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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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Some Activities of Interest
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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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Sherri ~ WOW!!! We just returned from our cruise! What a wonderful time we had!! Your COZUMELINSIDER.com bookings for our Dolphin snorkel adventure and Sea Trek were the highlight of the cruise. They were easy and saved us about half the cost of booking through the cruise line. We simply hopped into a cab and spent the day at the Park (we could have spent a week there.) They were even able to work us into the Sea Trek early. All the people were friendly, helpful and overall just treated us great. While we were standing around waiting a short little man came up and ask if we wanted a snorkel tour. I instantly remembered what you had said and looked at his name tag. It was Mario! His tour was fantastic! If you see him ask him if he remembers Señor Ed and his family (he never caught that my name was Ted, but that’s okay!) I had a waterproof digital camera and he snapped lots of pictures of us. We had a wonderful time and much of it was thanks to you, your website and staff!

I know you probably get lots of pictures but I had to send you three. Look at the smiles on my boy’s faces. That says it all! Thank you so much for all your help and advice. We can’t wait to return. Your website is the first place we will stop! I wish we could have met in person. We will next time! T. Mahler Family ~ Howe ,TX

Hello my name is Brent C. and I did the Turtle Observation & Release on June 27th. I can honestly not put into words how great and breathtaking the whole experience was! it has always been a dream of mine to watch turtles nest up close and personal but you guys topped that dream and did even better! I almost cried tears of joy when i found out I got to get up close and help remove the turtle eggs as she was laying them! I plan on becoming a marine biologist one day and this whole experience has pushed me farther into my passion for marine biology! I can not say thank you enough! Also cant forget the helpful crew of young men and women that helped us along the night and where ever so kind! Here is a picture of the green sea turtle I named April after she had laid her eggs! Thanks and God Bless Brent C ~ USA

Thank you so much for all your help! We took you tour to Chitchen-Itza in june. We were the couple that missed the tour because we did not get the wake up call. Because you went the extra mile with us (by finding us a tour operator that would honor our voucher the next day) I am extremely greatful. it certainly made our vacation. I will DEFINITELY recommend your website COZUMELINSIDER to anybody who will listen. thanks again! F. Escobar ~ not given

I just wanted to let you know that the private charter van service was outstanding. Thanks so much to you and your staff for arranging for the beverages on board and the driver was great. We will be visiting Cozumel again will always be utilizing yours and Uniper's assistance. R. Lee Family ~ Colorado

i've been on your site for the last week just checking everything out i'm telling you that you have the best site for learning about cozumel to all the execursions that are offered. also the information about how to get to the hotel from the airport with the cost about the ferry to every question that a person like myself would have that is planning on travelling to your beautiful country we are planning on retiring there. our family and myself will be arriving in Cancun and then going on to Cozumel. we will be staying at the reef and then park royal but i printed out coupons and all the info about the ferry, the ado bus and all the execursions we want to do . i'm lucky because i speak the language and i love to talk to people i would love to also get the pleasure of meeting with you which i'm sure i will since we plan on doing alot of your execursions. thank you for this beautiful site i enjoyed every minute i spend on it i look forward to hearing back from you! F.J. Bennett ~ belleriver ontario canada


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