INTERNATIONAL LIVING MAGAZINE

Akumal…Where the Jungle Meets the Sea

Today’s date is December 28th and the temperature in this seaside paradise is a balmy 81 F at 8 a.m. The varied shades of blues, aquamarine, and turquoise blend and swirl together as the clear tropical waters of the Caribbean Sea gently bathe the sugar-sand beach. This is the small community of Akumal in the Mexican state of Quintana Roo and for those who call it home, there is no better place to be. Mexico’s famed Riviera Maya stretches from Cancun in the north, 80 miles south to Tulúm. Akumal (Mayan for Land of the Turtles) rests between Playa del Carmen and Tulúm.

 

Famously known for its spectacular clear bay filled with sea turtles, Akumal has matured from a secretive dive destination to a growing tourist attraction and has become a relevant investment opportunity. The bay is a strong draw with easy access to the beach and nearby reef from several points. The bay now attracts a growing number of day-trippers who come to dive and snorkel in the clear waters hoping to swim alongside some of the abundant and gentle sea turtles. The secret is out. Located where the jungle meets the beach, Akumal is learning to cope with increasing numbers of returning vacationers as well as a growing contingent of expats and investors who have staked their claim here. Until the last few years, this tiny beachfront town, about an hour south of Playa del Carmen, was often a day trip for a small number of vacationers in Cancun and Playa del Carmen. Notably, these day-trippers were often those who had heard of the amazing diving and snorkeling in the clear, shallow bay, permitting close encounters with the many sea turtles who call this special place, home.

 

For better or worse, Akumal is no longer just a day trip but is emerging as a primary destination. In fact, sizeable real estate developments have sprouted, encouraging investors and expat residents to make long-term commitments to the area. At the southern end of Mexico’s famed Riviera Maya on the Caribbean Sea, Akumal is naturally blessed with good weather and temperatures normally in the 80s F. A refreshing sea breeze keeps the air moving and a nearby reef offers plenty of opportunities for water-borne recreation. When you combine all this with an environment steeped in an ancient Maya culture that perfectly blends life in the jungle with life on the beach, it is no wonder that Akumal has achieved its welldeserved reputation as a distinctive environment. 

 

Life in Akumal needn’t be boring. With a growing population, it seems like a new restaurant is opening every month or two. And the lifestyle associated with living in a beachfront community means that your social life can be as busy as you wish. There are always tourists in the area to give a boost to your social life and the local residents are quite friendly. With a strong focus on maintaining an ecologically sound community, there are a number of opportunities to volunteer for such issues as the impact on the resident turtle population as well as the health of the nearby reef. Reducing the use of plastics and ensuring that the bay remains clean is also important to all in this area. Admittedly, Akumal and the entire Riviera Maya attract those who love the water and water activities, even if that means lazing around, wiggling your toes in the sand and sipping a tall, cold rum drink with skewered fruit hanging from the edge. 

 

‎ When you want a bit more than can be found in Akumal, make the hour drive to Playa del Carmen and take advantage of Quinta Avenida, or Fifth Avenue, a walkable mall area, closed to vehicle traffic. Stretching some 40 blocks in length, this pedestrian walkway is only a couple of blocks inland from the beach. Here you’ll find hundreds of quaint shops, trendy bars, and chic, restaurants. Tucked into small side streets, you’ll discover many small boutique hotels perfect for weekend get-aways. Drive a bit farther north and you’re in Cancun. The well-known hotel zone offers hundreds of dining choices, clubs, and entertainment while you can enjoy shopping at large malls, big box stores, or catching a movie. For a grand adventure, you can drive down the coast to the Belize border in a bit over two hours, catching the small and historic town of Bacalar, with its gorgeous lake of seven colors, along the way. The beautiful city of Chetumal, capital city of Quintana Roo, sits on the border with Belize and is a good choice for a weekend away. 

 

It would be easy to think of Akumal as a one-trick-pony but that would be a mistake. The obvious and primary draw of Akumal is the access to the calm waters of the bay, waters that provide food and shelter for hundreds of sea turtles who live there. These turtles, and the ability to swim and interact with these peaceful creatures, attract thousands of visitors each month. From time to time, the local authorities will restrict access to the bay in an effort to relieve the pressure on the turtles. And as amazing as it is to swim and snorkel among these graceful reptiles, there is more to Akumal than the turtles and a gorgeous, calm bay. That said, you certainly want to take advantage of this special opportunity. Don your mask and flippers and wade into the warm Caribbean waters with your waterproof camera. Or join one of the guided groups who will usually have a photographer swimming with you. By the way, did you know that sea turtles (unlike their freshwater counterparts) cannot retract their legs and heads into their shells for protection? Akumal defines relaxation. Some (count me among them) find total contentment wiggling their toes in the surf and listening to some tunes while maintaining proper hydration with a chilled beverage. Be sure to use plenty of sun screen, just in case you accidentally fall asleep under the sizzling, tropical sun.

 

As mentioned above, Akumal is now emerging as its own destination and with that comes more permanent residents and… more cool beach bars and restaurants. Take a walk along the condensed beach area to discover the newest offerings in food and libations. You could certainly make an evening or three visiting the local pit stops and making new friends. Yes… that is an activity worth pursuing. The newest and perhaps some of the best offerings may, in fact, be found off the beach. Keep your ear to the ground to learn the latest as a new offering seems to appear every month. Akumal is not a large entertainment center like Cancun or Playa del Carmen. If it is large shopping malls, movie theaters, the energy of a crowd, and hundreds of bars and restaurants that you seek, a short drive north will put you into the belly of that beast. This small bayside community is best regarded as a relaxing, slower paced, eco-friendly hub from which to explore the surrounding area‎.

by Don Murray