Sign up for the Yucatán Roundup and get our biggest headlines once a week in your inbox. It's free and you can unsubscribe at any time.
Akumal is known primarily for Scuba diving and being Quintana Roo’s very first tourism destination. Back then, the remote community was only accessible by boat.
But unlike Cancún, which was very purposefully developed in the 1970s as a tourism mecca, Akumal grew organically in the late 1950s, attracting mostly scuba divers to its then-untouched reefs full of exotic fish and sea turtles.
These days Akumal’s coastline is full of hotels, eco-theme parks, and all the trappings that come with being a Caribbean destination — though on a much smaller scale than the nearby resorts of Tulum and Playa del Carmen.
Aside from the resorts along the coast, a small community of the same name has developed on the other side of the Quintana Roo’s coastal highway.
But of course, the history of Akumal dates much further back than the late 1950s — to the time of the Prehispanic Maya.
Given the fast-paced development of the region, much of the ancient architecture of the Maya has been destroyed over the decades, especially up until the 1980s. If you know where to look, there is still evidence of the ancient past to be explored. But you will find no signs or tourist maps pointing out this fact.
Though the amount of surviving ancient architecture that survives in Akumal is limited, the richness of its nearby burials suggests it was once an important port, not unlike Xelha or El Rey.
The surviving archaeological complex in Akumal comprises one main temple with a second structure in its interior, along with a handful of elevated platforms which likely housed structures made out of perishable materials.
Though the Prehispanic architecture at Akumal is standard for the region, on the facade of the interior chamber, it is still possible to observe vivid remains of red and Maya blue paint.
The Costa Oriental architecture which dominates the ancient structures of Quintana Roo´s coast, are with a few exceptions, fairly small in size. That is likely due to the hurricanes which routinely batter the region.
Though the colors and patterns which survive at Akumal are interesting to observe, to get a real sense of what this structure would have looked like it’s a good idea to check out the main temple at the nearby archaeological site of Calica.
The only way to get into the archaeological site of Calica is by requesting an appointment, but even then, access is not guaranteed.
If you go
Getting to Akumal is easy either by car or public transit, as it lies almost exactly halfway between Tulum and Playa del Carmen on the busy Chetumal – Cancún highway.
The one thing to keep your eyes open for when visiting the town of Akumal is that you will need to take a turn on an overpass that does not have particularly good signage, presumably because not too many tourists venture that way.
Born in Mérida, Carlos Rosado van der Gracht is a Mexican/Canadian blogger, photographer and adventure expedition leader. He holds degrees in multimedia, philosophy, and translation from universities in Mexico, Canada and Norway.