Sea Turtles in Akumal
This is one story that has taken up so much space in my brain but always had a loss for words. Seeing sea turtles in their natural habitat was a surreal, spiritual experience for me.
From the moment we decided to vacation in the Riviera Maya area of Mexico three things came to mind: archeological ruins, whale sharks and snorkeling with SEA TURTLES! The best time for whale sharks in that area is June – September. We wanted a break from our Canadian winters so that was out…..maybe another time. J wanted a relaxing holiday and not my usual go-go-go, trying to pack every experience possible into one week. That left me to decide on minimum excursions. I chose Tulum over Chichen Itza (another time). We both wanted to swim in a cenote and snorkeling with sea turtles was always a must. Through Viator, J found us an excursion to Tulum with a cenote visit and a separate excursion to Akumal to swim with sea turtles. Shout out to Akumal Ecological Guides! I enjoyed our small snorkeling group. Way better than a larger tour.
Akumal, meaning “place of turtles” in Mayan, is a small beach town between Playa del Carmen and Tulum. Green sea turtles, loggerhead turtles, hawksbill turtles and leatherback turtles have all been known to frequent the sea grasses in the Akumal Bay. The sea grasses that grow in Akumal Bay are the reason for the abundant turtles seen in this location. Sea turtles are endangered and are at risk of overcrowding and eco-system damage from irresponsible tourists. Please be a responsible and eco-conscious traveler when visiting by abiding by the rules set out by the conservation authorities.
There are strict restrictions for snorkeling with the sea turtles:
- no touching the turtles
- no flippers or snorkel fins
- no sunscreen
- only certified guides with a valid permit may access the reefs…..the restricted areas are marked by red buoys
- Don’t crowd the turtles and be sure to leave ample space (at least 6 ft.) between you and the turtles. You must never impede their movement as they must surface to breathe.
- Always stay flat at the surface and do your best not to disrupt the natural eco-system.
- Don’t stand up in the water as this can disrupt the sea grass where the turtles are feeding.
- Wear a rash guard or long sleeve shirt instead of sunscreen to protect and preserve the sea turtles and coral reefs.
The above photos show Akumal Beach. Notice the red markers. These areas are only accessible with certified guides.
You can go snorkeling along the outer edges near the shore without a guide but I highly recommend a guide. There is a better chance of seeing turtles and other fish in the reef areas. We used Viator to hook up with Akumal Ecological Guides. We had our own snorkel masks but they provided lifejackets (mandatory) and do have snorkel gear available for use if you don’t have your own. We, thankfully, had a very small group of three with our guide, Angel.
We spotted our first turtle, a green sea turtle, not 5 minutes of entering the water. It was about 10 feet from us on the other side of the rope so we had to stay within the area and view from there. It still took my breath away. I was holding my camera out and taking as many photos as I could to be sure I had ones that were in focus. I didn’t want to risk any human error on my part.
My mom loved turtles. I’m not sure why but we always indulged her by bringing home turtle figures from wherever we visited. So, for me snorkeling with sea turtles was a spiritual journey as my mom passed away in 2020 but I felt her presence with me and the turtles.
I was so focused on the turtles that our guide pointed out a “small” barracuda and I completely missed it because I spotted a turtle on the sea floor beneath the barracuda. J got excited and tried to get a picture with our small waterproof camera but he only got its head and a bit of its body as the very top of the frame. We had a good laugh at his photos since they were mainly of his fingers. If only there was someone who could give him some photography instruction….hmmmmm.
Within our hour of snorkeling, we found five sea turtles with one being a “baby”. It was only about 8 inches long. We knew after that experience that we would be back to snorkel with the sea turtles again.
Check out my website, www.shellypriest.com, if you wish to purchase prints of my sea turtle photos or others.
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