lifestyle, travel This is Cozumel

Delightful chocolate aromas and the smoke of incense mingle in the air with the chatter of Mayan voices and the clink of conch shells being exchanged for food and goods.

This was the traditional Kii’wik market, this week, that started events leading up to some 250 oarsman, in wooden canoes, crossing from the Riviera Maya to Cozumel Island, and back.


The recreating of the ancient sacred Mayan journey - or travesía sagrada Maya - has become a much anticipated annual event in Cozumel, since the first reenactment of the crossing in 2007.

Cozumel canoe crossing
Recreating an ancient event.


The event relives a pilgrimage thought to have first been undertaken by the Maya thousands of years ago, before becoming a more established ritual some 500 years ago.

From around the time Mexico's east coast was repopulated, in the period historians call "Late Post Classic", Mayan oarsman would make the trip of 22 miles (36km) in dugout canoes.

Starting from the trading post of Polé, on the coast just south of modern day Playa del Carmen, they would cross the channel of Caribbean Sea to Cozumel.

In this year's breathtaking feat of bravery and strength, oarsman took an average of 6 grueling hours to paddle across.


Cozumel Mayans
Spectacle of bravery and strength.

Historically, the crossing had an important commerical aspect, as demonstrated by the market at the start of this year's event, but aside from trade, the journey also had a vital religious role to play.

Cozumel canoes
Crossing crystal waters.


For the Mayans, the sea was not only an important source of food and transport, but also the cause of death and devastation.

Like other bodies of water such as Yucatan sinkholes, called cenotes, the sea represented the entrance to Xibalbá, the "Underworld".

Added to this heady mythic mix was the belief that Ix Chel, the pale-faced Mayan goddess of the moon and fertility, had her home here, on the island of Cozumel.

And so, the maritime voyage had important connotations both for confronting the wrath of the ocean, and for worshipping the goddess Ix Chel.

On arrival to Cozumel, offerings were made to the moon deity and rituals performed by shamans.


Mayan canoe crossing
Worshipping Goddess Ix Chel.

The modern representations of the sacred event provide not only a fascinating glimpse of the region's ancient history, but also an important economic boost for tourism.

Mayan Sacred Journey
Training for the 2010 event.


Its success and importance are seen in the number of commercial sponsors now involved.

Xcarat Mayan theme park plays a central role in the organization of the event, being located on the spot where Polé is thought to have been.

In combination with local authorities and a wealth of other businesses, some $800,000 are reported to have been invested in this year's hugely successful event.

To learn more about the history of the Maya and the canoe crossing visit the Sacred Mayan Journey website or visit our tourist information section for more about Cozumel events.

Related News:

A Sacred Mayan Journey (2009) May 13, 2009.

Feature: Sacred Mayan Journey (2008) Oct 16, 2008.

Pilgrims Paddle To Cozumel (2008) May 14, 2008.

Sacred Canoe Crossing (2007) June 6, 2007.

Magical Spring Clean May 23, 2007.