top of page

The People connected to the Place.

About Us

Our Mission

Tortuga Escondida is dedicated to supporting scientific studies of our unique ecosystem, offering the exquisite inspiration of paradise within which artists create, and create a paradigm of wellness, integrating food, practitioners and healing arts.

Tortuga Escondida

Tortuga Escondida, or Hidden Turtle, surrounded by jungle is a few kilometers from the Mexican Caribbean shore. The residency center was conceived as low-cost accommodations for international environmental studies students participating in the Operation Wallacea Mexico, Akumal Site. Students focus on conducting field studies of the unique ecosystems of this region of the Yucatan Peninsula, including marine turtles and their nesting grounds, Mesoamerican reef coral, underground river systems and cenotes. Fed out of Turtle Bay Cafe & Bakery kitchens, this bed/board facility provides much needed low cost option to further the necessary research of the diverse, fragile ecosystems in this unique spot on the planet.


Since opening its screen doors, Tortuga Escondida has hosted the past two sessions of the Akumal International Artist Residency.


Visiting artists, based within Mexico as well as internationally, working in various mediums join local artists for 4 weeks of focused work. Leading workshops, showing work-in-progress and a final exhibition are ways the artists intermingle with Akumal community members

Check out our Place

Jennifer Smith

In true entrepreneurial style, Jennifer and Bart Smith continue to find new and creative ways to feed people in Akumal. With the purchase of Turtle Bay Cafe & Bakery in 2003 they launched both a restaurant and community hub. Soon they were catering, making wedding cakes and eventually establishing Turtle Bay Weddings in 2005, with Jennifer becoming one of the premiere wedding planners in the region. Next came Lucy’s Ice Cream, homemade favorites and special concoctions, nestled into the Bakery fold. When the Operation Wallacea group landed in Akumal in the summer of 2013, 75 students a week, rotating weekly over 6 weeks, the Turtle Bay kitchen next door to the CEA dormitories took over their feeding.


In 2015 Jennifer became the general contractor building Tortuga Escondida Residency Center in order to better accommodate, and feed, the Wallacea groups. The facility became operational in 2016 and accommodates various science groups, housing up to 100 residents at one time. The Center is now the home for the Akumal International Artist Residency. She and Erin Ko have now established the Tortuga Escondida Fellowship Award to fully subsidize selected artists during the residency program.


The continuum for Jennifer is her committed support within the community of Akumal, to make it a better and more welcoming place. Known as a community leader, her activities range from organizing regular spay/neuter clinics in Akumal Pueblo and ongoing animal rescue efforts, to hosting annual fundraisers for Akumal’s Red Cross ambulance and others. Always in the mix of local events, sponsorships for numerous local initiatives usually involves feeding friends and family. She funds public lighting for safety and clean-up in Akumal.


The Akumal Arts Festival is a natural evolution in her efforts to beautify Akumal. Well connected, well respected and well loved, as Festival Executive Producer Jennifer’s efforts guarantee a successful event.

Paul Sanchez-Navarro - Organización Mexicana para la Conservación del Medio Ambiente (OMCA A.C.) 

Paul has worked for over 20 years on environmental sustainability issues at the local, national and international levels. He has designed environmental policy strategies for non-governmental organizations, and participated in national efforts to improve México's environmental policy framework.


Paul has a Master’s degree in International relations and was Policy Advisor with World Wide Fund for Nature (WWF International) in Switzerland after working for the WWF Mexico Program and Pronatura in Mexico City. In 2004 he came to the Mexican Caribbean as the Director at Centro Ecológico Akumal (CEA), where he consolidated the organization’s conservation programs for marine research and conservation, sea turtle protection and water management and created strategies for long-term protection measures and organizational sustainability. Paul was instrumental the processes to create the Akumal Wildlife Refuge and the Fish Refuge. He also helped establish the Operation Wallacea Akumal residency site for summer field studies in the CEA dormitories. It was also during the CEA tenure that he invited Kim Schultz to utilize the housing facilities in Akumal Central to establish the Akumal International Artist Residency in 2014.


As Director of OMCA, Paul is focusing on governance and citizen participation related to natural resource management. Half Mexican and half United States American, Paul’s life reflects the blend of both cultures as he works to better understand and contribute to the relationships between democracy, economic growth and environmental stewardship.

Jake Klone -  Akumal Arts Festival Artist Director

Jake Klone is a well practiced Graffiti / Street Artist from the Northern British city of Leeds, West Yorkshire. Before moving to Akumal in 2015 Jake led many street art murals in his hometown as well as facilitating numerous youth workshops for organisations such as NHS Mental health, Leeds City Museum, Leeds Art Gallery, London 2012 Olympics, Rugby League World Cup 2013 and Tour de France 2014 to name a few.

Since moving to Akumal, Mexico Jake has changed his style of painting in a huge way. Taking influence from the Mexican Art and Culture as well as the nature surrounding the house where he lives in the Jungle with his loving fiance and two beautiful children, his wall art can be found all around Akumal.


Now, as well as participating in painting one of the many walls for the festival, Jake is also one of the directors of the festival, coordinating the artists and sponsors. Check out his work here KLONISM

Erin Ko - Tortuga Escondida Creative Directator / Producer

is a mixed media artist based in New York. She loves Mexico and spends extensive time there, especially in Quintana Roo. Central to Ko’s work is fostering collaboration, particularly through the democratization of tools and art projects. The Tortuga Escondida vision of community through art, science and wellness is near and dear to her heart.

Ko’s work has been exhibited internationally, including in London, Mexico City, Beijing, New York and Berlin. She is classically trained and has worked in video games and new media for 20 years. Some of those endeavors include time spent at Looking Glass Studios, Razorfish, and Blue Fang Games. When not in the studio, eKo spends most of her time randomly tripping around the world.

bottom of page