Home to part of the world’s second-largest barrier reef and some of the most pristine beaches in the Caribbean, Playa del Carmen offers no shortage of gorgeous snorkeling spots. While on the mainland swimmers navigate cenotes alongside turtles and small fish, those who venture offshore can expect to see eels, stingrays, queen conchs, grouper, and sea turtles. Whether you jump into a cenote, wade into the surf, or take a boat trip from the coast, bring your mask, snorkel, and camera— you’re sure to see something.
The coast of Playa del Carmen is lined with coral reefs, so there’s no challenge in finding a great spot to don a mask and take a dip. That being said, some stretches of shore are livelier than others, so a bit of research pays off. Ask anyone in Playa where to go to get acquainted with some marine life and you’re guaranteed to hear about Akumal.
This small beach town offers one of the most popular activities in the Yucatán: snorkeling with sea turtles. The seagrass that covers the floor of Akumal Bay draws in droves of loggerhead and green sea turtles, making for a truly unparalleled experience. Depending on when you go, you’ll likely meet with heavy crowds— but close proximity to the turtles is a guarantee as well. The drive to Akumal is made easiest by taxi (for at least $20USD) or collective (for $35 pesos), and transportation will likely be the most expensive part of your trip. Access to the beach is free, and you don’t need a guide to swimming with the turtles. Bring your own snorkel gear or rent some on the beach— a full snorkel set, complete with fins and a lifejacket, will cost $18USD— and get ready to swim with some of the ocean’s friendliest inhabitants.
The reefs off of the coast of Playa del Carmen house hundreds of species of coral and tropical fish, with some located just offshore and some hiding a bit further out. For some of the best snorkeling within wading distance, head to Half Moon Bay. Just north of Akumal, this stretch of beach is decidedly less crowded and offers a much more diverse array of marine life than its neighbor. Snorkelers don’t have to wade out far to come across colorful fish and corals, sting rays, queen conchs, starfish, and—on occasion—turtles. Another tip: the surf is rocky here, so be sure to bring water shoes if you want to make it past the beach!
Looking for an even more immersive experience? Consider booking a boat tour to check out some of the reefs further out. The coast of Playa is dotted with them, and your captain and crew will be happy to point out their favorites! Added bonus? They’re less frequented than those closer to the shore, which means more pristine reefs, more marine life, and fewer crowds.
For being in a Caribbean hotspot dotted with coral reefs and turtle feeding grounds, cenotes hold their own. Those willing to head away from the beach and into the jungle will find these limestone sinkholes to be a unique freshwater alternative to their seaside counterparts. Often half-shaded by caves or trees, some cenotes are populated by schools of small fish, turtles, and abundant plant life. Each cenote is unique, but if it’s aquatic life you’re looking for you can’t go wrong with Gran Cenote or Jardin el Eden.
Snorkeling Playa del Carmen
The best way to go about it is to jump on a boat tour or rental and take you to pristine beaches and locations where you can snorkel privately. There are some areas where the ocean floor is so low that you can simply stand and swim around with fish and turtles and it's perfectly safe for the whole family and the group that you are with. These boats typically take up to 8 passengers and include a captain and an assistant to make your experience pleasant. This is probably the very best you can do as far as snorkeling and have a top notch visit to Playa.