Living in Akumal: The Secret is Out
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Each of us has dreamed of owning a slice of paradise where the constant sea breeze rocks our macramé hammock, impressive sunsets replace the television set, and the only concern is what you are going to do that day.
This is a common trope on the Caribbean shores of Riviera Maya. It also abounds in Akumal, except the waters are more transparent, and the sand is sugary white. And the magic of the small beach-town community sets it apart.
Akumal translates to “the place of turtles” in the Mayan language for the hundreds of green sea turtles that lay their eggs every year on Akumal’s beaches and flock to feed in the local seaweed beds. The town has a long history of providing refuge to people and marine life. And in return, the permanent residents tenderly care for the treasures of the bay – the delicate reef and mangrove systems and the lagoon.
Formerly, a secret diving destination, tourists and expats alike are drawn to Akumal as it makes a name for itself as an ecotourism and luxury resort destination. Here is what you need to know about living in Akumal and everything it offers.
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Best Neighborhoods and Beaches in Akumal
Akumal is a small beach town of only 3,000 permanent inhabitants if you don’t count the resident sea turtles. It is reachable by bus, car, or taxi in under 35 minutes from Cancun, Playa del Carmen, and Tulum. Akumal is the type of place you go to get away from the busyness of bigger cities and tourists. Nestled between Playa del Carmen and Tulum, the main beach of Akumal gets its fair share of day trippers, but the atmosphere is always calm by the evening when the tours clear out.
The town began to expand in 1958 after its aquatic treasures were discovered by scuba divers into what we now know as Half Moon Bay, Akumal Bay, and Akumal Pueblo. The owners of these lands implemented measures and designated zones to maintain tranquility and preserve the reef, lagoon, and mangrove system, and keep the area as they found it. Thus, ecotourism is flourishing in Akumal, with tourists and residents ready to volunteer at local nature and wildlife conservation projects. Partaking in such events is a great way to meet the expats, most of whom come from America and Canada. The majority of locals speak English too, though knowing basic Spanish will go a long way in integrating with the community.
Akumal Bay is the main beach where tourists flock to swim with sea turtles. With luxury beach resorts dotted along the shore, the prices in this area tend to be higher, including on supplies at the mini-marts. However, bottled water is widely available at a reasonable price in all stores and dining venues since tap water is not safe for consumption in Mexico.
Visiting Akumal beach comes with a small fee of 100 pesos, or $5. It’s a small price to pay for a more peaceful experience as it helps keep the beach safer, restricts vendors, and prevents overcrowding. While the added safety is a bonus, leaving your belongings unattended is never a good idea. So, the entrance fee also includes a locker to store your valuables while snorkeling in the water. Rinse off in complimentary shower facilities when you are done, and join one of the enticing dining venues for a meal with a view.
Half Moon Bay is a long stretch of secluded beach shaped like a half moon lined with private mansions and condominiums. Those staying here are either residents or long-stay vacationers housed in apartments. There are fewer restaurant options, so this part of town gets less tourist traffic, creating a resident’s paradise. The shore is protected by a reef break, so the shallow pool of water is perfect for kids to swim in, and parents can bask in zen luxury. Perhaps it’s the beach walk along the bays, that plants the seed of living in Akumal in the minds of vacationers, admiring the front yards of beachfront properties speckled on the shore.
Akumal Pueblo is a quintessential Mexican town, located a 20-minute walk from the beach, just across the highway. The accommodation and dining options in town are more budget-friendly. Expect to indulge in authentic tacos prepared on the spot at a local stall while enjoying live folk music filling the streets, decorated with vibrant art murals. Walk to Akumal pueblo to stock up on essentials at small stores, or venture out to nearby Tulum and Playa del Carmen for a complete grocery haul at supermarkets like Chedraui.
Weather and Seasons in Akumal
Akumal is blessed with hot and tropical weather throughout the year and gets the majority of its rainfall from July to September, which is not heavy enough to keep visitors away. While rain is not an issue, Akumal’s worst nightmare is synonymous with the word sargasso. The phenomenon is unmissable from May to October as crystalline waters turn brown and pristine beaches turn into smelly mounds of seaweed. It is the main letdown for vacationers who don’t research ahead, resulting in crushed expectations and ruined Instagram photos. While some resorts clean up their private beaches, it’s impossible to get rid of it all, especially the portion floating around in the water. Unfortunately, with climate change, sargassum season has become unpredictable, so it’s best to ask someone at the destination while planning your trip.
Restaurants in Akumal
Akumal’s growing popularity among tourists and new residents has stirred up the local restaurant scene. New enticing venues pop up seemingly every month, keeping connoisseurs on their toes for fresh additions to the weekly dining lineup. Kickstart your morning, energize your afternoon, wind down your day at local slow-paced eateries, or treat yourself to a fine dining experience at the multitude of restaurants located in luxury hotels and resorts around Akumal. While upscale restaurants accept card payments, visit an ATM before dining in town to avoid a sticky situation and to be able to tip, which is generally expected.
Fuel for your day of water adventures with familiar breakfast favorites like eggs benedict or a breakfast burrito at Turtle Bay Café & Bakery. Rock to the rhythm of waves in a bar swing, margarita in hand, while enjoying authentic Mexican food at Beached Bikini. For dinner, join the beachfront La Buena Vida for a lively tequila tasting and seafood. Should you tire of Mexican flavors, mix it up with a visit to Maiko, a fine dining restaurant serving Japanese food. And if a craving for Italian sets in, highly regarded Taverna Akumal will hit the spot.
Things to Do in Akumal
Don’t be surprised when you learn there are many rules in place that prevent you from getting too close to turtles, let alone touching them, rinsing off sunscreen before entering cenotes, limiting the number of people to enter nature reserves per day, prohibited use of fins and so on. These rules are set in place by locals and the authorities to conserve the treasures of Akumal because living among such incredible nature is a privilege. And as for things to do in Akumal, there is plenty, from romantic excursions to family adventures.
Snorkeling and Swimming with Turtles
Akumal is a popular destination for snorkeling where shallow waters welcome sea turtles all year round. It’s possible to swim with sea turtles in the designated zone accessible only with guided tours or take your chances of spotting one roaming around in the open water by swimming out further off the beach. Follow the “‘Akumal Trail’” along the shore from Akumal Bay to Tulum, and stop to snorkel as you go. It’s a magical experience, to see marine creatures in their natural habitat, but they should always be admired from a distance.
As part of a turtle conversation project, you can also join a group of volunteers on a night watch to seek out turtles laying eggs. Prepare to learn many interesting facts, but keep in mind that this activity goes well into the night and may not be suitable for children.
Nature lovers will relish exploring this gem is located just ten minutes away from Akumal. Ideal for couples and families, Yal-Ku Lagoon offers unique fresh and saltwater snorkeling with a vast array of animals and birds to observe.
Swimming in Cenotes
Cenotes, limestone caves filled with fresh water unique to Quintana Roo, are bountiful in Riviera Maya and are one of the main attractions in Akumal. The closest ones are located in the Yal-Ku Lagoon complex and Aktun Chen Park, which is surrounded by a monkey rainforest with a zip line above treetops offering the best view of Akumal. Since these cenotes are off the main tourist trail, you won’t have to share them with large crowds splashing around. But the iconic cenotes of the Riviera Maya, like Cenote Azule, Cenote Dos Ojos, and Taak Bi Ha, are only a 20-minute drive away.
Akumal Monkey Sanctuary
Embark on a grand tour of the Akumal Monkey Sanctuary, located just outside Akumal Pueblo. The tour will start with exploring Akumal’s jungle while driving ATVs. The guides speak both English and Spanish, so you can comfortably learn about the sanctuary’s mission, meet the rescued monkeys and other animals, and hear their stories before ending the journey at an incredible cenote Ma’ax.
Akumal Art Festival
Art lovers will enjoy admiring the colorful murals that spring at you on every corner. But even more fascinating is the annual Art Festival, which aims to bring together art, community, and the magic of Akumal. During the festival, over 100 artists flock to Akumal to paint murals, hold workshops and engage with locals.
To add variety to your relaxing days, you can join the resorts along the beach for a gym workout followed by a spa day pass or treat yourself to a massage. Gather a group of enthusiasts for a beach volleyball match at sunset or challenge a friend to a game of tennis. You can also learn a new skill by taking up salsa dancing or making friends in a Spanish class. And if you prefer appreciating the Caribbean Sea from the surface, rent a stand-up paddle board and go on an adventure gliding across Akumal’s bays. There are plenty of ways to keep yourself entertained.
Day Trips from Akumal
Akumal is conveniently situated between Playa del Carmen and Tulum. If the relaxing gets tough, you can take a day trip to the buzzing Fifth Avenue for shopping and delight your taste buds at exciting dining venues in Playa del Carmen. Since the nightlife in Akumal is close to non-existent, partygoers will appreciate the upbeat clubs in nearby Cancun. Yogis will enjoy Tulum’s boho-luxe shalas and vegan beachfront restaurants with gusto. History buffs will love a day spent exploring the iconic Mayan archeological site overlooking the Caribbean from the cliff side of Tulum, the ancient Coba pyramid towering over Tulum’s jungle, or taking a two-hour drive to one of the World’s Wonders, Chichen Itza. A mere three-hour ride towards Belize will take you to another hidden gem of Mexico, Bacalar. A town, featuring a giant freshwater lagoon nicknamed the lagoon of Seven Colors for its many blue hues. Exploring the cenotes, islands, and shipwrecks on a kayak is a delight for any type of traveler.
An excursion to Xcaret Park near Playa del Carmen is the perfect day trip for both adults and kids. The giant nature park holds over 50 natural and cultural attractions that are meant to offer the ultimate Mexican experience in one place. Exotic dance performances, zip lines, extensive waterways, and thrilling ATV rides will keep you and your family entertained for hours.
When deciding to live in Akumal, you don’t have to pick between a secluded beach paradise and civilization. It’s the perfect balance of tranquility just a stone’s throw from all the top attractions of Riviera Maya. You decide when to tip the scales.