Central America, Mexico, Travel

Turtle-y awesome

September 19, 2015

There’s a very special place in the Yucatan peninsula in Mexico called Akumal. It’s between Playa del Carmen and Tulum. It’s a calm half-moon bay that’s a beautiful location, but it is what’s under the water that’s important.

There are a ton of green sea turtles swimming around right off the beach. You don’t need a special tour or a special guide. It’s not a super secret place. Just get a snorkel and go.

It’s so amazing to swim with these beautiful creatures. You can watch them skim along the bottom munching on grass, swim gracefully through the water, interact with one another, occasionally come in for a closer look at you and surface for air (one of my favorites).

We did this last year for the first time and it was just as amazing this time. Last year we went with a guide, which was cool, because he pointed out a ray we might not have seen and a pod of squid, which we definitely would have missed. However, you can’t miss the turtles with or without a guide. They are just there. We enjoyed being able to go at our own pace without being tied to a group or a guide.  We went out for a while, came back and took a break and went out again for a second run.

My daughter is fascinated with turtles for some reason, after having seen them in several of her picture books. She says “tuttle” frequently and I thought of her while we were snorkeling. One day they’ll be old enough to go, too!

These green sea turtles can get up to 5′ in length, weigh in at up to 700 pounds and live to 80+ years.  They are called tortugas verdes in Spanish. They are endangered, so it’s so important to protect these areas where they thrive.

At the time we swam with them, we were seeing roped off areas of protected turtle nests all up and down the beach where we were staying. I have always wanted to witness this miracle when the turtles hatch and make their journey to the sea. We looked every day. (Spoiler alert: we finally saw them!!!!!!!!!!! More on that later!)

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Many of the turtles have fish that cling to them to hitch a free ride everywhere. 🙂 These are remora fish that attach themselves to the turtles. It’s a win-win. The turtle gets cleaned by the fish and the fish gets free transport and protection.

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Once we got out in deeper water, there was a group of several people all on the surface looking at this one turtle, when all the sudden he came right at me and surfaced right in front of my face. Ahh! So cool!

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I ditched my life jacket with Erick for a few minutes to dive down and get a closer look. Such a truly cool experience. Then, we traded places.

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Once you get past the roped area, there is a reef with colorful fish.

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Practical Information

Getting There: 

On a Tour: If you’re already going on a tour to other places, many will stop here as part of the tour. The all day tours are expensive ($75-$150) but they include so many things and it would be difficult for you to do them all on your own.  And, even if you did, you could hardly do it for cheaper unless you have a car, so they end up being cost effective.  {We have always been reticent to get a car in Mexico after hearing horror stories with the insurance and potentially being hassled, however I think we would do it next time.  We love to have a car and do things on our own, but renting a car in Mexico isn’t as easy as in Europe, for example.}

On your own:  Drive there on your own if you have a rental or get a cab to Akumal. They all know where to go. Our hotel arranged a driver for us for $95 for the whole day. He waited for us and then took us to a place where the locals go to eat cochinita pibil later. It would be cheaper to get one way taxis.

Gear Rental: We walked right out onto the beach past all of the little huts on the road. There is a place called Akumal Dive Center that’s a round building right on the beach where we rented our equipment from (snorkel, mask, fins and life jacket). You also get a locker and use of the bathrooms and showers. They are really nice there and you get everything you need for cheap.

Guides: You really don’t need a guide, but I appreciate the value of guides. You WILL see turtles without a guide. You might not see everything else. Last time with a guide, we say rays and squid. This time on our own we did not. However, we really enjoyed going at our own pace and being able to do whatever we wanted.

Turtle Etiquette: 1. Always wear biodegradable sunscreen. Don’t cheat on this. This is not something the guides, outfitters just say to make money. Protect this precious environment. You can buy online before you go or buy it there. 2. Don’t touch the turtles or get too close. If they come to you, that’s ok, but be respectful. 3. Don’t yell, be loud, etc.

Dive in with us! Watch our video!

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  • Holly Bowne

    I found your site because we’re planning a trip to Greece but I’ve blown the last hour+ reading through so many of your wonderful posts. I came to this one and…we’ll, amazing underwater shots! May I ask what kind of camera you used to capture these particular shots and video? Thanks!

    • Whitney Anderson

      Hi Holly, You’re going to Greece!!! Ahhh, I’m so jealous. We’d love to go back!!! Good luck and have fun. We used a GoPro for all of the underwater shots – photo and video.

      • Thanks so much, Whitney! Your shots are absolutely beautiful! :o)