History of Cozumel

As Mexico’s largest island, Cozumel attracts millions of tourist each year. Visitors flock to the tropical island for its beautiful beaches, parks, cultural sites and a variety of water sports such as snorkeling and diving.

Settlement of Early Mesoamerican Civilizations

Located in the Caribbean Sea along Mexico’s Yucatan Peninsula’s eastern side, Cozumel was uninhabited until the first millennium AD, during which the Maya and the Olmecs settled there according to the artifacts found on the island. 

History of Cozumel

The First Spanish Expedition to the Island

Juan de Grijalva, a Spanish conquistador, led the first Spanish expedition to Cozumel in 1518. hernan Cortes, the Spanish conqueror who headed the expedition that caused the downfall of the Aztec Empire, visited the island the next year on his way to Veracruz. 

Unlike unpleasant expedition experiences in other parts of Mexico, both conquistadors were welcomed peacefully by the inhabitants of Cozumel. The inhabitants of the island, including the Maya, kept helping the Spanish resupply their sailing vessels even after their idols were destroyed at the hands of Cortes. 

The Emergence of Smallpox

About 10,000 Maya inhabited the island as of 1520. However, upon the arrival of the Panfilo Narvaez expedition, the Smallpox epidemic erupted on the island, killing more than 9,000 Maya people. By 1570, only 172 women and 186 men were left among the living. 

In the following years, the island was frequently attacked by pirates. These attacks led to the relocation of many of its inhabitants to the town of Xcan Bolona. In 1688, the remaining population of the island was evacuated inland to Chemax and other towns. 

The Official Recognition of Cozumel

In 1847, the Maya people began their revolt against the Hispanic populations of the Yucatan Peninsula. The following year, the refugees escaping the Caste War of Yucatan populated the island once again which led the Mexican government to officially recognize the town of San Miguel de Cozumel in 1849. 

Lincoln’s Colony of Ex-slaves

American President Abraham Lincoln attempted to buy the island of Cozumel to establish a colony of freed ex-slaves offshore. Though the proposal was rejected by Mexican President Benito Juarez, Lincoln eventually managed to form a short-lived colony of freed slaves off the coast of Haiti. 

Present-day Cozumel

The island of Cozumel today attracts three to four million cruise passengers each year and is home to some of the best scuba diving in the world.

Cozumel is also home to the world’s second-largest reef system (after the Great Barrier Reef of Australia) and a wide variety of tours including world-class scuba diving, snorkeling, sport fishing, ATV tours and more.

As the island was once a sacred place for the Maya, history buffs come here to visit archaeological attractions, such as the ruins of Santa Rita. 

The diverse coastline of Cozumel boasts unique experiences for tourists, including state-of-the-art submarine tours, interesting wildlife encounters, well-kept maritime museums and lighthouses, and adventure parks.

About This Website

This is not the official website of the Cozumel Airport but a comprehensive travel guide for the island of Cozumel and the Cozumel International Airport and should be used for informational purposes only.

We have helped thousands of English speaking visitors plan their trips to Cozumel — learn more about how we can help you with your Cozumel itinerary below.