Cozumel – A Brief History
Tourists from far away places have been coming to Cozumel for a long time. Centuries before the Spanish landed in 1518, during the height of the Maya civilization, Cozumel was an important trading center and a place of pilgrimage. Maya women from the mainland came to worship Ix Chel, the wife of the Sun God Itzamna and the Goddess of Fertility, to whom the island’s temples were dedicated. In 1519, Cortez arrived and destroyed many of the Maya temples. By 1570, small pox and other European diseases had reduced the island’s population from a pre-Hispanic estimate of 40,000 to no more than 300. By 1600 the island was reportedly abandoned. Legend has it that pirates, including Henry Morgan and Jean Lafitte, used Cozumel as a safe base during the 17th century. In 1848 the island began to be resettled by refugees from the “War of the Castes”, a Mayan uprising in the Yucatan against the central Mexican government. By 1970, the population had grown to 10,000.Today, most of Cozumel’s 50,000 residents live in the town of San Miguel located on the western side of the island. Much of the town’s social and business activity is focused on the central town square or Plaza del Sol. Cedral, a small village on the southern interior of the island, is the only other community on Cozumel. The island is approximately 14 miles wide and 28 miles from north to south and is a part of the Mexican state of Quintana Roo.
While no one is certain when diving began in Cozumel the story goes that the U.S. Navy used the island as a training ground in World War II. American divers stationed in the South Pacific shared stories of the reef’s beauty with their French counterparts, and word eventually got to Jacques Cousteau who “discovered” and filmed the island in the late 50’s.
Along with the attraction the island holds for divers, Cozumel has become a major stop for Western Caribbean cruise ship tours.