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Cozumel Hotels

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Cozumel is the original Caribbean destination in Mexico, a top cruise-ship port of call in the Americas, and one of the world's top five dive destinations. Despite all this acclaim, Cozumel remains a laid-back island with an easy-going outlook and the kind of hospitality for which Mexicans are famous.

The largest island in the Mexican Caribbean, it is located just 12 miles offshore from Playa del Carmen, a 45-minute, $7 ferry ride away. The name comes from the Maya word Cuzamil, meaning "land of the swallows." Today, it remains the home of two species of birds found nowhere else: the Cozumel vireo and the Cozumel thrasher. Only 3% developed, this 28-mile long, 11-mile-wide island still has vast stretches of pristine jungle and uninhabited shoreline. The only town is San Miguel de Cozumel, usually called just San Miguel.

The island offers all the necessities for a good vacation: excellent snorkeling and scuba places, sailing and water sports, expensive resorts and modest hotels, international restaurants and local taco joints, and even a Maya ruin or two. Due to the influx of cruise visitors, shopping is extensive, with many duty-free stores selling jewelry, perfumes, and designer wares. If after a while you do get restless, the ancient Maya city of Tulum, the lagoons of Xel-Ha and Xcaret, or the nearby village of Playa del Carmen provide convenient and interesting excursions.

During pre-Hispanic times, the island was one of three important ceremonial centers (Izamal and Chichén-Itzá were the other two). Maya women would travel the 12 miles by boat to the island at least once in their life to worship the goddess of fertility, Ixchel. More than 40 sites around the island containing shrines remain today, and archaeologists still uncover the small dolls customarily offered in the fertility ceremony.

Salt and honey, trade products produced on the island, further linked Cozumel with the mainland; they were brought ashore at the ruins we know today as Tulum. The site was occupied when Hernán Cortés landed here in 1519. Before his own boat docked, Cortés's men sacked the town and took the chief's wife and children captive. According to Bernal Díaz del Castillo's account, all were returned. Diego de Landa's account says Cortés converted the Indians and replaced their sacred Maya figures with a cross and a statue of Mary in the main temple at Cozumel.

After the Spanish Conquest, the island was an important port; but foreign diseases decimated the population, and by 1570 it was almost uninhabited. The inhabitants returned later, but the War of the Castes in the 1800s severely curtailed Cozumel's trade. Cozumel continued its economic rollercoaster after the Caste War as a small commercial seaport. In the mid-1950s Cozumel's fame as a diving destination began to grow, and development of the island followed that of Cancún beginning in the mid-1970s.



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