Everything You Need To Know About Akumal

Last Updated Jun 7, 2024

Located in the heart of the Riviera Maya, right between Playa del Carmen and Tulum, the two hippest beach towns of the region, you’ll find a cute little village called Akumal. A true haven of natural beauty and tranquility.

Actually, the history of the Riviera Maya can’t be told without Akumal, as everything started here long time ago. But, let’s not get ahead of ourselves, there will be time to tell the story of this charming coastal village, for now let’s focus on describing it for you to be able to imagine being there.

Let’s start with its name. Akumal means “Place of Turtles” in ancient Mayan language and, as you will discover when you visit it, it’s a very fitting name. Notwithstanding the hectic development of the area in the last couple of decades and the ever growing number of tourists coming to this place year after year, the turtles are still there. Maybe not in the same numbers as when the ancient Mayans gave it its name, but for some reason, Akumal is still a very popular place among turtles.

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That reason may be found in its warm, crystal-clear waters, its vibrant coral reefs, or its pristine beaches, but the point is that turtles love Akumal and Akumal loves turtles . So, if you share this passion about these extraordinary reptiles, then you have to visit Akumal in your next trip to the Riviera Maya.

Nowadays, Akumal has re-invented itself as a laid-back beach community committed to the practices of sustainable tourism. Akumal residents and promoters are happy to receive visitors who are good for the economy of the village, but they’re also very serious about protecting the natural treasures of the place they are fortunate enough to call home. That means that although you will still find nice restaurants, tours and other service providers, and outstanding beaches, you won’t find here the huge resorts so easily to find along the rest of the Riviera Maya’s coastline.

Eco-friendly tourism is always welcome in Akumal, but wildlife conservation plays a crucial role in the identity of this beautiful corner of the Riviera Maya.

Akumal Bay

History of Akumal

Back in the decade of the 1950s, the Yucatan Peninsula was pretty much empty, except for the big cities of Merida and Campeche and the few Mayan villages scattered throughout the jungle. However, it was during that decade that World War II Mexican veteran frogman Pablo Bush Romero came to this region to explore and try to salvage the remnants of a wrecked ship off the coast of Akumal.

The wreckage belonged to “El Matancero” a Spanish merchant ship that sank in the waters around Akumal’s coral reef in 1741. The idea of the expedition was to recover whatever treasures were still on the ocean floor and turning it over to the Mexican Government.

There’s no register of whatever might had been salvaged from “El Matancero” wreckage, but that doesn’t matter. The true treasure uncovered by Bush Romero was the natural beauty of the region and its unparallel potential for tourism development.

In 1958, soon after that historical expedition, Bush Romero officially founded Akumal. His vision for Akumal was one of a scuba diving community and his merit resides in bringing the Yucatan Peninsula shoreline to the spotlight.

Just 11 years after Akumal was officially founded by Bush Romero, a document known as “The Cancun Project” was approved by the Mexican Federal Government and a year later works on this project started. That was over 50 years ago and these days the region receives over 20 million visitors every year capturing over 46% of all foreign visitors to the country.

Not bad for an innocent expedition to a wrecked ship.

In 2016, the area was declared a marine refugee for the preservation of the turtle population and in 2018, the popular Akumal Arts Festival was created, bringing renewed attention to this paradise-like beach town.

Things to Do in Akumal

The white-sand beaches, coral reefs, and vibrant marine life make of Akumal one of the most naturally blessed spots along the coastline of the Riviera Maya. And if you’re looking for beach towns of extraordinary natural beauty this is a good place to start.

Because Akumal has something to offer for everyone, it doesn’t matter if what you’re looking for is ecotourism activities, adrenaline-pumping adventures, or just a laid-back getaway, Akumal has exactly what you need.

Turtles in Akumal


This is without a doubt the most popular activity in Akumal. The opportunity to snorkel with the sea turtles that populate the waters of Akumal is simply irresistible to most visitors. Snorkeling with the turtles is an unforgettable experience, but also one that aligns perfectly with the town’s commitment to responsible tourism, as it has minimal impact on the marine environment.

Some travelers prefer to head a little bit north to the Yal-Ku Lagoon, where the waters are even more tranquil and serene. Snorkeling in this lagoon offers a different kind of experience, as you’ll encounter plenty of small colofrul fish and beautiful coral formations.

Akumal Monkey Sanctuary

Most people come to Akumal for their beaches and warm waters, but few know about Akumal terrestrial wonders. Consider taking a couple of hours of your day to visit the Akumal Monkey Sanctuary and Rescued Animals, where you’ll be able to interact with a wide array of rescued animals of different local species. The place is a favorite of kids who love playing with the animals and learning about the conservation efforts of the Akumal community.

Go on a Cenote Expedition

There are a few cenotes in the vicinity of Akumal that are worth a visit, among them we can mention the Cenote Balam Ha and Cenote Puerta Maya. Cenotes offer a different kind of experience, as their water is fresh and they’re located in the middle of the jungle. Swim, jump off cliffs or just chill in these bodies of water unique to the Riviera Maya.

If you want to push your cenote experience a level or two up, Cenote Natura Glamping offers the opportunity to camp with style in the surroundings of a beautiful cenote in the area.

Chillin' in Akumal

Explore the Town

A big part of what makes Akumal such a unique town, is the laid-back attitude of its residents and you need to walk around town, do some shopping and visit some restaurant to feel that vibe. Akumal, like most Mexican beach towns, is filled with colorful and vibrant markets. Stroll around its picturesque streets and don’t forget to make a stop at the legendary La Buena Vida restaurant, a must when visiting Akumal.

How to Get There

Akumal’s location midway through between Playa del Carmen and Tulum makes it very accessible and right in the middle of things. Everything is going on around these two towns that are the heart and soul of the Riviera Maya.

Coming from Cancun International Airport you’ll have to make an hour and a half drive down Highway 307. The best option here is to rent a car, which gives you all the independence and flexibility needed to make the most of your visit.

The new Tulum International Airport has also already start receiving domestic flights and in Spring 2024 is expected to start receiving international flights too. A 45-minute drive north from this new airport and you’ll be already in Akumal.

The second best option are airport shuttles, especially if you’re coming with a big group. Prices vary according to the number of passengers, but you can get a better deal than those offered by taxis and the experience tends to be more pleasant.

Taxis are the easiest option, as they can be found everywhere from airports and hotels, to beaches and downtowns. The problem with taxis is always the price, as taxi drivers in the region are known for trying to rip off tourists, but sometimes they are simply the best way to go.

Finally, you can get to Akumal by hopping on a ADO bus. These buses are very comfortable, come with TV and air conditioning, and you can take them either in Cancun, Playa del Carmen or Tulum. Prices are much more accessible and you can disconnect during the length of the journey and enjoy the gorgeous landscapes of the region.

Turtle in the sea grass in Akumal

Useful Tips Before Visiting Akumal

Let’s say that you have decided to visit Akumal already, you chose your season, you know how to get there, and now all you want to know is practical information that can make your vacations a little bit easier and more enjoyable.

Bring Cash and Get Some Pesos

The bigger shops and restaurants do accept cards, but you will surely find some establishments where only cash is accepted. US dollars are commonly accepted throughout Akumal, but the conversion rate may not be the best one. To avoid any uncomfortable situation the best way to go is to bring your cards, dollars, and buy yourself some Mexican currency at the airport.

Don’t Forget to Buy Travel Insurance

The whole Riviera Maya has great facilities and Akumal isn’t the exception, but the nature of these kinds of vacations is one of adventure and that obviously comes with its own risks. Also, although Mexican is amazing and delicious, it is common to hear about “Revenge of Moctezuma” cases, so it’s better to be prepared.

Respect the Wildlife

If there’s anything that the residents of Akumal care about is its spectacular nature and the wildlife species that call the place their home too. Follow the instructions of your guides and tour providers, don’t touch the coral reefs or the stalactites and stalagmites in the cenotes, use organic sunscreen and avoid damaging nature in any way.

Look for Responsible Tours

When searching for the best tour for you and your family, try to look for companies that make a point of protecting the environment with their practices and show that they follow all official guidelines. Stay away from sketchy tour providers, who may or may not be a bit cheaper. At the end of the day you’ll safer with professional companies and the environment will be better protected.

Akumal Beach

And that’s it! If you love nature, Akumal is a place that won’t disappoint you. You’ll also get to see a different side of the Riviera Maya, one more laid-back and quiet, away from the big crowds and noise of mass tourism and the big resorts. Come to Akumal and enjoy your close encounter with the turtles, the coral reef, and the most unique community in the region.

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