Did you know that there’s a beach hideaway in the Riviera Maya that is actually called “the place of the turtles” in Maya? That’s right, Akumal (ak means turtle and lumal place in Maya) is a picture-perfect bay protected by a chain of coral reefs where green turtles can often be spotted swimming. They also venture into the bay to graze on sea grass beds and come ashore at night during the summer to lay their eggs on area beaches.
Akumal is a perennial family favorite; its sheltered waters and gentle surf are perfect for children. Spend the day on the palm-lined beach building sand castles with them – Mayan pyramids, mermaids, fish, dolphins and turtles are all popular subjects – and swimming and snorkeling in the crystal-clear waters of the bay.
Don a snorkel mask and flippers and head out towards the reef. You don’t have to go very far before you start to see a variety of colorful fish such as sergeant majors, butterfly fish and French grunts and you may even spot one of the turtles. Watching one swim by in the distance is a truly amazing experience.
Take a break from the beach to shop for Mexican crafts, textiles and jewelry in the stores and galleries clustered under the palm trees a short walk from the bay. You’ll find plenty of sea turtles carved from wood, modeled out of clay or as metal wall hangings and there are evocative pictures of Akumal and its turtles by local painters.
If you are feeling hungry, fresh seafood, shrimp tacos, tasty salads, sandwiches, homemade cakes and ice cream are all on the menu.
A short drive along the coast road to the north of Akumal beach is Half Moon Bay, a rocky cove where the reef comes closer to the shore. The snorkeling is good here too and the views just as beautiful. There’s a quirky tropical beach bar with swings, hammocks, thatched lookout towers and tables and benches made of tree trunks. Order a beer or margarita and enjoy the view. The water is so clear that you can sometimes see turtles coming up for air and spotted eagle rays and parrotfish swimming in the shallows.
Follow the coast road further north to the shores of Yalku, a turquoise-colored caleta or inlet of crystal-clear waters constantly replenished by cenotes and underground rivers, hence the refreshingly cool temperature.
A variety of colorful reef fish feed and breed among the mangrove roots and submerged rocks in the lagoon. You’ll be surrounded by inquisitive sergeant majors as soon as you enter the water. Start swimming and you’ll spot blue tangs, damselfish, angelfish, porkfish, parrotfish and barracuda, among others.
A local cooperative manages Yalku and charges a fee for admission. Life jackets are available and there are restrooms and a little open-air cafe.
Ask your Concierge
Your Concierge can help you arrange a day trip to Akumal. There is a small admission charge per person to the bay to fund conservation projects, including turtle protection. And why not stop off in Playa del Carmen for an early dinner and more shopping on the way back? You could also take your children to Playa Aquarium to see more of the colorful marine creatures that they saw earlier in the day in Akumal.