The Best Mayan Ruins to See in Cozumel

The San Gervasio ruins are on the northern section of Cozumel.
The San Gervasio ruins are on the northern section of Cozumel. (Image: Medioimages/Photodisc/Photodisc/Getty Images)

Cozumel, a popular tourism destination off Mexico’s Yucatan Peninsula, is a 30-mile-long Caribbean island about 6 miles east of the mainland with hotels, spas, wide beaches, golf courses and scuba diving off the Great Maya Reef. It's a popular cruise ship stop for travel along the Mayan Riviera, which extends south of Cancun and through beach resorts, tropical jungles and Mayan ruins. Other Cozumel visitors arrive by air at Cozumel International Airport or by ferry from the mainland city of Playa del Carmen. Cozumel has its own Mayan ruins. The best are at San Gervasio, the largest, most accessible and only government-protected Mayan ruins on the island.

San Gervasio's Significance

The ancient Mayans, who built great cities, temples and pyramids in Mexico during the first 10 centuries A.D., built the temple at San Gervasio to honor Ixchel, the Mayan goddess of fertility. Mayans from mainland Mexico traveled to this island temple to pray to the goddess. There are no Mayan pyramids on Cozumel, but you can still see the remains of San Gervasio’s temples, plazas and raised arches at ruins supervised by Mexico’s Institute of Anthropology and History and Cozumel Parks and Museum Foundation. San Gervasio was inhabited by 200 A.D. One set of buildings is called “La Manitas,” Spanish for little hands, because of what look like small faded red handprints on the walls.

Exploring San Gervasio

Well-marked roads travel from San Miguel, Cozumel’s biggest city, to San Gervasio, which sits in a clearing surrounded by tropical forests. Cruise ships that offer bus tours of San Gervasio include Carnival, Royal Caribbean and Disney Cruise Line, as of summer 2014. Tour guide businesses in San Miguel run guided tours of the ruins by van or bus. You can also rent a car for a self-guided tour. Descriptive signs in English and Spanish are posted at main buildings at the site. You must pay an admission fee for access, and you can also hire the services of on-site tour guides.

Other Mayan Ruins

Smaller, less developed and less well-preserved Mayan ruins are among more than 20 archaeological sites on Cozumel. Bare outlines of what once were temples and a lookout tower were discovered at Castillo Real, located in a northeastern corner of the island off a very rough road that’s tough to navigate even by all-terrain vehicle. El Caracol consists of the remains of a single low building in a more accessible park called Parque Punta Sur. At the ruins at El Cedral, you'll also see one bare, low-lying structure, but it's adjacent to a pretty village church built by later Spanish explorers. A festival is held each spring in the village, which is easily accessible by car or bus.

More Mayan History

The Museo de Isla Cozumel, or Cozumel Island Museum, in San Miguel has artifacts and exhibits, with signs in English and Spanish, about the history of the Maya people on the island. Along and outside the city’s main plaza, you can find shops and markets with traditional Mayan art. To see more than 60 replicas of pre-Columbian Mayan artifacts, visit Discover Mexico, a theme park outside the city.

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