The Maya are believed to have first settled Cozumel by the early part of the 1st millennium AD,
and older Preclassic Olmec artifacts have been found on the island as well. The
island was sacred to Ix Chel, the Maya Moon Goddess, and the temples here were a place of
pilgrimage, especially by women desiring fertility. There are a number of ruins on the island, most
from the Post-Classic period. The largest Maya ruins on the island were bulldozed to make way for
an airplane runway during World War II. The ruins of San Gervasio are located approximately at the
center of the island and are the largest remaining ruins.
The first Spanish visitor was Juan de Grijalva in 1518 , and in the following year Hernán Cortés
came with a fleet and destroyed many Maya temples. Some 40,000 Mayans lived on the
island then, but the smallpox disease devastated them, and by 1570 only 30 were left alive.
In the ensuing years Cozumel was nearly deserted, just used as a hideout by pirates from time to
time. In 1848, the Caste War of Yucatán resulted in resettlement by refugees
escaping the tumult. A plaque at the Museo Cozumel states that Abraham Lincoln as the American
President came close to purchasing the island of Cozumel as a place to send the freed slaves. The
continued war in the Yucatan caused him to change his mind.
Late 20th century Looking south towards San Miguel.
In 1959, Jacques Cousteau discovered the extent and beauty of Palancar, the coral reefs at the
south of Cozumel and publicized it as one of the best places to go scuba diving in the
world, although this reputation has been marred as a result of the controversial
death of British singer Kirsty MacColl whilst diving there in 2000.
Although the original airport was a World War II relic and was able to handle jet aircraft and
international flights, a much larger airport was built in the late 1970s. This resulted in much
greater tourism to Cozumel.
Scuba diving is still one of Cozumel's primary attractions, mainly due to the healthy coral reef
marine communities. These coral reefs are protected from the open ocean by the island's natural
geography. In 1996, the government of Mexico also established the Cozumel Reefs National Marine
Park, forbidding anyone from touching or removing any marine life within the park boundaries.
Despite the importance of healthy reefs to Cozumel's tourist trade, a deepwater pier was built in
the 1990s for cruise ships to dock, causing damage to the reefs, and it is now a regular stop on
cruises in the Caribbean.
Diving and charter fishing comprise nearly all sources of income. There are over 100 restaurants on
the island and many hotels, some of which run dive operations, have large swimming pools, private
docks, multiple dining facilities, and offer complete wedding and honeymoon packages.
Other water activities include para-sailing, kitesurfing, and a tourist submarine. One of the
hotels has captive dolphins that put on shows with tourists each day for approximately $100 per
At the cruise ship docks there are several square blocks of stores selling Cuban cigars,
jewelery, t-shirts, tequila, and a large variety of inexpensive souvenirs. There are three brothels
located in southern area of the island - two of which (Platina's and California Club) cater to
tourists. Adult entertainment in town is limited and much of it has been shut down.
All food and manufactured supplies are shipped onto the island. Water is provided by a seawater
desalinization facility located on the southern portion of the island.
There are two universities on the island: Universidad de Quintana Roo and Partenon. In addition
to teaching English as a degree, they offer five other career options including natural resources
research, tourism and commercial systems.
Festival of El Cedral in Cozumel
To this day a historic festival is held in the small town of El Cedral, in the south of Cozumel
Island at the end of April. This annual event is said to have been started over 150 years ago by
Cárdenas was one of a group that fled to the island from the village of Saban, on the mainland,
after an attack during the War of the Castes. The attackers killed many other villagers, but
Cárdenas survived whilst clutching a small wooden cross.
Legend has it that Cárdenas vowed to start an annual festival wherever he settled, to honor the
religious power of this crucifix. Today, the original Holy Cross Festival forms part of the wider
Festival of El Cedral, which includes fairs, traditional feasts, rodeos, bullfights, music and
competitions. The celebrations last about 5 days in all and are held every year at the end of April
or beginning of May
Getting Married in Cozumel