Out of the wreckage ... Akumal
Did you know that a series of shipwrecks led to Akumal’s ascent? It’s true—when a Spanish galleon ran aground on the coral reef, its members were subsequently taken prisoner by the Maya. Once Spanish conquistador Hernán Cortés got wind of the news, he commissioned a search party out of Cozumel. But of the 17 men shipwrecked, only two had survived, and one, Gonzalo Guerrero, would later assimilate with the Maya, marrying a Mayan woman and fathering the first mestizos (persons of mixed heritage)
Flash forward a couple hundred years to 1959 and a Mexican businessman and adventurer named Pablo Bush Romero, who arrived in Akumal with a group of explorers seeking remnants of a different shipwreck, that of the El Matancero. Romero would go on to purchase much of Akumal’s land and today is credited as the founder of the town.
Contemporary Akumal retains its timeless seaside charm, but with modern amenities. In addition to several hotels, Akumal is home to gorgeous residential villas, and its center of town is rife with restaurants, spas, dive shops, handicraft markets and other vendors. One main road threads through Akumal, which lends a Mayberry-esque vibe to the town, and you’re never far from someone you know. For this reason, it’s no wonder people return to this magical place year after year.
Areas of Akumal
The most popular and well-known part of Akumal, the main bay is the epicenter of activity. Commonly referred to as “Akumal Playa,” this is the primary turn-off from highway 307, and where many people come to snorkel with the turtles. While the area has grown rapidly, the access to Akumal beach remains free for visitors and the ecosystem is monitored by a team of biologists and staff at the Centro Ecológico Akumal (CEA), also a popular pitstop for tourists. If you go, be sure to head left on the beachfront outside CEA—canons recovered from the El Matancero shipwreck dot this rocky path and point to Akumal Bay.
A little less than a mile from Akumal playa, Half-Moon Bay is a quieter residential area to the north. This rocky concave outpost is also home to great snorkeling—and fewer crowds. Take your snorkel gear and head north to La Buena Vida, consistently voted one of the Caribbean’s best beach bars, and enter from the shore there. Then have a margarita or order from their delicious menu.
Freshwater meets the sea at this inlet lagoon situated in the northernmost part of Akumal. For around $15, you can snorkel here all day—and be sure to pack a picnic lunch or grab something to go from a restaurant in town. From Akumal, take a bicycle or hire a taxi to drop you off—this one’s kind of a walk.