Cozumel, (Isla Cozumel) means “Land of the Swallow.” due in part to the abundance of indigenous costal swallows inhabiting Cozumel’s beautiful beaches and coastline.
And also to the fact the Mayans believed that Cozumel was the spiritual home of Ixchel, the Mayan Goddess of fertility and love. Mayan women are believed to have traveled from corners of the vast Mayan empire to worship at her shrines on the island. Legend has it; Goddess Izchel expressed her gratitude to the women for dedicating temples to her by sending her favorite bird.
Incidentally two species of birds on Cozumel are found nowhere else in the world: the Cozumel vireo and the Cozumel thrasher.
Mayans are known to have inhabited Cozumel since 300 AD and during the height of the Mayan empire the island became an important port for trade because of its strategic location between Honduras and Vera Cruz.
Spanish Conquistador Juan de Grijalva 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.
Following, the infamous Spanish conqueror Hernán Cortés found his way to Isla Cozumel in 1519 that left his mark with the destruction of the many temples and the spread of the smallpox. Cozumel’s population decreased from 40,000 to about 30 people by 1570. Cozumel’s ancient Mayan civilization in ruins was uninhabited by 1600.
By early 17th century pirates were using Cozumel as a safe harbor. Legendary pirate Henry Morgan used it as a layover during his raids around the Caribbean between 1658 to 1688. Later, in the early 1800’s, famous Caribbean pirate Jean Lafitte, hid here from his pursuers in the waters near Cozumel. 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.
Today, This 30 mile long, 10-mile wide Caribbean gem is home to an estimated 90,000 local residents and a natural renowned escape for people from all over the world to relax, unwind and soak in some fun in the warm Caribbean sun.
Cozumel is part of the Great Maya Barrier Reef, a system that extends from the Northern Yucatan to Honduras, second largest in the world. The island’s 32-km long reef system is located off the island’s southern leeward coast.
The Giana Current has been shaping the shoreline of this coral island for millions of years, offering some of the most spectacular and exciting underwater adventure opportunities in the world.
Thanks to the strong, steady current, the waters are constantly being flushed making for excellent visibility–100 ft. plus–and ideal conditions for coral and sponge growth. Reef fish thrive here as well, protected by a 1980 ban on fishing along the southern coast of the island.
In 1996 the Mexican government designated the area from Paradise Reef south as a National Marine Park. In the years since, island dive operators have worked closely with the government to protect this invaluable international resource. As a result, there are currently limits on the number of boats and scuba dive operators allowed on the reefs and each diver must pay a $2.00 per day park entrance fee which goes towards enforcing the rules.
Although there are more than 30 chartered reefs and overwhelming number of sites to choose on each of them, Cozumel’s coral chain can basically be divided into 3 types: On vertical walls like Santa Rosa with depths from 40 to 130 plus feet you’ll find gorgonian and plate coral, enormous sponges and a splendid assortment of reef and pelagic species.
Pinnacles like Punta Sur and Palancar Horseshoe with depths from 40-70 feet are maze like structures with tall, statuesque pinnacles and wide coral shelves. Here you can swim through tunnels in and out of caves and between dramatic, towering coral.