Swimming with Sea Turtles in Akumal

Let’s just get one thing straight: I love turtles. For realz. In fact, at 20 years old I got a sea turtle tattooed on my back because of my love for turtles and Mackinac Island. So, this may come as no surprise to you that I literally jumped at the opportunity to swim among the turtles.

When searching for things to do on the Eastern side of the Yucatan we quickly came across the idea of snorkeling with sea turtles at Akumal, which is known as the “Place of Turtles.” Clever, huh? The sea turtles at Akumal lay their eggs during May/June and come November they hatch and are released into the ocean. Unfortunately, we were there during the wrong month.

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Photographer: Stacy Hall

Fortunately, our resort concierge shook some sense into us. “You must go to see the sea turtles at Akumal. There is no excuse.” Deflated, I mentioned my concerns that there were no turtles until November, when the sea turtles at Akumal hatch. Wrong! We were mistaken. The sea turtles, in fact, live there year-round and spend their days eating the sea grass on the bottom of the ocean floor. 

So we set out to Akumal Bay equipped with cheap snorkel gear, we made our way towards the beach. As we were going in we got lost in the confusion. A bunch of people were going out as we were going in, but I kept repeating “turtles! turtles!” A man walking towards us asked, “are you here to snorkel with the turtles?” YES! He continued, “there are a lot of them out there! Have fun!” and pointed us towards the beach.

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On our way onto the beach we got stopped by an overly friendly local who rents life vests, flippers, and snorkel gear at a nearby stand. But where do we put our bag? The local directed us to what he called “ancient Mayan lockers,” so plastic storage tubs. He kept showing us how secure they were by showing us the same bin over and over again (which I am pretty sure was his own stuff), so that we had proof that other customers used these lockers. There was no one watching the bins and it was one of those situations that if anything happens to it they are not liable, so we opted to attach our bag to a tree, locked up, near some people.
 
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I have another confession to make: I’m not a very skilled swimmer.

No, really. I am what you would consider a “newbie” swimmer. Water splashing in my face, leg kicking, awkward arm movements, they’re just not for me. My doggy-paddle game, however, is.on.point. I am becoming more comfortable IN the water. Progress. I’ve actually started to learn how to move in a given direction when I swim. My sense of direction, however, is very questionable. You win some, you lose some.

As we were swimming out we headed towards where most of the people seemed to be congregating off the beach. That is usually a dead give away on how to find sea turtles at Akumal. After swimming out far and getting closer to others snorkeling, we made it out just far enough. Suddenly, a head pops up. Our first turtle! He was moving fast, but we didn’t get to him in time.

We swam out further for a bit, while learning to acquire some patience until suddenly another head pops up. Another sea turtle. We got closer ended up hovering right over the turtle:

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We got to bask in his beauty (honestly, I cannot tell you if it is a she or a he), but shortly afterwards a person nearby decided to dive into the water and touch it, which sent the turtle fleeing away from us. The sun was going down and we had a ways to swim back without flippers, so we made our way back to the car satisfied with our sea turtle encounter!

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I got to swim among the turtles.

Have you ever had the opportunity to go snorkeling? If you could swim with anything what would it be (whale? dolphin? turtle? crocodile? shark? mermaid?)? 

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