Sunday, December 8, 2013

Snorkeling Yal-Ku Lagoon in Akumal, Mexico


Way back in May of this year, my husband and I visited Akumal in Mexico for his brother's wedding.  We were only in Akumal for about four days due to my work schedule, but we managed to pack a lot in while there, including the wedding and precious family time.  One of the alternate activities that we tried was snorkeling in some of Mexico's natural areas, including one hidden gem called Yal-Ku Lagoon.

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The beautiful natural area of Yal-Ku Lagoon in Akumal, Mexico.

Originally, I had wanted to go snorkeling in Akumal Bay, where according to other blogs and websites, there is a plethora of free-swimming and wild sea turtles.  That sounded amazing to me, so my husband and I grabbed our personal snorkeling gear, called a cab, and headed out towards Akumal Bay from our hotel, the Gran Bahia Principe Tulum.  As we chatted with our cab driver, he suggested the nature preserve of Yal-Ku as it is quiet, not touristy, and an area where locals go to do some sunny-day snorkeling.  Always a fan of what the locals suggest, I agreed.

Yal-Ku is located a little bit past Akumal Bay, but in the same general vicinity, just off the Playa Akumal exit on the 307.  We drove through a little village with a deeply rutted alley and cute shops selling locally-made wares - along the right-hand side I could see Akumal Bay peeking out from between buildings.  Then we turned left and left Akumal Bay behind us, and made our way to Yal-Ku, which is a small lagoon connected to the ocean via two narrow channels.  Yal-Ku is a small and beautiful government-protected nature preserve that houses many specimens of fish and ocean vegetation, unique because it is the site where the salty waters of the Caribbean meet with the fresh waters of the Yucatan.  While you snorkel through the lagoon, you can literally see the layer where the fresh water rests atop the salt water.

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Preparing to 'go deep' while snorkeling in Yal-Ku Lagoon.

Our cab driver, thrilled that we had followed his suggestion and chosen Yal-Ku (and certain that we'd like his suggestion much more than any trip to Akumal Bay), offered to wait for us to do our snorkeling and then take us back to the hotel.  He asked for $60 US, which included the cab ride from the Gran Bahia, an hour and a half wait, and the ride back to the hotel.  This seemed reasonable to us, especially since Yal-Ku is a tad bit in the middle of nowhere and we weren't certain how easy it would be to find a cab to get home. We agreed, and he happily made his way to a car wash to clean the cab while we snorkeled.  Maybe we got ripped off, but frankly I didn't care - it was nice to know we'd have a ride ready and waiting for us when we were done.

The entrance fee to Yal-Ku is $12 plus the cost of equipment - however, we had our own snorkeling gear so I can't tell you exactly what the rental rates are.  You can check out a great informational website for Yal-Ku here. You must shower before entering to get off any hairspray or sunscreen (they want to keep the water as pristine and chemical-free as possible, and the oil and grease residue from sunblock is not good for the fish).  There are lockers you could rent to store your belongings - we didn't do that as Yal-Ku really is a hidden gem and there were hardly any other people snorkeling with us. Instead, we took our belongings with us to the bay-side and left them on a bench.  Nobody touched them.

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Yal-Ku Lagoon is protected by the rough ocean waves due to its limestone formations.

From the entrance, you must walk down some beautifully manicured pathways to reach the edge of the bay.  There are many ladders and platforms that allow entrance to the water dotting the edge of the bay - simply find a relaxing area to sit and prepare for your dive.  Iguanas were everywhere - sunning themselves on rocks, eyeing your bags in case you brought food, or skittering across the pathways ahead of you.

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An iguana suns itself in Yal-Ku Lagoon's secluded beach area.

Unfortunately, there are no turtles in this bay (and if you do spot one, consider yourself lucky, for it is a rarity), which I found to be the only disappointment.  However, there were tons of tropical fish and surreal looking rocks and inlets.  At first, the water seemed really murky and I was worried we'd see nothing, but then I realized I was swimming right in the slipstream where the fresh water met the ocean water.  Once I reached the calmer edges where the limestone rock formations created a natural barrier, things really cleared up and I was able to see some amazing sights.  In fact, it is recommended that people snorkel in Yal-Ku Lagoon on days when the ocean is rough (rather than Akumal Bay) because the rock formations block the waves and keep the lagoon calm and smooth.

I don't know my tropical fish varieties very well, but we did see plenty of different, colorful, and curious fish.  One for sure that I knew was a needlenose fish - a few of them followed us around for awhile, maybe hoping for a treat (which we didn't give - it is forbidden to feed the fish at Yal-Ku Lagoon).  Most of the fish schooled inside the limestone rock cracks and crevices, and we found it was a fun game to poke our heads inside to see what was there.

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A friendly needlefish joins Joey and I for our afternoon of snorkeling in Yal-Ku Lagoon.

We snorkeled for about an hour and fifteen minutes before running out of steam.  We didn't know it at the time, but I was pregnant and therefore fighting occasional bouts of nausea. After spending extended time in the ocean water, the salty taste would begin to make me feel sick.  In reality, an hour or so of snorkeling is probably plenty anyway.  We happily packed up our gear, found our cab, and headed back to the hotel.  I highly recommend visiting Yal-Ku Lagoon if you want a nice afternoon of peaceful, successful, and stress-free snorkeling.

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The clear waters of Yal-Ku Lagoon allow for some great marine life sightseeing.

Next time, however, I'd like to try Akumal Bay so I can see some sea turtles!

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