Isla Cozumel, Mexico's
largest island is located in the western Caribbean, 12 miles off the coastline of the Yucatan Peninsula, about 45 miles south of Cancun.
Archeologists believe that the Maya people first settled Cozumel in the early part of the 1st millennium AD. Across the island today, a scattering of Maya ruins of the Post-Classic period remain.
Hernan Cortes, a Spanish explorer, arrived here in the early 16th century with a small fleet. At the time, an estimated 40,000 Mayans lived on the island.
And like all other islands in the Caribbean, Europeans
brought disease with them, and diseases like smallpox devastated the population. In fact, by 1570 only a few dozen Maya were left alive on Cozumel.
All but deserted, the island became a convenient hideout for Caribbean pirates for a time. During the ongoing wars on the Yucatan Peninsula
during the late 19th century, some native Maya on the mainland resettled here in an attempt to escape Spanish control.
All but ignored for the next century, or so, Jacques Cousteau, the French
explorer came to Cozumel in 1960, and discovered the beauty of Palancar Reef, the coral reefs off the southwestern coastline of Cozumel.
Consequently, the government of Mexico established the Cozumel Reefs National Marine Park, which helped to protect the marine life within the park boundaries, and today scuba diving is still one of Cozumel's primary attractions.
In 1996, a deepwater pier for cruise ships was constructed. It has been enlarged a few times, and Cozumel is now a regular stop on the Caribbean cruise ship circuit.
Famed for its numerous Maya ruins, pristine reefs and diving venues, sandy beaches, duty-free shopping and perfect weather, Cozumel is a significant tourist destination.
From Cozumel (by ferry or airplane
), there's easy access to the many attractions of the Yucatan Peninsula, including Cancun,
Chichen Itza and Tulum.