Cozumel, Mexico is one of eight municipalities in the state of Quintana Roo. It is located 60 kilometers south of Cancun, and 20 kilometers off the mainland of Mexico. It is the largest Mexican Atlantic Island. Most of the island is flat, low and densely vegetated, and most of Cozumel residents reside on the western side of the island in the town of San Miguel. The population is about 72,000 people.
Cozumel, like many towns around the Mayan Riviera, has ancient history. Olmec (a civilization dating back to 1500 B.C.) artifacts have been found on the island. The island was also believed to be sacred to Ix Chel, the Mayan Moon Goddess. There are many ruins found on the Island of Cozumel. Most were built in the Post-Classic period (100-1500 A.D.). Temples were built as places of pilgrimage for the Mayan people. However, during World War II, many of the ruins were bulldozed to make a runway for airplanes. The San Gervasio ruins are located in the center of the island and are known to be the largest ruins remaining.
In 1970, a large airport was built on Cozumel, drawing in more tourists to the Island. Cozumel's main attraction is its coral reef, which is popular for scuba diving. The Palancar coral reefs, on the southern side of the island, captured the attention of Jacques Cousteau in 1959. He called it "one of the most special places to scuba dive in the world." The island's natural geography protects the coral reef from the open ocean. In addition, Cozumel Reefs National Marine Park was established in 1996 by the government of Mexico, which prohibits people from removing or touching any marine life within park limitations. In 1990, a deep water pier was built, allowing cruise ships to dock.
El Cedral Festival
Every year for the past 150 years, the annual El Cedral Festival takes place in the small town of El Cedral, located on the southern part of Cozumel. Part of the El Cedral Festival is the Holy Cross Festival. The Holy Cross Festival was started by a group led by Casimiro Cardenas that fled from the Saban village on Mexico's mainland to Cozumel after a brutal attack on their village. Cardenas promised to celebrate the religious power of the small wooden cross he held when he arrived to the island. The annual festivities feature traditional feasts, bullfights, competitions, rodeos, fairs and music, and takes place at the end of April for about 5 days.
In the 21st century, the island of Cozumel has been hit by devastating hurricanes. Hurricanes Emily and Wilma were Category 4 hurricanes that hit the island in 2005. Hurricane Wilma was recorded as the most powerful hurricane to hit the island, devastating Cozumel's vegetation and causing disastrous problems with the sewer system. The island is still being restored, but has made great progress in its recovery from the terribly strong hurricanes of 2005.
Cozumel has a number of pristine beaches and resorts. The Easter side of the island is where most resorts are found, and is also the most lively area of Cozumel. Playa de San Martin, Playa Bonita and Playa El Mirador are beaches located on the eastern side of Cozumel. Punta Molas is found on the north-eastern tip, where Cozumel's light house is located, and can only be reached on four wheel drive automobiles.