While it’s true that visitors to Mexico’s impeccable Riviera Maya region do not need to leave the mainland coast, some of its most spectacular views and wildlife lie just off of its fine, sandy beaches. One such example is the Caribbean island of Isla Mujers (Woman Island), which sits just 12 miles (20 kilometers) off of the world-famous party town of Cancun Mexico. Here guests can experience some of the most pristine, white sand beaches and calm, carribean waters found in the entire region. However, it is the lively shores and vibrant culture of the nearby island of Cozumel, Mexico that entice visitors to board a ferry boat and explore life out at sea.
By far one of the best Caribbean islands to visit, the dynamic and vivacious Mexican island of Cozumel is one that visitors to the region should definitely add to the itinerary. One of North America’s major scuba diving hotspots, the island’s well-developed diving industry provides all the necessary amenities to explore its unparalleled underwater environment – all at a bargain price! Not only does it’s offshore environments mesmerize those lucky enough to witness its beauty, but its onshore environments ranging from pristine, white sand beaches and rugged island terrain to historic monuments and a quaint, yet bustling historic center, the island of Cozumel offers visitors a truly compelling Caribbean experience.
As with any truly interesting destination, there are plenty of fun facts about Mexico that are sure to persuade you to plan a visit to one of its many one-of-a-kind destinations. But, what about Cozumel in particular? No worries there. Below you will find 10 fun facts about this Caribbean island to ponder when considering your next Mexican get-a-way.
1. Cozumel Reefs National Marine Park is every diver’s dream
While the entire island of Cozumel is surrounded by spectacular Caribbean waters and coral reefs, the area just south of the island is home to the majority of its world-renowned dive sites, which are located at what is known as the Cozumel Reefs National Marine Park. The park, which was created in 1996, forms a part of the even larger Mesoamerican Reef system (the 2nd largest reef system in the world).
Home to more than 26 species of coral and 500 species of fish, this marine park is unlike any other found around the globe and home the best snorkeling in Cozumel. With the success of special programs developed to protect the local marine life, Cozumel’s waters are inhabited by some very rare, and miraculous sea creatures, including the Carbbiean’s gentle giant – the sea turtle. With an incredible biodiversity, divers and snorkelers alike are sure to catch a glimpse of local endemic species such as the Cozumel Splendid Toadfish, the Queen Conch, and even black coral.
Simply put – if snorkeling, scuba diving, and other water sports are your type of activity, then this is the place to be. While there are amazing tours found all throughout the Riviera Maya, Cozumel excursions are hard to beat – especially the kinds that take you to life below the surface.
2. Cozumel is home to part of the majestic Mesoamerican Reef
As previously mentioned, the Island of Cozumel is home to a small portion of the world’s second largest barrier reef system, known as the Mesoamerican Reef. Extending nearly 700 miles (1,126 kilometers), this miraculous reef system reaches all the way from Mexico’s Yucatan Peninsula to the Honduran Bay Islands. It is a small portion of this very reef located on Cozumel’s south shores that provide snorkelers and divers with truly one-of-a-kind experiences.
The mere size of the reef is impressive – touching the Caribbean coasts of Mexico, Belize, Guatemala, and Honduras – the largest reef system in the Western Hemisphere. One can imagine that with such enormity comes vibrant marine life in all shapes and sizes. Home to an array of different types of coral, exotic fish, marine turtles, dolphins, and even sharks, the Mesoamerian Reef has become a true natural wonder appreciated by both locals and visitors from all over the world.
With such popularity on the world stage, it’s important to protect this irreplaceable marine habitat. With protected areas such as Cozumel Reefs National Marine Park, Sian Ka’an Biosphere Reserve, Xcalak Reefs National Park, and the Cayos Cochinos Marine Park, the reef provides visitors with unparalleled underwater experiences. This is a slice of heaven that you won’t want to miss.
3. Cozumel’s name was derived from ancient Mayan culture
If you’re a history buff, then you’ll appreciate a good story about the origins of this striking, Caribbean island, beginning with its name. The name “Cozumel” was actually derived from the Mayan name assigned to the island, which was “Ah Cuzamil Peten”, which in English translates to “Island of the Swallows.” So then, it comes as no surprise that the Swallow itself has transformed into an incredibly important symbol. As a major part of the island’s history and identity, the Swallow can be spotted on and around the island in numerous forms, ranging from imprints on sidewalks and local artwork, to the live and soaring Cozumel Swallow itself.
So, when visiting this special Mexican island, remember to be on the lookout for any sign of the island’s ancient identity – the Cozumel Swallow. While the island may appear to be nothing more than a blissful, natural environment in one of the world’s most lively seas, it too has a long and colorful history of its own.
4. Cozumel stunts a fascinating history
As history tends to be, the Island of Cozumel has seen its fair share of ups and downs. However, it is this complex and colorful history that gave rise to the incredible destination that it is today.
As the story goes, Cozumel was first settled by the Maya sometime during the 1st millennium A.D. Not only was the island inhabited by the ancient Maya civilization, but also acted as a sacred site – believed to be connected the Maya Moon and Fertility Goddess known as Ix Chel. In fact, it is said that Mayan women made an annual pilgrimage to the island where they visited temples and praised the Goddess in hopes of healthy fertility. They worshiped her through numerous ceremonies at the site’s numerous temples – many of which can still be found today, with the most prominent ruins located at the town of San Gervasio near the center of the island.
While it is believed that the Mayans began erecting the first of their structures sometime around 100 A.D., it was not until the 16th Century that the Maya civilization would begin to crumble under the hand of the Caribbeans newest occupants – the Spanish.
On May 3rd, 1518, Spanish explorer Juan de Grijalva claimed Cozumel for the king and queen of Spain and named the island Isla de la Santa Cruz (Saint Cruz Island). They established the town of El Cedral, which still exists today. The following year, Hernan Cortez arrived under the guise of peace and friendship, and the island quickly became the starting point for the conquest of Mexico by the Spanish. With foreign invaders come foreign illnesses – the Maya would fall victim to a smallpox outbreak that would nearly wipe out the entire local population – only 300 would survive.
Present day Cozumel was built on a surprisingly well known industry – the gum industry! That’s right – gum! In the mid-19th century chewing gum had become and international commodity and luckily for Cozumel, it was home to an abundant source of Sapodilla trees. Who would’ve guessed? This economic boom would establish Cozumel as a recognizable port for commerce and shipping.
But, what about all of that spectacular nature and vibrant wildlife? While the Maya surely enjoyed the lush vegetation that once inhabited the island, much of this was destroyed during WWII for the development of an American Air Force base. However, as the world settled, so did Cozumel. Its vegetation wouldn’t make a full return, but it came back strong and the Island began to stun visitors once again starting in the 1950’s. In fact, in 1959 Jacques Cousteau discovered the Palancar Reef on the south side of the island and claimed it to be, “one of the most special places to scuba dive in the world.” Today, Cozumel is considered one of the top 5 dive destinations in the world.
With struggle comes triumph – and boy has the island of Cozumel thrived. With ancient history, breathtaking landscapes, and vivid marine and wildlife, this Caribbean island is one unlike any other found around the globe – come and see for yourself.
5. Cozumel’s geography is what makes it truly captivating
Remember those breathtaking landscapes and vibrant Caribbean waters we mentioned? The ones that offer guests an unparalleled Riviera Maya experience? Well, you are about to find out why all of that is possible.
Whether geography is your thing or not, the conditions that make the island of Cozumel the natural wonder that is is today are sure to blow your mind. To start off, how large do think the island of Cozumel actually is? With such diverse landscapes, marine life, and excursions available to guests, one would think it would be rather large in size right? Wrong. As the oldest Caribbean island and the largest in Mexico, the island only measures a mere 34 miles (54 kilometers) north to south and 11 miles (17 kilometers) east to west with the highest elevation only reaching 49 feet (15 meters) above sea level!
Formed over a limestone plateau, Cozumel is Mexico’s third largest island – edged with natural white sand beaches and home to mostly flat, limestone based terrain. While the terrain may be flat – boy is it lively. Forming a part of the Western Hemisphere’s largest reef system (Mesoamerican Barrier Reef) as well as the 5th largest underwater cave in the world, Cozumel’s underwater marine environment is unlike any other found around the globe. The island’s natural geography even protects the coral reef from the currents of the open ocean – now, that’s pretty awesome. In addition, the island is also composed of numerous underwater rivers known as “cenotes”, or “sinkholes” – most of which have yet to be explored. Talk about exciting!
The natural conditions both on and surrounding the island are truly spectacular. With few (if any) places like it on earth, visitors are sure to be left in awe and with a new appreciation for the natural world that surrounds us. These unmatched conditions are a true gift from nature – let’s not take them for granted. Visit Cozumel today.
6. Tourism to Cozumel is a rather “new” phenomena
As was told, it really wasn’t until the 1950’s when Cozumel started to garner international attention and recognition as a truly noteworthy place to visit. It wouldn’t be until two decades later in 1970 with the construction of a large, nice airport that Cozumel would really start to draw in tourists by the numbers. Well…at least non-American tourists.
It’s quite interesting how this once, indigenous island remained a local secret for so many years. You would think its innate beauty would have captured the attention of visitors to its shores long before the mid 20th century. However, due to Mexico’s socio-political issues during its formative years in both the 19th and early 20th centuries, it wouldn’t be until decades later that word would begin to spread.
After a few decades of minor attention, which was mainly stimulated by and restricted to the international chewing gum economy of the 1920’s and 1930’s, Cozumel would finally garner international spotlight after the visit of one, modest, American journalist by the name of John R. Humphreys. After being tipped off by a friend and successful businessman named Charles Fair who had traveled to the island for work, Humphreys decided to go see what this mysterious Caribbean island was all about. Let me tell you – it didn’t take long for the island to win him over and for him to begin spreading the word – which would prove to spread like wildfire.
After his visit, his 1955 article published in the U.S.’s Holiday Magazine entitled Cozumel: A new island Paradise, which described the island as an idyllic, inexpensive, tropical Eden, American foot-traffic to the island ignated rapidly. This comes as no surprise – an inexpensive tropical Eden? Sold! However, this new influx of visitors would catch the island by surprise – leading to an ever-increasing popularity, development, and arguably, the loss to local culture. By 1958 – only a short three years after his first article on Cozumel was published – the island had drastically transformed into an international tourist destination. It was no longer the quaint, cheap, underdeveloped paradise he once new – and this only caused larger numbers of travelers to invest in a trip to its shores.
This included individuals like American scuba diver Robert F. Marx and American cinematographer Lamar Boden. One would capture life below the surface on film, which would make it the big screens of Hollywood films and television such as the movie Flipper and the T.V. series known as Sea Hunt. Marx, after exploring Cozumel’s unparalleled Caribbean waters, even remained on the only permanently using the local Hotel Playa as a base of operations for a tour guide and diving business – the first commercial operation of its kind on the island.
After that, it was history. News of Cozumel spread at rapid speed transforming the Island and its impeccable surrounding landscapes into one of the world’s most sought after vacation destinations. Luckily, steps have been made to protect and preserve much of the waters natural habitat, allowing its vibrant beauty to continue touching the lives of visitors for years to come.
Don’t miss out – be one of those visitors and experience the Caribbean like you have never imagined. Its beauty speaks for itself.
7. Cozumel is home to some very unique traditions
Remember during our history lesson when we mentioned the small Cozumel town by the name of Cedral? Well, not only was Cedral one of the first sites “established” by the Spanish explorers, but it was also once the largest community and capital of the island. Home to the oldest Mayan temple on the island, its safe to say that Cedral has a complex history – part of which is celebrated each year for five consecutive days at the end of April.
Officially known as the Festival of El Cedral, this annual event is held in the small town of El Cedral and said to have been started over 160 years ago by a local Mexican native by the name of Casimiro Cárdenas.
Story has it that Cárdenas was one of a group of individuals that fled to the island from the village of Saban (located on the mainland) after an attack during the War of the Castes. While the battle left of the villagers dead, Cárdenas survived while clutching a small wooden cross close to his chest. Upon his safe arrival to the small Spanish town, Cárdenas vowed to start an annual festival to honor the religious power of the crucifix.
Today, the original Holy Cross Festival forms a part of the more famously known Festival of El Cedral, celebrated by locals and visitors alike. While the festival’s origins are steeped in history and religious significance, present day celebrations offer participants a variety of fun and exciting events, including traditional feasts, fairs, rodeos, bullfights, music, and games.
What better way to get to know your new surroundings than by partaking in local celebrations that highlight the region’s vibrant culture and past. All while enjoying a refreshing, cold Mexican cerveza of course. ¡Salud!
8. Cozumel’s warm waters attract some rather large reptiles
Hidden away in the island’s lagoons and mangroves hides one of America’s largest and most feared (yet admired) reptiles – the American Crocodile, or Crocodylus Acutus as scientists call them.
While true that this is the same crocodile species found around and throughout the southern U.S. state of Florida, American crocodiles need relatively warm water – a good guess as to why they haven’t migrated as far north in the U.S. No, these massive reptiles prefer the warm waters of the Carribean Sea and Pacific Ocean, making their way as far south as Peru.
While considered globally as a “vulnerable” species, these warm water dwellers don’t seem to have any problem making Mexico home. What makes Mexico’s Caribbean water such a great place for them to nest is not only its warm temperatures, but also the fact that much of Mexico’s Caribbean shoreline is protected by the government in the form of nature preserves and marine parks – which allow them to grow and thrive.
So, while you are out exploring the island on your Cozumel ATV tour, exploring the island’s marshes, or sight-seeing at one of the island’s many lagoons, be sure to keep your eyes on the lookout for these sneaky, yet unmistakable creatures. With a pointed snout and olive brown skin, they may be difficult to spot. One trick to spot the Cozumel crocodile more easily is to look for its beaming, silver eyes. Next time you see two dots that look like reflections on the water’s surface – look again! You may have just found your water-lurking friend.
Once you spot them – there is no going back. You are now looking at this fascinating water reptile in all of its glory – with some adult male crocodiles reaching lengths of 16 feet (5 meters)! Might be best to admire these native inhabitants from afar.
Popular Cozumel crocodile sites include the island’s Punta Sur Park or the little water hole across from the Chen Rio beach and restaurant area on the east side of the island. One way or another, your paths are sure to cross.
9. There’s nothing quite like Carnival in Cozumel
Imagine a festival full of costumed revellers battling it out in one massive dance competition as upbeat salsa, zumba, and reggae music are played live by local bands marching beside them. Imagine people lining the city’s small streets, full of vibrant performers and catching small gifts that the parade’s participants shower down on them. Imagine that the festival is free and encourages all to participate in united celebration. Now, imagine that the music, the joy, and the party all continue on well into the night and early dawn. Does this sound like your kind of gig? Well, look no further.
Known around the globe as the island’s most spectacular annual event, Cozumel Mardis Gras, or “Carnival”, has over 140 years of history and continues to draw in lively crowds from near and far. Held each year in February and concluding on “Fat Tuesday” with spectacular technicolor processions along Cozumel’s downtown oceanfront, Carnival is only of the island’s many enchanting annual celebrations. With such a colorful history and rich culture, Cozumel has evolved into quite the magical place where entertainment is a major priority to both locals and visitors alike. Carnival is just that – entertainment in the form of a great celebration.
Open to all ages and during the tourism industry’s peak season when the weather is at its finest, Carnival offers participants an array of festivities that attract thousands of people from all corners of the world. While the origins of Carnival are unclear, it is popularly believed that it started as a pagan celebration in ancient Rome, or Greece. After the celebrations made their way to the Americas in the late nineteenth century, legendary balls were held at famous clubs such as the iconic Copacabana Palace and the Municipal Theater in Rio de Janeiro.
While its festivities are known around the globe, Cozumel offers one heck of an experience. Consisting of five days of intense folklore, this fantastically colored carnival breathes life into unparalleled parades, impromptu dance competitions, traditional local cuisine, and of course – refreshing, tropical drinks. Now, that’s a party!
10. Cozumel is the place for you
Let’s be honest. At some point, probably halfway through this list of interesting fun facts about Cozumel you were thinking, “Man, this is the place for me”! And guess what? You were absolutely right.
With such an array of activities, adventures, historic sites, landscapes, and breathtaking nature and marine life, who wouldn’t want to visit this truly remarkable Caribbean destination? After all, as stated best by American journalist John R. Humphrey in 1955, who can resist the pull to witness this one-of-a-kind idyllic, inexpensive, tropical Eden? The correct answer: no one.
Book your flight. Pack your bags. And be ready to experience the Mexican Caribbean like never before. ¡Vamanos!