Isla Mujeres was a thriving community for a hundred and twenty years before developers carved Cancun out of the jungle in the 1970's. When the Mexican government decided to create a planned city as a major tourism destination in 1969, Cancun consisted of a handful of caretakers living on coconut plantations owned by wealthy residents of Isla Mujeres.
Tourism was being developed on the Island of Women many years before the first hotels were built in Cancun.
Promoting Isla Mujeres Internationally in the 1800's
|Drawing of Mayan Temple at Punta Sur, 1841, Catherwood
|Isla Mujeres street, le Plongeons 1877
John L. Stephens was the first American to publish a widely read account of the island, when his books about the Yucatan became available in 1843. Augustus & Alice D. le Plongeon visited in 1877, and published articles & books featuring the island in the 1880's. Alice included a description of the ex-pirate Mundaca, and mentioned the towers left behind by the pirate Lafitte. Archeologists Mahler & Holmes visited in the 1890's and published photos of the Mayan temple on the cliffs at the southern end of the isle. Famous Mexican photographer Agustin Casasola also published photos of the temple.
|1877 le Plongeons
|1877 le Plongeons
|Temple to Ixchel, Mayan goddess, at Punta Sur. Top:: 1891 by Teobert Maler (Austrian archeologist). Also: 1895 by William Henry Holmes (American archeologist)
1930's: Domestic Tourism in the Mexican Caribbean
|Punta Sur Temple 1917
President Cardenas sent specific instructions to modernize and improve Quintana Roo for tourism. Governor Melgar cooperated with public works that improved the main cities, including the creation of three hotels: Los Cocos in Chetumal, the Playa in Cozumel, and The Ruins in Tulum.
At that time, the only tourism was domestic, consisting mainly of governmental officials, entrepreneurs in the chicle industry, and foreign consignment agents who traveled between the islands and Chetumal. In 1928, Cozumel had a couple small hotels, but construction of the 18 room Playa sparked that island's burgeoning hotel industry.
|Isla Mujeres in the 1930's. This appears to be the town square and the east coast, looking southward. The church and the basketball court are in their current locations. Posted by Taina Talina Garrido and by CMJ Lefevere
1930's: Amphibious Flights To Isla MujeresIn 1928, a trade route was established by Pan Am with regular service between Key West and Colon, Panama, with stops in Cozumel. In 1932 a 12-passenger amphibious aircraft was flying the "Chicle Route" from Florida to Cuba to Progreso to Cozumel, Chetumal, Belize, and Guatemala. Pan Am discontinued operations in the Caribbean in 1938. In Chetumal the first runway was built in 1929 by the Army, linking the city directly to Merida.
In the 1930's, celebrated Mexican pilot Sarabia began operating his airplane company in Quintana Roo with five airplanes, which could each carry five passengers. They established the "Caribbean Route" (Ruta del Caribe): Chetumal-Puerto Carrillo-Cozumel-Isla Mujeres.
The famous pilot was good friend with Q. Roo Governor Melgar, and they enjoyed breaking speed records together, until 1939 when the Governor sponsored the Sarabia's successful trip from Mexico City to New York. Unfortunately, on his return flight Sarabia's plane plunged into the Potomac, causing his death and the end of the Ruta del Caribe to Isla Mujeres.
1940's: The Isla Mujeres RunwayIsla Mujeres historian Fidel Villanueva Madrid explains the origins of the runway in Isla Mujeres and the runway in Cancun, saying they were both built in 1942 by chicle businessman Francisco Polo Montes, presumably for personal use, and/or perhaps for the transport of raw material.
Ruben Zaldivar Carvajal says the Cancun runway was built in 1954 by construction companies building the road between Valladolid and Puerto Juarez, so parts could be flown in that were badly needed for their machines. That road was completed ten years later, providing a route for more tourists to Isla Mujeres
Sr. Zaldivar says the Cancun airstrip was closed by Customs office in Puerto Juarez, because it was presumably being used for smuggling, noting there was a great deal of smuggling going on in the area. The jungle devoured the runway.
To develop Cancun, it needed to be hacked out and improved. An engineer from Isla Mujeres, José García de la Torre, led the project, with engineer Manuel Castro, who said, "They told me they were going to build a city there. I had seen many imaginative plans, but in truth I did not think anything was going to come of this. This was Jungle! J-U-N-G-L-E!!!! JUN-GLE!! We set to work in April, 1970." When the new international airport was opened in 1975, the old airstrip was closed, and it became Kabah Avenue. In 1976 a commercial jet accidentally landed on the avenue.
1950's: Sr. Lima Begins Promoting Isla MujeresIn the late 40's and early 50's, Cozumel received some attention from divers, explorers, and the media. But tourism stagnated in Quintana Roo while the federal government focused on developing tourism in Acapulco, to compete with Hawaii. However, an airline began another Ruta del Caribe (Merida-Chetumal-Carrillo Puerto-Cozumel) with DC-3's that carried 26 passengers. But after two crashes in 1957, the airline was sold in 1958 and the service discontinued.
In the early twentieth century, the vacant isle of Cancun was the backyard of Isla Mujeres. It consisted of jungle, empty sand dunes, and coconut farms that were owned by the wealthiest people of Isla Mujeres.
|Gabriel "Gabuch" Barrido of Isla Mujeres, worked for Prisca Gomez, of Isla Mujeres, on a coco plantation of over 40 hectares, located near Cancun's El Rey ruins. After INFRATUR purchased land, workers were allowed to continue using the properties until they were developed. Source.
In 1954, a federal project began, called "Ciruito de Golfo y del Caribe", which intended to connect Florida and Cuba to the Yucatan peninsula, using ferries and a road going from Puerto Juarez to Valladolid. The project ended when its architect, Carlos Lazo, died in a plane crash, but the road construction continued.
Sr. Magana Begins Offering Regular Ferry ServiceIn September, 1955 the road was completed to Puerto Juarez. However, Mexican Union buses began bringing passengers to Puerto Juarez from Valladolid and Merida before the road was completed. The bus passengers walked the last four kilometers to Puerto Juarez, and then waited while smoke from a fire signaled the Magana boat "Maria Carmita" to cross over and pick them up.
|Maria Carmita from Recuerdos de Isla Mujeres
"The dock used for the crossing to the island was a tiny pier made of weak sticks of wood. From there, we boarded a little launch, and were taken to the boat Carmita, which was anchored in front of Puerto Juarez. Meanwhile, men unloaded correspondence and merchandise from the bus, to be delivered to Isla Mujeres "
"For the first hundred years that Isla Mujeres existed, there were no roads. The pantries and groceries of Isla Mujeres were stocked from the ports of Quintana Roo and Yucatan. We were bringing in all the consumable goods for the island's population via a boat called The Carmita, going to Progreso and Chicxulub to find food. The Carmita was the largest ship in the area, and went to Rio Lagartos find cattle. When there was a fiesta, we not only brought in the bulls for the event, we brought the musicians too, and a tradition grew on the island. The Carmita would take a loop around the bay, with the musicians playing."
|Sultana.Posted by Matilde Gomez Heredia
|Mario Burgos Sanchez, 80, built Sultana del Mar. By Por Esto
Raul Magana explains:
"We were the first who started to take people across. - We had a 10 passenger boat named El Ariel and one called "De Arena" which was powered by an outboard motor. Then as the number of crossings increased, the Rosa Elena was purchased, which had a capacity for 25-30 passengers. Subsequently, as the number of users increased, the trips to Progreso were canceled and we dedicated the Carmita to transporting passengers, with a capacity for 50, and then came the La Novia del Mar, which carried 45 passengers. " Raul left school at 16 to became a mechanic, and then he managed the Rosa Elena.
|Novia del Mar Posted by Ramiro Coral
When the Yucatan Teamsters Union Buses began arriving, the crossing were timed in accordance with their schedule. The drivers would sleep at "La Blanquita", owned by Ausencio, and depart at 7am the next morning. Raul Magana continues with the chronology of the boats:
"Then came the Sultana del Mar, which still exists, which brought cargo to Isla Mujeres. There was a tiny wooded pier in Puerto Juarez, but we would transport 30 or 40 tons of cargo. The boat arrived in P. Juarez at 2 or 3 in the morning, and would begin to load, because they had to be in Isla Mujeres between 5 or 6 am. We made three or four trips daily. After that came another 30 passenger boat, called La Dama Elegante."
Posted by Matilde Gomez Heredia
|Sultana del Mar, Then & Now. Posted by Temo Zurita