History of the Island

Now let us tell you a little history of the island

Cozumel MapThe Maya first settled Cozumel approximately in the year 500 A.C. but, older Pre-classic Olmec artifacts have been found on the island.

The island was sacred to Ix Chel, the Maya Moon Goddess, and Maya women came as pilgrims in seek of fertility making of the island an important trade center.

There was a major settlement in the land now occupied by the airport, but the ruins were bulldozed to make way for a runway during Wold War II.

Amatorre CharcoalSpaniards first set foot coming from a shipwreck in 1510. Nine years later Hernán Cortés disembarked and tried to make contact with the survivors if any. One showed up and went with him. Another decided not to go and stay. The one that stayed, Gonzalo Guerrro, is considered the initiator of the Mexican race. The one that went along with Cortés, Jerónimo de Aguilar, helped him translating all through the conquest.

The encounter in Cozumel proved to be a crucial one because later in Tabasco, close to Veracruz, Cortés was offered a beautiful nahuatl girl that spoke also Mayan. Cortés Aguilar, and “Doña Marina” made a quite successful team translating from Nahuatl to Maya and then to Spanish. Without them, the conquest could have never taken place.

By the time Cortés visited Cozumel the population on the island was considerable, 40,000 perhaps, but smallpox brought by the contact of the Europeans devastated them and by 1570 only 30 were left alive. Thus, in the ensuing years Cozumel was nearly deserted, and used as a hideout by pirates from time to time.

Then, in 1848, the Caste War of Yucatán provoked a resettlement by refugees escaping from the Mayan revolt. These new settlers are the actual founders of the modern Cozumel.

Population grew, thanks in the most part to chewing gum. Locals harvested chicle on the island (Cozumel was a port of call on the chicle export route); the natural gum was sugar-coated in America and turned into the ubiquitous Chiclets. The later invention of synthetic chewing gum meant the need for chicle eventually waned, as did Cozumel’s major industry. However, the economy stood strong for a while because of the construction of the US air base during WWII (the one that bulldozed the ancient settlement).

Another shipwreck in 1948 came to keep on changing history.

On February 13th., that year, a ship coming from Panama was pushed by the strong winds and crashed onto the reefs called Xpalbarco on the eastern shore.
The ship, Narwhal, loaded with 125 tons of bananas was heading for Mobile, Alabama. All the tribulation and passengers had to cross the jungle all the way to San Miguel, where they were helped and lodged. Some stayed in the then, Hotel Playa, now the museum of the island, built in 1936 and with 18 rooms.

The owner of the boat flew from New York and, after sending back all of his passengers and crew was so pleased with the island and its people, that once in New York talked to a writer friend named Richard Humpfrey. He spoke highly of the paradise he had found.

Richard flew to the island to find out himself and was very pleased.

He then managed to get his writings published in a magazine called Holiday.

Almost immediately 8 Americans came in an airplane with the magazine under their arms.
One of these gentlemen worked for Holiday and was attended by Don Nassim Joaquín. He offered him a house by the beach and he stayed there for, 3 months!

On his return he wrote more about the island and soon after, a new industry was born, making of Cozumel what we see today.

Surely enough, since the 20’s, the pilots and passengers from Pan American Airways covering the route Miami / Belize with one stop on Cozumel, were the first international observers of this Caribbean island.

In 1950, an American, William Chamberlain, made a Night Club, “Maya Lun”, that became a cultural center for the island. It was located in what is now “Cinco Soles”.

As for diving, everything started quite earlier because many youngsters dove in search of conch.

They were doing it of course without equipment at all.

But, by 1950, Bob Mar brought recreational diving gear.

Then there came Jacques Cousteau, and Cozumel became widely known all over.

In 1961, he made a documentary that introduced to the world the magnificent underwater world that exists in and around its coral reefs.

Today, Cozumel has grown, but at a slow pace compared to the shore in front, the Mayan Riviera.

Many places are still as if the time and hurricanes did not exist and it is a jewel that you have to discover.

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