Sea Turtles around Cancun and The Riviera Maya

Where to find Sea Turtles around Cancun and the Riviera Maya? A comprehensive guide about Turtles in the Mexican Caribbean.

Sea Turtles are a main highlight for divers and snorkel lovers in Cancun and the Riviera Maya. Numerous reefs and dive sites in the region offer opportunities for observing and engaging with these magnificent creatures. In this article, we will reveal the finest spots and optimal times of the year to catch a glimpse of them. Discover comprehensive information about sea turtles, including their various species found around Cancun, Playa del Carmen and Tulum in Quintana Roo, Mexico: Hawksbill, Loggerhead, Leatherback, and Green Sea Turtles.

When is Turtle Nesting Season in Cancun?
Is it safe to interact with Sea Turtles?
Should I Touch or Ride a Turtle?
How to identify the 4 species of Turtles?
Are Turtles Endangered?
Where to Snorkel With sea Turtles?
Can you see the Turtles nesting or hatching on the beach?

Sea Turtles around Cancun
The name “Green Turtle” refers to the greenish hue of its fat, rather than its shell color. In Mexico it’s known as “Tortuga Blanca”.

When is Turtle nesting season in Cancun?

The turtle nesting season in Cancun and the Riviera Maya begins in May and ends around September. This timeframe gives you more chances to spot turtles during your visit. The turtle spawning season begins around May and ends around September. The incubation period takes 6 to 8 weeks, so between July and October is the birth period of baby turtles.

Is it safe to interact with sea Turtles?

Turtles are gentle species and are not harmful to humans, but they are still wild animals and should be treated with respect and care. If you plan on scuba diving around Isla Mujeres, Cozumel, Playa del Carmen or Tulum this will give you high chances of spotting these beautiful creatures in their natural habitat. Snorkeling or diving with sea turtles is generally safe as long as you follow the guidelines set by the tour operators and respect the marine life. Make sure to hire a responsible tour company that respects the rules of interaction with turtles (i.e. The Custom Tour) as they will provide a properly trained guide, in order to promote a safe and enjoyable experience for both, turtles and snorkelers.

Should I touch or ride a Turtle?

The answer is: no. Touching or riding a turtle causes stress to the animal, which can affect its peaceful behavior and health. Turtles are peaceful animals. It is important to maintain a safe and respectful distance from sea turtles during any types of encounters, and to follow the guidelines set by the tour guide or dive instructor to ensure a safe and enjoyable experience for both the tourists and Turtles.

How to identify the 4 species of Turtles found in Cancun and the Riviera Maya?

Green Turtle:

Green Sea Turtle
Green turtle (Chelonia mydas).
  • Size: Ranging from 3 to 5 feet in length.
  • Shell: Smooth, oval-shaped shell with shades of brown, olive, and white.
  • Color: The name “Green Turtle” refers to the greenish hue of its fat, rather than its shell color. In Mexico it’s known as “Tortuga Blanca”.
  • Head: Relatively small head compared to the body and shell size.
  • Habitat: Commonly inhabits seagrass beds and coral reefs.

Hawksbill Turtle:

Hawksbill turtle (Eretmochelys imbricata)
Hawksbill turtle (Eretmochelys imbricata).
  • Size: Medium-sized turtle, typically ranging from 2 to 3 feet in length.
  • Shell: Recognizable for its distinct, overlapping scutes (scales) with serrated edges.
  • Color: Shell usually displays a combination of amber, brown and black tones.
  • Head: Narrow, pointed beak-like mouth resembling a hawk’s beak.
  • Habitat: Often found in coral reefs and rocky areas.

Loggerhead Turtle:

Loggerhead turtle (Caretta caretta)
Loggerhead turtle (Caretta caretta).
  • Size: Among the largest sea turtles, reaching an average length of 3 to 6 feet.
  • Shell: Thick and muscular shell, usually reddish-brown in color.
  • Head: Large head with strong jaws and a slightly hooked beak.
  • Habitat: Prefers coastal waters and reefs, frequently seen near the seafloor.

Leatherback Turtle:

Leatherback turtle (Dermochelys coriacea) is the World's largest turtle
Leatherback turtle (Dermochelys coriacea) is the World’s largest turtle.
  • Size: The largest species of sea turtle, with adults measuring up to 6 to 9 feet in length.
  • Shell: Distinguished by a unique leathery texture rather than a hard shell.
  • Color: Dark-colored, often black with white or gray spots.
  • Head: Long and tapering, with ridges along the top.
  • Habitat: Can be (rarely) found in both open ocean and coastal areas.

Remember, these characteristics are general guidelines, and individual turtles may exhibit variations. It’s best to consult with a tour guide or seek assistance from local experts for accurate identification when encountering sea turtles underwater or on the beach.

Are Sea Turtles Endangered?

Yes, several of the turtle species mentioned are endangered or critically endangered. Here is the conservation status of each species:

Green Turtle (Chelonia mydas):
– Conservation Status: Endangered (some populations)
– Threats: Habitat loss, hunting for meat and eggs, accidental capture in fishing gear, and climate change.

Hawksbill Turtle (Eretmochelys imbricata):
– Conservation Status: Critically Endangered
– Threats: Habitat loss, illegal wildlife trade (primarily for their shells), climate change, and pollution.

Loggerhead Turtle (Caretta caretta):
– Conservation Status: Vulnerable
– Threats: Habitat loss, entanglement in fishing gear, coastal development, and climate change.

Leatherback Turtle (Dermochelys coriacea):
– Conservation Status: Vulnerable
– Threats: Intensive egg collection, accidental capture in fishing gear, coastal development, and pollution.

It’s important to note that conservation efforts are underway to protect these endangered turtle species. Many organizations and governments are implementing measures to safeguard their habitats, reduce threats, and promote conservation awareness.

Where to Snorkel with Sea Turtles around Cancun and the Riviera Maya?

Akumal Bay and Puerto Morelos Reef are considered excellent places to snorkel with turtles all year round for several reasons:

Abundance of Turtles: Both Akumal and Puerto Morelos have thriving turtle populations. The coastal areas and reefs in these locations provide suitable habitats for sea turtles, attracting them in significant numbers.

Seagrass Beds: These areas feature extensive seagrass beds, which serve as vital feeding grounds for sea turtles. The seagrass provides a source of food, attracting Green Turtles and increasing the likelihood of encounters while snorkeling.

Protected Areas: Akumal and Puerto Morelos are designated protected areas or marine parks, which prioritize the conservation of marine life, including sea turtles. These areas enforce regulations to limit human impact and provide a safe environment for turtles to thrive.

Crystal Clear Waters: The coastal waters of Akumal and Puerto Morelos are known for their exceptional clarity. The visibility underwater is often very good, allowing snorkelers to observe and appreciate the beauty of sea turtles in their natural environment.

It’s important to note that while snorkeling with turtles can be a memorable experience, it’s crucial to follow responsible snorkeling practices, maintain a safe distance, and avoid touching or disturbing the turtles to ensure their well-being and protection. Check our Private Snorkel Tour if you wish to discover these magnificent creatures in a responsible manner.

Can you see Turtles nesting or hatching on the beach?

Baby sea turtles hatch from their nest and then rush to the sea
Baby sea turtles hatch from their nest and then rush to the sea.

The nesting and hatching season for sea turtles in Cancun and the Riviera Maya typically occurs between the months of May and October. However, the exact timing can vary slightly depending on the species of sea turtle. During these months, female sea turtles come ashore to lay their eggs in sandy nests during the night. The incubation period for the eggs is around 45 to 60 days. After this period, the hatchlings emerge from the nest and make their way to the ocean.

It’s important to note that specific nesting and hatching times can vary each year and can be influenced by environmental factors. To get the most accurate and up-to-date information on the hatching season in the Riviera Maya, it’s recommended to consult directly with your Hotel. Some beach resorts can provide you with precise details and potentially offer opportunities to witness the incredible spectacle of sea turtle hatchlings making their way to the sea.

Let’s wrap this up!

You can find sea turtles around Cancun and the Riviera Maya, whether you are a snorkel lover or a scuba diver. Turtles can be seen all year round and you can find them more often around Spring and Summertime during their mating season. Make sure you interact with them in small groups of people and always respect their space and natural habitat.


Sea Turtles around Cancun
Private Snorkel Tour by The Custom Tour Riviera Maya
1 Response
  1. Jennifer B

    “My Snorkel Tour” was the highlight of our week in Mexico. Kat and Diego took care of all the details. They were both very knowledgeable and it felt like a day out with friends. We never felt rushed and thoroughly enjoyed each stop. Kat took pictures throughout the tour so we could focus on what we were experiencing rather than documenting it.
    The cenotes were beautiful and refreshing with so many unique formations, plants, and wildlife. The sea turtle visit was at Akumal bay and Kat navigated through it easily making it feel more private for us. The Yal-ku lagoon was full of beautiful fish and a great add-on. Lunch was delicious and had a beautiful view. We could not have asked for anything better. Thanks for a fabulous day!

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