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A Glimpse into the History and Culture of Cozumel
The name Cozumel (Isla Cozumel) means "Land of the Swallow" in Mayan, and was named so due to the indigenous, graceful birds that can be seen regularly patrolling Cozumel's beautiful beaches and coastline. Cozumel was settled roughly 2000 years ago by ancient Mayans, a seafaring people, who saw Cozumel as a commercial trading stop as well as a sacred shrine.

The island of Cozumel was a mecca to Mayan women who made the voyage from the mainland to Isla Cozumel in large dugout canoes to worship Ix Chel, the Goddess of fertility. Leaving the mainland from what is now Playa del Carmen and Tulum, Mayan women crossed the treacherous channel in open canoes to give offerings at the alter site of Ix Chel. What remains now of the altar and ceremonial center of Ix Chel can be seen at the San Gervasio ruins site near the center of the island.

It was Spanish Conquistador Juan de Grijalva who first discovered Cozumel in 1518 as he was blown off course during a journey to Cuba. Grijalva left a golden statue as a gift when he departed which now resides in the downtown San Miguel Cathedral.

Shortly thereafter, the infamous Spanish conqueror Hernán Cortés found his way to Isla Cozumel in 1519 and with his influence, which included the destruction of the many temples and the spread of the smallpox disease, Cozumel's inhabitants went from 40,000 to just 30 people by 1570. Cozumel's ancient Mayan civilization lied in ruins, and by 1600 Cozumel was uninhabited.

By the early 17th century pirates had discovered Cozumel and used it as a safe harbor. Legendary pirate Henry Morgan fequently used Cozumel as a stopover during his raids around the Caribbean between 1658 to 1688. Later on in the early 1800's, another famous Caribbean pirate Jean Lafitte, hid from his pursuers in the waters near Cozumel as well. But in general, Cozumel remained uninhabited until 1847, when a few families fleeing the Spanish backlash over the Maya rebellion during the War of the Castes settled on the island.



Don't forget to visit The Cozumel Museum and its Rooftop Restaurant to learn more about the history and culture of Cozumel. Just make a day of it and support the preservation of our local history!
The War of the Castes
In 1847 Mayans from the Yucatan initiated an uprising that would be remembered as one of the greatest civil wars Mexico has ever experienced. Known as the War of the Castes (classes), this uprising caused a group composed of both Spanish Indians and Mayans who had been living in Valladolid to begin a journey two years later that would result in the permanent repopulation of Cozumel Island.

Historically speaking, the group's migration was doubly important. First, because the Mestizos and Mayans would be responsible for permanently settling the Mexican Caribbean coast; and secondly, because repopulating that area ultimately produced a consolidated group with economical and political power that continues to this day.

The genesis of the Yucatan's east coast development, which later became the state of Quintana Roo, was a direct result of the War of the Castes. It was a conflict that changed the economic, demographic, and political geography of the peninsula and initiated the process of subdivisions and territories as the population was pushed out of the region.

So it is also that the Mestizos and white Yucatecans that lived in the South of Quintana Roo, in Bacalar and the surrounding area, went to repopulate what today is known as Belize, specifically Orange Walk, Corozal and Ambergris. Most of these settlers returned to Mexico at the end of the 19th century and populated Payo Obispo (Chetumal), Bacalar and Xcalak. The north was repopulated with emigrants from Valladolid, Espita, Tizimin and other villages. From that point on, the islands of Holbox, Mujeres and Cozumel would always maintain a population.

During this same period of time newly authorized officials divided up sections of Cozumel Island and distributed lots among the island's new settlers. These first citizens were Spanish descendants, some of whose surnames were: Novelo, Angulo, Alcocer, Cardenas, Rivero, Vivas, Aguilar, Anduze, Ezquivel, Vega, Martin and Coral. One of the elements that unified the group was their Catholic faith, which was the dominant religion among Yucatecos. One of the immigrants, a Catholic priest, had brought an image of Saint Michael with him, and San Miguel quickly became the patron saint of the island. The power of the church also worked well in controlling the Mayan farmers who had settled in El Cedral because they too were profoundly Catholic.

Once political and religious power had been established and the land distributed, the citizens set about establishing occupational specialization between ranchers, artisans and merchants. It would be the merchants who would consolidate the island's interior market, which initially grew out of the necessity for bartering between the citizens of San Miguel and the residents of El Cedral; and between the Cozumeleno merchants and seasonal fisherman from Cuba and Belize. The Cuban fisherman exchanged manufactured products from Havana for fresh food and drinking water.

In actuality, two different immigrant groups made it to the shores of Cozumel that first year. The first group was made up of 51 middle class families who made their way from the city of Valladolid, accompanied by 86 mestizo male servants. The second group consisted of 350 poor Mayans who came from the outskirts of Valladolid, but felt ideologically connected to the more urban group and elected to join them. Thus the first people to repopulate Cozumel arrived as a group with a history that instantly divided them according to work assignment and class distinction.

The mestizos that formed the dominant group of the newly born society had a European-Mayan culture, were bilingual and dressed like white Yucatecans. Their experience in the market economy would be determined by events that had taken place as the island was first repopulated.

The best land was appropriated in parcels of 10 to 200 hectares and the village of San Miguel was divided into lots for building homes.

The field workers, who had arrived in the second wave of immigrants, were relocated in the El Cedral area and given excellent agricultural land. They, in turn, organized their own disbursement system that tended to parcel out land based on the individual's ability to work.

The first action by the dominant group was to communicate with Merida and advise them of the new settlement, and so it was that on November 21, 1849, only two years after the War of Castes was initiated, Quintana Roo Governor Barbachano established the village of San Miguel on Cozumel Island.

By 1970, Cozumel's population had grown to 10,000 inhabitants and by the year 2000 had reached 65,000. Now, over a decade later, the island boasts a population of more than 100,000 residents. The only explorers that visit Cozumel these days are those looking to discover the beauty of the sun, sand, and sea.


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 Cozumel Marine Turtle Observation & Baby Liberation Events with FP&M
Sign up for an observation and education session about Cozumel's nesting sea turtles and the volunteer brigades that help in their conservation. Learn about these amazing creatures in the Fundacion de Paques & Museos program and help release hatching baby turtles as they make their way to the sea. From $ 40 - 70 / person donation
Personal Experiences
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My family and I have returned to Cozumel many times - it's a favorite destination and we have watched it change over the past 20 years. The Cozumel Insider is a great publication - it's a wonderful way to keep up with the news about one of our favorite islands. We are preparing to visit again this August and the Insider has shown us some different activities to try, as well as helped to bring us up to date with local political and ecological happenings. We're delighted to see the interest in wildlife conservation throughout the area. Keep up the good work on this terrific site. D. McClean ~ unknown

We cannot begin to express our thanks to Sherri and the staff at IslaMar Villas for our wonderful 11-night stay. This was our third time staying at IslaMar Villas and for us it's the only place to stay in Cozumel. It has truly become our home away from home. We love the apartments, the courtyard and pool, and the warm and friendly neighborhood.

We also used "COZUMELINSIDER" to book our car rental with Avis. It went very smoothly and you guys also helped us trade in our little Chevy Pop for something a little bigger.

A big THANK YOU to Sherri for introducing us to a wonderful private driver on the mainland and for arranging our excursion to Playa del Carmen, Tulum, and Akumal. We were so happy that we decided to finally venture off the island and go to the mainland to see the ruins. The driver Sherri arranged for us was extremely friendly and went above and beyond to make sure we saw things we wouldn't have even known about had we taken the car ferry and driven on our own. To anyone looking for a private tour of places on the mainland, we highly recommend asking Sherri to arrange it for you. It was well worth it!

Thank you again, Sherri! Your kindness and warm hospitality makes us choose IslaMar Villas and your services over and over again. R & M Browning ~ Superior, CO

Hello: Sorry about all the calls and e-mails yesterday ~ it appears that we had a problem with yahoo email and receiving your confirmations. But I had your staff send the confirmations to my work e-mail and all is good. Your staff was very helpful, customer service friendly and courteous and I think your agency is great! My wife is a travel/booking agent and she agrees with me and plans to use your services in the future to book excursions for her clients. Thanks again and have a good day; Michael Weinberger ~ not given

Thank you so much!!! Thank you for arranging the dolphin encounter for my family!!! Even in the aftermath of Hurricane Emily, Cozumel Insider came through with flying colors --- yall are perfect... A. Sikes ~ Frankston, TX USA

Wow! You have been so helpful Sherri! thank you so very much for taking the time in giving me so much details that would help me with the excursions! you are so sweet! if I have any other questions I will be sure to let you know. Thank you again for being so helpful! Have a blessed day! :) K. Shields ~ Little Rock, Arkansas USA


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