Discover Yucatan’s Underwater Life
Who has not dreamed of snorkelling or swimming with turtles in the open sea? When I read that this was possible on Akumal beach before coming on our trip to Yucatan, I had put it on our list of must do. Jerome has been somewhat obsessed by sea life and seeing fish while snorkelling in the last couple of years. Turtles are one of those creatures that have fascinated us all though and Jerome was lucky enough to spot some small ones when we were in the Maldives the previous year, but that was the only time we had seen them in the wild so far.
A Popular Beach for Locals
Akumal is a small fishing village on the Riviera Maya, half way between Playa del Carmen and Tulum. It is one of the rare places that has still kept its charm along the coast, probably because of it is popularity with local Mexicans. We were told to avoid the beach on the weekends for just this reason as the local population flocks to Akumal on Saturday and Sunday to spend their free time on the beach. Bus tours are not allowed to come down to the beach, due to the lack of parking, narrow roads plus the risk of overcrowding and for the safety of the turtles. Turtles love this spot because of the sea grass on the seafloor on which they feed.
The Lesser Visited Half Moon Bay
It took us about half an hour to drive over from Playa del Carmen. As soon as we approached the centre of Akumal we were pestered by guides to park in one of the parking lots along the road in the village. We had decided, rather than going to the main beach at Akumal that we would try our luck on the beach to the left of Akumal main beach called Half Moon Bay. The road let us along the back of the coast, past colourful apartment blocks. We crossed a security gate, but no one seemed to ask us any questions or care about us driving along this road. Past Restaurant La Lunita we found a spot, next to an unused, overgrown lot where it was possible to walk along a narrow path to the beach. We were able to park our car right in front and took our belongings to the beach.
Searching for Turtles
The sand was powdery white and on the edge of the water there were all kinds of dead coral lying around. There was no one around apart from a couple who lazed on sun loungers at one of the apartment buildings further along and an occasional jogger from one of the houses. We could spot two snorkelers far out at the edge of the reef. The boys were super excited and could not wait to get into the sea hoping to spot colourful reef fish and turtles. I stayed on the beach, watching our clothes and valuables, just in case. The sea was very calm compared to the day before at Tulum as the reef protected the bay. Now and again I looked if I could see them swimming, at times they were so far out that I could not spot them anymore. After what seemed like ages to me, reading on the beach, the boys returned. They looked a bit disappointed, no turtles in sight but there were a lot of interesting fishes buzzing between the coral.
Lunch at Restaurant La Lunita
We were starving and Restaurant La Lunita seemed the obvious place to go for lunch. On the way there we passed a section on the beach, which was marked as a nesting area for the turtles. So the turtles did come there to lay their eggs. Restaurant La Lunita had a great spot, just above the beach, with tables and chairs in the sand. The menu offered a selection of Mexican dishes, including ceviche, but also some international options like burgers, which is what the hungry boys went for. I enjoyed the black shrimp ceviche starter, which was delicious and plenty, even as a main course.
After lunch we walked back to the car and drove over to main Akumal beach in order to see if we would be luckier in spotting turtles there. We parked the car in one of the car parks we had avoided that morning and paid 100 pesos to the guard. We strolled down, past shops and hotels to the beach. There was a huge sign informing us about wildlife refuge area here in Akumal. It showed us pictures of the three different turtles that can be found in the sea. It also mentioned other marine species, which are under protection, like corals and even some sea grass species. The sand felt rather hard, more like concrete and not ideallic like the beach in the morning. We found a free space in the shade of the palm trees and laid down our blankets. We could see a cordoned off area in the sea heaving with snorkels and people everywhere.
Did we Finally Get to Swim With Turtles?
Again, the boys went into the water first, swimming out next to the cordoned off area. Jerome came back out after a few minutes to tell me that there were turtles everywhere. Of course I wanted to go in and see them as well. Chris came out to swap with me, but first I got a life vest from the dive shop next behind us. In fact the various stalls encourage all visitors to hire a vest before going in the water. Jerome and Chris are amazing swimmers, even though I am able to swim for quite a time I feel more comfortable if I have some buoyancy. Chris also told me that one of the guides of one of the snorkelling groups had told them off for not wearing one. Apparently they are obligatory on the beach here as it stops stupid tourists diving down to touch the creatures and other marine wild life, which given some tourists, it is probably a good rule even if the hire prices seem expensive.
Teaming With Turtles
I put on my vest and waded into the warm seawater. I could see patches of sea grass underneath, Jerome asked me to follow him. I could not believe my eyes, a few meters in, I could have probably still comfortably stood there with my head above water, and I was able to see them gliding though the clear sea. The turtles would dive down to the sea grass, feast on the leaves. When they needed oxygen, they would just swim up to the surface of the sea, gaping for air, their heads above water and then immediately back down again. It looked rather funny, their heads popping out of the water every now and again. There were smaller turtles and a few big ones with feeder fish on top of their shells. Most surprisingly they were completely oblivious to the masses of people around them. I guess they were so used to being surrounded by us humans. This still does not give us the permission to touch or feed them. We could see that some tourists ignored the rules of keeping distance to the animals and tried to touch them or get too close. Guides were around and would police the activity.
Easy to Snorkel With These Amazing Sea Creatures
There are three types of sea turtles that can be found in the area, Green, Lockerhead and Hawksbill. We were only able to spot the first two. I wish I could have taken photos of them, but unfortunately we had forgotten to pack our Go-pro camera when we left Merida after charging it overnight and therefore were unable to take photos of these amazing creatures. Jerome was over the moon to see so many of the turtles and he could have stayed for hours in the sea watching them. Even small children would enjoy seeing them, even if they cannot wear a snorkel they should still be able to see them through the water’s surface or with goggles on. As I mentioned earlier you also do not have to go very far into the sea in order to be able to watch them swim around and feed.
Coconuts on the Beach
Time seemed to fly by really fast while we watched these incredible animals. I had to return my life vest before 17:00 and then we went back to our car. At the car park we bought some fresh coconuts to drink on the ride home to Playa del Carmen.
Sadly I spent our last evening here in Mexico in bed, we think I had caught food poisoning from eating the raw shrimps at lunch time, but we cannot be sure, it is always a small risk with travel to exotic places. It was bad – I felt freezing cold at first, which by the middle of the night turned into sweating. Chris and Jerome got me a fever thermometer from one of the late night pharmacies and I had a fever of 40C. The fever ran until I boarded the plane the next day for our flight home, I still do not know how I found the energy to get up and go to the airport, thanks to some Immodium and Paracetamol I lasted the flight home. It was maybe the first time, I ever slept on the plane, ever!