Snorkeling with Sea Turtles
On our final morning together, we drove 40 minutes south of Playa del Carmen to Playa Akumal. There, we hoped to snorkel among green, loggerhead or hawksbill sea turtles. We arrived well before the gates opened at 9 a.m., snorkel gear in hand, so once the beach opened, we set out on our own.
My friends Corey and Michael took the first turn with the pair of snorkels, and came back all smiles. They’d spotted a young green sea turtle at least 2 feet wide — adults can grow even bigger, as wide as 4.5 feet — munching grass in the water. When it was my turn to use the snorkel, the turtle had moved on, but swimming in the clear, warm water was glorious.
Engaging a guide may help you find the turtles more easily, and guides aren’t at all hard to find. They gather at the entrance to the beach, where you may be told that you are required to hire one. You’re not. Visitors are allowed to swim and snorkel without taking a tour. (Ask about that at the ticket kiosk if you have any concerns). While some hotels and vacation rentals have private beach access, you won’t be able to enter through the main public beach entrance outside posted hours because it’s gated. So you may want to consider booking a night’s stay to spend more time looking for turtles.
At least one of Quintana Roo’s hundreds of cenotes offers another opportunity to see wildlife. At Cenote Dos Ojos, about 45 minutes south of Playa del Carmen, bats often fly overhead as you slip into the water. Divers can swim through a short underwater passageway to Dos Ojos’ “bat cave,” which is home to hundreds of the creatures.
Though none of us spied a toucan, encountered a jaguar or spotted a manatee at Biosphere Sian Ka’an, and though my friends saw more turtles at Akumal than I did, I count our Mexican wildlife-watching outings a success. When you start the day with a swim in the ocean, spend time seeking out native animals and birds and then later relive each day’s adventures over tacos with good friends, why would anyone be disappointed?