It is a quiet and friendly place, and something of a secret to those who live there, with its powdery beaches, lush jungle and wonderful people. Akumal’s shallow and protected bays, created by the world’s 2nd largest barrier reef, delight every level of snorkeler discovering the beauty of its underwater world.
The bays are populated with a huge variety of fish and marine life. The favorite resident here is the sea turtle. You can swim with an abundance of tropical fish, along with the unconcerned turtles feeding on underwater grasses. The beach is spotted with protected turtle egg nests. The local environmental organization, CEA (Centro Ecologico Akumal) is dedicated to protecting these turtles, which nest from May to October.
A little known story is the town’s beginnings. The year was 1511 and a shipwreck caused 17 sailors to wash up on shore, where the Mayans swiftly captured them. Fifteen men died and the two survivors would have an enduring impact on Akumal and Mexico. One of the survivors, Gonzalo Guerrero, married the Mayan princess Xzazil, who was the daughter of the Mayan chief. He fathered three children, who became the first mingling of Mayan and Spanish heritage in Mexico and the first Euro-American family.
He grew to love his new life and even denounced his Spanish culture. He told the Spanish emissaries that he was no longer Spanish; he was a Mayan. He taught the Mayans techniques of war which they later used against the invading Spaniards. The Spanish conqueror Cortes arrived at the island of Cozumel in 1519 and was told about the shipwreck and its only two surviving sailors living in Akumal. He sent a search party. They located the two men and rescued the other sailor, Geronimo de Aguilar, who became the first Mayan language translator and a guide for the Spanish conquistadors. Guerrero lived in Akumal with his wife and three children until his death in 1536. A statue of Guerrero, with his wife and children greets visitors at the entrance to Akumal.
About 200 years later, a Spanish merchant ship, El Matancero, ran aground on the coral reef during a terrible storm. Its cargo would have brought a considerable price had the ship made her destination of Veracruz.
In 1959, a team of WWII Mexican frogmen came to salvage the ship. This tropical coast had only been accessible by boat. Cannons from the ship were recovered and can be seen at the north end of the bay. Snorkelers can also find them on the sea floor there. One of those divers, Pablo Bush Romero, eventually purchased thousands of acres of land in and around Akumal. He founded the town as a dedicated community for scuba divers. Their group donated Xel-Ha and over 5,000 acres of land around Akumal to be dedicated as a national park. There is a shipwreck museum in Puerto Aventuras, which holds most of the artifacts found on El Matancero. Visitors there can get a view of the fascinating history of scuba diving in the area. Part of the ‘treasure” of glass beads can still be found at the site of the wreck in Akumal Bay.
Unlike the many resort communities along the coast, Akumal has kept its relaxed, eclectic and laid back mood. Jerry Garcia of the Grateful Dead made Akumal his vacation hideaway. The famous dive locations in the Riviera Maya originated in the waters of Akumal.
There is much to see and do in Akumal, but it is really more about just relaxing. The very first vacation resort on the Riviera Maya is still just a small beach community with an easy feel and slow pace.