Our 4th of July: Snorkeling Paamul & Akumal
Posted by Tony & Cheri on July 6, 2007
Yesterday was the 4th of July. Back in the States we would celebrate by getting together with our friend Julie, who now lives in Brooklyn. It was a tradition that Julie would make Frito Pie (an American classic) and bring over an American Flag jello & whipped creme cake. Mmmmmmm. We would drink too much beer and listen to the fireworks booming out over the bay.
Of course, America’s independence day isn’t a big deal down here south of the border. We decided to celebrate anyway and took the day off from working at our hotel, the Luna Blue Hotel and Garden in beautiful Playa Del Carmen, Mexico. We loaded our snorkel gear in the Big Bastard (our van) and headed down to Paamul to snorkel. Along the way, we tried to harmonize on several patriotic songs. We sang America the Beautiful, My Country Tis of Thee, This Land is Your Land….well, you get the picture. We were amazingly bad, but enthusiastic. Between the two of us, we remembered most of the words. However, when Tony sang “The Law is for Protection of the People,” he was on his own, and Cheri turned on the radio.
It took about 20 minutes to get to Paamul, where we have our little palapa/trailer on the beach (now for sale, see A Piece of Paradise for Sale). Paamul is on a beautiful bay where the reef comes close enough to the shore to swim out for snorkeling. You need a boat to get to most areas of the reef along the Mayan Riviera, so this is a pretty special spot. It is Cheri’s favorite snorkel place. Tony had not snorkeled this reef yet, and Cheri wanted to show it to him.
When we got there, the Paamul bay beach was as beautiful as ever. Unfortunately, the wind out on the open sea was pretty strong, causing a lot of choppy water. We started our swim out towards the reef, but the waves had stirred the sandy bottom up so much, there was really very little visibility. We finally gave up and headed back in to shore, promising to come back on a calmer day.
So that it wouldn’t be a total loss, we hung out in the community pool (which is open to anyone visiting or living in Paamul). We also checked out the iguana population near the dive shop, which seems to be growing by leaps and bounds. As long as we’ve lived here, we still get a kick out of seeing these large prehistoric-looking creatures lying in the sun everywhere in the Yucatan Peninsula.
After a couple of laps in the pool, we decided to head to Akumal. Akumal is about 10 minutes south of Paamul and contains Akumal Bay, Half Moon Bay and the Yal-ku Lagoon. We went to one of our favorite beach restaurants, La Buena Vida, for some lunch. La Buena Vida is right on Half Moon Bay with beautiful vistas and wooden tables under palapa umbrellas. There is also a large circular bar with swings that look out on the bay. At the far end of the bar, two skeletons sit on the swings. The joke is they are two patrons who could never leave. Also hanging above the bar is a fake sea serpent skeleton. The serpent is also featured on the cool Buena Vida t-shirts which say “Carpe Mañana.” The food is good, the service is friendly, and the drinks are generous. Hard to beat that combination. We ended up with ceviche stuffed avocados and Cheyenne’s Tacos (we don’t know what’s in them, but they’re good).
While relaxing through lunch, we tried to figure out where to go next. Yal-ku Lagoon was just down the road, but we had been to Yal-ku a lot lately. We decided to go to Akumal Bay in the hopes that we would see some sea turtles, since it’s the season. We parked in the central parking area across from the Akumal Dive Shop and tried to convince the attendant that since it was 4th of July, and since we were gringos, we should park for free. He appreciated neither our logic or our humor. We walked over to the beach and down to the Lol Ha restaurant. We left our towels and keys on a chair in front of Lol Ha and snorkeled out into the bay.
Akumal Bay is filled with boats and snorkel tours, so you have to pay close attention to where you’re going. Since the bottom is mostly sea grass rather than sand, we had better visibility than in Paamul. There are also a number of little coral outcroppings in the bay. When we swam out to the coral, we found large schools of fish. We searched the grass for turtles but came up empty handed. We did see quite a few schools and even some very large beautiful angel fish. As we were heading back to shore, suddenly out of the murky water came a gigantic grouper. He was probably between 4 and 5 feet long and between 2 and 3 feet from belly to dorsal fin. He moved slowly through the water. We figured the heavy tides had pushed him in close to shore, since that was not his natural habitat. It’s always amazing to see something almost as big as yourself swimming next to you. We followed him for awhile until he decided to leave us behind and swam off into the depths.
Even though the water wasn’t the clearest we had ever seen, it was still warm, refreshing, and fun to be out in the Caribbean. Akumal is not only one of our favorite destinations, it’s just as popular with Guests at the Luna Blue. It seems we are always drawing maps to Yal-Ku, La Buena Vida and Akumal Bay. After snorkeling we headed home to Playa Del Carmen, cleaned up and walked down Fifth Avenue for dinner. We settled in at Palapa Hemingway and talked with our old friend Beto, the maitre ‘d, who was bragging about the accomplishments of his 4 year old twin boys (yes, he had photos).
While we sat at a streetside table people watching, we chatted with a number of friends who were strolling down Fifth Avenue, out for the evening. Playa can be a very small town. After dinner, we walked over to the Beer Bucket where locals Andy & Jen were selling raffle tickets to raise money for the Animal Shelter they have just started here in Playa del Carmen. We talked with some more friends and then headed home. It was a pretty relaxing 4th of July. But we missed Julie’s Frito Pie.
Paamul is about 15 minutes south of Playa del Carmen on highway 307. Watch for the sign that says Scuba Mex on the right side of the road and Paamul Cabañas on the left side. If you’re driving, you cannot turn left into Paamul, but must go to the next Retorno, or turnaround, and proceed back north to get to the exit. There is a small store on the side of the road. Next to the store is a dirt road heading towards the ocean, about 1/4 mile long. That’s the entrance to Paamul. It’s an easy walk from the highway if you’re taking the colectivo. Simply tell the guard at the security gate that you’re visiting for the day. Pull straight ahead and park. The restaurant, pool, dive shop and beach are directly ahead. There is no charge to use the facilities, and snorkel gear can be rented at the dive shop.
Akumal is about 25 minutes south of Playa del Carmen on highway 307. Like Paamul, you cannot turn left into Akumal, but must go to the next Retorno, or turnaround, and proceed back north to get to the exit. If you’re walking to Akumal Bay from the highway, it’s a short walk (1/4 mile or so). There are large signs that say Akumal on either side of the road leading towards the ocean. The road is narrow but paved. You’ll pass through the Akumal arch. The road turns immediately to your left heading north along the bay. To reach La Buena Vida, follow the road north about a half mile. La Buena Vida has a large side and will be on your right hand side. Park directly across the street. If you continue north from La Buena Vida, you’ll discover Yal-ku Lagoon about a half mile further. More on this in a future blog entry. If you just want to go to Akumal Bay, park your car in the central parking area to the left immediately after passing the arch. It costs $20 pesos an hour to park. After parking, walk directly across the street to the dive shop if you need to rent equipment. Otherwise, walk directly out to the beach. The Lol Ha restaurant/bar is a little ways to the right up the beach. It’s a large open air palapa style restaurant. It has good food and makes a convenient landmark to keep your bearings when you’re out in the bay. There is no charge to snorkel in Akumal Bay.