Cozumel

Cancun | Isla Mujeres | Cozumel | Tulúm | Riviera Maya

Cozumel is the biggest island in Mexico. Surrounded by turquoise waters and a spectacular string of coral reef, it is a scuba-diver's paradise. Since the release of the documentary by marine explorer Jacques Cousteau in 1961, Cozumel has become a choice location, visited by thousands of scuba divers every year. Hundreds of cruise ships also make stop-overs here. The surrounding waters abound in countless aquatic species, colorful reefs and the remains of sunken Spanish galleons. In fact, more than 30% of visitors to Cozumel are scuba divers, or are aspiring to be! Other visitors can observe an extraordinary variety of migratory birds that spend a portion of the year here, visit the Parque Naciomnal y Jardines Botánicas Chankanaab, go shopping, go fishing, or simply relax on one of the magnificent beaches all around the island.

Located 19 kilometers from the coast, the island is flat and shaped like lobster claws. It's about 45 kilometers by 16 kilometers by size. The center of Cozumel is overgrown with vegetation. Its periphery, though, is a continuous ring of white sand and limestone. Since the east coast of the island is exposed to high winds, tourist establishments and hotels are situated on the west coast. San Miguel, the only city on the island, with a population of about 50,000, is also on the west side.

Around the year 300, Cozumel was occupied by a Mayan tribe. It subsequently became an important port of commerce and ceremonial site. Women from the coast would come to Cozumel by pirogue  (dugout canoe) to worship Ix-Chel, the goddess of fertility. There are more than 35 archaeological sites throughout the island but only a few are maintained. Cortez landed here in 1519 before he undertook the conquest of Mexican territory. He left two missionaries here to try to convert the population  to Christianity; they were imprisoned. Cortez was preceded by Juan de Grijalva in 1518 who was seeking slaves.

The island's coves provided refuge to pirates, including the dreaded Jean Lafitte and Henry Morgan, who scoured the seas in the 17th and 18th centuries. These pirates sank countless merchant ships, the wrecks of which litter the ocean floor around Cozumel. In the 19th century the economic activity of Cozumel centered around fishing, and the Central American trade routes passed through here.

Cozumel's economic revival at the beginning of the century was prompted by the popularity of chewing gum in the United States. The island became a stopover on the import route from South America of chiclé, an extract of the sapodilla tree and the base of chewing gum. This trade declined when a less expensive synthetic product was invented to replace the chiclé. Later, the United States built an air force base used by the allies to pursue German submarines during the second World War.

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