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Akumal, turtle paradise in the Riviera Maya

“The place of the turtles” sounds magical and it really is. The palm-fringed bay of Akumal in the Riviera Maya owes its name to the Maya and to the creatures that they held sacred, sea turtles. Ak means turtle and lumal place and in Akumal green and loggerhead turtles can be seen swimming around 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. On your next trip to the Mexican Caribbean why not visit this turtle paradise?

While its beautiful coral reefs teeming with marine life attract divers and snorkelers, peaceful Akumal is also a family favorite; its sheltered waters and gentle surf are ideal for children. Spend the day at the beach building sand castles with your little ones – turtles, fish and Mayan pyramids are all popular subjects – and swimming and snorkeling in the crystal-clear waters of the bay.

Don a snorkel mask and flippers and head out towards the reef. You won’t go far before you start to see colorful fish such as sergeant majors, butterfly fish, blue tangs, French grunts and you may even spot one of the turtles. Watching them placidly swim by in the distance is an amazing experience.

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 beach. You’ll find plenty of sea turtles depicted in wood, ceramics or as metal wall hangings and there are evocative pictures of Akumal and its turtles by local painters.

If you are feeling hungry, there are restaurants overlooking the bay and set back among the palm groves. The catch of the day – fresh fish, shrimp and lobster is served in a variety of ways, from ceviche and in tacos to grilled and in garlic butter. And there are plenty more delicious options including tacos and guacamole, pizza and pasta, tasty salads, burgers and sandwiches, homemade cakes and ice cream.

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. Order a cocktail and some ceviche and enjoy the afternoon. The water is so clear that you can sometimes see turtles coming up for air and spotted eagle rays and parrotfish swimming in the shallows.

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 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.

Akumal Eco Tips
Wear a t-shirt when swimming and snorkeling instead of using sun products, which are harmful to marine life and corals. Do not touch the turtles, fish, shells or the coral reef.

Visiting Akumal
Thomas More Travel offers 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 main bay and proceeds go to turtle conservation projects, protecting the coral reefs and fish populations.

Also in the Akumal area is Aktun Chen 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.

After a sunset cocktail at an Akumal beach bar, why not stop off in Playa del Carmen for an early dinner and more shopping on the way back to Cancun? You could also take your children to Playa Aquarium to see more of the colorful marine creatures that they saw earlier in the day in Akumal.

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