just on the beach itself, of course.

Seats in a tree house at La Buena Vida.

How do you get to Akumal?

Akumal is located between Tulum and Playa del Carmen. If you have a rental car, there is paid parking at the beach. Free parking is possible in Akumal Town, but it’s further to walk.

The colectivo between Tulum and Akumal costs 35 pesos (2019) and from Playa del Carmen to Akumal it costs 25 pesos. The colectivos stop anywhere you want on the main road in downtown Tulum and at various spots along the highway towards Playa del Carmen. Just wave at the drivers, and the colectivos will stop for you. Tell the driver where you want to go, and everything will be fine.

From the main road, it is still a short walk to Akumal. There’s no way you could get lost: just follow the viaduct decorated with street art, and you quickly end up at the tourist stalls.

Street art in Akumal

More Mexico inspiration?

blog overview Mexico
  • Accommodation. All-time favorite: Booking.com. Find hostels via Hostelworld.
  • Activities. You book the best tours and activities with GetYourGuide and Viator. You could also try WithLocals. ‘Free’ walking tours are available at GuruWalk. And for bike tours, try Baja Bikes.
  • Attractions and museums. Get a 5% discount on museums and attractions at Tiqets with the coupon code KIMOPREIS22.
  • Bus. Book bus trips in Mexico with Busbud or 12Go.
  • Car rental. My go-to car rental companies are EasyTerra and Sunny Cars as they have all-inclusive / worry-free offers. If you want more options, compare prices at Discover Cars.
  • Flights. Compare all your options! Definitely check out Momondo, Skyscanner, and Kiwi.
  • Money. Your debit and credit cards may not get accepted everywhere. You could opt for a Revolut card as an additional card when you travel. 
  • Package deals. Rather go on a catered trip? You have many options! For the Dutch, try ANWB vakanties, Tui or Sawadee, or maybe you can find a sweet deal at Vakantie Discounter or D-reizen?
  • SIM card. Beware of unexpectedly high calling and internet costs. Buy a local SIM card when you arrive, or arrange one online via Airalo.
  • Travel gear. Buy your gear at Bever or Decathlon, or simply at Bol.com.
  • Travel guides. I love the practical travel guides from Lonely Planet, buy them at Bol.com or Amazon.
  • Visum. Make sure you have the right documentation to travel to Mexico. iVisa can help you out.
  • Yoga retreat. Or: try a yoga retreat in Mexico!

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First published: November 2019. Updated since!

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