We spent a week in Akumal, Mexico, exploring with our toddler and our extended family and we had a great time. It’s a terrific place to enjoy a more relaxed, family-friendly vacation than the more frenetic Tulum, Playa del Carmen, or Cancun. The town has a laid-back, beachy vibe with lots of kid-catered activities around and there are many interesting waterfront Airbnbs and local hotels.
Where Is It
Akumal is located on the east coast of the Yucatan Peninsula. It is about an hour and a half south of Cancun’s airport. We visited in July 2021 and we stayed for six days.
How To Get There
We flew into Cancun and rented a car there. Note that the Cancun car rentals are cheap but not quite as cheap as they appear online because they will inevitably (in our experience) require you to purchase insurance for an additional $20-$40 per day from the rates quoted online (which are ~$10/day type of thing).
You probably want a car, although you could have a less adventurous trip and stay at either one of the all-inclusives or in the more touristy area of Akumal. There are a lot of all-inclusives in this region, many of which are highly rated, and the touristy area of Akumal is small but totally walkable. Most likely, though, you will want a car. We did a good amount of driving around to visit different nature activities in the region and there is no public transportation or hotel transportation available to these options.
Akumal means “place of the turtles” and it is well-known for swimming with turtles and its beaches. There are also a lot of nearby nature activities – we went spelunking through a cave, swam in a cenote, ziplined in the jungle, and visited a lagoon with good snorkeling.
Mexico is very kid-friendly and these activities in Akumal were particularly so. The outdoor activities we mentioned above were all geared towards kids and families. We also stayed at an extremely family-friendly all-inclusive hotel for a couple of days called the Bahia Principe and it was a surprisingly nice experience with a huge selection of things to do around the property. In particular, they have a small toddler waterpark, which was a big win – this is one of those things that delighted our little one, even if we were a little weary of the same waterslide again and again (and again).
When To Visit
We visited in July, which was primarily driven by summer breaks from school as opposed to the best time to visit. Temperatures are in the mid-70s to low-80s for most of December-March with limited rain, so we would probably recommend these months as the best time to visit.
We had several favorite activities. First, everyone loved Aktun Chen park, which was about five minutes driving from the Bahia Principe and slightly further from our Airbnb. It is one of the coolest outdoor activity places we have ever visited and we spent two days at the park across a couple of different activities. The park has an interesting cave, a beautiful cenote to swim through, ziplining, and a zoo. Ziplining was only for the older kids, but even the younger kids loved the cave, cenote, and zoo. Each activity costs around $35 or this is a 20% discount if you buy a package for all three activities. The zoo is at no cost once you are on the property.
Second, we went snorkeling at Laguna Yalku, which was decent snorkeling and a refreshing way to spend a hot morning in the water. It has a park-like atmosphere and fresh and saltwater mix in the lagoon, which is an interesting experience. This was about $30 per person once you add in the cost of the life jacket, water shoes, and the snorkel equipment rental. If you have your own gear, the experience will be much cheaper.
Third: the waterpark. It is a very small toddler waterpark so I would not recommend it unless you are staying on property, but it is possible to get a day pass to the hotel for around $85. We visited it at least twice a day and I think four times one day, with naps and food, breaks in-between. Our son still talks about this waterpark six months later.
The adults also loved the messages from Budha Garden Spa. They were about $60 for an hour and they seem to have a well-regarded location in town with gardens and fountains, but we organized them to come to our Airbnb. This was a particularly nice experience with the ocean breaking in the background. It was one of the best massages I have ever had and several of us had two or three massages during the course of the week.
Lastly, we would be remiss if we did not highlight swimming with the turtles since this is why Akumal originally became famous. Family members who did it really enjoyed it. Apparently, it is very easy to see many turtles at Playa Akumal. However, we did not do it because our little one was too young to swim out and the sun was burning hot with no shade, so we waited for our family in a nearby restaurant. There are also a lot of people around this part of Akumal – be prepared for a little bit of chaos here. Everywhere else around town, it was entirely peaceful and calm. You can just show up or you can pre-arrange a turtle swim in advance. Apparently, there is a way to see the turtles for free as well but most people paid to be shepherded to the turtles.
Akumal is about 45 minutes away from both Playa del Carmen (to the north) and Tulum (to the south), so either of those is a great day trip. There are Mayan ruins at Coba, which is about an hour away. Coba is particularly fun because you can rent a bicycle and explore the property, in addition to touring the ruins, and they have bikes that will accommodate little kids. Pre-covid, it was also possible to scramble up the pyramid, although that is temporarily on hold.
Where To Eat
We are unfortunately not very knowledgeable about the food here because we were at an all-inclusive for two nights and then had a private chef for meals at the Airbnb. However, we stopped at or heard about a few local restaurants that we will highlight here. First, we stopped at La Buena Vida for a drink on the water. It was a pleasant seafront stop and our toddler loved the swings at the bar. Second, we visited a beachfront seafood hut called La Cueva del Pescador. It was delicious seafood and it is right across from the turtle beach, so it was convenient to hang out with while older family members went swimming with the turtles. Third, several people recommended a restaurant called Taverna Akumal. Unfortunately, we did not visit, but the reviews online are also quite solid and it is the top-recommended restaurant on TripAdvisor.
Where To Stay
As we mentioned above, we stayed at the Bahia Principe for a couple of nights when we first arrived. The all-inclusive rate was around $150/night. Our son loved it! It is huge and extremely family-friendly – basically, everyone there had kids. There is the toddler waterpark and the beach is fully raked clean from seaweed each day, so our days were busy with water activities. There’s also a large golf cart circling the entire complex that stops at each interconnected resort, which was an attraction in itself for our son. In the evenings, the hotel organizes various family-friendly shows and events. The food is fine, with several more upscale options on property, and the drinks are easy to procure. One tip for the rooms – there are no elevators, so you may want to request a room on the ground floor if you are still using a stroller. Each little group of bungalows goes up three floors accessible by stairs only.
We also stayed at an Airbnb that we would not really recommend – several things left us a bit dissatisfied with their customer service, although the villas throughout the town are excellent and we highly recommend Airbnb in Akumal. One thing to note is that all waterfront properties in Akumal (and on this part of the coast of Mexico) have a ton of seaweed. Many of the hotels rake the seaweed away each day, but the Airbnbs do not do this (or at least ours did not). Parts of the beach are also very rocky. We did not realize these things in advance, so we were picturing a lot more casually jumping in the ocean after breakfast than actually happened – we went in the ocean zero times at the Airbnb.
In the walkable, more tourist-focused part of town, there are a couple of hotels that we did not stay at, but the reviews appear to be excellent. The first and best-rated is a hotel called the Akumal Bay Beach and Wellness Resort – this is a luxury all-inclusive hotel located right near the more charming part of town. Pricing appears to vary widely but it was around $350/night in July. We tried to stay here instead of the Bahia Principe and it was unfortunately sold out for our dates. There’s also another highly-rated luxury option nearby called Secrets Akumal, but it is adults-only. The second family-friendly hotel in a great location is a more locally-run, boutique type of option called Las Casitas. It has strong reviews, but it looks a bit more rustic. This option was around $250/night in July.
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