Cozumel’s history is incredibly rich and varied. The name Cozumel is derived from the Mayan word “Cuzamil” which means”Land of the Swallow” due to the many indigenous, graceful birds that can be seen regularly throughout the island. Cozumel was probably originally settled about 2000 years ago by seafaring Mayans, who viewed it as a sacred shine as well as a stop on their trade route.
Mayan women from the mainland made pilgrimages to Cozumel to worship the goddess Ix chel, who has been interpreted as the Goddress of motherhood, fertility and corn. 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. The ruins of the altar and ceremonial center can be found at the San Gervasio ruins on the transversal road.
The island was once again rediscovered by pirates and Spanish Conquistador Juan de Grijalva in 1518 as he was attempting to sail to Cuba. A short time later Hernán Cortés found his way to Isla Cozumel in 1519 and according to legend destroyed many of the mayan sites and as also responsible for the spread of smallpox. As a result, Cozumel’s population went from 40,000 to only 30 people by 1570.
In the 17th century pirates had re-discovered Cozumel and employed island as as a safe harbor. Pirate stories include Henry Morgan frequently 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.