Why Playa Akumal, Mexico, is a Goldilocks Destination

When it comes to Mexico’s Riviera Maya, Playa Akumal is the Goldilocks of destinations—not too big or too small, and if you want to avoid the crowds while still enjoying some comforts, you’ll likely find this Mexican beach is just right for you. 

In this guide, we’ll cover all you need to know about how and why you could and should plan a trip to Playa Akumal, Mexico, and how to make the most of it while you’re there. 

So brush up on your Spanish, grab your swimsuit and sunscreen, and let’s explore this up-and-coming location on Mexico’s beautiful Caribbean coast.

Where is Playa Akumal, Mexico, located?

boats offshore in Playa Akumal

This authentic beach town is located on Mexico’s Riviera Maya. 

It’s about a forty-minute drive south along the coast of the Yucatan Peninsula from popular Playa del Carmen and a thirty-minute drive north of Tulum. 

Why Visit Playa Akumal?

turtle swimming in clear water

With so many amazing beaches lining the Riviera Maya, what is it that makes Playa Akumal worth the effort? 

After all, there are lovely beaches in Cancun

Well, besides having its own dreamy landscape of powder-white sand with swaying palm trees and azure water—a major draw can be found in the name itself. 

The name Akumal is derived from a Mayan term loosely meaning Land of Turtles. The opportunity to swim with these gentle sea creatures brings many a traveler to this particular beach. 

Given the calm conditions and an abundance of seagrass that turtles find appetizing, your chances of seeing—and even swimming alongside—a sea turtle is quite high while snorkeling in the Bay of Akumal.

Playa de Akumal, Mexico, is technically not just one beach but actually a series of scalloped bays that are subdivided into sections:

  • North Akumal Beach is popular for diving and snorkeling.
  • Central Akumal Beach is the main beach and the center of activity.
  • Jade Bay is just south of Central Akumal Beach and is a mix of sand and rocky areas.
  • South Akumal Beach is a quiet stretch of sand mostly fronted by luxury villas.
  • Akumal Aventuras offers a blend of good snorkeling and beachfront villas.

Akumal Things to Do

canons and beachview of Playa Akumal

The top attraction in the area is taking an Akumal snorkeling tour to view the turtles. But there is much more to see and do than playing hide and go seek with the turtles. 

Below is a list of some popular activities you’ll want to check out during your stay.  

Swim with Turtles

divers swimming with turtles in Playa Akumal

The local Playa Akumal turtles are quite used to encountering curious humans as they graze in the waters and nearby reefs. 

There is a particular section of the bay where your chances of spotting one are highest. However, the best opportunities come when hiring a guide who will take you to their most frequented hangouts. 

A guided tour is not required—despite the claims of some enterprising locals—but you might have to venture out a bit further from the shore to see one on your own. And let’s not forget that the turtles come and go as they please, so there’s always a chance one might just be swimming your way.

How to (Safely) Swim With Turtles in Playa Akumal, Mexico

When it comes to proper turtle etiquette, the most important advice can be best summed up in just two words: don’t touch! The benefits of listening to that advice are twofold. First, while turtles are not particularly dangerous, they have powerful jaws. Respecting their personal space and refraining from sticking out your fingers means there’s less chance you get a rather painful nip. 

Second—and more importantly—keeping your hands off them benefits their health. 

Most sea turtles have what is commonly called a bio-film. This sticky coating is quite delicate and protects it from infection. Touching them can result in wiping off part of that protective bio-film, which would then leave the turtle vulnerable to sickness. 

So do yourself, the turtles and the world a favor, and please keep your hands to yourself! Gracias!

Diving and Snorkeling at Playa Akumal

people swimming with turtles in Playa Akumal

With the world’s second-largest coral system right next door, it’s no surprise that scuba diving is a popular activity. 

Certified divers can enjoy an abundance of dive sites, and many say that the North Akumal Beach area has some of the best. 

Wherever you might dive, you can be assured of seeing a wide variety of coral, vibrantly colored tropical fish, and even some larger animals such as sharks, rays, and, yes, even some turtles. 

While guided tours will take you to prime snorkeling spots and provide the needed equipment, this is a great place to don your personal mask and snorkel and explore the undersea environment on your own. 

Pro tip: Given the calm water and shallow depths, wearing fins may be more trouble than it’s worth, and you risk damaging the coral. You are better off with just a pair of water shoes as you observe the marine wonderland below the waterline.

Visit the Akumal Monkey Sanctuary and Rescued Animals

mama and baby monkey

If you—or anyone in your traveling party—love animals and would particularly enjoy the opportunity to pet and interact with them, the Akumal Monkey Sanctuary and Rescued Animals facility is something you won’t want to miss. 

As the name suggests, this sanctuary houses a variety of monkeys and other animals that have been rescued from various natural and human-based hardships and given a home for rehabilitation. When possible, the goal is to reintroduce them into the wild.

There are a few package options:

  • Head out on a two-hour sanctuary tour that includes education about the over 50 species located on site and the opportunity to pet and pose with many residents.
  • Go on a combination tour that includes the above with either an exciting ATV ride through the jungle or a stop at a lovely local cenote

You can’t go wrong with either choice. 

This is a fantastic family-friendly activity, and the photos holding monkeys, macaws—and for the braver among us—snakes will be a great addition to your memory banks and photo album.

Go Big Game Fishing

5 fishing rods in the ocean

The bountiful waters of the Riviera Maya are the perfect playground for big game anglers, and Playa Akumal is no exception. 

Charter boats stand ready to whisk determined deep-sea fishing enthusiasts out to where the big fish roam. The most usual suspects at the end of your line are White and Blue Marlin, Sailfish, Tuna, Wahoo and Mahi Mahi. 

So if deep-sea fishing is your thing, you’ll see why anglers come from the world over to go sport fishing in these waters.

Pop into Akumal Town

pink house in Playa Akumal

While downtown Akumal, Mexico, isn’t on par with other larger Yucatan destinations like Cancun or Playa del Carmen, why not spend a few minutes perusing the modest collection of restaurants and shops? 

It is a moderate walk from the beach across the main highway, but this will give you a chance to mingle with the locals and even pick up a souvenir or two while burning off the calories from your lunch.

What are the Best Beaches Near Akumal?

drone view of Playa Akumal coastline

If you miraculously grow tired of admiring the five bays of Akumal Beach, fear not: your location on the Riviera Maya guarantees that many other gorgeous beaches are conveniently close by. 

Here are two of the best options for beach-hopping from your home base.

Xpu Há

clear turquoise water with a boat in it

Literally, just a few kilometers north along the coast brings you to the beach of Xpu Há. 

A nominal fee will give you access to this beautiful two-mile stretch of white sand and turquoise water backed by dense green jungle. 

Water sports centers focus on kitesurfing, windsurfing and paddle boarding, and a healthy dose of beachfront cafés give you plenty of options for eating and drinking.

Playa Paraiso

chair and a coconut on a table on the beach

This absolute gem of a beach is often visited in conjunction with the nearby Mayan ruins in Tulum. You can easily see the beach in Playa Paraiso and tour the ruins on a single trip.

Since this is a popular place for day trippers, you’d do well as an independent traveler to visit either early or late in the day to allow the masses to move along and leave you with all that beauty with a fraction of the crowds.

What Else is There to do Near Playa Akumal, Mexico?

Visit Cenote Azul

cenote near Playa Akumal

This being the Yucatan, you’re never far away from the region’s signature geological wonders—cenotes. These natural sinkholes in the limestone bedrock are filled with crystal clear water and are interspersed throughout the jungle. 

Believed by the ancient Mayans to be portals to another world, these days, they’re a prime destination for fun-seekers looking for a refreshing dip in the crystalline water and a peek at the submerged caverns fading into the darkness.

Near town is Cenote Azul. You can try your hand diving off a cliff or ease your way into the strikingly blue water to soak in the scenery both above and below the waterline. 

Pro tip: Some cenotes prohibit the use of sunscreen, even the reef-safe kind, so ask before you slather it on.

Check out an Underground River at Aktun-Chen Natural Park 

Aktun-Chen Natural Park near Playa Akumal

This combination natural park and cenote is an easy 4km (2.5 miles) ride from Akumal. 

Here you can explore a subterranean river and even go zip-lining through the jungle filled with various local species. 

Tickets are required, and it’s a good idea to check their website for current deals.

Go Snorkeling at Yal Ku Lagoon

Yalku lagoon with lovely green water

This under-the-radar lagoon, where fresh and saltwater meet, is just north of North Akumal Beach. For a modest fee, you can snorkel in this scenic estuary with prolific marine life and gorgeous blue water—all in a lush, natural environment.

Equipment rental is available, and there are on-site facilities, such as toilets, showers, changing rooms and lockers for your pre and post snorkeling convenience.

Is Akumal Beach Free?

boat, pelican, and flowers near the beach in Akumal

Technically, all beaches in Mexico are public and, therefore, free. However, accessing the beach is a different story. 

Two public entrances to the beach charge a few dollars. However, they have restrooms, showers and lockers available to store your valuables which are included in the price. If that’s too steep for you, or you object in principle, you have two other options.

Two establishments on the beach—Lol Ha Restaurant and Akumal Dive Center—will allow you to access the beach for free if you use their services. This not only brings you a return on your investment (or at least a cold beer out of the deal) but also allows the use of facilities such as restrooms.

Your other alternative is to stay at one of the Playa Akumal resorts located on the beachfront, in which case your beach access is free.

Does Akumal Beach have Seaweed?

sargasso seaweed on the shore

Sadly, like many a lovely Mexican locale, Playa Akumal also has periodic waves of sargassum seaweed washed ashore. Not only does it clog up the shoreline, but the rotten smell produced as it withers under the sun is quite unpleasant. 

To minimize your chances of encountering this tropical plague, your best option is to avoid traveling during the sargasso season, which generally runs from May to October. This is a shame since June through November is turtle nesting season, and September is the best period to see turtles in the wild. 

Ultimately it’s your choice to determine whichever option holds the greater appeal for you. And if you want real-time updates on what the conditions are like—seaweed or otherwise—various local Facebook groups report on the conditions.

What’s the Difference Between Akumal and Tulum, Mexico?

Tulum beaches and ruins

In a head-to-head comparison of Akumal vs. Tulum, the two most significant factors are the difference in development and cultural heritage. 

There’s a lot of international awareness of Tulum’s strengths as a tourist destination. It has led to more development and, of course, greater crowds. Tulum also boasts an impressive collection of beachside Mayan ruins, which provides insights into the area’s cultural and historical past—though again, at the expense of dense crowds and development.

On the contrary, Akumal is more laid-back, with the turtles and a reef as the primary draw. This is not to say you won’t see any tourists walking around—far from it—but the feel is more chill and nature-focused.

What’s the Difference between Akumal and Playa del Carmen, Mexico?

Playa del Carmen palapas on the beach

If a significant difference between Akumal and Tulum was the size of the development, that difference is many times greater when comparing it to Playa del Carmen. 

Akumal is much quieter and, in many ways, a more authentic destination than its two neighbors. 

While in Playa del Carmen, you’ll have a wealth of shopping opportunities, bars, clubs and restaurants worthy of a beachside tourist hub. Akumal has only a fraction of those options. And, more importantly, the crowds that come along with them—which makes a stay here all the more appealing if you’re looking to relax in peace.

Where to Stay in Playa Akumal

yellow hotel in Playa Akumal

When it comes to lodging in Playa Akumal, the stars of the show are the all-inclusive luxury resorts. 

They have idyllic beachfront access (negating the need to pay an entrance fee) and offer plenty of activities and multiple dining options. 

If you’re on a more modest budget, there are some small boutique accommodations and Airbnb properties nearby that will keep you close to the action in comfort.

Where to Eat in Playa Akumal

palm trees on the beach in Playa Akumal

Unless you’re staying in an all-inclusive resort with a range of dining venues, most eating establishments in Playa Akumal are small, casual restaurants and cafes. 

One of the most popular and well-located is the Lol Ha Restaurant, where you’ll be served tasty local dishes and drinks right on the beach. 

For dinner Italian style, check out Taverna for delicious pasta, pizza and risotto with ocean views.

What is the Weather like in Playa Akumal?

white loungers and umbrellas in Playa Akumal

The weather in Akumal doesn’t vary much, which is a good thing in the tropics. 

In the summer months, highs can reach the low 90s, but for most of the year, they fluctuate between the low and upper 80s. 

Summer and fall see the greatest chance of precipitation. And the winter months of December through March see the best overall weather—and correspondingly, the largest number of tourists.

Packing List Essentials for Playa Akumal

couple sitting on a log on the beach watching the ocean

  • Biodegradable sunscreen—whether swimming with the turtles or plunging into a cenote, biodegradable sunscreen will protect not only protect your skin and the environment. 
  • Plenty of swimwear—with snorkeling, swimming and lazing at the beach the main attractions, you will want to have more than one bathing suit on hand.
  • Water shoes—there are certain places where water shoes are advisable, so keep your feet safe while out in the water.
  • Closed-toed shoes—if you expect to engage in some of the soft adventure the Riviera Maya is known for, having some close-toed shoes will let you explore with proper footwear.
  • A good hat—the sun is intense here, and you will want to keep your head covered as much as possible.
  • A water shirt—save on sunscreen by keeping your torso covered, especially while snorkeling.
  • An underwater camera—how tragic would it be if you get to see those beautiful turtles and aren’t able to snap a picture of them?
  • Underwater cellphone pouch—if you don’t want to splurge for an underwater camera, buy a clear cellphone pouch that is specifically for taking pics underwater. You can buy them at most of the beach shops in Akumal. 
  • Mask and snorkel—while you can always rent them, having your own means you can look for turtles anytime the mood strikes you.

Map of Playa Akumal

Exactly where are all the hotspots in this blog? Look no further than this map. We’ve got you covered.

How to Get to Akumal, Mexico

arrow sign that reads Akumal

Most international visitors will arrive by air at Cancun International Airport (CUN). It’s the best option by far for traveling along the Riviera Maya.

From there, it is approximately an hour and a half ride south to Playa Akumal

To get from Akumal to Playa del Carmen, it’s about a 40-minute drive north along Highway 307, and the beaches of Tulum are about a thirty-minute drive in the other direction.

Getting around this part of Mexico is relatively simple, with rental vehicles, shuttles, taxis and buses the top choices for getting around. 

Rental Car

If you plan on doing a lot of sightseeing along the length of the Riviera Maya, a rental car could make sense for you. 

Obviously, you have greater freedom with your schedule. The relatively short distances from Playa del Carmen to Akumal Beach mean you can lounge at the beach all day and easily hop in your car to party by night—all on your own timetable.


This may just be the easiest, most cost-effective way to get to Playa Akumal from Cancun International Airport—especially if you have multiple travelers in your party. 

Reputable agencies can pick you up at your specified time and bring you safely and comfortably to your hotel with the least hassle.


Taxis are available to make the trip, but you’ll want to be extra sure you agree on the price upfront. 

There’s supposed to be a printed rate card, so don’t shy away from asking to see it. 


This is an affordable option if you have the comfort level and patience to leave your plans to someone else’s timetable. The company ADO is the primary carrier here, and buses to Akumal should be available from Cancun and Tulum.

Parting Thoughts about Playa Akumal

girl laying in a hammock on the beach

Playa Akumal has everything you could wish for in a beach destination. 

It’s not so big that the authenticity is lost, but not so small that you won’t find the amenities that make it comfortable. 

Plan your trip and see for yourself why this beautiful beach locale is ‘just right.’


What is the closest airport to Playa Akumal?

Cancun International Airport is just 100 km (62 miles) away.

What is the closest town to Playa Akumal?

Tulum is only 28 kilometers (17.4 miles) to the south, while Playa del Carmen is 38 kilometers (23.6 miles) north.

Is it safe to travel to Akumal, Mexico?

Yes. This is a predominantly safe beach town, so long as you use common sense and don’t leave your valuables lying around in public.

Can you swim at Playa Akumal?

Absolutely! The calm, clear water is perfect for swimming.

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