Updated: Feb 22
For many people traveling to the Riviera Maya, paying a visit to see the Akumal turtles and getting to swim or snorkel with them is a pretty amazing experience. For many years this was one of our most popular tours, but we took the difficult decision a while back to not return to Akumal beach.
We were very vocal about our reasons for not returning to Akumal, the main one being over tourism of this beautiful bay.
But COVID19 has brought about many changes in the world and one of them is the situation in Akumal. One of the benefits of people not traveling for several months in 2020 is that the bay, and it’s turtle inhabitants have been able to get a much-needed rest.
We would be happy to take you and your group to swim with the sea turtles in Akumal. You can learn more about our tours here.
Because of this, we are pleased to announce that we are once again running snorkel tours to Akumal Bay because we are confident that our presence there is no longer a harmful one. In this post, I am going to share with you everything we know about the current situation in Akumal and how you are still able to swim with the turtles in Akumal during COVID19.
I’m not going to share a full COVID 19 in Cancun and The Riviera Maya update here in this post, but I’m going to talk about how that has affected visiting the Akumal turtles.
Why We Stopped Doing Tours to Akumal
If you are a regular reader of our blog you will know our stance on animal encounters. For those of you here for the first time, we at Kay Tours only support ethical animal encounters. So that means no swimming with dolphins or any other sea animal in captivity. For a long time, we took people to swim with the turtles in Akumal bay because the turtles were in their natural habitat and we had very strict rules for our guests about what they could or couldn't do while snorkeling with the turtles.
Observing wild turtles in their natural habitat is a wonderful thing, and I understand why people want to go to Akumal to have this experience for themselves. It really is a beautiful bay. But over the years the impact that mass tourism brought to the bay caused a lot of damage. We stopped taking our guests to Akumal as we didn’t want to contribute to the damage. Things have changed a lot last and especially this year and so has our position on this issue. This is the reason we have decided to return to Akumal with our guests.
Difficulty Accessing Akumal Beach
As well as environmental issues, there were some other things going on. All you really have to do is take a look at some of the Trip Advisor reviews to see that before COVID19 there were some issues with aggression and pressure from locals, being made to pay to enter the public beach, and many other horror stories from holidaymakers being forced into tours. The situation was complex and to really understand what was happening on Akumal Beach there are a few important points to know.
Akumal was founded in 1958 so it is quite a bit older than Playa del Carmen, Tulum, and Cancun. It was actually founded by a scuba diver as a base for him and other divers. Akumal beach is a public beach so you do not have to pay an entrance fee to be on the beach. You can not buy a beach in Mexico. However the land next to the beach is available to buy and much of it has been bought by private companies, including hotels and resorts.
There are very few small passages that allow for public access to the beach. However, the owners of the land surrounding the beach have blocked these public access points, or at least made them very hard to locate so unless you are a local it is almost impossible to enter the beach through one of the public access points.
Why did they close the public access to Akumal beach?
Because the owners of the private land want to make you pay to enter the beach. It really is that simple. This is a very delicate situation and is a constant cause of tension in the area. The entrance fee is $100 pesos ($5 USD) and in fairness, it does give you access to bathrooms, lockers, and showers.
If you really don’t want to pay there are ways of accessing the beach without paying but be warned if seen by a local there is a good chance they will let you know their unhappiness with you.
What is the Current situation in Akumal
Of course, this has all changed thanks to COVID19. Mexico is dealing with the pandemic with a traffic light system. If a state is in red that means they have high case numbers and are in full lockdown. If they are amber, it's essential services only, and green means everything is open. As the whole of Quintana Roo is currently in Amber, this means we are only allowed to operate essential services. This means all public parks, and beaches are closed to the public.
Now, this is where things get a little tricky. Tourism in The Riviera Maya is classed as an essential service. So although you as a member of the public can’t just walk on the beach in Akumal if you wanted to do an Akumal snorkel tour, that would be allowed.
I know this may seem a little unfair, but it’s actually a blessing for this area and the Akumal turtles. It means there are far fewer people visiting them. And those that are visiting the turtles in Akumal are doing so in a far less harmful and more controlled way. All of this is helping to protect the natural environment while still giving the local people some income, something very much needed right now.
So while it was true that before COVID19 you were able to access and swim with the turtles in Akumal without paying. This is no longer the case while Quintana Roo is still under the orange traffic light. The only way to swim with the turtles is to book a tour with a registered tour company or stay in one of the neighboring hotels, like the Akumal Bay Resort or Secrets Akumal.
Everything You Need To Know About The Akumal Turtles
Akumal means the earth of the turtle. This beautiful bay is their home and they have been there for far longer than us!
The most common sea turtles you will find in Akumal are green sea turtles. They live in the bay while they are still juveniles. Think of Akumal as a middle school for Turtles. The bay is full of teenage turtles who live here until they become adults. At this point, they will leave the bay for the open water to find a mate.
Akumal Bay provides these young turtles with everything they need to reach adulthood. The U-shaped bay and coral reef provide them with shelter, with the reef protecting everything inside the bay itself. Because of this protection, most predators stay outside of the reef.
The coral bay also creates a microclimate inside of the bay which allows for 3 different types of seaweed to grow. This seaweed is the food of choice for the growing turtles making Akumal Bay the perfect choice for these green sea turtles.
Learn more here
Things to be aware of when swimming with turtles in Akumal
Whether you join our snorkeling tour to Akumal, or do a tour with another company, there are some things you need to be aware of to minimize your environmental footprint on this site and the turtles who live there.
No human contact with the turtles - People think if they are touching the turtles it’s ok. It seems to be in our human nature to want to touch everything. Please NO TOUCHING.
No peeing in the water. Seriously. Don’t do it.
No sunscreen. Not even the reef-safe stuff. Wear a rashguard and put on your sunscreen after the tour. Even the reef-safe biodegradable sunscreen takes 1-2 weeks to dissolve. The Akumal turtles don’t want to eat your sunscreen.
If you are snorkeling, stay horizontal, don’t chase the turtles or touch them, and try to not stir up the sand. The ecosystem is very fragile there and easily damaged if you aren’t careful. Pay attention, I’ve seen people accidentally kicking a turtle with their fins while adjusting their mask or other parts of their equipment. Please don’t be that person!
And lastly please remember to stay 6 ft away from the turtles.
Results of an environmental study in Akumal
A few years ago the Mexican organization CEA - Centro Ecologico Akumal - began monitoring the turtles and investigating the impact on them caused by tourism. What they found was that many of the young turtles had tumors and growths growing on their skin which are caused by the stress of being touched, human pee, and sunscreen.
They realized the impact of so many people visiting and snorkeling with the turtles was causing them to get very sick. At this point, the government decided to take action and they shut down the bay completely. They even stationed police and military there to enforce this closure.
This was a huge hit for locals and caused a lot of local unrest. Many were very upset at the loss of income with little notice and no help to deal with this unexpected situation. Of course the positive from this was that the turtles got a much-needed rest.
But then high season hit and the bay was opened again. It was really disappointing for us.
The Current Situation in 2020
The current situation is much improved, which is why we felt good about returning to Akumal.
There are now two areas completely forbidden for visitors to enter. These are now the turtles ‘safe areas’ and where the seaweed grows. You are still able to snorkel in Akumal, just not in these areas.
There are also large signs on the beach in both Spanish and English letting you know the rules, what you can and can’t do while in the bay. Please read the rules and stick to them, they are enforced and you will be informed if you break the rules.
Because the beaches are closed the only people allowed in the water are on organized tours. This paired with the fact that there are far less tourists here in 2020 because of the pandemic, which means there are far fewer people visiting the turtles.
Swimming with the sea turtles in Akumal
We would be happy to take you and your group to swim with the sea turtles in Akumal. You can learn more about our tour here.
And lastly please remember to stay 6 ft away from the turtles, use a rash guard, pee in the restroom, and don't use sunscreen.
If you are snorkeling stay horizontal, don’t chase the turtles or touch them, and try to not stir up the sand.
The ecosystem is very fragile there and easily damaged if you aren’t careful. Pay attention, I’ve seen people accidentally kicking a turtle with their fin, while adjusting their mask or other parts of their equipment. Please don’t be that person!
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