Let’s start with the turtles as the bay, the resort and the village are named after them. ‘The Land of Turtles’ is the year-round home to countless numbers of endangered green sea turtles, who congregate just off the beach in the calm clear water of Akumal Bay to snack on abundant seagrass growing from the seafloor. Tourists flock to this beach to swim alongside (but not touch!) the gentle creatures, and measures have been put in place to control the effect the numerous visitors are having on the turtles and their fragile ecosystem. Time will tell how the two will co-exist.
Akumal, though, is more than its most famous namesake. It is also a village, where the local Yucatec Maya live. The village is about 37km south of Playa, on the right-hand side of the highway. It was built on the site of a former coconut plantation. On the left (beach) side, there is the beach resort of Akumal with villa residences, a few hotels and restaurants. The beach town was built in 1958 as a community for scuba divers by Pablo Bush Romero, a Mexican businessman, diver and archeologist. You can see his bronze bust by the Lol Ha restaurant on the beach. He was an enthusiastic diver and his idea has certainly caught on. The public beach today is used mainly by snorkelers who want to swim with turtles.
The first foreigner who set foot on this coast was Gonzalo Guerrero, a would-be Spanish conquistador who was shipwrecked here in 1511 with his crew. He did not have a chance to enjoy the beach, as the crew were captured by the local Maya tribe. Some were sacrificed, some died of disease, but Guerrero was kept as a slave and at some point later married Zazil Há, the daughter of the local Batab (chief). He was promoted to the rank of Nacom (war chief) and was known as Lord of Chactemal. He then led the Mayan resistance against his former countrymen and died in battle. You will see a sculpture of Guerrero, his wife and their children, the first Mestizo (mixed-race) children, just before entering the beach.
Besides the coral and colorful marine life, the bay town is also an artist’s hub. The four consecutive bays are lined with villa residences and in one of them you will find the spectacular Yal-Ku lagoon where fresh and saltwater mix. Test out all of the fresh ceviches served at restaurants along the bays, or find that perfect bar stool with a view. If you want to explore further, the nearby area is dotted with cenotes, the mystical Aktun Chen cave system, and the beautiful Xel Ha or Coba ruins, for day trips.
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