The Maya are believed to have first settled
Cozumel by the early part of the 1st millennium AD, and
older Preclassic Olmec artifacts have been found on the
island as well. The island was sacred to Ix Chel, the Maya
Moon Goddess, and the temples here were a place of pilgrimage,
especially by women desiring fertility. There are a number
of ruins on the island, most from the Post-Classic period.
The largest Maya ruins on the island were bulldozed to make
way for a airplane runway during World War II.
first Spanish visitor was Juan de Grijalva in 1518, and
in the following year Hernán Cortés came with
a fleet and destroyed many Maya temples. Some 40,000 Maya
lived on the island then, but smallpox devastated them and
by 1570 only 30 were left alive. In the ensuing years Cozumel
was nearly deserted, used as a hideout by pirates from time
In the 1600's, the Caribbean shipping lanes were full of
cargo ships either hauling supplies to newly established
towns and outposts, or carrying gold and other commodities
back to Europe...ships too ripe for pirates, privateers
and buccaneers to ignore. It was during this period that
infamous captains like Jean Lafitte and Henry Morgan began
frequenting Cozumel. With its deep harbors, its proximity
to all the action and relative obscurity, the island made
an ideal base of operations for them. It is even said to
have been the location of many a buried treasure - although
none have been found (yet).
1959, Jacques Cousteau discovered the extent and beauty
of Palancar, the coral reefs at the south of Cozumel and
publicized it as one of the best places to go scuba diving
in the world. Although the original airport was a World
War II relic and was able to handle jet aircraft and international
flights, a much larger airport ws built in the late 1970s.
This resulted in much greater tourism to Cozumel.
Diving is still a primary draw, but Cozumel built a deepwater
pier in the 1990s so that cruise ships could easily dock
there, and it is now a regular stop on cruises in the Caribbean.