A family day out to Akumal, place of the turtles

The favorite haunt of sea turtles sheltered Akumal Bay is the perfect spot for a Riviera Maya family day out. Spend hours swimming and snorkeling in the crystal-clear waters, building sandcastles with the little ones and relaxing under the palms.

In the Mayan language, Akumal means “place of the turtles,” honoring the creatures that the ancient Maya once held sacred. Ak means turtle and lumal place and in Akumal green and loggerhead turtles can be seen swimming alongside the coral reefs, grazing on patches of sea grass in the bay and coming ashore in the summer to lay their eggs in the sand. November visitors strolling along the beach in the early evening may be lucky enough to come across the release of baby turtles and watch as they scuttle across the sand towards the sea.

Upon arrival in Akumal, the turquoise waters are so inviting that you’ll want to put on your snorkel mask and flippers and head out towards the reef. You won’t go far before you start to see colorful fish such as pipe fish, parrotfish and French grunts and you may even spot one of the turtles. Watching them placidly swim by in the distance is an amazing experience.

Outside the bay, there are more fringing coral reefs running parallel to the coast and into deeper water. Teeming with marine life, they attract open water divers and local dive centers offer snorkeling and scuba trips, fishing and catamaran cruises.

After hours in the gentle surf, it’s time for the beach. Children will have fun building sandcastles– turtles, fish and Mayan pyramids are all popular subjects.

As a break from the beach, shop for Mexican crafts, textiles and jewelry in the stores and galleries clustered under the palm trees a short walk from the sand. You’ll find plenty of sea turtles depicted in wood, ceramics, silver or as metal wall hangings for a bathroom or terrace. Local painters take their inspiration from the natural beauty surrounding them and the diversity of marine life, and their evocative pictures of Akumal and its turtles make a great memento of a Mexican Caribbean vacation.

If you are feeling hungry, there are restaurants overlooking the beach and set back among the palm groves. Options include the catch of the day – fresh fish, shrimp, octopus and lobster– tacos and guacamole, tasty salads, sandwiches, homemade cakes and ice cream in a variety of fruit flavors.

Snorkeling and a Caribbean beach bar in Half Moon Bay

A short drive along the coast road to the north of Akumal beach brings you to Half Moon Bay, a cove where the reef comes closer to the shore. The snorkeling is good here too and the views incredible. There’s an atmospheric beach bar with a wooden bar, swings, hammocks, thatched lookout towers and tables and benches made of tree trunks. Look out for the quirky couple of skeletons propping up the bar in the corner. Order a cocktail and some ceviche and enjoy the afternoon. The water is so clear in the bay that you can sometimes see turtles coming up for air, parrotfish swimming in the shallows and spotted eagle rays breaching the surface in flight.

On the other side of the coast road, Half Moon Bay visitors often catch a glimpse of families of coatimundis or raccoons and timid agoutis rooting for food in the undergrowth.


Follow the coast road further north to the shores of Yalku, a turquoise-colored inlet fed by crystal-clear waters bubbling up from cenotes and underground rivers, hence the refreshingly cool temperature.

A variety of multicolored reef fish feed and breed among the mangrove roots and submerged rocks in the lagoon. You’ll be surrounded by curious sergeant majors as soon as you enter the water. Swim a few feet from shore and you’ll spot blue tangs, butterfly fish, angelfish, puffer fish, peacock rays and pork fish, 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.

Aktun Chen

Aktun Chen

A short drive from Akumal is Aktun Chen, a jungle park where you can explore the caves and cenotes of the Riviera Maya and come face to face with native wildlife such as spider monkeys and white-tailed deer.

Visiting Akumal

Thomas More Travel can help you with trips to Akumal and Yalku or you can rent a car and explore at your own pace. There is an environmental charge to enter the bay and proceeds go to conservation projects to protect the turtles, the coral reefs and fish populations. Wear a t-shirt when swimming and snorkeling instead of using sun products, which are harmful to marine life and corals. You’ll need reef shoes in Half Moon Bay as the seabed is strewn with rocks and coral fragments. Do not touch the turtles, fish, shells or the coral reef.