Located on the Riviera Maya, wedged between the hectic, tourist laden cities of Cancun and Playa del Carmen, Puerto Morelos lies, shining as a harmonious mecca of tranquility, peace and solitude. It may possibly be one of the few remaining authentic, small fishing villages on the entire Caribbean coastline of Mexico. Living up to its nickname, “La Joya del Caribe” (Jewel of the Caribbean), Puerto Morelos has miraculously maintained its small town, laid back, bohemian vibe despite its geographical location and close proximity to rapidly expanding tourist cities along the same coastline.
Puerto Morelos is a town and sea port in Quintana Roo, Mexico’s easternmost state, on the Yucatán Peninsula. However, long before Puerto Morelos became a tourist town, offering a haven to serenity-seeking individuals, it, like most other towns on the Yucatan Peninsula, was inhabited and dominated by Mayan civilizations until most of the local sites were abandoned by the 15th century.
Legend has it that Señor Kukulkan (who carried the same name of the God of the wind) created the League of the Mayapán Tribe that lasted during the years 987 to 1185 A.D. The Mayan descendants in today’s state of Quintana Roo were believed to be a part of this tribe. From that time there were a series of internal conflicts and battles, the culmination resulting in the establishment of nineteen chieftainships in the peninsula of Yucatan in 1461. These were written down as in the state of Quintana Roo and named Cochuah, Chactemal (Chetumal), Cuzamil (Cozumel), Chohuac-Há, Tazes, Kupul and Ekab (in the north region of Quintana Roo). Archeological evidence has demonstrated that Puerto Morelos belonged to the Old province of Ekab (meaning Black Bee), one of the 19 districts of the newly established Mayan Territories. In fact, the coastal zone of today’s Puerto Morelos housed two Mayan structures, whose stones were used to build the leaning lighthouse, next to the Fishermen’s Pier.
Due to the continuing strife and rivalry between the chieftainships, political conditions were weakened making the Yucatan Peninsula a target for colonialization. . It is during this period that the Spaniards discovered and later conquered this rich region. Their takeover was not initially successful due to the natural conditions and the violent resistance on the part of the Mayan tribes. In 1526 Francisco of Montejo (father of “the advanced one”) tried continually to conquer the east of the peninsula of Yucatan. He was not successful until 1540 when his son, Francisco, and León “el Mozo” began a second crusade against the existing chieftainships in Quintana Roo. Ekab became the first Mayan Province to pledge obedience to its Spanish conqueror.
Puerto Morelos’ modern history began in 1898, when the Colonizadora de la Costa Oriental of the Yucatan Company was founded to exploit and farm the agricultural and forest products from the surrounding jungles. Because the need arose to find an exit to the sea to export their products, the company ordered their workers to create a path from the Hacienda de Santa María (today Leona Vicario) toward the southwest. Slowly progressing, the workers finally arrived at the Caribbean Sea.
Products that were resourced, extracted and exported from the region were mahogany, chicle(gum), vanilla, tobacco, cedar and cork. And in 1900, Puerto Morelos was referred to as “Punta Corcho”, (Cork Point) , and was chosen as a natural harbor that could offer safety to navigation, good depth and protection because of its natural reef barrier.
Puerto Morelos continued its progress and became not only the oldest natural port of Quintana Roo, but the most important one in all the state. This tranquil town was the first recognized port on the Mexican Caribbean and for many years, the local population thrived from the profits of exportation of coconuts, cork and natural chewing gum( “chicle” ). Due to the decline of the use of natural gum and the loss of the coconut palms due to a devastating virus, the economy of the area eventually evolved, turning to fishing as a way of life. About the year 1929, the Puerto was already considered a town, with small, wooden houses built on a single lane along the coastal street with a pier constructed for the fishermen. Today, Pelicanos Restaurant stands in this same spot.
During the 1950’s, the growth of Puerto Morelos spread to the jungle areas because of continuing migrations of people from the Yucatan and foreign countries. With the beginning of Cancún as a resort destination around 1970, the demand for a labor force was greatly increased, and because of the proximity of Puerto Morelos to this new resort, a slow growth in the residential area known as “Colonia Joaquín Cetina Gazca” began.
In the Decree of 1974, Quintana Roo becomes a free and sovereign state with seven municipalities. Puerto Morelos is established as a part of the Benito Juárez municipality with Cancún as its most important city. The town is finally given its name, Puerto Morelos, in honor of Mexican War of Independence leader José María Morelos.
Puerto Morelos is still a fisherman’s town today, with fishing remaining a chief source of financial stability in the area . However, it continues to retain its small village atmosphere, due to several factors. The government has declared the reef area and the mangroves in Puerto Morelos (which exist behind the town) ecological preserves. Also, unlike Playa del Carmen & Cancun (which have sustained major growth over the past 10 years), the lot sizes in Puerto Morelos are small with strict building codes enforced. It is the intent of the locals to keep development to a minimum so that this glistening gem in the Caribbean remains natural and unspoiled.
Today, the main source of profit now lies in tourism and with that small, boutique hotels, locally owned restaurants and yoga retreat centers have arrived to enhance the enticement of this quaint, grassroots oasis of tranquility. Come stay at Casa Om and explore this rich, ancient land of natural beauty and wonder…leave your worries at home and be still, listening for the whispers of the Mayan ancestors.