History of the Riviera Maya
It is believed that the first people to populate Mexico came to the American continents by crossing the Bering Strait from Asia during an Ice Age at least fourteen thousand years ago. Mexico was definitely populated as early as twelve thousand years ago, perhaps sooner. The hunter gatherers of this region began settling down and practicing agriculture and animal domestication as early as seven thousand years ago. The Olmec civilization developed in what is now Tabasco and Veracruz around thirty-five hundred years ago. The calendar, architecture, stone carving, urban planning, as well as sacred rites relating to the ceremonial ball games, the jaguar cult and spiritual value of jade, were important cultural contributions that the Olmecs passed onto subsequent civilizations like the Mayan and Toltecs. The Mayan Civilization grew in power in influence with its center in Teotihuacan (near where Mexico City is today) from around twenty one hundred years ago until the Eighth Century A.D. when it encountered encroachment from the Toltec and Aztec civilizations. Soon after it is believed that the Mayans of the Yucatan may have experienced a cultural split from other Mayans. The amount of influence from the Toltecs is also up for debate. There is some speculation that the story of the jaguar god Tezcatilipoca tricked Quetzalcoatl into leaving Tula was actually the story of a leader leaving Tula and founding a new city of Chichen Itza on the Yucatan Peninsula. You can see the evidence of these ancient Mayan architects at impressive archaeological sites like Tulum and Coba, known for awe-inspiring limestone buildings and carvings.
The Spanish explorer Hernan Cortez landed on the island of Cozumel in 1519, but soon departed on an expedition into central Mexico and the heart of Aztec country after learning about the vast riches of gold held by Moctezuma II. Cortez, after dividing the local population, perhaps posing as the banished Quetzalcoatl returning for revenge, gaining Spanish reinforcements, and kidnapping Moctezuma who eventually died during the Spanish siege of Teotihuacan. The Spanish established colonial rule and widespread religious conversion of the indigenous population of what would become Mexico. For almost two hundred years the Spanish ruled “New Spain” before losing control after Napoleon invaded Spain in 1808. A century of civil unrest and attempts at revolution continued for the next century until 1910 and the Mexican Revolution. The government finally stabilized under Lázaro Cárdenas in 1934.
The Yucatan really did not begin to thrive until the government decided to develop Cancun as a Caribbean tourist destination. For the last forty years, Cancun has grown into a world-class travel destination and a thriving metropolitan area. Cancun's growth has sparked development and the tourism industry throughout the Yucatan, especially along Riviera Maya, Cozumel, and Playa Del Carmen.