One of the highlights of my holiday in Tulum this year was swimming with wild sea turtles at Akumal. It had always been on the bucket list but it wasn’t until our holiday was already booked and I was researching things to do in Tulum that I realised how accessible this was going to be.
I found countless photos on Pinterest and Instagram, but very few blogs, posts or articles actually explained how to go about it. Most websites and leaflets only advertised full day trip excursions that were quite expensive. Our hotel was actually located on a Sea Turtle Protected Site, and there were a lot of nests cornered off along the private beach. The hotel information explained that you wouldn’t find sea turtles swimming offshore as it was too rough and therefore very little for them to feed off.
One place that kept cropping up in my searches was Akumal Bay, located on the Yucatan peninsula. Known to be wild sea turtle hot spot due to the sea grass that stretches along the sea bed not far from shore, this public beach turned out to only be a 10 minute drive from our hotel. The night before I searched for any travel blogs that might shed any light on visiting, and thankfully found this one by Barefoot Nomad. We were a bit nervous to venture out of the hotel and into unknown Mexico territory, but this post really helped us out. I knew to look out for the convenience store on the left as you enter Akumal, and to go early before it gets really busy and the water becomes less clear.
Getting to Akumal
The next morning we got up early and got a taxi which dropped us off in Akumal. It did seem like the middle of nowhere but we found the convenience store, and kept walking. The public beach entrance wasn’t signposted, and we found ourselves surrounded by buildings with armed guards. A random Mexican guy started waving at us and pointed at one of the buildings which (stupidly?) we just followed him into. It turned out to be a dive centre and he was clearly trying to sell us an escorted dive to spot the turtles.
We said no, but only after we listened to his run down on the do’s and don’ts of swimming with sea turtles at Akumal. No flippers, no touching, no feeding etc. We walked out the other side of the dive centre and found ourselves on the beach – white sand and turquoise waters exactly how I’d seen it on photos. Turning right and passing the moored boats and many other dive centres all haggling for business, just as Barefoot Nomad had instructed, we found the boards stating it was a public area and safe to swim. Total relief, the armed guards were pretty scary, but I suppose necessary for such a protected area and endangered species. You could rent sun loungers but we weren’t there for the day so just put our towels out on the sand.
Sea Turtles at Akumal
All I had with me was a pair of swimming goggles, but I went off into the sea anyway with no idea if I’d see anything. About ten metres in the sea floor turned from sand to sea grass, crystal clear. There were a few groups of snorkelers a bit further out but the waves were quite strong and I’d ate one too many all inclusive meals at this point to consider a lengthy swim. Instead I stayed flapping about closer to the shore. I must have been in the water about five minutes before I spotted the first sea turtle floating around at the bottom feeding off the sea grass. A-mazing!
I was struggling to watch him without a snorkel and coming up for air so often was exhausting, so I went along to one of the independent dive shops and bought one for 300 pesos. That’s about £12.50. It was so much easier and meant I could swim further out. The second turtle I saw was much bigger, and although the dive centre man had told us you’re meant to stay 5 feet away from them so you don’t interrupt their feeding habits, it was actually really hard to do. They’re so tame and don’t seem to care that there’s people staring at them. They happily swim right up to you. Ferociously backwards swimming is hard – FYI.
I had my waterproof phone case by MPow, tried and tested and ready to take some photos. This proved really difficult in the sea, so I set my phone to video (while treading water, while keeping one eye on the turtle – work out of the week) and took some video footage instead – see below. I must have stayed with this one sea turtle for about ten minutes, watching him make his way along the patch of sea grass. Just as I was about to leave he made his way up for air and swam right past me. Honestly it was amazing, such a good experience and Barefoot Nomad is right, you don’t need to pay a fortune for a guide when you can do it by yourself.
What else is at Akumal Beach
After snorkelling for a while we didn’t hang around at Akumal as it was so close to our hotel and private beach. Walking back out to the village was a lot easier, we found the public path we should have entered by, running alongside Lol-ha Cafe. Located right on the beach Lol-ha serves refreshing bites to eat, fruity smoothies and provides shade. There’s not much of it on the beach itself, as there are a number of hotels who have sun loungers and kiosks for their guests only. On the way back out we did notice a souvenir shop and a children’s playground. We emerged right by a taxi rank so it was easy to jump straight into one and back to the hotel.
And that was how swimming with wild sea turtles at Akumal was ticked off the bucket list.
For any activity like this I would totally recommend taking the time to search for blog posts, rather than relying on leaflets and company adverts. More often than not, especially for things in the wild/nature there’s no reason you can’t do it yourself and save yourselves the money.
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