Cozumel is a tropical island located off the coast of the Yucatan Peninsula in the Caribbean Sea. Cozumel, also known as Cuzamil and Kuutsumil, literally translates from Mayan into English to mean “Island of the Swallows.” Cozumel is a well known tourist destination, situated near the Yucatan Channel and Playa del Carmen. Cozumel covers a total area of about one hundred and fifty square miles, making it the third largest island in Mexico. The Mexican municipality of Cozumel, however, which includes a considerable amount of land on the Mexican mainland, encompasses closer to two hundred and fifty square miles. Cozumel has a total population of about seventy nine thousand five hundred residents, concentrated mostly in the largest city and capitol of San Miguel de Cozumel. Cozumel is a relatively flat island, with a highest point measuring in below fifty feet above sea level. One notable feature of Cozumel’s geography is a series of sinkholes called cenotes, which are filled with water and internationally renowned spelunking destinations. One of the largest cenotes on Cozumel is a massive sinkhole, believed to be the fifth largest underwater cavern on the planet.
The human history of Cozumel stretches back more two thousand years, starting with Olmec population and continuing with the arrival of the first Maya from the Mexican mainland. The Maya left a considerable number of artifacts and architectural ruins on the island of Cozumel, including the well known ruins of San Gervasio. The Maya were the only inhabitants of Cozumel until the arrival of Spanish conquistadores and explorers in 1518-1519, visitors who devastated the local culture and leveled many Mayan religious structures. Cozumel lost much of its population in the subsequent century, and was almost uninhabited for the next three centuries. Cozumel became an international tourist destination in the second half of the twentieth century, and was an important military base during the Second World War. The popularity of Cozumel skyrocketed after the construction of a large airport in the nineteen seventies. The vast majority of Cozumel’s economy depends on tourism, which is the leading sector of the island’s GDP.
Visitors to Cozumel can enjoy a number of recreational activities that take advantage of the island’s great weather and excellent location. Popular activities include kite surfing, para-sailing, diving, fishing, and swimming. A number of cruise ships stop in Cozumel, and a niche commercial district has sprung up around the docks in order to accommodate the increased number of tourists. Cozumel is home to two post secondary educational institutions – Partenon and the University of Quintana Roo. Cozumel boasts a unique ecological setting and impressive biodiversity, including the Cozumel Vireo, the Cozumel Great Curassow, the Cozumel Island Coati, and the Cozumel Island Raccoon. The island also plays host to a variety of species that are also found on the Mexican mainland. A number of these species are endangered or critically endangered, leading to steps by local governments to protect remaining specimens. Cozumel has a vibrant human culture as well, expressing itself in delicious cuisine and a number of seasonal festivals.