Here’s the Deal with the Buoys in Akumal Bay


The new buoy system in the bay (designed by the Mexican federal government) is now complete, but no directives or instructions have been posted publicly as yet.  Here is what is known currently and is verifiable by various local businesses, individuals and agencies who are involved with this process:

There are three specific zones (see maps with captions) that one cannot enter into in the bay, even independent of a tour. Two of these zones are better known as the commercial tour “circuits”, one to the north and one to the south. Between the two is a completely restricted “no-go” protected zone where no one can enter at any time – ever – and even tours cannot go in or navigate around this area. Like the others, it is an area of high concentration of sea grass for the turtles to graze on in peace or to retreat to if needed  without anything disturbing them, and it is also home to many delicate regenerating and growing coral structures. This area is completely off limits and heavily patrolled. No one can go within the confines of or around these three areas, the exception being the recreational swimming zones paralleling the shore or out beyond those zones, with caution. Tour guides will traverse around the perimeters of Circuit #1 and Circuit #2 in designated lanes strictly for their use.  Unfortunately, there is no clear signage or instructions posted.  Bay patrols (when they are present) are actively directing people out of these areas and are also busy keeping people out of the boat navigation channels.

From north to south here is the buoy system layout:











The first of the two zones for tours only is to the north, more or less in front of LolHa Restaurant/Snack Bar extending out from shore. It appears as a rectangle within a rectangle, perpendicular to the shore. This is Circuit #1, outlined in PINK on map photo. Just south of that is a boat navigation channel in front of the Akumal Dive Center extending out to the outer reef passageway through the reef break…no entry. Officials, bay patrols and boat captains are vigilant to keep people out of this area for obvious safety reasons as the boat traffic is frequent and often. It is not identified by name on the map but it is in between Circuit #1 and the central “no-go” zone (outlined in BLACK).

Circuit #2 (outlined in PURPLE) is to the extreme south of there in front of Secrets paralleling the shore north to south to just in front of the very beginning of the Akumal Bay Beach and Wellness Resort. There is NO lane or passageway between the “no-go” zone and Circuit #2 as shown on the map. It is a continuously buoyed area from one to the next but also is more or less the same rectangular configuration as Circuit #1 but runs parallel to the shore.

The majority of the bay to the south is open and available to visitors/guests for non commercial recreational swimming or snorkeling designated with buoy lines paralleling the shore that extend out 60-70 meters (not exactly confirmed…it may be more like 50-60 meters but that is what was stated in the conceptual design). It is recommended to stay in these areas and there is plenty to see including turtles, fish, coral and other ecology. Many people do not realize that turtles can be observed many other places in the bay besides the aforementioned restricted areas, especially in front of Secrets. So despite what some say, these restricted zones really are not where every single turtle is in the bay.

Bear in mind that all of this inevitably is for the greater good of the preservation and sustainability of Akumal Bay and it’s ecology and of course authorities can and do effect changes at will. It is advisable to comply with requests as monitored patrolling is increasing in the bay.

Although out deeper beyond the restricted zones is considered “free zone” as well, know that swimming out to inside the outer reef is discouraged for not only safety reasons but also to avoid damage to the reef. Should you venture out there, you should definitely be a good and confident swimmer AND wear a life jacket. Inflatable, horse collar type snorkel vest are not effective as a life jacket. These deeper areas are known for strong current that may not be visible on the surface and it is a common mistake to go out on a high tide and end up over the reef and not be able to get back through or get caught in dangerous currents. Do not venture over the reef break…ever. If you are observed by lifeguards or officials to be jeopardizing your safety, you may be directed away from the reef back to a shallower, safer area of the bay.

Lifeguards do assessment of the bay conditions daily and know it’s dangers very well. Please follow any and all instructions or directives given by them, know the beach flag designations and consider consulting with them to get an idea of the conditions of the bay on any given day. PROFEPA and/or CONANP officials and other local bay monitors are also present in the water in kayaks to observe and assist the public and government officials are present on the beaches. Officials from the respective agencies will usually have white, blue or khaki shirts with identifying logos on them, jeans or long pants, hats and often are carrying a clipboard.

Be advised that there are a lot of enthusiastic sellers on the beaches, often telling people that life jackets as well as tours are mandatory in order to drum up business for themselves. There is a tremendous increase in equipment rental business and many of these sellers are not only unlicensed to do business but are renting under any conditions in the bay without any regard to public safety. Many rescues have been implemented by the dive shops to extract people from the water who were sent out by these sellers without any cautionary guidance or direction regarding the dynamics of the bay…which can be very dangerous.

Although life jackets are not mandatory, they are recommended particularly for those who are a weak or novice swimmer or new to snorkeling. The resorts provide free rental to their guests for a specific time frame or all day for a nominal fee and the two dive shops are the best resources for equipment rental and for other services or general information. Wearing a life jacket and is beneficial not only for safety but also to aid in proper body position for snorkeling. Some prefer not to wear and that is at your own risk, but just remember to keep yourself in the proper horizontal position, fins up and don’t tread up sand, kick or stand on coral structures or even “rocks” and be mindful of your feet and legs at all times…and of course, watch for the turtles! Short fins are permitted in Akumal Bay but are not being issued by either of the resorts or dive shops so it is recommended you bring your own and travel fins are widely available.

Another piece of good advice is when considering an independent guide for other types of activities outside of Akumal, know that many of the individuals that have set up shop in Akumal are not only unlicensed and hold no working permit or insurance, but are operating outside of legal or official requirements for tour guides and often are untrained with no basic water safety knowledge, no first-aid or CPR certification either. Often times they are using personal vehicles to transport guests to destinations (illegal) and in many cases they are also unlicensed or uninsured…and theft of personal belongings has been reported on several occasions. So as tempting as it is because of a “special price” offered, buyer beware always.

Look to your resort for dependable local guide recommendations or for assistance with other services for booking excursions or consult either the Akumal Dive Center or Akumal Dive Shop for equipment rental or approved and accredited, licensed and insured tour operators and excursion guides. Another long time, highly recommended locally based travel services consultant is Akumal Guide.

 posted on the Akumal Bay Information site and also on the Ayuda Akumal site and also on the Riviera Information Newsletter. 


  1. For the most part, this is clear as mud! When it says tour areas, is that only for tours, not individuals? And how about a good resolution map, including landmarks on the shore, color-coded for where we can swim and where we can’t?Make it simple. This is WAY too wordy, yet unclear or extranious.

    • Agreed. This is clear as mud. The only thing that would explain this is the licensed tour operators and the illegal ones paid off the right people and got 2/3rds of the bay shut off for their own personal gain. The ironic thing is those are the groups that I have personally seen doing the most damage by wearing extra long fins, standing on coral, harassing turtles, etc. I have personally had one of the illegal guides almost swim, literally, right over my wife and I. It’s bad enough how they have completely trashed the area beyond the arch and have harassed/threatened unknowing tourists but now they appear to have taken over the whole bay. We were planning another trip for our 20th anniversary next year but we will not be going back. We used to recommend the area highly because of it’s beauty and laid back feel but are now advising people against it.

    • Apparently you can’t post a reply pointing out the obvious corruption in all this or it gets deleted.

    • Dan, No one deleted you — you were never posted! The way our system works is that mail comes in to the newsletter and must be approved before it’s posted. That way we can prevent ads and oddly scary messages from floating around under our name.
      At 6:03pm when your letter arrived, we were at the “Best of the Best”. Now the computers are up and running and your letter is posted.
      Thanks for writing —-

  2. All good information, a better map would be helpful. Kudos to the government for putting up some protection up for the turtles, coral and sea grass. I have witnessed so many violations while snorkeling, I am happy they will have the area patrolled.

  3. Last year we tried to get into Akumal but it was closed. We will be back in Mexico Jan. 20 – Feb 3 and plan to sign up with a tour co. in PDC. After reading so much about the troubled area I am very worried about snorkeling there. I am 71 and not a strong swimmer. Would this be safe for me to do.

  4. Can you tell me if you can still snorkel directly out from Las Casitas, without a guide, without a lifejacket and with short fins?
    I did last year and did not get hassled. I have heard from others that they are patrolling this area also, and chasing people out who are not with a guide. This area has never been one that guides go to. On one map I see the area designated for scuba, which is kind of strange, as most of it is not deep enough.
    We are going in a few weeks, and would like some information before we go. Thanks!

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