When booking beach vacations, many travelers seek days of indolence in a setting where everything is on offer and nothing is prescribed. But there are also those who need to venture beyond the sand and the pool. On our recent trip to Mexico’s Riviera Maya, we discovered a number of attractions for which it’s well worth leaving the cocoon of the resort.
Set between Playa del Carmen and Tulum, this shallow U-shaped bay — designated as a part of the Mexican Caribbean Biosphere Reserve in 2017 — offers warm turquoise waters, colorful coral and, most notably, a thriving population of wild sea turtles. Akumal, meaning “place of the turtle” in Mayan, is a superlative destination for snorkelers wanting to encounter endangered green and loggerhead turtles in their natural habitat (visitors must maintain a minimum distance of 10 feet from the animals). The coral reef sheltering this small bay creates a microclimate that allows seagrass, these turtles’ main food source, to thrive. The reef also tends to exclude predators.
Within 15 minutes, our guide spotted a massive green turtle. Effortlessly propelling itself through the water, the gentle giant seemed entirely undisturbed by our presence. He settled down on the sandy bottom to casually munch on seagrass, and we were able to observe him for several minutes. We also spotted a sleek manta ray, a large barracuda and colorful parrotfish and butterflyfish. I recommend skipping fins here, as the bottom sand is very fine and any kick-up limits visibility. And if possible, opt to wear a rash guard or wetsuit to protect yourself from the sun rather than applying sunscreen (even the reef-safe biodegradable cream takes one to two weeks to dissolve). Lounging in the shade on Akumal’s beach after a day of snorkeling with wild turtles is a memory I’ll long treasure.