Akumal, Mexico – The ocean is angry this week. There is supposedly decent snorkeling at all the beaches along the Riviera Maya, but we found only big waves and cloudy water. So we decided to snorkel at Laguna Yal-kú, a lovely natural inlet that is teeming with sea life.
First, the good. Yal-kú is gorgeous. Dozens of whimsical sculptures pose along the stone paths amid the beautifully landscaped gardens. The pathways lead to the edge of the blue lagoon, where reef fish lurk in hidden inlets and swim around miniature islands. We rented a private cabana, so we had a picnic table and hammocks and our own access to the lagoon; and we ended up staying all day.
The snorkeling is not amazing, but it was good enough to keep us entertained (and it was certainly better than in the sea). In the lagoon, fresh water from the inland river meets salt water from the ocean, which creates a natural brackish cloudiness. We discovered the best visibility and the warmest water as we swam further inland (away from the ocean). The sea life was not as plentiful nor as diverse as it would be at the reef, but there was plenty to see, including lots of parrot fish, blue tangs and many colorful beauties.
Now, the ugly. The place was overrun by the worst kind of tourists: tour groups. Snorkeling in a group — that’s something I just don’t get. It’s not like this is an offshore reef that requires a boat trip; this is a nearly enclosed lagoon. Even if you bring a group, why not let the individuals explore and discover the place on their own? There’s nothing to be gained by snorkeling in a group of 10 or 20 bodies. The tour guides were also disturbingly loud. (Of course they were loud… they were trying to communicate with people who had their heads underwater.) It would be a simple thing to limit the size and number of groups admitted to Yal-kú — but that would mean less pesos coming in, so I guess that’s not happening.
Which leads me to my main complaint about just about every place we went along the Riviera Maya. They have a good thing going here. The Maya history, the geological marvels, the natural beauty all make for a fantastic vacation destination. But there is little appeal to dodging big groups of people who are all trying to look at the same thing. And for me, there is little appeal to being a part of such a group either.