My family has been traveling annually to the area around Cancun, Mexico for the past twenty years. There are many wonderful things about visiting this area of the world. One of our favorites has been being exposed to and safely interacting with magnificent sea turtles. These beauties quickly became one of my favorite sea animals with their grace and peaceful nature.
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When Can I See Sea Turtles Mate?
May through July is the mating season, and you can book tours to glimpse this during diving tours around Isla Mujeres. The Carey Dive Center runs turtle mating dives.
How Can I See an Adult Sea Turtle Onshore in Cancun?
Female sea turtles come onshore to eastern Mexican beaches from May through September. All of the seven species of sea turtles are in danger of extinction because of poaching, habit destruction, death by the rubbish in our oceans, and inadvertent capture in fishing nets. Sea turtles spend most of their lives in the ocean, only being on shore at their birth and to lay eggs. Being on the sand can be one of the most dangerous periods of the turtles’ lives as they are exposed to predators and poachers. Naturally, only one or two eggs out of one thousand will become adult sea turtles.
They are spectacular creatures to see walking along the sand, but it is ILLEGAL to disrupt them in any way. If you want to see them, pick a nice quiet spot, preferably on a moonlit night, and chill. When you see a turtle, stay far away (at least 10 meters) and do not smoke or use any flash photography. Watch this miracle from a respectful distance, staying very quiet. If you disrupt the mother, she may abandon what she is doing. Then she may return to the ocean and dump the eggs where they will have no chance of survival. When encountering a nest, let the security guards know so they can protect it.
Guided turtle walks are offered by Centro Ecological Akemal and are a great way to gain knowledge while observing these creatures.
Where Can I See Baby Sea Turtles?
Four of the seven species of sea turtles live and make nests off the coast of eastern Mexico. You can find green turtles (which they call tortuga blanca), loggerhead turtles and hawksbill turtles, as well as the occasional leatherback.
The hotels around Cancun, marine biologists, and conservation groups work to protect these animals by increasing the chances of eggs making it back into the water as baby sea turtles. Consequently, when they find a nest, they dig up the eggs and move them to a protected place to guard them against poachers or animals who would like to eat them. At the nursery, they dig a hole the same size and depth as the original nest. Then they post a sign with the species, date, time of nesting, and the number of eggs.
It generally takes 45-60 days for the eggs to hatch, depending on the species and sand temperature. If the hatchlings have to make their way to the water over a considerable distance in the daylight, they would be easy prey to predators, especially birds, such as frigates. The hatchlings are brought inside to a safe place. They are later released into the ocean in the night, preferably with a full moon, high tide, and no predatory birds around.
There are three ways that you may be involved in the hatchling release:
If you are staying at a hotel that participates in turtle conservation, they may allow guests to watch the release. We have a timeshare at the Royal Caribbean Hotel in Cancun, so I know that turtles nest here, and the hotel protects the nest. At our resort, it is the security guards who organize the program, so they are the best to ask about it. You can read more about the program here.
Some other hotels that participate: CasaMagna Marriott Cancun Resort, Royal Islander Hotel Cancun, Royal Sands All-Inclusive Resort Cancun, and Grand Residences in Puerto Morelos. Call or email other hotels and ask if they also take part in this program.
You can visit the Isla Mujeres Tortugranga (turtle farm), where, for minimal cost, you can see all stages of sea turtles and be part of a release.
Where Can I Swim with Adult Turtles?
Akumal is a shallow bay full of grasses that the turtles love to eat. It is both a great turtle hang out and an easy snorkel. I have returned about ten times to Akemal and have seen numerous turtles each time. I consider it an ideal place to visit and high on the list of My Best Adventures Yet. You can also have a great lunch, relax on the beach between swimming straight from the shore to snorkel with the turtles.
The easiest way to do this is to book directly through the Akumal Dive Shop. If you would like to do this more economically at this time, admission to Akemal is still free. There is parking at the entrance to the resort and a collectivo stop (group taxi from Playa del Carmen) from which you can walk in. If you bring your own equipment, you can dive right from the shore. You can also visit Akemal as part of several tours which visit Tulum. Off the beach where you see all the boats diving are numerous turtles, and they are there year-round!
One of my favorite things I have ever done in my life is snorkeling with sea turtles in this area. If you do, please respect these magnificent creatures by watching them, not interacting with them. Wear a biodegradable sunscreen or a t-shirt to keep from polluting their habitat.
Check out my YouTube video of swimming with the turtles at Akumal above.
What a peaceful, blissful experience!
If you are as crazy about these majestic animals as I am, I hope that this article has inspired you to respect them, help to work to conserve them, and respectfully visit them in their natural environment. Another place you can swim with sea turtles is in Barbados! You can read about that on Ginger of the Go.
If you would like to see more animals while you are in Mexico, consider visiting the birds and crocodiles in Rio Lagartos.
What is the best experience you have had with an animal in the wild? Please share it in the comment section.