Cozumel – The Island of Ancient Mayan Civilizations and Natural Splendor
The island of Cozumel, once a safe harbor for infamous pirates, is a nature lover’s paradise. Located an hour by ferry from Playa del Carmen, this laid-back city is surrounded by part of the Mesoamerican Reef, the second largest barrier reef in the world. For this reason, it has attracted the most seasoned globe-trotting divers and has become a prominent port of call for cruise ships.
Originally settled approximately 2000 years ago by Mayans, Cozumel was a mecca for Mayan women in particular. At least once in their lifetimes, they would make the treacherous journey from the mainland in wooden canoes to worship Ix Chel, the goddess of fertility, medicine, midwifery and weaving. Remnants of her altar still stand today in the archeological site of San Gervasio, located in the center of the island.
In the early 1500’s, Cozumel was a bustling urban area with around 40,000 inhabitants. In 1519, the Spanish conqueror, Hernan Cortes came upon the island and brought with him massive destruction and small pox. The population dwindled to a meager 30 people, leaving the ancient Mayan civilization in ruins. By 1600, these remaining inhabitants fled, leaving the island deserted until the 17th century, when it was discovered by pirates.
The notorious Henry Morgan and his sordid crew used the island as a safe haven and were said to have stashed away their looted treasures in and around the lagoon in the island’s centre. For the most part, the island remained unoccupied until 1847. At this time, a few families escaping the Spanish retaliation caused by the Maya uprising during the Caste War, came to reside there.
Today, the enterprising city boasts a population of over 100,000 residents and has as much history as natural beauty to offer to its visitors. It was one especially sunny Saturday afternoon that our family decided to explore the allure of this splendid sanctuary. Upon arriving in Cozumel, we opted to rent an open-top jeep and drive the scenic road which runs alongside the island’s coastline.
With the wind whipping our hair into a frenzied mess, we delighted in the infused Mexican/Caribbean vibe as we embarked on our whimsical joyride. The turquoise sea beckoned us, so we decided to stop for dip and a cool cocktail at a lively beachside eatery. The bartenders served up 2 feet tall icy margaritas. Whistles were blowing, the music was pulsing and the staff seemed to be having as much fun as the patrons! After sampling the fresh ceviche and discovering shells and dried coral, (or mini slingshots as my son referred to them) along the shallow shore, we continued on our coastal journey.
Stopping to walk through the sacred ruin site where ancient Mayans had once roamed was a moving experience. The structures that remain today continue to amaze onlookers with their fascinating markings and craftsmanship. After viewing the remnants, one is certainly able to gain a better sense of the customs and beliefs of the indigenous society that had once called this mystical region home.
The next leg of our adventure led us to the rugged eastern shoreline. The views of the crashing waves against the rocky coast made for a picture perfect photo op. While a couple of us posed for the camera, the others stumbled upon a man under a hut out in the middle of nowhere. Shaded by the thatched roof of his palapa, this jolly fellow sang while weaving palm leaves into grasshoppers and safari hats. He offered us some chilled, virgin pina coladas made with fresh coconut water and served in coconut shells. We lazed in the hammocks behind the hut and sipped on the refreshing concoctions. As we walked back to the jeep, our jovial friend blew in his concha shell and bellowed to us a fond farewell.
A magical trip filled with sublime beauty, enriching cultural aspects and fresh pina coladas! Just another day in paradise…