Snorkeling in Tulum, Mexico: Coral Reefs, Caves & Guided Tours
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by Kristin Young | Updated On: February 13, 2021 | Mexico
The Tulum we know today owes much of its wondrous culture and beauty to the ancient Mayan civilization. The once sleepy fishing village has become quite the eco tourist hot spot for good reason, with the archeological sites and ruins nestled along the coast, overlooking the turquoise Mexican-Caribbean Sea and access to plenty of unique snorkeling and hiking opportunities.
Although the incredibly well-preserved ruins and laid-back beauty are part of what makes the area so popular, it’s the wonderland of coral reefs, underground rivers, and stalactite caves that attract ocean-lovers from all parts of the world.
Dive into hidden cenotes surrounded by impressive rock formations, journey on a speed boat to explore the nearby coral reefs, or swim alongside cruising turtles making their way back to the deeper waters.
With plenty of opportunities to be underwater, this guide provides the ultimate snorkeling spots for all levels. Whether you’re an expert or novice, you’ll find an incredible selection of reefs, bays, and caves to snorkel during your stay in Tulum.
SNORKELING TULUM MAP
BEST TULUM MEXICO SNORKELING: CORAL REEFS & JUNGLE SWIMMING HOLES
Snorkeling is an essential part of a visit to Tulum, so you’re going to want to explore the most magical parts of all the bays. However, not all places in Tulum are great for snorkeling, some lack color, while others show off nothing but sandy grounds.
If you’re looking to experience the best of the best, these beaches, reefs, and bays should be the first places you head out to discover.
Tulum Reef Snorkeling
Entry: Beach for very strong swimmers/ boat
Access: Via a boat, ideally as part of a tour
Facilities: Tulum beach has restrooms, snorkel rental spots, and numerous restaurants
Look out for: Be aware of boats and don’t snorkel past the reef
While the shores of the hotel zone are are famous for their laid back vibe with plenty of eco resorts offering everything from relaxing yoga retreats to cool glamping experiences in Tulum, not many people know that a few feet from the beach lies a beautiful snorkeling spot. The area isn’t frequented by many of the large tour companies, so it’s easy to miss this hidden gem.
To get to the reef, snorkelers can join a local agency tour that takes you on a short boat trip to the reefs. Usually, the tour is paired with a trip to a lagoon to see the ruins that line the coast.
The area you’ll be exploring is enclosed by the beach and a reef, but make sure not to snorkel past the reef. Nonetheless, the gentle waters are beaming with colorful coral and purple sea fans swaying with the current.
As you near the reef, you’ll notice straight away that the waters become busier with schools of fish. If you know your fish species, some of the locals you might discover are French angelfish, Foureye butterflyfish, Atlantic blue tang, and Sergeant major.
With easy access, and close to Tulum beach, snorkeling in this little gem provides you with the perfect experience of life underwater in the Caribbean.
Entry: Beaches or rocky shores
Access: Access is pretty tricky; you have to book an excursion or be a guest at one of the surrounding resorts
Facilities: The hotels and resorts have all the necessary facilities for guests
Look out for: Although the waters are generally calm, be careful as some passes can be tough
Mesoamerican reef snorkeling allows you to explore the many shades of blue found underwater and vibrant sea life. While the reef is undoubtedly popular with globetrotters, the waters in Tankah Bay are a great alternative to some of the busier spots found along the Riviera Maya.
But, less touristy certainly doesn’t mean less magical. Several marine environments call these calm waters home. The green grass sea beds are particularly loved by sea turtles, and they can often be seen gliding in the meadows.
As well as spotting the occasional green sea turtle, especially from August to November, curious local fish species are swimming in the shallow waters. Queen angelfish, yellowtail damselfish, blue tangs, and Bermuda chubs are some of the regular characters.
What makes Tankah Bay particularly special is that there are four unique snorkeling areas, all with their own entrances. In front of Pavo Real Beach Resort is the entrance to a small reef, which is perfect for newbies and younger snorkelers.
In the center of the bay are two reefs ideal for experienced snorkelers looking to float around with fewer crowds and more displays of colorful coral. To get to the reefs, you’ll need to be a strong swimmer who is confident swimming over 900-feet from the shore.
Lastly, Tulsayab is a luxury resort that features a small coral reef that can be accessed by guests or those who walk to the beach. As a smaller reef, it’s fit for a quick snorkel in Mexico between your outdoor adventures.
Access: You can snorkel out from the shores to the reef
Facilities: Two nearby restaurants
Look out for: Damaging the coral reefs with your fins or stepping on sea urchins
Situated in the north of Tulum, lies the magnificent Soliman Bay. The secluded bay just north of Tankah Bay is mostly residential with gorgeous vacation homes dotting the shores.
The crystal-clear waters in the bay are home to some of the more unusual fish species in the Caribbean. With the coral reefs sitting just below the surface, you can swim alongside rays, barracudas, and nurse sharks. Hidden amongst the coral reefs are sea urchins, brain coral, and anemones that produce a burst of color to the waters.
A snorkeling experience here doesn’t require you to be part of a tour. You’ve got the freedom to venture into the waters and explore Tulum ocean life at your own pace. Tropical fish and diverse species such as pufferfish, needlefish, and stingrays will keep you company along the way.
The waters are well-protected from the reefs and coastline, and there are no underwater currents you need to worry about. Making the bay a great option for families who are looking to spend hours in the waters.
Tulum Cave Snorkeling
Entry: Various entries
Access: Book a tour or embark on your own adventure
Facilities: Depending on the area, there may be restrooms and restaurants
Look out for: Never lose sight of the cave entrance, unless there is a line to be followed
In the Yucatan Peninsula, there are over 6,000 cenotes, and the ones in Tulum offer an out-of-this-world snorkeling or diving experience. In fact, the town has the world’s largest underwater cave system.
These natural pits, or sinkholes, are created from limestone formations that have collapsed over the years. As a result, the below groundwater is exposed, which often shows off impressive stalactites hanging from the roofs or fascinating rock creations.
Depending on your level of experience, there are over 200 cenotes that can be explored. For first time cenote-explorers, Cenote Dos Ojos is a clear-water sinkhole that is populated with various species of fish.
Other cenotes, such as Casa Cenote, are surrounded by mangrove forests and blue skies. They often connect with an underwater cave system that leads to the sea. These types of caves are thriving with both freshwater and tropical fish species. You’ll also catch glimpses of colorful Cichlids darting through the waters. Maybe you’ll get lucky and spot a manatee?
Although some of the sinkholes can be ventured to without a guide, the top cenotes can only be explored on an excursion. Tours have you covered when it comes to transportation, equipment, and the knowledge you’ll need for cave explorations.
SNORKELING NEAR TULUM BAY
With spectacular coastlines and marvelous reefs, the entire Yucatan Peninsula is a dreamland for snorkeling. With the best water conditions, there are plenty of opportunities for underwater explorers.
If you’re planning a day trip outside of the Tulum wonderland, below are some snorkeling opportunities that can be had.
Snorkeling in Akumal: Turtle Paradise
Access: You can snorkel out from the shores to the reef
Facilities: Snorkeling gear rentals, restrooms, and restaurants
Look out for: Don’t be trapped into paying for a snorkeling pass from an illegal “licensed guide” – make sure you purchase a pass from a reputable company. Snorkeling is free in the designated areas
Akumal is widely known for its close to the shore, easy to access snorkeling areas. With a short boat ride, you can delve right into the barrier reef and enjoy the shallow waters and schools of tropical fish.
Most of the snorkeler’s goals are to see the green sea turtles when they embark on an excursion in Akumal. The gracious creatures definitely don’t disappoint here. They’re used to humans, so you’re able to get up close and personal with them.
And as with most of the popular bays in Tulum, the reef protects the area from big waves, leaving you with the perfect conditions for snorkeling.
One thing to note is that the ground is made up of very fine sand that tends to affect visibility. This is often compromised when big tours operate. To avoid this, you should get there as early as you can, ideally no later than 9:30 am.
If you opt to snorkel without a guide, it’s recommended that you stay close to the shoreline. However, this isn’t the best place to see the turtles, as they prefer darker areas with lots of seagrass. Try finding other groups of snorkelers and work in teams to find the mellow creatures.
Xel-Ha Lagoon: Eco-Park
Entry: An admission ticket for $90
Access: Parking lot
Facilities: Restaurant and bars, snorkel gear rental, WiFi, lockers, shops, and restrooms
Look out for: Ticket specials often run and it’s a great way to save money
Unlike the waterparks that are usually advertised, Xel-Ha is a natural water park that provides unlimited snorkeling opportunities. This natural wonder is a haven for water lovers, with all of the activities on the lagoon designed to show off the waters.
While the entrance fee is a little on the pricey side, it truly is a once in a lifetime experience. Adventures at the eco-park include underwater cave explorations, cliff climbing and jumping, river floats, and jungle trails.
When it comes to snorkeling, there are extraordinary cenotes to discover and an underwater paradise waiting to be explored. Over 90 marine species swim in the crystal clear waters and venture into the crevices of the sinkholes.
Expect to see snapper fish, parrotfish, a family of wandering rays, the queen conch, and other protected species that call Xel-Ha Lagoon Eco-Park home.
TULUM SNORKELING TOURS AND DAY TRIPS
At times, snorkeling in Tulum isn’t as easy as putting on a mask and diving into the waters. Most of the incredible places require you to discover the area by boat, while others can’t be done without an experienced guide.
If you’re new to snorkeling or the area, a guided tour can provide you with all the essentials for a successful snorkeling trip. Guides can help you along the way and help you to discover the best parts of the waters.
Tulum Snorkel Tours in an Underground Cenote
Price: $115 USD
Duration: 5 hours
This tour includes the chance to explore the wonderland of luscious, tropical jungle scapes, and the natural waters of a limestone cave. Start with a gentle hike as you follow the paths that were once carved out by the Mayans.
Did you know the Mayans regularly left offerings to the gods? At times there were methods of throwing living people into the cenotes to provide nourishment for the gods.
Refresh yourself in the water of the cenote, with a flashlight in hand – the light will show off all the intricate patterns of the rock formations and colorful fish that might be hiding in the grooves.
Once you’ve explored every crevice, you’ll be on your way to the Caribbean for more time in the water. Hopefully, you get to see a school of dolphins or the region’s famous turtles.
From Playa del Carmen & Tulum: Whale Shark Tour
Price: $165 USD
Duration: 7 hours
If you’ve seen your fair share of green turtles, tropical fish, and other sea creatures, why not head out on an excursion with the hopes of seeing whale sharks. Even if you’re interested in seeing the whole collection of sea life, this tour takes you through lively waters filled with them all.
After being picked up from your hotel, head out to the warm waters of the Mexican Riviera where you’ll have two hours to spend swimming with these majestic beings. Averaging at around 13 meters, they honestly are gentle giants.
As well as experiencing the waters, the tour will transport you by boat to Playa Norte on Isla Mujeres, where you can enjoy a locally inspired lunch.
Ruins, Cenote & Swimming with Tulum Turtles
Price: $119 USD
Duration: 7-9 hours
This tour through the Tulum ruins and Playa del Carmen embraces the best aspects of the tropical coastline. Thousand-year-old cenotes and green turtles. Not experiencing these wonders is like going to Paris, but not seeing the Eiffel Tower.
Explore the majesty of the ancient ruins in Tulum and fantasize about the culture of the Mayan civilization. With a guide who is an expert on the archeological sites, you couldn’t be in better hands. The ruins show off incredible views of the Caribbean Sea, which you’ll soon be visiting.
Before heading to the sea, wander through the hot and scented jungle and swim in a cenote nestled amongst stalactites and stalagmites. The swim is followed by a drive to Akumal Bay where you’ll be meeting the tranquil resident sea turtles.
All-Inclusive Caribbean Adventure, Reef Snorkeling with Food and Drinks
Duration: 7 hours
Journey under the water and explore an enchanting underwater museum. The sculptures that graciously rest in the waters were created by various Mexican artists, and while we may call it art, marine life calls it home. A huge variety of fish glide around the creations in search of their afternoon snack.
Depending on the weather, you might have the chance to visit the Chinchorro reef that is known for its brightly colored coral found in abundance.
Finish off the tour by visiting a private beach club and the vibrant streets of downtown Isla Mujeres.
TULUM BAY SNORKELING ADVENTURES: A BEACH-BUMS PARADISE
You could easily spend your time in Tulum paddling in the shallow waters and getting lost in the wonder of the curiously beautiful sea life. Part of what makes this sleepy town an incredible destination is that there’s always the option of embarking on a crazy adventure or keeping it simple with a quick snorkel.
A popular choice for thrill-seekers is to find your way around the topsy-turvy cenotes, travel in the sea alongside whale sharks, and spying upon grazing sea turtles.
When you’re not in the waters, marvel at the ancient ruins, trail along the jungle paths, or soak up the sun at Tulum’s incredible beach.