Located just 11 miles away from the Yucatan Peninsula, the little island of Cozumel is actually Mexico's largest inhabited island. It Spans 33 miles long by 9 miles wide and is home to over 100,000 people. There are so many things to see and do in Cozumel. The island is full of Mexican charm and the atmosphere is relaxed and gracious. Given the importance of tourism to the local economy, English is widely spoken. The only town on the island is San Miguel de Cozumel and it's where you will find the majority of amenities such as restaurants, bars, tour companies, grocery stores and banks. The town is approximately 8 miles from Chango Villa. Cozumel is rich with history, culture and tradition. Ruins scattered around the island, some dating back over 2000 years, are constant reminders of the once vast Mayan empire and its sacred island "Ah-Cuzamil-Peten". Definitely set aside some time to explore the Mayan ruins which are located at the north end of the island. The ruins at San Gervasio are the largest and make for a very
interesting half-day excursion.
Over 2000 years ago the people of the Maya civilization discovered and settled a tiny, but beautiful island, off the coast of the Yucatan Peninsula. They named this place "Ah-Cuzamil-Peten", meaning "land of the swallows", after the native birds that thrive there. The island was established as an essential port of trade for the Maya. But even more significant, it was the home of Ixchel, the Moon Goddess of fertility and childbirth. For centuries, women would make pilgrimages from all over the Mayan empire just to worship at Ixchel's sacred temples.
During the early 1500's, shortly after the discovery of the "New World", Spain began an intense campaign of exploration. In 1518 Jaun de Grijalva, nephew of the governor of Cuba, was charged with investigating the Yucatan Peninsula. He left Havana with four ships and 300 men. Eighteen days into his journey, Grijalva discovered Cozumel. His reports of the island and mainland sparked the beginning of Spain's insatiable search for gold. The very next year, in 1519, Hernan Cortes the most famous of the Conquistadors, arrived at Cozumel with 11 ships and 750 men. At the time of his arrival the Mayan population was 40,000 strong. But in just a few years, battles with the Spanish and the diseases the new intruders brought with them, dwindled their numbers to only about 300. The Maya eventually abandoned Ah-Cozamil-Peten and the island lay deserted.
In the 1600's, the Caribbean shipping lanes were full of cargo ships either hauling supplies to newly established towns and outposts, or carrying gold and other commodities back to Europe. Ships too ripe for pirates, privateers and buccaneers to ignore. It was during this period that infamous captains like Jean Lafitte and Henry Morgan began frequenting Cozumel. With its deep harbors, its proximity to all the action and relative obscurity, the island made an ideal base of operations for them. It is even said to have been the location of many a buried treasure - although none have been found (yet).
In 1847, the Yucatan Maya launched a campaign of independence against the Spanish settlements in the peninsula. This started a brutal 58-year battle known as the Caste War. In 1848, twenty families fleeing the war escaped from the mainland and resettled the island of Cozumel. The island finally had permanent inhabitants again. The descendants of those families to first return can still be found on Cozumel.
The New Explorers
With the exception of a U.S.-built air base constructed during World War II, the island's tiny community remained virtually unchanged for many years. Then in 1961, Cozumel was visited by yet another famous explorer, oceanographer and filmmaker Jacques Cousteau. Through his efforts, Cousteau made the island's spectacular reefs famous throughout the world. The diving, which he regarded as some of the world's finest, soon attracted many more visitors and by the 1970's the population grew to 10,000 people. Since then, the island has blossomed into a full-fledged vacation paradise with over 100,000 residents.
Exchanging dollars for pesos is very easy, but not really necessary. Practically everyone on Cozumel
will gladly accept dollars for payment. If you wish to exchange money, the best rate will be found at the
banks, but there are several exchange houses all over town. The hotels usually offer a lower rate of
exchange. Be wise and carry a small calculator to help you do quick calculations.
The easiest way to get pesos is to use the ATM machines. The ATMs are conveniently located in town and provide pesos at the current exchange rate. Just remember that you will be receiving pesos, so request enough to avoid a second transaction.
As in the U.S., it is customary to offer a gratuity to waiters, bellmen, etc. Here are a few suggestions for tipping:
Maid Service: $2-$3/day/person
Servers: 15-20% of meal
Tour and Dive guides: 10-15% of the trip cost
About the Water
Not only do we boast about our almost non-existent crime rate but we also claim fame for making sure that our visitors are served only purified water and ice. Please be aware that any place you go in Cozumel will be serving purified ice in your drinks and only bottled water at your table. Dishes are prepared and all foods are cleaned with purified water. In addition, Chango Villa has a state of the art water filtration system for non-drinking water used on the property.
Examples of typical packages offered by dive operators on the island:
Cozumel Diving: For the Certified Diver
Two-Tank Dives: $90
Five Days, ten tanks: $450 US
2-Tank NITROX Dive Packages: $100
Five Days, ten tanks NITROX: $500