Where can you see turtles in Mexico?

turtle in Mexico

Swimming with turtles in Mexico is a very popular activity, and it’s an excellent place to see them. They gather in large numbers along the coast of the Yucatan Peninsula throughout the year.

Mexico is home to six of the seven existing species of turtles (leatherback, loggerhead, green, olive ridley, Kemp’s ridley, and hawksbill turtles).

I’ll introduce you to the best places in Mexico for swimming with turtles.

Encountering these fascinating creatures is a magical experience that will undoubtedly leave a lasting impression on your stay in Mexico.

Where can you see turtles on the Yucatan Peninsula?

The Yucatan Peninsula in Mexico is one of the country’s most popular tourist regions, attracting a significant portion of visitors to Mexico.

Its beach resorts such as Cancun, Playa Del Carmen, and Tulum are globally renowned for their beaches, nightlife, Mayan ruins, cenotes, islands, and much more.

The warm waters of the Caribbean that border the Yucatan Peninsula are a prime location for turtles in Mexico. They are abundant in this part of Mexico.

Snorkeling in Mexico’s Yucatan Peninsula is a great opportunity to observe turtles, fish, rays…

1. Sian Ka’an Biosphere Reserve

Sian Ka’an is an exceptional nature reserve located south of Tulum, home to numerous animals.

During a boat tour, explore the Sian Ka’an biosphere and discover dolphins, turtles, and crocodiles in their natural habitat.

The Sian Ka’an Biosphere Reserve is the best place on the Yucatan Peninsula to observe wild animals in their natural habitat.

Observing turtles in Sian Ka’an is an incredible opportunity.

turtle in Sian Ka'an

After observing the wildlife from the boat, dive into the reef for a breathtaking snorkeling session.

You’ll encounter colorful tropical fish and rays swimming among the corals.

Then, enjoy some free time in the natural pools of Punta Allen in a paradisiacal setting.

If you’re up for the adventure, I recommend this excursion with transportation from Tulum.

Sian Ka’an Boat Tour

Discover the wild beauty of Sian Ka’an by boat! Sail through turquoise lagoons, spot dolphins and turtles, and explore the mysteries of this preserved natural reserve. An unforgettable adventure in Mexico!

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2. Akumal, the Bay of Turtles

Akumal is the perfect place for swimming with turtles in Mexico, near Playa Del Carmen. It’s probably the most well-known spot for swimming with turtles.

Akumal means “place of turtles” in Mayan, and for good reason. It’s very common to see green turtles and loggerhead turtles feeding in the bay on their favorite plants.

For conservation reasons, access to Akumal beach is regulated, and swimming with turtles is controlled.

Here are some rules:

  • You must follow a guided route in the bay.
  • A guide is mandatory, and they are available on-site for a fee of 500 Mexican Pesos per person. This includes snorkeling equipment (mask and snorkel). Entrance to the beach is an additional cost of 120 Mexican Pesos.
  • Wearing a life jacket is mandatory.
  • Swimming is limited to a maximum of one hour.

A turtle protection center has been established in Akumal: The CEA (Akumal Ecological Center).

Akumal Ecological Center

The Akumal Ecological Center is a non-profit organization focused on sustainability issues and improving ecosystem management in Akumal and its surroundings.

The CEA has several missions:

  • Monitoring juvenile turtles in Akumal Bay
  • Monitoring turtle nesting and nests
  • Monitoring the coral reef
  • Coral reef restoration

I had the opportunity to participate myself as a volunteer with the CEA for a few weeks, monitoring turtles in Akumal Bay and assisting with nest monitoring.

If you’re interested in volunteering to help protect turtles in Akumal, don’t hesitate to visit the CEA’s website for more information.

baby turtle

In Akumal, you’ll observe turtles in their natural habitat, foraging for their natural food.

It’s a unique experience that respects the well-being of the turtles and the coral reef. You’ll also see many rays and fish enjoying the reef.

This magical moment can easily be combined with an excursion to the beautiful Tulum ruins.

👉 You can book this tour to swim with turtles in Mexico in Akumal !

turtle in Akumal

3. Cozumel, Exceptional Snorkeling

Cozumel island, just off the coast of Playa del Carmen and easily accessible by ferry, is renowned for its exceptional underwater scenery.

Cozumel boasts numerous corals, fish, and marine animals, including green and loggerhead turtles.

I recommend Punta Sur, located in the south of the island, which is an ecological reserve with a nearby lagoon. Here, you can observe many marine species, including turtles.

On Cozumel, you may encounter turtles among the multitude of species that inhabit the underwater world of this area.

However, spotting turtles is not guaranteed and is less common than in Tulum and Akumal.

turtle in Cozumel

4. Boat Tour to See Turtles in Tulum

If you are staying in the city of Tulum, you can observe turtles during a snorkeling activity.

A boat tour is available from the beach of Tulum.

The highlight of the tour is that it takes you in front of the famous Tulum ruins, allowing you to see the same viewpoint that the conquistadors did when they discovered these Mexican shores.

👎 Not very ethical practices

This option is slightly less touristy than Akumal, more economical, but also more chaotic and less ethical.

Indeed, captains feed the turtles in front of tourists to attract them, and they anchor their boats without regard for the reef, contributing to its destruction.

In addition to turtles, it’s also very common to see rays. 😍

This spot is best visited when the sea is calm and there’s not too much wind because otherwise, underwater visibility is poor.

Tulum beach

This contrasts with Akumal, which is a bay and therefore less affected by changing sea conditions.

However, during my visit, people were jumping directly on the turtles from the boat, and the captains were feeding the turtles.

We found fish heads thrown by the captains on the seabed and observed the turtles struggling with them.

The reef was also completely destroyed by the captains who anchor their boats anywhere, without regard for the reef or the turtles…

I much preferred the turtle swimming activity in Akumal, which was much more regulated and respectful.

  • 📍 Location: Playa Paraiso Beach (you’ll find many vendors offering this tour with immediate departures).
  • 💰 Cost: 250 Mexican Pesos per person.
  • 🕒 Duration: Approximately 45 minutes, including 25 minutes of snorkeling (equipment included).
turtles in Mexico

5. Puerto Morelos

Puerto Morelos is a town that remains relatively untouched by mass tourism and offers more tranquility than its neighboring cities Cancun, Playa del Carmen, and Tulum.

Locals and fishermen will offer to take you on their boats for a snorkeling session.

Stingrays, turtles, barracudas, and dozens of other colorful fish can be found here. The reef of Puerto Morelos is very well preserved and has beautiful marine seagrass beds.

It’s definitely a must-visit if you’re staying in the area.

Puerto Morelos

6. Isla Contoy, Wild Paradise

Isla Contoy is a small paradise in Mexico. It’s one of the finest examples of conservation. Access is limited to visitors and is only accessible through guided tours.

The beach is absolutely stunning and free of sargassum seaweed throughout the year.

You can see turtles surfacing just a few steps away from the beach. This magical place will surely leave a lasting impression on your memory.

Isla Contoy

What season to see turtles in the Yucatan?

Turtles are visible year-round in the Yucatan region and along the coasts of Quintana Roo. During the summer months, they are more visible as it is the breeding season.

From mid-May to September, turtles will lay their eggs on the beaches of the Yucatán. It will then take about 2 months until the eggs hatch.

Thus, from mid-July to November, it is the turtle nesting season in the region. It is then possible to experience turtle releases on the beaches of the Riviera Maya.

🤔 What you need to know

The sex of the turtle is determined by the temperature of the sand during incubation.

Where to see turtles in Oaxaca?

Oaxaca is a region and a city in southern Mexico, known for its rich history, vibrant culture, and delicious cuisine.

The Pacific coast of Oaxaca, also known as the Costa Chica, is a paradise for beach lovers, surfers, and nature enthusiasts.

The most famous towns in this part of Mexico are Puerto Escondido, Mazunte, and Zipolite.

Oaxaca, particularly its Pacific coast, is a privileged place for the nesting of several species of marine turtles.

The main species that can be found there are the leatherback turtle, the green turtle, the olive ridley turtle, and the loggerhead turtle.

These turtles travel thousands of kilometers to lay their eggs on the beaches of Oaxaca.

turtle in Oaxaca

Where to participate in a turtle release experience in Oaxaca?

The nesting season for turtles generally takes place between June and December.

During this period, females come to the beaches at night to dig holes in the sand and lay their eggs.

After about two months, the hatchlings emerge and instinctively head towards the sea.

The “Centro Mexicano de la Tortuga” in Mazunte is a research and conservation center dedicated to marine turtles.

It offers visitors the opportunity to learn more about these fascinating animals and conservation efforts.

In many coastal areas, there are also “turtle camps” where volunteers collect turtle eggs to protect them from predators and poachers.

They keep them safe until they hatch, then release the hatchlings into the ocean.

Some of these camps allow visitors to participate in turtle releases, providing an unforgettable experience while raising awareness of marine turtle conservation.

  • 📍 Location: Playa Bacocho Beach in Puerto Escondido. Look for the “Vive Mar” Camp on this beach.
  • 💰 Cost: 100 Pesos MXN per person as a contribution.
  • 🕒 Schedule: Arrive about 15 minutes before 5 p.m.
turtle in Oaxaca

Where to see turtles in Baja California?

Baja California is a long and narrow peninsula located in western Mexico.

It is bordered to the west by the Pacific Ocean and to the east by the Sea of Cortez, also known as the Gulf of California.

Marine life in Baja California is exceptionally rich and diverse, making this region a privileged destination for nature lovers and diving enthusiasts.

The Sea of Cortez, which separates the Baja California Peninsula from the rest of Mexico, is sometimes called the “world’s aquarium” because of its incredible biodiversity.

Needless to say, it is an ideal place to observe turtles.

turtle in Baja California

Cabo Pulmo

Cabo Pulmo is a small community, located about 1.5 hours from the major city of San José del Cabo, known for Cabo Pulmo National Park.

It is a protected marine reserve that houses one of the only living coral reefs in the Sea of Cortez, and one of the oldest in North America.

Established in 1995, this national park has been a resounding success in conservation.

Over the past two decades, marine biomass in the region has increased by over 400%, making Cabo Pulmo a global model for coral reef restoration.

There are many species to observe: 14 species of sharks, gray whales, whale sharks, turtles, manta rays, eagle rays, dolphins…

  • 📍 Location: Cabo Pulmo EcoAdventures
  • 💰 Cost: 1300 Pesos MXN per person for a 3-hour snorkeling tour. Includes wetsuit and all necessary snorkeling equipment.
  • 🕒 Schedule: Two excursions per day, one at 9 a.m. and one at 1 p.m.
turtle in Cabo Pulmo

During a snorkeling excursion in Cabo Pulmo, you will have the chance to observe turtles. Two species of marine turtles are frequently observed in Cabo Pulmo:

  • Green Turtle (Chelonia mydas): This large species is the most commonly observed in the region. It is easily identifiable by its relatively small head compared to its large body, and its overall coloration ranging from black to green.
  • Olive Ridley Turtle (Lepidochelys olivacea): Smaller than the green turtle, the olive ridley turtle is also frequently encountered in Cabo Pulmo. It is known for its large arribadas, or mass arrivals on beaches for egg-laying.

Conservation and protection projects for turtles in Mexico

How to react when encountering a turtle in Mexico?

Turtles are fragile animals that require care.

Here are some rules to follow if you encounter a turtle:

👉 Remove obstacles that may be in its path (sunbeds, umbrellas…). It’s important to note that a turtle always returns to its birthplace, several years later, to lay eggs.

With the growth of tourism in Mexico, a beach that was once pristine and where a turtle was born may now be filled with hotels and infrastructure, preventing the turtle from laying its eggs where it wants.

👉 Do not illuminate them; use as little light as possible, as this can disorient them.

👉 It is strictly forbidden to touch them (as this can transmit diseases) or to keep their eggs. As an endangered species, this is considered a crime.

🌿 Boost for Marine Life

The organization “Snorkeling for Trash” organizes beach cleanup days in Quintana Roo, Campeche, and Mérida.

It’s an excellent way to protect marine fauna and flora, as well as to meet locals!

turtle in Mexico

Other animals in the Yucatán

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