no alt text

Bucket list experience:

Last updated: 17 January, 2023
Expert travel writer: Alex Robinson

Swimming with captive manatees (which you can do in Xel-Ha) doesn’t have the same magic as encountering these gentle animals in their natural habitat – which is possible on the Mayan Riviera. The region has one of the largest populations of wild West Indian manatees in the world; grazing on eel grass in the sand flats of the Banco Chinchorro and the shallow waters of Chetumal Bay. Both locations are protected marine sanctuaries.

To see manatees, you’ll need to travel to the little town of Xcalak in the far south, where tour companies offer trips. Along the way you will almost certainly see turtles, dolphins, huge schools of tarpon and some of the best-preserved coral reefs on the Mayan Riviera.

Price from: £40
Minimum age: Any
Age suitable: 10+
When: All year around
Duration: Full day

Getting there & doing it

Dive and snorkel trips to see manatees leave from Xcalak, a Mayan village surrounded by narrow beaches, about 5 hours’ drive south of Tulum near the Belizean border.

Companies like XTC offer day trips to Chetumal Bay from here and multi-day trips to the Banco Chinchorro atoll (which also include swims with American crocodiles). Both locations have healthy populations of manatees, and while sightings are never guaranteed, chances are high.

When to do it

The manatees are present in the lagoon all year-round, so you can see them any time of year. Trips run daily. The weather in the Mayan Riviera is generally good all year round, and the water is always warm enough for swimming.

Our writer’s recommended tour operators to book with

XTC Dive Center

XTC Dive Center

Xcalak, Quintana Roo, Mexico

Xcalak-based dive operator and specialist operator for crocodile-swimming trips in the Banco Chinchorro.

Our writer’s picks of the best places to stay near this experience, closest first

Casa Malca

Tulum, Quintana Roo, Mexico[210.3 miles]

This serene, sumptuous beachside boutique was once Pablo Escobar’s beach house and is littered with priceless modern art.

Official star rating:

Be Tulum Hotel

Tulum, Quintana Roo, Mexico[210.6 miles]

Stylish, tranquil boutique nestled in forest, on a stunning stretch of beach near the Sian Ka’an Biosphere Reserve. Children over 13 only.

Official star rating:

Coco Tulum

Tulum, Quintana Roo, Mexico[213.8 miles]

Beachside party hotel with great value rooms in traditional barefoot-chic Tulum beach cabanas, with comfort. Adults only.

Official star rating:

Ma’Xanab Tulum

Tulum, Quintana Roo, Mexico[213.8 miles]

This boutiquey Tulum beachfront blends with nature and offer modern, modish toes-in-the-sand stays in comfort. Adults only.

Official star rating:

Destination guides including or relevant to this experience

Mayan Riviera


Talc-white beaches, reefs teeming with life, ruined temples in misty rainforests – the Riviera Maya offers a family or romantic beach holiday with a dash of Indian Jones adventure.

Website >
Overview >