Discovering the Yal-Ku Lagoon

Visiting Akumal has always been my favorite day-trip from Playa del Carmen. Whenever I meet a new visitor to Playa it is THE place I recommend they visit. The beach is pristine and the crystal clear water is filled with sea turtles who feed in the bay. I don’t think I’ve met anyone who hasn’t enjoyed snorkeling with those majestic creatures.

Just last week I discovered yet another treasure of Akumal – Yal-ku lagoon. I’d heard of it before and had created a picture in my mind of a sandy inlet like some of the other lagoons I’d seen along the Riviera Maya. Upon entering the lagoon via a jungle-clad path dotted with bronze sculptures, however, I realized that Yal-ku was indeed a very unique place, unlike anything I’d seen in the area.

Yal-kul lagoon Akumal

Yal-ku is located to the north of the main beach. Upon arriving in Akumal from the highway, follow the road to the end and turn left. After about five minutes, take another left at the sign for the lagoon which leads to the parking lot and registration area. Here, tickets are available for 150 Pesos per person, or about US$12. Snorkels, fins and life jackets are also available for hire, or you can bring your own.

If I had to describe the lagoon, I would say it is half-cenote, half-ocean. This description is fairly accurate, as Yal-ku is fed by both natural ground water and sea water which flows in from the Caribbean.

The lagoon is most famous for its snorkeling, and whilst you wont find any sea turtles here, you will see a lot of fish of all shapes and sizes. It was some of the best snorkeling I’ve done in the area, swimming around in the clear, protected lagoon and enjoying the peaceful atmosphere.

Yal-kul lagoon snorkeling

The lagoon is rather large, and there are many islands and rocky coves to explore. Snorkeling around the large mangrove island was a unique experience as I’d never seen mangroves from under the water before; with fish hiding and feeding in its slimy roots.

I went with a group of ladies and we hired a thatched palapa for the day for 200 Pesos (about $18). You don’t have to do this, and there are lockers and some seating areas available to leave your belongings, but it was really nice to have our own shaded area complete with a large round table, chairs and even a hammock.

Palapa at Yal - Kul

It was just a few steps from the palapa to the entry of the lagoon, which made for a lovely relaxing day of snorkeling and chilling out. We brought our own drinks and snacks (alcohol is not allowed) and enjoyed views out over the lagoon which stretched towards the Caribbean.

Snorkeling at Yal-kul lagoon

We enjoyed ourselves so much we were one of the last groups to leave when the staff came around at closing time to rouse everyone out of the water for closing time.

So now when I’m recommending places to visit to first-time visitors to Playa del Carmen, I’ll have to include the Yal-ku lagoon in Akumal on my list of the top places to visit. A beautiful, natural environment which has been well preserved for all to enjoy. Especially the fish!

Tip: Yal-ku lagoon is located in the area of Akumal, about a 40 minute drive south of Playa del Carmen. It is best reached by car.

Top 10 Things To Do on the Riviera Maya

Playa del Carmen is located on a pristine stretch of coastline on the eastern Yucatan peninsular, known as the Riviera Maya. The Riviera Maya offers world class accommodation, unique natural wonders, beautiful beaches and historic treasures which make it a popular vacation destination for people from all over the world. We’ve compiled a list of the Top 10 Things To Do to assist you with you next visit.

1. Experience the Unique Vibe of Playa del Carmen

Riviera Maya Playa del Carmen

‘Playa’ as it is known by the regulars, is a cosmopolitan town on the Caribbean Sea, securing a special place in the hearts of all who visit. Sparkling waters, fantastic restaurants, lively night life and friendly people are just some of the possible reasons why this town is the ‘jewel in the crown’ of the Riviera Maya.

2. Swim In a Cenote

Natural, geologically formed pools filled with cool clear fresh water are scattered all along the Riviera Maya. Known for their refreshing, healing qualities, swimming in a cenote is an absolute must for visitors. Our favorites are Cenote Azul, Cristallino and Dos Ojos (Two eyes).

3. Snorkel with Sea Turtles

Riviera Maya Akumal

The protected bay of Akumal is the feeding ground for a number of sea turtles. All year round, these majestic creatures feed on grasses growing from the sandy sea floor and don’t seem to mind inquisitive visitors watching them eat. Snorkel gear can be hired onsite.

4. Step Back in Time at Coba

Riviera Maya Coba

The ancient Mayan city of Coba makes a great day trip from Playa del Carmen. Take a guided tour and learn about ancient Mayan prophecies, hire bicycles to explore the vast grounds, then climb to the top of the main pyramid and imagine yourself as a powerful Mayan king surveying a great kingdom.

5. Chill out in Tulum

Riviear Maya tulum

The beaches of Tulum are famed for their underdeveloped shores and turquoise waters. Grab a good book, spread out a towel and soak up the laid back vibe.The Mayans who inhabited the city in ancient times certainly had good taste in real estate!

6. Dive the World’s Second Largest Barrier Reef

The waters off the Riviera Maya are home to one of the world’s most spectacular reef systems. Most dive companies are located in Playa del Carmen or the nearby island of Cozumel, and can arrange a tour to suit you.

7. Celebrate the Day of the Dead at Xcaret

Day of the Dead Playa Del Carmen

Xcaret is an ecological themed park offering excellent activities all year round, but its ‘Festival of Life and Death’ in early November is not to be missed if your visit coincides. Funerary exhibitions, ghoulish face painting, excellent theatrical performances and a variety of food stalls are just some of the highlights of the festival to mark the famed ‘Day of the Dead.’

8. Discover Untouched Natural Treasures at Sian Ka’an

South of Tulum, discover ‘Paradise on Earth’ at the Sian Ka’an Biosphere Reserve, a protected area of untold natural and ecological beauty. Take a boat ride through the lagoon to discover manatees, dolphins and unique bird life, then feast on fresh lobster at a water front restaurant in the tiny town of Punta Allen.

9. Become a Beach Afficianado at Xpu-ha and Xcacel

playa del carmen beach club

Discover the lesser known beaches of Xcacel and Xpu- ha south of Playa del Carmen, then decide which is your favorite. Is it the natural, rugged beauty of Xcacel, or the laid back beach bars and aquamarine waters of Xpu-ha? You decide.

10. Slip into ‘Mexico time’ in  Puerto Morelos

Riviera Maya Puerto Morelos

A sleepy fishing village just north of Playa del Carmen, Puerto Morelos retains a relaxed atmosphere whilst offering great restaurants and one of the best English book stores on the Mayan Riviera. Pick out a great book then read it over fresh ceviche or seafood tacos and forget about having a ‘To Do’ list at all.

For more information on transport options and tours for the above activities, contact our concierge service.

Snorkeling with Turtles in Akumal

Snorkeling with turtles in Akumal was top of my list of things to do during my stay in Playa del Carmen. Akumal welcomes visitors all year round to swim with the sea turtles who come to feed on grasses in its protected bay, just a 40 minute drive south of Playa.

Akumal beach

Arriving at the entrance to the cove, I was blown away by the beauty of the still, glass-like water and blazing white sand dotted with swaying coconut palms.

I hired my snorkeling gear and life jacket at the small hut near the entrance and found myself a shady spot under one of the palm trees that lined the shore. Thankfully I had arrived early enough to beat the crowds and immediately took to the water in search of some shelled creatures.

playa del carmen activities

I didn’t expect to see one so soon. Just off the shore in the shallow depths of the bay, a huge sea turtle chomped slowly on the sea grass, not seeming to mind having company while he ate. I hovered above, careful not to disturb him (or her!), but being unable to pull my self away from the majestic creature.

playa del carmen activities

After eating for a while, he rose up to the surface to take a deep breath of air. Being so close to such an amazing creature in its natural habitat was such a treat that I lost track of time, and before long the waters were busy with other snorkelers. There were more turtles and sea life to meet, however, so I swam away from my first sighting to meet some other residents.

Soon I found myself gliding over an impressive reef system, chasing a school of shiny fish as they darted over the colorful coral. I was a little taken aback when I spotted a huge barracuda hovering in the reef, his black scales reflecting the light like mirrors. He was a little scary looking but seemed pretty relaxed and uninterested in me.

Soon, I made my way back to the shore, and took up residence under the palm trees, laying back to bathe in the speckled sunlight.

playa del carmen activities

By then, quite a few other people had arrived and were donning their snorkeling gear, wading into the water in the hope of seeing a turtle eat their lunch. I listened for the cries of excitement as they spotted their first turtle of the day, happy that they saw what they came for.

I know I did!

Akumal snorkelers

Excited snorkelers in Akumal bay

Akumal exceeded my expectations on every account, and I’d highly recommend it to anyone visiting Playa del Carmen. Even if you don’t snorkel, the beach itself is truly magical. The peaceful, protected bay is a great place to spend the day, either in the crystal clear waters or in a hammock under one of the many coconut palms.

The main attraction is, of course, snorkeling with the turtles. They are truly a sight to behold and don’t seem to mind all the attention they receive from well-meaning tourists.Thankfully, Akumal is a protected ecological area, which means the turtles will have a safe place to feed for many years to come.

You can reach Akumal by car, van or organized tour. My tip: Visit on a week day if possible, and arrive early to beat the crowds!