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  • Writer's pictureKatrina Julia

Must Do Bucket List Adventure in Mexico: Swim with Turtles in Akumal and Mesoamerican Barrier Reef

Updated: Sep 8, 2023

My Bucket List Adventures all around the world are incredible. I pinch myself often. A Must Do Bucket List adventure of swimming with turtles has been on my list for a while. If you know anything about me, you know I love all adventures with water around the world.

I never imagined I would swim with turtles in Akumal aka Place of the Turtles and the

Mesoamerican Barrier Reef. I thought my first time would be in Galapagos in Ecuador.

Bucket List Adventure in Mexico
Bucket List Adventure in Mexico

Swimming with turtles in Akumal is a dream come true. Akumal is a picturesque coastal town nestled along Mexico's Riviera Maya and is renowned for its stunning beaches, crystal-clear waters, and vibrant marine life.

Among its many natural wonders, the opportunity to swim with sea turtles against the backdrop of the magnificent Mesoamerican Barrier Reef stands out as an experience of a lifetime.

In August 2023, I went on an Airbnb Experience and saw 8 turtles in less than two hours.

Talk about miracles in every moment.

It is time to put Swimming with Turtles on your Must Do Bucket List Adventures in Akumal, Mexico

Swim with Turtles

Akumal, Mexico

Akumal is a charming coastal town located along Mexico's Caribbean coastline, specifically in the state of Quintana Roo on the Yucatan Peninsula. It is situated about 62 miles (100 kilometers) south of Cancún and 19 miles (30 kilometers) south of Playa del Carmen, making it easily accessible from these popular tourist destinations.

Akumal is known for its natural beauty, pristine beaches, and rich marine life, making it a popular destination for travelers seeking a more relaxed and eco-friendly experience.

The name "Akumal" translates to "Place of Turtles" in the Mayan language, and this town lives up to its name.

The Akumal Turtle Experience

My journey to swim with these magnificent creatures began with booking an unforgettable experience through Airbnb. Our local guide, Martin, well-versed in marine biology and conservation, ensured that we were fully prepared for the adventure ahead.

Armed with snorkeling gear and an abundance of anticipation, our group set out to explore the wonders of Akumal Bay.

Swimming with Turtles: An Enchanting Encounter

As soon as we entered the water, it became clear that this was going to be a special day.

Within minutes, I spotted my first green sea turtle gracefully gliding beneath me. These gentle giants, which can weigh up to 700 pounds, were completely unfazed by our presence.

As the turtle came up for air, he came within less than a foot of me! Martin let us know they would come super close to us being unfazed by humans. My heart and soul felt complete from these magical moments.

It was a humbling experience to share their world for miracle moments.

Over the course of less than two hours, we were fortunate enough to encounter not just one, but eight sea turtles. Each one had its unique markings and personality, making the experience all the more enchanting. Some were munching on seagrass, while others soared effortlessly through the water, leaving us in awe of their grace and beauty.

The Importance of Preserving Akumal's Ecosystem

My encounter with the sea turtles of Akumal reinforced the significance of preserving not only these gentle giants but also the entire ecosystem that sustains them.

The Mesoamerican Barrier Reef faces threats from climate change, pollution, and overfishing. It is our collective responsibility to ensure that future generations may enjoy the same magical experiences in this unique underwater world.

Akumal, Mexico Highlights

The name "Akumal" translates to "Place of Turtles" in the Mayan language, and this town lives up to its name.


Akumal's beautiful beaches are known for being nesting grounds for endangered sea turtles, particularly loggerhead and green sea turtles. Visitors have the unique opportunity to swim and snorkel with these gentle giants, which is one of the town's main attractions.

Akumal, Mexico Beach

Mesoamerican Barrier Reef

Akumal is situated along the Mesoamerican Barrier Reef, the second-largest coral reef system in the world, after the Great Barrier Reef in Australia. This reef system is a haven for marine life, making Akumal a fantastic spot for snorkeling and scuba diving.

Before delving into my awe-inspiring turtle encounter, let's take a moment to appreciate the grandeur of the Mesoamerican Barrier Reef. Stretching over 600 miles along the eastern coast of Mexico, Belize, Guatemala, and Honduras, it is the second-largest coral reef system in the world, only surpassed by Australia's Great Barrier Reef.

This UNESCO World Heritage site is a biodiversity hotspot, home to an incredible array of marine life.

Snorkeling and Diving

The crystal-clear waters of Akumal Bay offer excellent snorkeling opportunities, where you can observe not only sea turtles but a wide variety of colorful fish and coral formations.

Divers will find numerous dive sites around Akumal that cater to all skill levels.


Akumal is surrounded by a network of cenotes, which are natural sinkholes filled with freshwater. These cenotes are great for swimming and offer an pportunity to explore underground caves.

Outdoor Activities

Besides snorkeling and diving, visitors may enjoy kayaking, paddleboarding, and exploring the lush jungles and cenotes in the area.


The town is easily accessible by car or public transportation from nearby tourist hubs like Tulum, Cancún, and Playa del Carmen. It's an ideal base for exploring attractions along the Riviera Maya.

Akumal is conveniently located between Playa del Carmen and Tulum along Mexico's Riviera Maya, making it relatively easy to reach from both destinations. Here's how far Akumal is from Playa del Carmen and Tulum, as well as information on how to get there using collectivos (shared vans):

From Playa del Carmen to Akumal:

  • Distance: Akumal is approximately 19 miles (30 kilometers) south of Playa del Carmen.

  • Collectivos: To get to Akumal from Playa del Carmen using collectivos, head to the colectivo station in Playa del Carmen, which is often located near Avenida Juárez and Calle 2 Norte. Look for a colectivo bound for Tulum or Puerto Aventuras, as these typically pass through Akumal. The fare is reasonable, and the ride should take around 30 minutes.

I took a Collectivo from Playa Del Carmen to Akumal. I walked to the "Playa del Carmen Collectivo" stop about 20 min from my Airbnb. I waited maybe 5 minutes to board the Collectivo. They leave as soon as they are full. I arrived at the Akumal stop about 30 min later and walked to our meeting spot at Oxxo about 5-10 min.

From Tulum to Akumal:

  • Distance: Akumal is roughly 15 miles (24 kilometers) north of Tulum.

  • Collectivos: To reach Akumal from Tulum via collectivo, go to the colectivo station in Tulum, which is usually near the Avenida Tulum or the ADO bus station. Look for a colectivo heading north to Playa del Carmen, as they often stop in Akumal along the way. The journey should take about 20-25 minutes.

Keep in mind the following tips when using collectivos:

  • Collectivos are shared vans or minibusses, and they are a cost-effective way to travel between these destinations.

  • They typically run along the main highway (Carretera Federal 307) that parallels the coast, so it's a relatively straightforward route.

  • Colectivo drivers usually have a good understanding of where passengers want to go and will drop you off near your destination.

However, if you prefer more flexibility and comfort, you can also consider taking a taxi or renting a car. These options may be more convenient if you have a lot of luggage or if you want to explore other attractions in the area. Additionally, local buses are available for those looking for a more budget-friendly but less flexible mode of transportation.

Must Do Bucket List Adventure in Mexico: Swim with Turtles

Swimming with turtles in Akumal, against the backdrop of the Mesoamerican Barrier Reef, is a breathtaking experience that will stay with me forever.

It's a reminder of the beauty and fragility of our planet's ecosystems and the importance of responsible tourism and conservation efforts.

If you ever find yourself in the Riviera Maya, make sure to put this extraordinary adventure on your bucket list – you won't regret it.

All shots are my own on Canon EOSM100, Sony A330, and/or my iPhone 13 or via Airbnb.



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