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Swimming with sea turtles has long been something I’ve wanted to try. However, I was concerned about the cost of organised tours and ethics of swimming with turtles in captivity. That’s why I was so excited when I found out about swimming with sea turtles at Akumal Beach in Mexico. Not only is it a protected area where the sea turtles are respected and able to go wherever they like, but it is absolutely free to swim with sea turtles at Akumal Beach.

I was so excited about the prospect of swimming with the sea turtles that we ended up planning a lot of our trip to the Yucatan around a visit to Akumal Beach.

In the end, it was all well worth it as we saw and swam with the sea turtles (not quite for free, but very close). I came back on such a high after getting up close and personal with the gorgeous critters, and so swimming with the sea turtles at Akumal Beach was definitely one of the highlights of my time in Mexico. 

I really can’t overstate how great swimming with sea turtles at Akumal Beach is – I’ve been on expensive turtle tours in the past where you might get a glimpse as a turtle (or so you’re told) rushes by, but this was an amazing chance to get within feet of some very chilled out (and curious) sea turtles. If you’re anywhere near Cancun – or nowhere near Cancun but willing to travel for turtles – I’d highly recommend it.

Here’s a breakdown on how you can swim with sea turtles at Akumal Beach, for free (and without spending a ton on accommodation)!

What and Where is Akumal Beach?

Akumal Beach where you can swim with sea turtles

Akumal Beach (or Akumal Bay) is a protected environmental zone about 100km away from Cancun. Its name comes from the Mayan word for ‘turtle’ so you can guess the main attraction is – sea turtles, of course! The beach is very pretty, with clear blue water and white sand. 

Akumal itself is a small town that has a few shops and restaurants mainly aimed at tourists. You can pick up some basic necessities like groceries and snorkelling equipment from the town, as well as visit the restaurants and souvenir shops. It’s not a large town, though, so if you need specific things then you might be better off getting them in Cancun or Playa del Carmen.

Akumal Natura Glamping in Akumal Bay Mexico

Where to Stay in Akumal Beach on a Budget

As Akumal Beach is only 100km from Cancun, it is possible to do it as a daytrip – however, I wouldn’t recommend it. Firstly, I just didn’t like Cancun and would take any opportunity to get out of there. Secondly, Akumal is prettier, cheaper, and more relaxing.

The shore of Akumal Beach is dotted with resorts that cost upwards of $200 USD per day, but offer luxurious digs. Of course, if you’re a budget traveller like me, that’s way out of budget! Luckily, we found a perfect place that’s within a 20-minute walk to Akumal Beach and costs less than $50USD a night.

We stayed at Akumal Natura Glamping, which is located about 1.8km away from Akumal Beach. As the name suggests, it is ‘glamping’, meaning you stay in a spacious permanent canvas tent. Despite my aversion to camping, I was pretty okay with the situation at Akumal Natura Glamping – there’s a big, comfy bed with real linens but a beautiful rustic feel. There’s also a semi-outside bathroom for those jungle-y feels. (By the way, I am definitely not paid to write this. I just really think this is a great place to stay!)

Akumal Natura Glamping in Akumal Beach Mexico

My favourite thing about my budget option at Akumal Beach, however, was the grounds – they are perfect for a relaxing getaway. They are beautiful and somewhat untamed, with lots of hidden spots. My favourite of all, however, was the private cenote which is available exclusively for the use of guests. There’s also a relaxing area with comfy hammocks and a beach lounge, too.

Akumal Natura Glamping also has a restaurant and bar, where you can enjoy a nice cool white wine and enjoy the beautiful views. It’s times like these I remember why I love budget travel so much – I’d way rather stay somewhere with some personality and charm like this glamping place, than one of those ultra-expensive resorts!

Swimming with Turtles at Akumal Beach

But, we need to get to the best thing about Akumal Beach… swimming with the turtles!

If you’re coming from Akumal Natura Glamping, I recommend walking to the beach as there is no free parking near the beach. There are several paid carparks, however, and they’re only a few USD each (be sure to bring the cash in pesos). 

Actually entering the beach can also be a bit complicated! The easiest way to get access to the beach is simply to go to the side of the Akumal Dive Shop, and enter. You don’t need to be a customer of their shop in order to access the beach, so just walk on through. 

Akumal Bay in Akumal Mexico

When to Get to Akumal Beach to Snorkel with the Turtles

There’s a few things to know about swimming with sea turtles at Akumal Beach, but the most important is to arrive very early – as soon as you can! The sand at Akumal Beach is extremely fine, which means that the more people who swim at the beach, the more the sand swirls which ends with visibility being absolutely terrible by late morning. Less people also gives you more room to swim around and see the turtles.

We arrived at 8.01am, just as the Dive Shop opened. By the time we’d gotten our snorkelling equipment, it was about 8.15am and the beach was uncrowded, and the visibility was perfect. We even got back in time for a post-turtle celebratory late breakfast.

Don’t Wear Sunscreen or Insect Repellant

The other thing about swimming with turtles at Akumal Beach is that you shouldn’t wear any sunscreen as it can pollute the water and upset the turtles. I’m not really sure if it was necessary, but I also washed off all of the (lots and lots) of mosquito repellant as well.

Equipment Hire

Obviously to snorkel with the turtle you’ll need a snorkel! Ideally, if you can bring your own to Akumal Beach, then there will be absolutely no costs associated with swimming with the sea turtles. However, if you (like us) aren’t able to bring snorkelling equipment, you have two options: either buy or rent it.

Surprisingly, buying it is actually cheaper than renting it. You can buy a snorkel set from Walmart in Cancun for about $10 USD. Even though this was cheaper than renting it, I just couldn’t bring myself to buy some disposable plastic set, and also find snorkelling pretty uncomfortable at the best of times, so we opted to rent equipment from the Dive Shop for a cost of about $20 USD each. For that price, you get a snorkel and a lifejacket all day, as well as the use of a warm shower. Given I’m the one Australian who can’t swim, I thought the price was worth it to avoid the need for an embarrassing mid-snorkel rescue of yours truly.

I have heard that you can also rent snorkel equipment from smaller vendors on the beach, however I did not see any, and I heard they don’t rent life jackets. They may arrive later in the day, but I recommend having a ‘Plan B’ if you’re arriving early in the day.

Beware of Scams at Akumal Beach

When you first arrive on the beach, don’t be surprised if you are approached by official-looking men, possibly carrying lanyards and ID cards. They might tell you that to snorkel at Akumal Beach you need a life jacket (you don’t) or to go on a tour (you don’t). They are just trying to scam you to convince you to join a tour.

The truth is you do need a life jacket if you are going on an organised tour, however solo snorkellers do not. There is no restriction on snorkelling within the shallowest waters (which are clearly marked out on signs on the beach), although you do need to be with a licensed tour company to go out into the restricted zone.

The Akumal Dive Shop is a good option if this is what you want to do as they have very experienced guides who care deeply about conserving the turtles. However, it is expensive and you can see plenty of turtles in the shallow area if an organised tour is out of budget.

Sea Turtle like the one in Akumal Beach

A Few Basic Rules to Look After the Turtles

There’s a few tips available on the beach to make sure that you don’t disturb the turtles. Over the years, the locals have done such a great job in preserving and caring for the turtles, that they are not frightened of people and come right up close to the shore. You know the turtle Crush in Finding Nemo? Yeah, they’re kind of like that.

To make sure that this continues and that snorkelling is fun for both you and the turtle, use some common sense! Never touch or chase the turtles, and don’t spend too long (more than about 15 minutes) with a single turtle. Also try to avoid large groups of more than about 15 people as they can spook the turtles.

Akumal Beach where you can swim with sea turtles

Where to Find Turtles at Akumal Beach

Once you’ve got your gear, it’s time to go out in search of sea turtles at Akumal Beach! At first, we struggled to find the turtles and were starting to get a little disheartened. However, we soon found one and it was truly one of the most amazing things I’ve ever seen!

The easiest way to find a sea turtle is just to shamelessly follow a tour group and/or find a group of people all crowded around together (i.e. making it obvious that they’ve found a turtle). After all, it’s a free ocean! The official tour groups know all the best spots, and are easy to find due to their brightly coloured life jackets. Of course, be a little bit sensible and don’t push people out of the way!

Other hints to find sea turtles at Akumal Beach is to look for sea grass on the bottom of the ocean. This is what the sea turtles feed on, so is where you’re most likely to find them. In areas with no sea grass and just sand, it is not impossible to find them, but it’s more difficult.

Turtle Eating Sea Grass

When we found our sea turtle, it was around the outer edges of the shallow zone, so we did have to swim quite far out – I was thanking my lucky stars for the life jacket.

There (s)he was, a huge and beautiful sea turtle just munching away on the sea grass! The turtle was totally unphased by our presence and didn’t seem bothered at all by all of us crowding around. It was so beautiful to watch and see all the patterns of its shell up close.

After a few minutes, the turtle started to swim up to the surface to get some air. As (s)he swam up, I came face to face with him/her, with its cute face about a foot or two away from me. It even looked right in my eyes nonchalantly, before popping up over the surface of the water like a little periscope. It was really a magical, incredible experience!

If you don’t see a turtle right away, don’t give up! As one local told us ‘it’s harder to miss a turtle than to spot one’, and as long as you’re willing to spend an hour or two looking, you are almost guaranteed to see one and get up close. Do not give up! Repeat, do not give up! This is not a “glimpse and you’ve missed it” experience like I had in the Maldives, but a truly amazing chance to see stunning sea totals right up close. I couldn’t recommend it more!

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Swimming with Sea Turtles in Akumal Beach, Mexico
Swimming with Sea Turtles in Akumal Mexico

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4 Comments

  1. This must be such a unique experience! I love wild animals and being in their natural environment sounds incredible. Isnt’t it risky while you swim that they will hit you?

  2. Ooh this is great info. I’m always skeptical about planning activities that involve animals, simply because MOST animal tourism out there is ethically wrong – I’m glad to know this is an option for when I visit Mexico! PLUS it’s free? WHAT! Bonus. Also – good to know about the scams too, I’d totally be one to fall for an official-looking dressed man…

  3. What an experience! It’s amazing seeing these wonderful animals in their natural habitat as observers.

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