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The History of Isla Mujeres

A Tapestry of Tales

Isla Mujeres, where each wave that laps the shore whispers tales from the days of yore. From the mystic era of the Mayans to the rule of the roguish buccaneers, every grain of sand on this island has a story to tell. Isla’s history is more than mere chronicles; it’s a tapestry of tales, each thread entwined with legends, lore, and the lives of the island’s resilient inhabitants.

Isla Snapshot: A Glimpse Through Time

Ancient Echoes: Tracing back to the era of the Maya and up to the Spanish conquest, Isla Mujeres’ past is steeped in rich traditions and transformative encounters.

El Meco Ruins: A glimpse into an ancient fishing village on Isla mainland, its pyramid temple standing as a beacon for sailors and a sacred space for rain god Chaac worship.

Pirate Hideaway: From legends of pirate love nests to the rumored refuge of the infamous Jean Lafitte, Isla’s secluded shores were a siren call to buccaneers of yore.

Love and Lunacy: The tale of Mundaca the Pirate, his unrequited love for “La Triguena,” and a grand hacienda that echoes the opulence and melancholy of a bygone era.

Sacred Sisters’ Legacy: A tale of mystical discovery and enduring faith, where fishermen uncover sacred statues, leading to a revered tradition and the grand ‘bajada’ festival on Isla Mujeres.

Evolving Shores: From its Mayan roots to becoming a cherished hub for visitors, Isla Mujeres’ story is a riveting blend of history, romance, and the undying allure of the Caribbean

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Time of the Maya

Isla Mujeres’ tale begins over a thousand years ago, as part of the Mayan province, Ekab. was celebrated as a sacred sanctuary dedicated to the goddess Ixchel, revered for her blessings of fertility, medicine, and happiness. Mayan girls would journey here to pay homage, seeking her guidance to gracefully transition into a new phase of both physical and spiritual maturity, a rite of passage marking their journey from childhood to adulthood. The southern tip of the island housed a temple dedicated to her, doubling as a lighthouse. Torches, glowing through apertures in the temple walls, a beacon guiding mariners through the Caribbean waters.

Recent excavations by the National Institute of History and Anthropology unveiled hidden Mayan ruins and relics at the Mundaca Hacienda. Among the finds were five potential temple structures, one possibly being the true abode of goddess Ixchel, with the southern point ruin serving as the lighthouse. Over 100 artifacts, including obsidian, jade, and skeletal remains, take us a step closer to unearthing Isla’s ancient secrets.

Isla continued to be a tranquil sanctuary until 1517 when Francisco Fernández de Córdoba stumbled upon it. Legend paints a picture of an island inhabited solely by the priestess of Ixchel and her entourage of women. Scattered around were statues of Ixchel, crafted in gold, silver, and clay, leading to the christening of the island as Isla Mujeres – the Island of Women.

The narrative from “Yucatan, Before and After the Conquest” by Friar Diego de Landa in 1566, provides a glimpse into the discovery by Córdoba, who was captivated by the island’s tranquil beauty and its stone-built sanctuary.

El Meco - Mayan Ruins just across the Bay

The original name of El Meco remains shrouded in mystery, but the nickname traces back to a local resident known for his bowlegged stride. This site, once a flourishing fishing village around 300 AD, witnessed a rebirth in the late 10th century. Structures erected between the 13th and 16th centuries stood testament to the villagers’ reverence for the Mayan rain god Chaac. The central pyramid temple, known as El Castillo, served not only as a religious hub but also a navigational beacon for mariners. El Meco was a bustling port and a religious nucleus, much like Puerto Juárez today, until the Spanish arrival in the 16th century cast a shadow of abandonment over it.

Pirates and Buccaneers - Legends and Buried Treasure

Isla’s strategic location and the tranquil waters of Lagoon Makax beckoned pirates and buccaneers seeking refuge. The Yucatan channel was the Spanish gold route to Europe, and pirates found a treasure trove of opportunities to plunder merchant vessels. Legend spins tales of pirates keeping their women safe on Isla while they embarked on marauding ventures, lending another hue to the name – “The Island of Women.” Notorious pirates like Henry Morgan and Jean Lafitte are said to have left their footprints on Isla’s sands.

Jean Lafitte, the enigmatic pirate, reportedly made Isla his haven during the twilight years of his life. The myriad tales of Lafitte’s demise only add to his legend, but biographer Jack C Ramsey in “Jean Lafitte: Prince of Pirates,” hints at Lafitte breathing his last on Isla in 1826, succumbing to dengue fever.

The Melancholy Tale of Mundaca the Pirate

Fermin Antonio Mundaca y Marecheaga’s story unrolls in the village of Bermeo in Santa Maria, Spain, in October 1825. Driven by the winds of adventure, Mundaca sailed to the New World, amassing wealth through rumored piracy and the slave trade before dropping anchor on Isla shores in 1858.

With a vision to build a haven, Mundaca erected “Vista Alegre” (Happy View), a sprawling hacienda covering nearly 40% of the island. It blossomed with livestock, exotic flora, vegetable gardens, and fruit orchards. A sundial garden named “The Rose of the Winds” stood as a testament to Mundaca’s architectural prowess.

In 1862, the shores of Isla Mujeres witnessed the birth of Martiniana (Prisca) Gomez Pantoja, one among five sisters. Legend paints her as a willowy beauty with eyes reflecting the depths of the Caribbean, skin kissed by the sun into a bronzed hue, and long, straight brown tresses. Her enchanting presence earned her the affectionate nickname, “La Triguena” (the brunette).

Among the throng of hearts she unknowingly ensnared, was Fermin Mundaca, a man whose past was as turbulent as the seas he presumably roamed. With a heart aflame and hopes high, Mundaca endeavored to carve a love nest for his damsel. He christened the arches of his sprawling hacienda “The Entrance of the Triguena” and “The Pass of the Triguena,” in a poetic attempt to win over the heart of a lady 37 years his junior, using the leverage of his wealth and stature.

But fate had other plans—La Triguena found love in the arms of a man nearer her age, leaving Mundaca’s heart to weather and wilt. As the tale goes, the unrequited love nudged him into the shadows of insanity, leading to a life of solitude that ended in Merida.

Yet, his longing for La Triguena found a way to outlive him. In the serene graveyard of Isla Mujeres, lies an empty tomb bearing Mundaca’s unfulfilled wish—a haunting epitaph he carved, accompanied by the stark imagery of a skull and crossbones, reminiscent of his pirating days. The stone cold words echo his heart’s cry to his unattainable love,

“As you are, I was. As I am, you will be.”

The Tale of The Immaculate Conception

By Enriqueta M. de Avila

Over a century ago, back in 1890 in the quaint colonial settlement of Ecab (Boca Iglesia) nestled at the northern tip of Quintana Roo, a trio of fishermen stumbled upon three ethereal “sister” statues of the Virgin. These figurines, carved from wood with delicate porcelain faces and hands, had seemingly been waiting through the ages. Among the fishermen was my father-in-law, Christiano Avila Celis, whose faith led him to carry one of the Virgin statues to his own village. Legend whispers that these sacred “sisters” had been brought to Ecab by Spaniards around 1770.

On Isla Mujeres, the Virgin found her first home in a humble palm and wood chapel. However, relocating “Her” to the current sanctuary was a task that seemed to defy the earthly realm. It took the strength of more than eight men to lift her, yet once moved, the quaint palm chapel was engulfed in flames, leaving the islanders in awe. It’s said that during the veil of night, the Virgin wanders the waters surrounding the island, in search of her “sisters”. Tales have even spun of islanders spotting the Virgin’s silhouette gliding over the sea at dawn, with her dress later found adorned with burrs and sand.

The other “sisters” found solace in Izamal, Yucatan, and Kantunilkin, Quintana Roo. Here, the reverence towards the Virgins mirrors that of Isla Mujeres, with festivities celebrated from August 6th to the 15th and again from November 30th to December 8th. The “bajada” (descent) of the virgin on Isla Mujeres is a spectacle of devotion. Over 3000 faithful hearts converge in the main square annually, marking the beginning of a festival that crescendos on December eighth with an island-wide celebration, knitting together both islanders and visitors in a tapestry of jubilant camaraderie.

Tracing Footprints to Today

Post Mexico’s embrace of independence in 1821, a modest village sprouted on what we now lovingly call Centro. The Caste War of Yucatán (1847 – 1915) nudged many Mayans to seek refuge on Isla, seeding a slow, yet steady growth of the village, which was christened Pueblo de Dolores in 1850.

Fast forward to the 1950s, before Cancun fluttered on the radar of developers, Isla Mujeres was already extending her charm to the wanderlust-driven souls. The lack of a ferry service was hardly a deterrent. Visitors would flash car lights from a makeshift dock near present-day Puerto Juárez, summoning the sons of local fishermen to ferry them across to the island in small boats.

With Isla being the easternmost point of Mexico, it caught the eye of the Mexican Navy, which established a permanent base during World War II. The dawn of the 1970s brought with it the birth of Cancun, and as its sibling grew, so did Isla. The quaint sand streets saw a veil of pavement, filtered water gracefully flowed through pipes, and voices resonated through newly installed phone lines. Tourism blossomed, with a fair share of credit going to the island’s cherished resident, Ramón Bravo (1927-1998). His companionship with the depths, as a diver, cinematographer, ecologist, and comrade of Jacques Cousteau, made waves in the preservation of marine life and unraveling the enigmatic behavior of sharks.

The year 1969 saw a young local fisherman, Carlos Garcia Castilla, fondly known as “Valvula”, diving into the waters in pursuit of lobsters when he stumbled upon a cave that seemed to be a resting haven for sharks. The thought of sharks at rest piqued curiosity, as it was believed that a stationary shark was a doomed shark. His discovery led him to the heart of the cave, free diving about 65 feet, only to find the sharks in a state akin to slumber. The eyes of the sharks seemed to follow him, suggesting a state of rest, not sleep.

Sharing this discovery with Ramon opened a new chapter in marine biology, attracting the attention of the National Geographic Society and Jacques Cousteau. Isla Mujeres soon became a sought-after spot for marine biologists and divers around the globe. Ramon’s ashes now rest in the Cave of the Sleeping Sharks, under a bronze plaque that reads:

Bravo Ramon Prieto, protector of the sea and ocean, always sleeps next to his sharks in this cave
28/02/1998 Isla Mujeres

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Isla Mujeres' Timeless Tale

As the sun sets, bathing the island in a golden light, the story of Isla Mujeres whispers on. Here, history is alive, mingling the past with the present in every wave and every breeze. This island isn’t just a destination; it’s a living story waiting for you to add your own chapter under the starlit tropical sky.

Isla Mujeres Pubelo Magico

Since The Beginning

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Isla's Services: From Welcome to Wow!

Majorly Resourceful

There’s been a rumor for years that Antonio Banderas is going to make a film on Isla about Mundaca the pirate.
Let’s make the rumor viral!