History of Costa Maya, Mexico

Quintana Roo

Quintana Roo

The story begins in Xcalak Costa Maya and dates back to pre-Hispanic times, with 16 archaeological sites that have been discovered between Punta Herrero (south of Bahia, Holy Spirit) and Boca Bacalar Chico. Seven of these sites are located between Punta Gavilan (just north of Macaw) and Boca Bacalar Chico, on the border with Belize.

In the 16th century, the English pirates took over much of the coast and attacked Spanish ships carrying gold and riches to Spain. Spain tried to defend their interests by building strong forts, like Bacalar, but the pirates continued to ravage the region, with the intention of taking over the entire peninsula in the name of the British Crown. The kingdom of pirates lasted until the late 19th century, due to to indigenous rebellions and neglect in the region.


In the late 19th century, the Mexican Navy took control of what is now the state of Quintana Roo. In 1897, during the presidency of Porfirio Díaz, a treaty which established the boundaries between British Honduras (now Belize) and Mexico was signed. This caused serious problems for Mexico because the territorial boundary was at the center of Boca Bacalar Chico channel. This natural canal separates the peninsula from Ambergris Caye and Xcalak, and as a result, the Mexican military vessels lost access to Chetumal Bay, and were at the mercy of Belize for permission to enter the bay.

Due to the lack of access to Chetumal Bay, Brigadier General Angel Ortiz Monasterio, and the Mexican consulate commissioned the engineer Rebolledo find a suitable place to build a port in this area. Rebolledo selected Xcalak because two natural entrances through the barrier reef that allow navigation. The port was established in an effort to permanently occupy this area. From this site, Mexico had intended to conduct a military campaign to stop the supply of arms to the Mayan rebels in Quintana Roo, participating in what is known as the Caste War. This led to the creation of a base in the southern limits of the Xcalak peninsula.

Costa Maya Caribbean coastline.

Costa Maya Caribbean coastline.

In October 1899, a site was built on the Canal de Zaragoza for easy access to the Bay of Chetumal. (This channel south of the coastal town has recently been reopened and re-dredging in another effort to allow access to the bay for military ships.) At the same time, on the Caribbean coast extending from the entrance through the reef began. In addition, a “Decauville railroad” was built between Xcalak and La Aguada (in the Bay of Chetumal) to relieve the boat traffic through the Strait International channel.

The development resulted in a port system that overcame the lack of a direct entry into the Bay of Chetumal. The equipment was unloaded in Xcalak, transported by train to La Aguada, then re-loaded and taken to Payo Obispo, which was founded two years earlier. Therefore, the village of Xcalak was founded on May 19, 1900 as the basis for the “Fleet of the South” and the first shipyard in the Mexican Caribbean. At the same time, the first state telegraph was built.

When the Federal Territory of Quintana Roo, was created in 1902, it had three major coastal towns: Xcalak in the south, in the center Vigia Chico and Puerto Morelos in the north. The village of Xcalak was the only town in the territory that was not dependent on mahogany and chicle (used for chewing gum). Xcalak Pescara was devoted to the activity and the exportation of coconut. The organization of copra (dried coconut meat), coconut or breeding began in Xcalak and expanded to the Bay area.

Mahahual today.

Mahahual today.

Mahahual lighthouse and Costa Maya Port in background.

Mahahual lighthouse and Costa Maya Port in background.

Coconut plantations and fishing remained the main source of income in Costa Maya, until the cruise ship port was built in Mahahual, and tourism started.

Thanks for reading, Stewart Rogers USA-South Carolina

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