Diving in Akumal

Akumal is located about one hour south of the Cancun International Airport, along the Cancun-Tulum highway. For the most part, it is a calm fishing village with a few hotels, condos and villas, as well as family-owned businesses and local diving offering tours. Long before the city of Akumal was populated, large sea turtles chose its peaceful shoreline as their home. Thus its name in Mayan language: ‘Place of Turtles.’ Happily today, and despite the presence of both local residents and visitors, the area still serves as a nesting ground for sea turtles, where they can be seen up close while snorkeling as they are munching on the sea grass just a few meters or so from the shores.

Akumal is part of the several protected bays enclosed by the Mesoamerican Reef, the second largest barrier reef system in the world. Along the palm-fringed beaches, there is plenty of white sand for everyone to share and does not leave anyone with the feeling that the beaches are overcrowded. The pristine turquoise waters of the bays are perfect for snorkeling, kayaking and swimming for younger children.

On the west side is the local residential area with grocery stores and small local restaurants serving up casual eats like tacos and tasty chicken roasted over an open coal grill.

Underwater life

The Akumal bays area are bordered by what is commonly considered the Second Largest Barrier Reef in the western Hemisphere, offering a great variety of underwater scenery for scuba divers. On the shallower sites 10m-15m (30ft-50ft) we come across many turtles, small rays, lobster, lionfish, trumpet fish, morays, nurse sharks, and some large barracudas. Large coral formations run parallel to the main reef and offer protection to many species of smaller fish and allow for anchorage of many sea fans and sponges. Hard corals grow well in this shallow clear water.

Deeper sites 20m-30m (65ft-100ft) offer the chance to explore many canyons and search  for sleeping Nurse Sharks, larger Green morays and other larger species. Turtles are abundant on all sites along with all the multi-colored Caribbean reef fish. The current is very small here making all our sites very gentle and easy to dive for all levels of divers.

Diving conditions

With 18 dive sites, Akumal in Mexico’s Riviera Maya is known for its location at the top of the Belize Barrier Reef. These dive sites offer a huge variety of environments from coral reefs. The water is warm and visibility is generally excellent, the areas being protected from heavy current.

Present as well in the Akumal area are huge underground river and cave systems called cenotes that are accessible to all certified divers. The ancient Mayan people considered these to be sacred, having a special “peace and serenity” around them which you will feel as you begin your dive. The many Cenotes are all within easy reach by a short 10-30 minute car ride. All certified divers have the chance to do these incredible dives as many are both shallow and all allow access to the surface within 60m/200ft. Natural light comes through openings on the surface and gives a spectacular visual effect as it hits the clear waters.

How to get there

Since it sits along the main highway (307) in the Riviera Maya, the directions are pretty simple. You can rent a car from the Cancun International Airport or Playa del Carmen and head South on the federal highway. Akumal is just over an hour from the airport and half an hour from Playa del Carmen. Good signage marks the spot where you will have to take a U-turn and pass through the Akumal arch on the east side of the highway.

If you want to get to our dive center, it's just as close! Just turn left off the road on the Hotel Sirenis exit, plus, if you're staying near Akumal, we offer FREE pickup service! Check out the list of hotels we work with.

How to dive

Although just across from Palancar Reef in Cozumel, Akumal is unique for its uncrowded, non-commercial diving. The area’s incredibly clear waters make it a paradise for snorkeling, scuba diving & underwater photography. The coral reef, longest in the Western Hemisphere, abounds in colorful, tropical fish and exotic coral formations.

Entry level scuba diving courses

The entry level of scuba diving is the Open Water Course, this is a proper scuba diving certification that covers all the skills and necessary training for someone to become a diver, being able to dive with another certified diver to no more than 18m/60 ft. Good news is, it takes around three and a half days. And technology has made it way easier, as now eLearning courses are showing to be really useful to fulfill the theoretical parts of the course completely online, and then a PADI Dive Instructor will finish the practical skills and dives. So, after some shallow water lessons and 4 Open Water dives you can get your brand new PADI Open Water Certification. After that, many other courses and specialty courses are available, you can always find something new to learn.

Best time of the year to dive

There is no bad time to dive in the Caribbean. In fact, the water temperatures remain constant year-round and cool only slightly during the winter months. However, travelers are, on occasion, "put off" from travelling to the Riviera Maya between June and September due to "Hurricane Season". The good news is that we are almost at the southern end of this area and are rarely affected.

December to April is considered the best time to visit Mexico and therefore is the most popular time to dive in the Caribbean. Because the winter months are considered high season, you should make sure to book as early as possible in order to secure the best rate. On average, water temperatures vary between 78 and 82ºF (25 and 28ºC) in Akumal From May to September, green and loggerhead turtles arrive to lay their eggs on the area’s beaches. 

The best time for cenote diving is between May and September. These months bring the best light to the caves and result in better photographs.

Diving in cenotes

All along the Riviera Maya there exist many natural underground river and cave systems filled with crystal-clear water named hundreds of years ago by Mayans as cenotes. Most of them can be found deep in the jungle, and were  considered by the Mayans to be a "window into the underworld"; a place of great calm, relaxing experience that changes the perspective of traditional scuba diving in the ocean.

Each cenote has distinct characteristics, offering a new and unique diving experience. Some are shallow, some deep, some freshwater, some a mixture of fresh and salt. Some even have hydrogen sulfide layers, some have very little natural light, others have many holes in the roof where shafts of light breakthrough. Underwater photographers from all over the world descend into these cool crystal clear  waters seeking fossils and secret rooms lit by the sun’s rays. For more details about the different cenotes for diving along the Riviera Maya, check out our article about the best cenotes to dive.

Certification needed

The magical Mexican cenotes are open for all certified divers who have Open Water or higher level scuba diving certification it’s desiderable to have good buoyancy control and air consumption. Unfortunately they are not available to those who hold Scuba Diver qualification. However, Casa Cenote and Garden of Eden are  open to everyone, even those doing Discover Scuba Diving experience as it is completely open with no covered area.

A guide can only take up to 4 divers on a tour that must follow a set route and all cavern rules set by the guide. In turn, the guide must have a full cave certification, carry twin tanks, have special torch and spares as well as other special equipment such as extra-long hoses. 

If you’re in the area of Tulum or Akumal and are excited about a Cenote diving experience, why not book with us?

Other activities and information

For a small town of under 2000 inhabitants, Akumal offers plenty of activities to keep visitors happy and has enough local and delicious restaurants to satisfy any palate. Aside from snorkeling and swimming with sea turtles, other popular activities include deep sea/reef diving, sailing, visiting cenotes, bike rides, or just laying down to relax on the beach.

A wide stretch of Akumal’s gorgeous beaches encompasses “Las Bahias de Akumal” – a series of four bays starting to the south of Yal-Ku Lagoon with North Akumal Beach and ending at Aventuras Akumal to the south. All the bays are great for swimming, snorkeling, kayaking, and diving. For nature-loving adventurers, visitors can indulge in several different activities amidst the jungle such as snorkeling, ziplining, caving, and forest hikes in the Aktun Chen Park.

Turtle conservation

Akumal is a major nesting site for sea turtles May through November. As more and more tourists pop up to witness the natural phenomenon, the more their environment can be disrupted. The Centro Ecológico Akumal [CEA] works to help protect the native turtles by raising awareness and offering visits to their sites in a more controlled and supervised way.