By Rebecca – (Grosse Pointe, MI)
I am heading to the Maya Riviera in Mexico in about a week (April 2019). I cannot find good information about the condition of the reefs for snorkeling from shore at these locations. Has anyone had recent experience?
I am specifically considering Puerto Morelos, Tulum, and Akumal. Is it worth a visit to Akumal Beach because it sounds like everything is roped off and you are put on a path like cattle?
Any recent input into these areas or suggestions of other areas in the neighborhood are greatly appreciated.
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Nadel – Mar 27, 2019 – Akumal
The Akumal Beach and Wellness Resort has a decent reef. There is the possibility of seeing turtles, Spotted Eagle Rays, and more, if you are lucky. I found that Yal Ku Lagoon is a pretty cool place.
I hope the winds and the weather are favorable for you.
Richard – Mar 28, 2019 – Suggestions and Seaweed
From north to south:
– Definitely do Puerto Morelos. I went out with Wet Set Diving. It is not a shore snorkel, the reef is too far.
– Playa del Carmen: I stayed there and went out once with a dive shop near Mamita’s Beach Club (2.5 years ago) and it was pretty good. Forget shore snorkels in Playa del Carmen; the good reef areas are too far out and the water is a little ugly along the beach if the seaweed is in (a BIG problem for the last few years).
– Definitely do Cenote Yal Ku (Lagoon). There is a parking lot, entrance fee (I think), a number a nice put-ins with steps, small restaurant. There is LOTS of area to explore, lots of species and a mix of fresh and salt water. Highly recommended. Look for a few huge Rainbow Parrotfish that live there.
– Akumal: I have done it twice (last time this past December 2018) and unless you’ve never seen turtles close up I would pass. It is now very regimented, guided only (I think) and although much better for the turtles not so good for people anymore.
– Xel-Ha Amusement Park: Recommended. Yes, although this is a Disneyland-style amusement water park with thousands of people, I was totally surprised at how good a snorkel it was. I spent three hours exploring the bay and it has lots of varied wildlife and topography including mangroves. I saw my first ever live conchs there and rays out by the bridge. Skip the “river” put-in and outflow area if you are only interested in snorkeling, although there are nice mangroves just past all the water amusements (water zip-lines, rope swinging, cliff jumping, etc).
– Cozumel: see my post on shore snorkel sites on Cozumel. I was there in May 2018. Very good place for shore snorkels, easy 40 minute ferry ride from Playa del Carmen plus a taxi ride. Lots of great shore snorkel spots. Skip the Chankanaab Adventure Park… not needed unless that’s your thing. See my post for good locations.
– General: generally, the Riviera Maya coast is not a good shore snorkel place except for Yal-Ku Lagoon and Xel-Ha Amusement Park (and maybe Akumal for the turtles).
Also, the good areas are a bit spread out and require road time to get to. I used “colectivo” (shared) taxis. For snorkel enthusiasts Cozumel is much better for shore snorkels with lots of sites in relatively close proximity compared to the Riviera Maya coast. The good reefs off Cozumel require boat snorkels and they were a bit deep for my liking. Better for divers.
P.S. – If the seaweed (sargassum) “is in”, note that when I was on Cozumel the month of May 2018 the mainland beaches had literally tons of seaweed whereas the snorkel and dive (west) side of Cozumel had some seaweed but wasn’t really a problem most days. It comes in from the east and the west coast of Cozumel was largely spared while I was there.
When I flew into Cancun I saw huge swathes of brown on the surface of the water that I had never seen before between Cozumel and the coast. At first I thought it might be an oil slick from some kind of oil disaster. Later, on the ground, I was informed it was huge patches of seaweed that I saw.
Crossing on the ferry between Playa del Carmen and Cozumel I saw it close up. I don’t know what the situation is this year, but I’ve been on Roatan for a month and we just started getting some seaweed in over the last week (West End and West Bay).
Lynn – Apr 7, 2019 – Lots of Options
We’ve been to the Riveira Maya area of Mexico several times and love snorkeling there.
1. The seaweed is worse nowadays than a few years back but it may be bad one place and not another so if you have a car or can get around easily by colectivo, you can usually find a clear place to swim and snorkel.
2. I second going to Yal Ku Lagoon just past Half Moon Bay and uncle mall. It can get crowded but do not go with a tour and you can spend a half a day easily exploring. If you’re a good swimmer, swim and out of the lagoon toward the sea and if the currents are not too strong snorkel around the rock there. Just be sure you are a good swimmer as it’s a long way.
3. The reef off Puerto Morelos is really nice but it is a protected national park so you do have to wear the life jacket and go with a boat. It is worth seeing as the fish are great. I don’t like the lack of freedom though. There are a couple of places of shore snorkeling there as well and I spotted many large barracuda, some large permit, and lots more.
4. There is a cenote in the Tankah Bay area called Manatee Center that is a good, interesting snorkel. It is mostly freshwater but there is some salt water and there are a few different species of fish and it’s a beautiful area. Across the street from that is a restaurant on the beach. The water from the cenote runs under the street and pours out into the sea just in front of the restaurant. There is a somewhat strong current but it is a wonderful place to snorkel and the types of fish change with the tide.
Those are my favorites. Akumal Bay is much more restricted than it used to be and to me is just not as fun. Maybe if you’re staying there, it is not as rigid. I have never gone to Cozumel and that is probably wonderful.
Peter – Aug 5, 2022 – 2022 Akumal Review
I thought I would share my experience from May 2022.
This was our second time staying at Akumal Beach Resort… Our first trip was in 2015. Lots has changed.
Sargassum was ever present. They have installed a net system that covers much of the bay. The net consists of inflated tubes suspending nets below the surface to a depth of three or four feet. There is still lots of sargassum that gets past the net and onto the beach. The continuous line of floats around the bay makes it seem like you are swimming in a prison.
The main area for seeing turtles has had a series of access controls created, so that you can only swim in certain areas and directions. I understand the reason for doing this (to reduce impacts of tourism on the turtles) but the whole experience is much less ‘natural’ than before. I tend to go out early in the day and was able to see turtles everyday I was there.
Beyond the turtles, I saw 50 plus different species of fish in the bay during our week there. Water clarity was okay most days (but not even close to what we have enjoyed on Roatan). Unlike other areas of the Mayan Riviera where we have stayed, Akumal is generally calm and I could snorkel everyday we were there.
My overall impression is that the area is suffering from overuse.