So many times I have seen tours and guides try to sell me a once in a lifetime snorkel or swim with turtles.
And of course I want to do them all because it sounds magical. (And after a traumatic snorkel incident in Bali circa 3 years ago where everyone enjoyed the company of a turtle except me who missed it by mili-seconds, I was incredibly keen to see a turtle).
So when I arrived in Mexico and was told you could rock up to a gorgeous local beach and be pretty much guaranteed to spot one without a guide or an expensive tour, I was skeptical but also completely sold.
And as you can tell from the cover image of this article, we very successfully snorkelled with turtles. And we managed to have this truly unforgettable day without a guide and within our significantly tight backpacker’s budget.
Here is ALL you need to know about snorkelling with turtles in Akumal (true as of October 2018).
Whether you are coming from Playa del Carmen or Tulum, Akumal is an easy twenty minute colectivo ride from either. You could also come from Cancun, but this will take around an hour and a half. Colectivos are a form of cheap public transportation in Mexico in which you travel in mini-vans to different destinations. No need to pre-book, just rock up to a designated stop or departure point and hop on. Once the van is full with other travellers (it would be unusual to have a long wait), you will be on your way.
Tell the driver that you are heading Akumal when you get on the bus. Keep an eye on your Google Maps or Maps.Me (if you have no internet) for your location because it will be up to you to know when to get off.
You will be left on the main motorway along the coast next to a large pedestrian bridge. Coming from Playa del Carmen, the collective will cost around $40 MXN pesos one way ($2.10 USD) to Akumal and you will need to cross the bridge to access this beautiful playa.
Follow the path down towards the beach. Soon you will encounter a number of huts trying to sell you guides, tours and equipment. These can be deceptive as they look official but they will imply you need to pay 500 pesos for a guide to access the beach and see turtles. This is not true so just ignore them.
You will eventually come to a big, white arch, walk through it and down past the car park. Heading straight on will take you to the lagoon, and a right turn will take you to the beach. (You will see the dive shop on the right and you can walk through it to get access to the beach).
Now from here you have two options, you can rent snorkels in the dive shop or from local vendors on the beach. In the end, we decided to rent from the dive shop as it had been recommended to us and we thought the equipment would be decent (which it was).
If you are on a very tight budget, check out how much it would be to rent from the local vendors on the beach and try your hand at bartering.
To rent snorkels at the dive shop costs $200 MXN pesos ($10.50 USD) per mask, snorkel and life vest for the day. This does not include fins or a locker (lockers are $125 MXN or $6 USD extra) but we brought no valuables and found we were fine without fins as the vest kept us from getting tired.
You will also pay $100 MXN pesos for a deposit which will be returned to you once you have returned the equipment. We heard many people tell us that there is a $100 MXN pesos fee to access the beach but we saw no one enforcing this (we were told it was included in our snorkel rental fee at the dive shop).
IMPORTANT TIP: Bear in mind this potential expense if snorkelling with your own gear OR if renting gear from locals on the beach (they may try to charge you this above the rental fee!).
From here you will head out onto the beach. Ignore everyone trying to sell you guides and gear. There is a map that looks very confusing with only a small zone available for free swimming. Just continue past this, take a right as you head out onto the beach and you will be able to tell which is the free swimming zone (i.e the place with all of the people sitting out and swimming freely).
From here you can snorkel above the sea grass where the turtles feed and over small reefs with a few tropical fish. The turtles seem to feed near the swim boundary so stick around here for a while to find a turtle. Everyone that we met who had made the effort to go to Akumal witnessed a turtle. So basically, you have a great chance of seeing one.
Spending the day
You could easily spend more money at Akumal getting fancy cocktails at the resort by the public beach area or eating in one of the restaurants but it is not necessary if you are on a budget. There is a small convenience store as you approach the main arch of the beach where you can pick up snacks and beverages. Or bring a packed lunch like we did to truly minimise expenditure.
$80 MXN pesos ($4.20 USD): Colectivo to and from Akumal to Playa del Carmen.
$200 MXN pesos ($10.50) snorkel rental including beach access fee.
Total spend: $280 MXN each ($14.80 USD)
(If you have your own snorkelling gear with you, this day will be even cheaper. You will only have to pay transport and beach access coming in at a breezy $180 MXN pesos or $9.50).
Swimming with turtles: PRICELESS