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History of the Island of Isla Mujeres

Updated: Apr 7, 2023

Time of the Mayans

The island of Isla Mujeres has been inhabited for over one thousand five hundred years. Recently, the National Institute of History and Anthropology announced the discovery of Mayan ruins in Mundaca Hacienda. Archaeologists have found evidence of five buildings created by the Mayans, one of which is believed to be a temple for a goddess named Ixchel. Ixchel was worshipped as the goddess of medicine and happiness. The Temple was located at the South point of the island and was also used as the lighthouse. The island was named Isla Mujeres, the Island of Women, in honor of an ancient legend about a priestess and her court of women.

El Meco Mayan Ruins

El Meco was not the original name for the site. This name has been lost to time as well. El Meco was a nickname for a bowlegged resident, and it eventually ended up being named after him for an unknown reason. Site El Meco was a small, self-sufficient fishing village built in 300 AD the period before 600 AD. It was later abandoned and then resettled in the late 10th century. The structures were built over several hundred years. The central plaza with the pyramid temple, known as El Castillo, was dedicated to the Mayan rain god Chaac. The pyramid was also a reference point for coastal navigation because its peak could be seen from the water. El Meco was a massive commercial and religious center for the Maya and served as a port for Isla Mujeres (like today in Puerto Juárez). The Spanish arrived in the 16th century and the site was abandoned shortly after.

Pirates and Buccaneers

The strategic location and the protective waters of Lagoon Makax made it a perfect refuge for pirates and buccaneers. The Spanish transported massive amounts of gold to Europe from Yucatan, and the pirates took advantage of the opportunity to plunder ships. Legends say that the island was a safe place to keep their women while they went out plundering which is another reason why the Island is called “The Island of Women”.

Leading up to today

In 1821, after Mexico achieved independence, a small village was formed. In 1847, during the War of Castes (1847 - 1901), many Mayans came here, and slowly Isla grew. It was named Pueblo de Dolores in 1850. Cancun wasn't even a glint in developers' eyes, let alone an international travel destination. There was not a ferry service so people would flash car lights to signal for boats to bring them across the water to Isla Mujeres. Isla is located on the easternmost point of Mexico, so it was easy for the Mexican Navy to establish a base during World War ll. In 1970, Isla began to see growth as Cancun grew. The community modernized in the later half of the 20th century with a water-piped telephone system, paving of sand streets, and tourism has prospered since.

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