The History of Puerto Morelos Mexico
Located on the Riviera Maya, midway between touristy Cancun and Playa del Carmen, the beach town of Puerto Morelos thrives as a vivid reminder of what Cancun and Playa used to be: tranquil, quaint fishing villages.
It may seem that Puerto Morelos has miraculously maintained its small town, laid back, old-Mexico vibe despite its geographical location and close proximity to rapidly expanding tourist cities along the same coastline, but the real reason for its charm is no miracle: It is due more to simple geography and the resolve of its people.
Puerto Morelos is a town and sea port in Quintana Roo, Mexico’s easternmost (and newest) state, on the Yucatán Peninsula. Quintana Roo remained a territory until 1974, the same year that the Cancun airport opened for business.
Governmentally, Mexican towns are managed quite differently than, say, American towns. Here we have municipios, which more resemble U.S. county governments than they do city governments.
The municipio of Puerto Morelos includes Puerto Morelos, a three by nine block village water-bound by the Caribbean to the east and protected mangrove swamps to the west, the Colonia Joaquin Zetina Gasca, which lies west of the mangroves and west of the freeway (Highway 307), and Colonia Pescadores, which lies between 307 and the mangroves. Also included in this newly formed (2015) municipio is Leona Vicario, a picturesque village twenty-five miles to the east.
The actual beach town of Puerto Morelos, being water-bound, physically cannot grow, and its people are resolved not to let it turn into something they don't want. In 2016 it was widely reported that a large hotel chain wanted to buy the beach land which currently houses the town's middle school—land reportedly donated years ago to the city for use as a school.
The resolve of the people became clear as they rose up to prevent what they perceived as something that was not right for their children or for Puerto Morelos.
Like the rest of Mexico, Quintana Roo had an indigenous population that was eventually conquered by the Spanish. This part of Mexico was home to Mayan civilization; however, most of their local cites were abandoned even before the Spanish conquest.
Though it can be said that their civilization was past its classic period and that their large cities had been mostly abandoned—with it's population disbursed to a simpler life of farming and fishing—their pride and resolve none-the-less remained and they were far and away the hardest nation for the Spanish to conquer, with minor uprisings occurring in outlying areas as late as the 1930s.
Even to this day, Mayan is fairly widely spoken and is actually the first language of a number of the locals. But the local population makeup changes so dramatically from year to year that it is hard to estimate the number of people here who are of local Mayan descent.
If you ask someone who lives in Puerto Morelos where they are from, the most common answer is Mexico City.
A ruler name Kukulkan is credited with creating what is referred to as the League of the Mayapan, a tribe that ruled from 987 to 1185 A.D. From that time there were a series of internal conflicts that resulted in breaking the league into nineteen separate chieftainships on the peninsula by 1461.
Archeological evidence suggests that Puerto Morelos belonged to the province called Ekab (meaning Black Bee), one of the nineteen subdivisions of the once extensive Mayapan kingdom. In fact, the ruins of two Mayan structures provided the raw material for the iconic leaning lighthouse which stands next to the fisherman's pier in Puerto Morelos.
Constant fighting and rivalry between the chieftainships of the former Mayapan nation left them weak and vulnerable to the Spaniards who began their assault in 1526, finally achieving victory in 1540.
In 1898, 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. Requiring access to the sea to export their products, the company created a path from the Hacienda de Santa María (today Leona Vicario) to the Caribbean Sea.
Products 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 be safely navigated with good depth and protection provided by the natural reef barrier.
Puerto Morelos continued its progress, becoming the most important port in all the state. It was the first recognized port on the Mexican Caribbean and, for many years, the local population thrived from the profits of exportation. Due to the decline of the use of natural gum and the loss of the coconut palms to disease (due to monoculture), 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.
Eventually, Puerto outgrew its natural bounds, spreading to the jungle on the other side of the mangroves around the 1950's. Migration of workers to support the budding resort business that followed the opening of the Cancun airport in the 1970's further fed the growth of bedroom communities all up and down the new freeway.
When Quintana Roo became a state in 1974, Puerto Morelos finally received its current name, being honored with the name of the Mexican independence leader, Jose Maria Morelos.
Puerto Morelos is still a fisherman’s town today, and continues to retain its small village atmosphere. We have benefitted from the Mexican government's declarations making the reef area and the mangroves ecological preserves.
The locals intend to keep Puerto as natural and unspoiled as they can, because, among whatever personal reasons they may have, the vibe that comes from what we have here has become everyone's bread and butter.
Tourism is what drives the economy, but it's tourism of a very specific kind, and everyone here wants to keep that ship from getting off course. Come see for yourself!