I knew that I wanted to attempt snorkeling again after my disastrous attempt in Puerto Rico. Although, to be fair, no one really told me what to do then. They just gave me the gear and wished me luck. With limited visibility and water in my mouth, I called it a day 15 minutes in.
This time around, I hired a guide to show me the ropes and what to see. After scouring TripAdvisor for the best snorkel tour company, we chose Edventure Tours and I'm so happy that we did. Although the day started a little shaky, it ended up being the highlight of our trip.
We were picked up at our hotel around 7 a.m. by a van driver who didn't speak any English. Although the van was marked and the driver was wearing a company polo shirt, we were the only ones in the van and after 30 minutes of driving on a highway without any signs of us going in the right direction, I started to panic. My mom had basically convinced me that we'd be kidnapped on the trip, so I started going over all the movie scenes I could conjure up in which someone rolls out of a moving vehicle. Luckily, before I could put my escape plan into action, we arrived at our destination. I tipped the driver generously for not kidnapping us and we headed into the Edventure Tours headquarters in Tulum.
We were assigned a guide for the day and told that we had actually paid for a privately guided day (which is why we were the only people in the van). Our guide, Crazy Mike (actual name), was THE BEST. A former Floridian who traveled the world as a diver, Crazy Mike led us around to the best spots. Besides showing us how to snorkel correctly, free dive, and clean the goggles (the secret is spit), he explained the history of cenotes and led us to see the coolest marine life I'd ever seen.
Besides being an expert in marine biology and diving, Crazy Mike is also a prize winning underwater photographer. When we booked the tour, I opted for the $30 picture package thinking we'd get a few cheesy shots underwater with a turtle. Man was I wrong. I think this might have been the best $30 I've ever spent.
Here are snaps from the day. All photos courtesy of Crazy Mike.
This is one of the most famous cenotes in Mexico, but because tourism is slow there right now, we were able to dive right in and have most of the cave system to ourselves. There are two main parts to this cenote (hence DOS ojos): one is full of fish and the other is full of bats. We snorkeled through both. Neither Mike nor I have our diving certificates, so we couldn't SCUBA, but we could free dive as much as we wanted. Crazy Mike gave us each a flashlight (it gets hella dark in there) and led us through the caves. It was beautiful, scary, and mind-blowing all at once.
Akumal used to be somewhat of a secret, but the secret is definitely out. A beach full of sea turtles and tropical fish? I guess you can't keep that quiet for long. To protect the reef and the wildlife, everyone who enters the beach has to wear biodegradable sunscreen and a life jacket so that they can't free dive and touch anything. In a few months, the government-owned beach will shut down to most tour companies (but not Edventure!) so that they can better preserve the turtles and the reef. This is actually in line with a lot of what I saw in Mexico. It's a really environmentally conscious country. Even the beaches had compost bins.
Anyway, Akumal was amazing (as expected). The turtles were enormous and totally nonplussed by humans swimming around them. The reef was filled with amazing, colorful fish that swam every which way. You couldn't turn your head without seeing something awesome. We even saw a sting ray, which, to be honest, freaked me the fuck out. Still #WorthIt.
This was the last stop on our grand snorkeling adventure. The natural lagoon that connects to the ocean is part of a lush area complete with a rustic restaurant and really nice showers. There are also these amazing sculptures hidden all around the property. After grabbing a proper lunch (the first real Mexican meal we'd had in Mexico), we headed into the tranquil lagoon. Crazy Mike told us which fish were dangerous (mainly the surgeonfish and a super rare, but possible, rogue alligator that wanders in) and then led us around the waters, pointing out the various species of fish and snapping shots along the way. Because the tour was private, we were told we could stay as long as we wanted (pro tip: book private tours!), so we snorkeled around sans Crazy Mike for another hour or so. We got out once we heard thunder (again, thanks to Mom fears) and headed back to the not-kidnap van.
The ride back to our hotel was a rain-filled adventure in which every part of the major highway was filled nearly to our windows with water. Apparently this is the norm during winter months there. I'm somewhat surprised that they don't have boat cars there. We made it back safe and sound and Edventures even burned us a CD of the pictures so we wouldn't have to wait to check them out!
If anyone is curious about going to the Yucatan Peninsula, DO IT. We didn't get Zika, and we didn't get kidnapped. Instead, we had an amazing trip filled with turtle encounters, tropical fish, and incredibly nice locals. It's also where I realized that my boyfriend might be a merman.
Mexico's tourism is taking a huge hit right now because of Zika and that means prices are cheaper than ever. Get your ass on a plane and get down to Tulum to swim with Crazy Mike and the Edventure Tour crew. You won't regret it.