Pack your snorkel mask and flippers and get ready for a day exploring the underwater world of the Mexican Caribbean. First stop is the Puerto Morelos Marine Park. Rich in marine life, the Puerto Morelos reef is considered one of the most pristine stretches of the Mesoamerican Reef. One day in the water is never enough so head further south to a trio of fabulous snorkeling spots. Xel-Há, Akumal and Yalkú, all guarantee hours of watery fun and fish sightings for the whole family.
A chain of turquoise inlets, lagoons and crystalline cenotes fed by underground springs and surrounded by emerald green forest and mangroves, Xel-Ha is a huge natural aquarium. More than 90 species of fish of all shapes and sizes from the nearby reefs seek food and shade among the rocks rimming the caleta (inlet).
As soon as you dive in you’ll find yourself in the middle of schools of fish such as sergeant majors that are just as curious about you as you are about them. Diminutive butterfly fish, damselfish, beaugregories and spotted drums hover around rock outcrops, multicolored parrotfish – one of the park’s symbols – nibble at the limestone and algae and angelfish and blue tangs glide regally by. You can even watch southern stingrays in an area near the north bank of the inlet.
Reef balls, which are concrete structures full of holes, have been submerged in different areas of the inlet to provide an additional habitat for fish and are already being colonized by corals and algae. The park also has a project to replenish fish populations in the lagoon and to raise the endangered Queen conch.
Venture further into the forest and swim in the cenotes or sinkholes where you’ll see different species of freshwater fish.
Walk across the floating bridge at the mouth of the inlet for a breathtaking view of the lagoons and the Caribbean. Watch the waves break and larger fish such as groupers, barracudas, red, mutton and yellow tail snappers and horse-eyed jacks as they swim under the bridge.
Spend a day at Xel-Ha with the family. Apart from snorkeling, you can float down the waterways in oversized inner tubes or climb the observation tower and descend on the spiral water slide. Leap into a pool from a cliff, explore caves and learn about Mayan culture, the tradition of bee keeping and local flora and fauna such as the manatee.
With its palm-lined beach, gentle waves, thatched roof palapa bars and restaurants you’d think that this picturesque bay had charms enough but there’s much more below the surface. The offshore reefs are great spots for diving and snorkeling.
Marine life is varied and abundant in Akumal, even in the shallows. Royal grammas, spotted drums and damselfish dart through the corals and parrotfish and eagle rays are frequently observed. The greatest thrill of all, however, is to spot a green or loggerhead turtle grazing on the sea grass. Watch from a distance, do not approach or make a noise and it may swim past you, giving you the chance to see the beautiful markings on its shell. A vacation memory to treasure, no wonder Akumal means “place of the turtles” in the Mayan language.
There’s more great snorkeling to the north in Half Moon Bay or Bahia de la Media Luna where the corals are much closer to the shore. You’ll need reef shoes here because the seabed is rocky.
Located just to the north of Akumal, Yalkú is another turquoise caleta that is a heavenly snorkeling spot.
Follow the coast road north from Akumal past Half Moon Bay to the shores of Yalku. As you explore the cool and crystal-clear waters of the inlet you’ll see a variety of colorful reef fish that come inshore to feed or breed among the mangrove roots and submerged rocks. Sergeant majors and damselfish patrol the shoreline, there are pairs of queen angelfish and lone barracudas guarding their territory. Listen and you can even hear the sounds of parrotfish gnawing at the rock and look carefully and you may see the camouflaged peacock flounder emerge from the sand.
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. We recommend an early visit, as it can get quite busy.
If you decide to go snorkeling, please follow these guidelines and help preserve the reefs for future generations.
• Do not apply sun lotion or any kind of lotion or perfume if you are going snorkeling, wear a t-shirt to protect your skin instead. Sun products and the oils and chemicals in creams and cosmetics damage the coral and pollute the water.
• Do not touch the coral or stir the sand up in the vicinity of the reef. The slightest touch can cause damage that will take the coral centuries to recover from.
• Do not remove shells or other marine creatures from the reef.
• Don’t forget your underwater camera!
Ask the Concierge to help you plan a trip to Xel-Há or Akumal and Yalkú.