Mexico: Akumal

A trip to the Riviera Maya wouldn’t be complete without stopping by the little beachside town of Akumal.  Travelers make their way to Akumal for those very same beaches, not to mention the turtles.  I’m happy to report that we weren’t disappointed with either.

Akumal is about a  30 minute ride north of Tulum on highway 307.  The entrance on the south side of 307 leads you straight down to Akumal Bay.   Akumal is really made up of three parts:  Akumal Bay, Half Moon Bay, and the Akumal Pueblo.

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from Akumal Bay to Half Moon Bay

Akumal Pueblo is on the northwest side of 307, and is home to the Monkey Sanctuary a bit farther inland.  Drive back through town, and over 307, you’ll head straight into Akumal Bay.  Overlooking the bay, you’ll find some of the hotels in the area, the Akumal Dive Shop, a few restaurants, and that gorgeous Caribbean sand.  Keep following the road through town and past the dive shop, if you want to check out Half Moon Bay.  There’s some great snorkeling from the beach itself, as well as at the Yal-Ku lagoon.

Our day in Akumal was busy.  We hit the beach on Akumal Bay for some snorkeling in the morning.  Having worked up an appetite, we stopped by the Turtle Bay Cafe for some brunch, then drove out to the Akumal Monkey Sanctuary.  Sadly, the furry friends we made at the sanctuary couldn’t accompany us to Yal-Ku or La Buena Vida for dinner, but it was a great way to end our day!

Akumal Bay

Here’s the trick:  get to Akumal Bay early, walk through the Akumal Dive Shop to the beach, and head to your right, in front of all the hotel chairs.  The Akumal Dive Shop entrance is actually public, so just ignore the folks right in front trying to get you to pay for snorkeling.  If you have your own snorkel gear, walk just to the right, in front of all the hotel chairs.  Although you can’t use the chairs if you’re not staying at the hotel, you’ll be able to get you away from the buoys near the dive shop.  Then you can snorkel of your own accord, no charge.  As a general tip, seriously consider bringing your own snorkel and goggles if you’re traveling the Yucatan.  There was only one day on our trip that we didn’t swim.  Bringing all our own gear saved us a bunch of small money renting gear every time.

Ironically, we set up camp right near the “For hotel guests only” sign, but nobody was there early enough in the morning to bother us yet.  We spent at least an hour and a half in the water, snorkeling over the sea life and exploring the reef outcroppings.  We got lucky and saw two sea turtles that morning!  Both were just helping themselves to a nice breakfast of the seagrass at the bottom, and didn’t mind us nearby at all.

Up close, sea turtles really are fascinating animals.  Floating along, swimming up for a breath of air every so often as they kept sinking down to eat.  I was mesmerized watching the strange rhythm.

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Chilaquiles and cinnamon rolls, breakfast of champions.

Unfortunately, we don’t eat seagrass, so we found a table at Turtle Bay Cafe for some brunch.  The food and smoothies were great, and we always love finding WiFi on the road.  Definitely worth a stop after working up an appetite!

Our next stop was the Akumal Monkey Sanctuary, a surprise for my son.  After brunch we saddled back up and drove over 307, to the small part of town on the other side of the highway, home to the sanctuary.  To be honest, we may have enjoyed the monkeys more than he did…

Akumal Monkey Sanctuary

The Akumal Monkey Sanctuary only officially opened a few months ago.  We’re so lucky it did.  The sanctuary was definitely a highlight of our trip, especially for the 7 year old Steve Irwin that happened to be traveling with us on.  Intended to be a safe haven for Mexico’s indigenous monkeys (squirrel and spider monkeys), the sanctuary is currently the home of zebras, goats, macaws, deer, a kangaroo, some snakes, and a few species of monkeys, lemurs, and other small mammals.  A large number of monkeys are bought and sold as pets, illegally.  When they’re abandoned or forgotten, they can’t always return to the wild and care for themselves.  That’s where sanctuaries like this one come into play.

Adding to their number, Mexico passed legislation in 2015 outlawing animals in circuses.  Many of those animals, and illegal pets, wind up in sanctuaries throughout the country.  The government works very closely with the various organizations, ensuring the animals receive the best fit in their placements.  Our guide explained that one of their ring-tailed lemurs is currently living in a solitary section, to prevent fighting with another family of lemurs.  Since lemurs are very social animals, this could present a problem, however, the government knows about the eligible bachelor.  The government plays its part by ensuring the next compatible lemur is brought to the Akumal Monkey Sanctuary.

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The second coati of the trip.

Entrance to the sanctuary goes for about 350 pesos/person (discount for kids) and includes a tour of the facility, as well as plenty of interaction with the animals.  Visitors are given the opportunity to feed the deer, goats, kangaroo, and can hold a large python as well as the gorgeous blue and gold macaws.  After meeting the animals, you’re brought to the large Capuchin and squirrel monkey enclosures.

Then the fun starts.

The Capuchin monkeys (found in the title image) are particularly good-natured, and allow visitors to hand them food directly, and clamber all over your lap, up you back, anywhere they can.  If you friend sitting next to you has more food, they’ll launch right off your shoulders to your companion’s head.  You can pet the Capuchin monkeys just like a dog sitting on your lap.  These guys are a riot, they jump all over the place, and come right up to you with no fear.  Promptly finding the mango in your hand, your new friend will simply sit on your shoulder and enjoy his snack.

Trust me, it’ll put a smile on your face.

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One of the indigenous squirrel monkeys, probably eyeing that walnut in your hand…

The squirrel monkeys (pictured right) are a bit more territorial, and we were instructed to simply hold the food out to them, one piece at a time.  They don’t like being noticeably touched like the Capuchins, but the squirrel monkeys will still climb all over you and steal the food right out of your hand.  Make sure you only give them a little at a time, otherwise they’ll steal all the food, and run up the tree to it, ignoring you completely.  That is, until you get more food.

Bring bug repellent, water, clothes you don’t care about, and a smile on your face.  Buy the photos.  Yes, it’s a bit more than I expected (about $35 US), but they do a great job.  Plus, it’s the only pictures you’ll have with your furry new friends.

Yal-Ku Lagoon

Unfortunately, we couldn’t bring the little guys to our next destination.  I’m pretty sure those monkeys don’t swim..

Yal-Ku is a wonderful spot to sit out the hot sun.  It feels a bit more commercialized than some of my favorite cenotes on the trip (more to come), but it’s definitely still worthwhile if you have the time.

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The most interesting part of Yal-Ku is the blend of fresh and saltwater.  A small estuary is formed, resulting in some great snorkeling and the interesting sensation of a halocline in the water.  About 4 feet of colder freshwater sat on top of a warmer saltwater layer from the ocean.  While snorkeling, you could clearly feel the difference in temperature, and you could see a hazy region of water, where the two mixed.  (I tried to get a picture, didn’t really come out right.)  Yal-Ku is dotted with little inlets and large rocks underneath the water line, which makes for very interesting diving.

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We stopped by La Buena Vida for dinner after Yal-Ku.  You’ll see the restaurant and bar along the road from Half Moon Bay and Yal-Ku, back to Akumal Bay.  Our dinner menu included some great local fried fish, ceviche, and tacos.  All topped off with a cold beer and a few minutes relaxing in the hammocks by the ocean.

For being small, Akumal has a lot to offer, and still retains some of its local feel.  We definitely cherished our time there.  The best part?

All you need to enjoy Akumal is your snorkel gear, some sunscreen, and a smile.

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