Derived from the Mayan “Ah Cuzamil Peten” meaning the Island of the Swallows, Cozumel is the largest of Mexico’s Caribbean islands and become a popular tourist destination for its scuba diving and snorkeling as the majority of the land is otherwise covered with an impenetrable jungle – clear to us when we made our way inland for a shore excursion to a traditional Mayan sweat lodge back in 2008 and largely seems to be the case five years later. But even so there are over three hundred restaurants and many hotels that run dive operations across the island. Located off the Yucatan Peninsula’s eastern coast, Cozumel is probably best visited between February and April when it experiences a dry season as the island otherwise has a very wet climate and doubly so September through October – a likely indicator that our plans for my 2010 birthday were doomed from the beginning.
The island was probably first settled by the Mayan toward the beginning of 300 CE when it was considered to be a sacred place of pilgrimage to their moon goddess Ix Chel visited by those desiring her assistance enhancing their fertility. And despite the native inhabitants of Cozumel managing to maintain peaceful relations with the Spanish who arrived in 1518 a subsequent visit by the Panfilo Narvaez which brought the smallpox to the island in 1520 turned the island’s thriving population of over ten thousand to less than four hundred over the following fifty years. In the intervening years Cozumel became the target of pirates, which by 1688 saw the majority of the islanders forcibly relocated to the mainland. In fact it would take the Caste War of Yucatan in 1848 for a major settlement to return as refugees fled to the island and would be officially recognized the following year by the Mexican government. Since then a yearly festival is held at the end of April located in the small town of El Cedral in the south of Cozumel.