‘Oh, crap!’, I said to myself as I finally hauled myself out of the water and headed, dripping wet, towards the dive shop, its normally open doors clearly shut.
All my stuff was in there.
I’d just spent a wonderful afternoon snorkeling with green sea turtles at Akumal Beach, happily floating above them, snapping pictures and generally marveling at their sheer enormity.
This is where I apologize for my terrible underwater photos. That’s what happens when you use a phone in a waterproof pouch. If anyone wants to buy me a GoPro, I promise I’ll do better! 😉
Turtles are majestic creatures, probably my second favourite animal (after penguins, of course) and though I’ve previously encountered them while snorkeling they’ve always been shy and have retreated into the distance at the first sight of me. Here they were unconcerned by my presence, happily munching on the plentiful sea grass on the ocean floor, just 50 metres out from the shoreline.
I was pretty excited to find the first sea turtle, not sure at all that I would even find any, and then when other people came along I went off and found another turtle, and then another.
And they’re not just solitary. Maybe they’re not actually being social and are simply gathering where the best grass is, but at one point I was watching four at a time, and yet another one swam into the scene and then away again.
The sea turtles at Akumal spend most of their time on the sea floor eating, often with one or two fish attached to their backs, feeding on the algae that grows there. But occasionally, one turtle will rise to the surface to gulp a few breaths of air before immediately descending again to its delicious meal. Did you know that sea turtles actually breathe air? Apparently they can hold their breath for 4-7 hours, but they do need to surface every so often!
I was lucky to even be here. When I hopped out of my collectivo from Tulum, I found that the road into Akumal Beach was blocked off by a locals’ protest. From what I understand, one of the local resorts was planning on privatizing the entire beach (I don’t understand how they can just DO that…), putting anyone who operates a business on that beach (boat drivers, restaurants, dive shops, etc) out of business and forcing them to work at the resort for less money. So the locals blocked the road.
I wasn’t too sure how blocking the road off was going to help the situation, but later someone told me that that’s just how the people protest in Mexico. Just block off a road until your voice is heard.
So they’d blocked it, and no tourists were getting through. As I stood there, others came and went, giving up and going elsewhere, while I kept trying to ask questions to understand the situation better. Then finally the man I was speaking to asked me quietly, ‘Are you alone?’
Yes. Yes I was.
‘Do you want to go see?’
Yes. Yes I did.
So he said ‘Go. Just go. Quickly.’
So I went.
About half a minute later, as I was walking quickly down the road toward the beach, I heard a commotion behind me and turned around to see the protesters raising their barrier of branches so that others couldn’t get through. I think the other tourists had seen me go and decided to go too, only to be stopped by the protesters.
So I was lucky. Was I right to go? I don’t know. But there were other people on the beach, so obviously somehow they’d gotten in too. It made me even more confused about the whole situation.
I’d been in and out of the water, stopping after a 45 minute snorkel to eat lunch, then going back in the water for another hour and a half, simply unable to tear myself away. ‘Just 5 more minutes,’ I kept thinking to myself.
But it was now 4:56pm, storms were moving in, and I was finally finished. Happy, tired, wrinkly-skinned, and starting to get a bit chilly, I now wanted nothing more than to dry off, get dressed, and head back to my hostel.
I ran up to the dive shop, looking around and finally noticing some of the staff going in and out of a side door. I ducked in, without even checking if they’d seen me (I didn’t want to get locked in, either!), and ran to the locker room, drying myself off, changing, and gathering my stuff just before they locked the place up.
I don’t know if they usually close up this early or if it was just that day because the clouds had moved in and most people had left. It was only sea turtle-obsessed freaks like me who were still in the water!
Snorkeling with the sea turtles at Akumal was one of the best things I’ve done in a long, long time and I very nearly went back for another day but didn’t quite get around to it. If I’m ever back in the area I’ll definitely go again!
My tips for snorkeling with the sea turtles at Akumal:
- It’s easy to get there from either Tulum or Playa del Carmen on a collectivo. I paid 25 pesos from Tulum, and it’s probably a bit more from Playa. If you’re coming from Playa you’ll have to cross the highway on the pedestrian bridge, and likewise if you’re heading back to Tulum.
- When you go down the road off the main highway it seems a bit confusing, but just keep going straight. It looks like you’re entering a resort, but you’re not, just keep going straight and you’ll hit the beach. If you have a car there might be more beach and dive shops around to the left, but it’d be a long walk.
- You can rent snorkel gear at the dive shop on the beach for US$5, but I rented it from a dive shop in Tulum for 50 pesos. I did rent a locker at Akumal for 100 pesos for the entire day, and they also had pricey underwater cameras for sale (disposable ones) and rent (proper ones where they fix up the photos for you). You might want to ask what time the dive shop closes.
- Tours are offered by various companies as well as the dive shop. I’ve heard they’re about 300 pesos and last anywhere from 45 minutes to two hours. Shop around. Of course if you want longer than that in the water, you’ll then have to either provide your own snorkel gear or rent it.
- Lol-Ha restaurant is right on the beach but is kind of expensive. If you want to save money just take a picnic and eat on the beach.
- Behave yourself. Please. Don’t touch the turtles (or anything else you see), don’t harass them or annoy them or get in their way. They’re fascinating enough to watch that you really don’t need to, and who knows what kind of damage you might unwittingly do? We need to keep these creatures around, so that your children and your grandchildren (and so on…) can go marvel at them like we do.
Have you ever been snorkeling with sea turtles? Where? Tell us about it in the comments!