Swimming with Turtles: Akumal Bay, Mexico
Updated: Jan 11, 2019
I enter the restaurant to see a vivid scene of Caribbean blues and greens, palm trees, and soft white sand spread out before me. At first I think I am looking at a mural, and then it dawns on me, the restaurant opens directly onto the beach.
These luminous colours are real. My mouth falls open. Welcome to Akumal Bay, Mexico. My friend Mariano and I have come to Akumal to swim with the sea turtles. We are staying in Playa del Carmen and caught a fixed fare taxi from the tourist hot spot. We didn’t know what to expect, but It turned out to be one of those perfect days that make you want to pinch yourself to make sure you are not dreaming.
By the time we arrived it was time for an early lunch and we enjoyed some tasty food and icy cold drinks in the shade while taking in paradise. We stashed our belongings in a locker and padded down to the beach.
The great thing about Akumal Bay is that it is free to everyone. It was particularly wonderful to see local families spreading out picnics in the shade of the sparse trees, while children ran laughing in and out of the frilly waves.
The water here is a work of art in itself with bands of cobalt, pale green, turquoise, blue and white. It is shadowy in places where the sea grass grows. We knew it was in these darker patches that we would find the turtles, which love to snack on it. We waded easily into the cool turquoise water from the beach – snorkels at the ready. Initially it appeared to be just like any heart-stoppingly gorgeous tropical beach, until I put my face in the water. That’s when I saw a large sea turtle swimming towards me at speed. Do sea turtles bite? I asked myself in a slight panic. It didn’t show any sign of turning away. I braced myself for impact.
The gentle giant swam right up to me and peered into my face-mask. I could clearly see all the detail of its beautiful markings, and its big soulful eyes. Unnerved I turned and swam away, knowing as I did it that I was being ridiculous. This interaction with the wild was what I had come here for.
This mystical encounter marked the beginning of my deep love of sea turtles. Over the next few hours I saw several more nibbling on the seagrass below, or lumbering by, as well as a stingray gliding gracefully over the sunlit sand.
When I wasn’t snorkelling, I was floating on my back on the surface, enjoying the sensation of saltwater drying tight on my skin while the sun caressed my face. When I became too hot, all I had to do was dip beneath the surface, allowing the cool water to rush over me.
Eventually Mariano and I got out, drank deeply, and then went for a long walk along the beach, cooling our feet in the shallows. With a joyful laugh, we turned to each other at the same time and said ‘I could live here.’
We hopped in and out of the water all afternoon, finally settling down on the sand to watch the sea change colour as the sun set. Reluctantly we caught a taxi back to Playa, 23 miles or 38 kms to the north. There are always plenty of cabs waiting at the gate, however, if you are staying further north in Cancun (and don’t have a hire car) you might want to consider catching a bus or taking a tour.
We only went for the day, but I think I could have easily stayed on at one of the nearby resorts, unwinding, relaxing, and just breathing in between swims. You see even though my time there was brief, Akumal has become my happy place – the spot I go to in my mind when it is cold and dreary, or times are tough.
This little piece of heaven captured my heart, and even though it has been six and a half years since I walked onto that beach, staring in wonder, I only need to close my eyes and I am back there … swimming with turtles under the hot Mexican sun.
NOTE: Not surprisingly, there have been some changes since I visited in July 2012 and it is worth doing some research before you go. The excellent Travel Addicts blog https://traveladdicts.net/akumal-snorkeling-sea-turtles/ (updated in 2018) has useful information about these changes and some excellent tips for snorkelling with these endangered sea creatures. Definitely worth a read if you are considering making the trip to Akumal.