Making Marine Friends | Turtle Beach: Akumal, Mexico

After being invited to spend the day at Tulum beach, I thought I had seen all the paradise that Mexico had to offer. That is until I discovered Akumal bay. Mexico has endless white beaches with the bluest waters. Tourists from all over the world come and relax on the sun loungers. They eat at restaurants overlooking people building sandcastles and paddling. Akumal is not like these other beaches, here you will find yourself sharing the sea with one of the oceans most beautiful inhabitants.

During my short time in Mexico, Akumal soon became a must see after hearing it is a turtle reserve. The opportunity to go swimming with these amazing creatures is something I couldn’t miss, as this would be completely impossible back home. Other members of the group we were travelling with told us how amazing it was. With one full day left in the country we made it our mission to spot some turtles! Me and my partner jumped once more into a ‘collectivo’ and this time we ended up exactly where we wanted to be. I’m putting this down to the car being full of other tourists going to the same place. Unlike last time when it was just us and we ended up the complete opposite of where we wanted to be!

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When we arrived at Akumal we made our way down the main street. This is lined with various souvenir shops and a supermarket, as well as endless groups of people wanting to sign you up for turtle snorkelling tours. At the end of the street there is the Diving Centre. Here I learned that there are two beaches. Half Moon Bay is the quieter of the two and doesn’t have any turtles in the water. I would recommend going here if you’re not that interested in going swimming and seeing the turtles. It is also a good opportunity to get away from the crowds that take over the other beach. The main Akumal beach is through the Diving centre. This is a lot busier and you have to make your way through the gatherings of tourists wearing orange life jackets, who are getting ready for their turtle tour! One friend from our group recommended visiting the beach at 8am. She said the tour groups aren’t on the beach at this time so you would have the water all to yourself. It is also quieter for the turtles so they are more likely to make an appearance.

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We had lunch at the restaurant on the beach, which I believe is a hotel establishment. It is mostly used by the people staying there, nevertheless we were treated to a delicious and authentic Mexican lunch for a reasonable price. Afterwards we walked down the beach and found a more private spot under a palm tree to shield us from the sun. Then we debated whether or not to do a tour. If you’re staying in the area for your entire holiday then by all means I think it’s worth doing. We were travelling to other places so wanted to save money. We opted for a cheaper solution – I walked back up the main street and found a shop that sold snorkels. They cost around 300-350pesos (approx. £10.). Being frugal I went even cheaper and just bought some goggles and a separate tube to breathe through.

Upon making it back to the beach I strapped on my goggles and waded through the water. You have to go pretty far out and it’s hard without a life jacket so I only recommend doing this if you’re a strong swimmer. I also had nothing over my nose so every time I put my head under the water to try and spot a turtle I had a rush of seawater going up there, which wasn’t a pleasurable experience – I suppose that’s what I paid for though. After about 20 minutes, zero turtles spotted and getting very tired of swimming I was starting to lose hope, but I knew if I swam back I would miss out on seeing one. I was determined to get what I came for. I saw a group of people with lifejackets on nearby shouting to each other. They were obviously part of a tour and where there’s a tour there are turtles! I swam near enough to them and dived under the water again.

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(Photo Credit: Hannah Kent)

There before my eyes was a sea turtle. I was surprised at how big it actually was. It lounged on the sea bed lazily eating the plants, completely unbothered by the fact it had about twenty pairs of eyes staring its way. The group moved on after a couple of minutes but I was too intrigued so I stayed and watched my new turtle friend. After a while the sea water was getting too much for me so I decided to have one last dive before returning to shore. When I went back under, the turtle swam up a couple of meters from me and then just like that it was off and I swam back to the beach to share the story.

It was an amazing experience and I really recommend visiting Akumal because the chance to see the turtles isn’t something you should miss. However, if you’re going freestyle like I did then make sure you’re careful around the tour groups. Don’t go and join the group, they have paid for a guide and you haven’t. Do what I did and swim on the outskirts of the group so it doesn’t look like you’re trying to get a free tour. You still get amazing views of the turtles!

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Midnight Fiestas or Paradise Beaches | Playa Del Carmen & Tulum: Mexico

From my short time in Mexico I have learnt one thing – that it is a country of opposites. On one hand you have the vivacious nightlife. Despite this being as touristy as you can get, it’s a good opportunity to let go and enjoy as many cocktails as you can handle (you’re on holiday you deserve it!). On the other hand, and after you have rested that hangover. Mexico offers sensational white beaches and clear oceans protected by palm trees for you to lounge under. If that wasn’t enough it’s also soaking in years and years of Mayan history. Nope, Mexico is not a place that is going to bore you.

I started my journey around Central America in the sun seekers paradise of Playa Del Carmen, Mexico. The first place I was told to go was Fifth Avenue, as this is the main area. The entire street is lined with bars, restaurants, another bar and gift shops. It reminded me of those old children’s cartoons, where two characters would be running and the background would move behind them and keep repeating itself. There are people stood outside each of their establishments trying to get you inside, which I find annoying but that’s typical of any holiday destination.

Fifth Avenue is really great for food. You could spend an entire two week holiday eating there and still go to a different restaurant each night. For our first meal we went to an Italian and got pizza with ceaser salad, which was not needed because it came in a massive bowl! We couldn’t even finish it all. The prices were surprisingly cheap for a restaurant overlooking the strip. Fifth Avenue is also for you if you enjoy bars and nightlife. There’s loud music blaring out and it’s a very vibrant atmosphere. Things don’t seem to get out of hand either, we were on the street quite late (around 11pm) and families were still walking around with their children. I think it’s perfect for those holidays where you just want to relax and enjoy the food and drink – or drinks!

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(Photo Credit: Megan Lurkins)

Despite Playa Del Carmen being the centre of all things tourist it also has very good connections to other places worth a visit. It is just a boat ride to the island of Cozumel, which is famous for its diving and snorkelling activities – you can even go swimming with dolphins! We decided to hop onto a ‘collectivo’ which is kind of bus/taxi hybrid. When you are close to your destination you tell the driver you want him to stop, or pray that a local is getting off at the same place. We actually wanted to go somewhere else but ended up in Tulum as a means of poor communication between us and the driver. We weren’t disappointed however because we had arrived at another paradise.

Tulum is a famous Mayan site. When you arrive you are heckled by a number of people at information stands. After that you stand at the entrance of the famous Tulum ruins. They are worth a visit if you are just staying in the Tulum/Playa Del Carmen area. However, we were visiting other places in Central America so we were saving our Mayan ruin fix for then. It is approximately 35-40pesos to enter the ruins so it’s not even that expensive for you to get a real insight into the history of the place you’re staying. Through the flashing lights and loud music of the tourist strip it’s hard to imagine what was there before. I feel that it’s important to experience some culture of the country you’re visiting.

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We wondered down the path to Tulum beach. Here we enjoyed a meal on the beachfront before finding a more private place to dump our stuff. Before I went to Mexico people told me that the sea isn’t cold when you first step in. I didn’t believe them so I got changed and raced down the beach. I wasn’t disappointed the water was so warm and clear, it was like being in a bath, nothing like I had experienced back in Europe. After I got bored of swimming I just sat in the water for about half an hour letting the waves push me back to shore, completely relaxed in paradise!

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Playa Del Carmen is a perfect location for a number of reasons. The first being Fifth Avenue, if you’re only going to stay in that area then it has everything for you, both the atmosphere and the shopping. If you’re wanting to go further afield then Playa Del Carmen is in the best location as it is a short ride from places such as Cozumel, Akumal and Tulum. Try to be brave and take the Collectivo instead of a taxi! Aqui Senor Aqui!