History of Akumal

Akumal Playa was originally settled by a few Maya families as a fishing and trading settlement. The name Akumal comes from the Maya meaning “place of the turtle”, for hundreds of turtles return to these beaches every year to lay their eggs.

In 1511, Gonzalo Guerrero sailed with fifteen others including Gerónimo de Águilar in a caravel from Panama heading for Santo Domingo when they were shipwrecked.  The crew managed to board lifeboats and drifted for two weeks along the Yucatán Peninsula until strong currents brought them ashore at what is now Akumal, Quintana Roo.

On reaching land, Guerrero and the crew were captured by the local Mayas. The Mayas sacrificed some of the crew almost immediately, and put the rest into cages. The Spanish managed to escape, but other Maya lords captured and enslaved them. By 1519, the year Hernán Cortés began his conquest of Mexico, only two men from the original shipwreck remained alive – Guerrero  and Gerónimo de Aguilar. By this time Gonzalo Guerrero had married Nachan Can’s daughter princess Zazil Há and fathered the first mestizo children in the region. He became famous in the Maya world as a war leader for Nachan Can, Lord of Chactemal (which included parts of Mexico and Belize).   It was Guerrero’s training of the Maya in Spanish war tactics which led to the successful attack against Córdoba’s expedition.

right: The statue of Guerrero and his family was moved from inside the arch to a spot in front of Budha Gardens Spa

When the Spanish conqueror Hernán Cortés arrived in Cozumel he heard about the shipwreck and two survivors in Akumal. He sent emissaries to look for them. The search party located the two, and Gerónimo de Águilar returned to Cortés’ camp. Later, the rescued sailor would become the first translator and guide in the conquest of Mexico.

Gonzalo Guerrero adapted to his life with the Maya.  As he told the emissaries, he was no longer a Spaniard; he was Maya. He stayed in Akumal with his wife and three children until he died in battle against the Spanish in 1836; he was 66 years old.

The Shipwreck That Brought Divers to Akumal

On February 22, 1741, during a terrible storm a small Spanish merchant ship, El Matancero ran aground on the coral reef at Akumal and sank.

left: El Matancero, officially named Nuestra Señora de los Milagros (Our Lady of Miracles)

In 1959, a group of ex-WWII Mexican frogmen led by Pablo Bush Romero came to Akumal to salvage El Matancero, which lay in shallow water at the southern end of Bahía Príncipe. They formed CEDAM (Club de Exploración y Deporte Acuáticos de México) to serve their country by turning over to the Federal Government whatever could be salvaged from the wrecks buried along the Mexican coast.

Pablo Bush bought Akumal and several thousand’s acres of surrounding land. He then established a development organization called Promotora Akumal Caribe. Akumal with its sparkling clear waters, spectacular reef system, Yalkú lagoon, and extensive mangrove system became the perfect diving location for tourists. The various bay areas were divided into lots and people began buying.

Akumal Norte Is Born and Vecinos Is Formed

Years later several owners living on Half Moon Bay came together and created Akumal Norte. Their concerns were to keep the peace of the area and to preserve the reef, lagoon and mangrove as they had found them. The boundaries would run from Yalkú Lagoon to the southern entrance at “the pluma”. The area would include parks and preservation of the area’s natural flora and fauna. The organization would do what the government was failing to do, that is,  provide the services a community needs to function efficiently for its members. The organization they formed is Asociación de Vecinos de Akumal Norte: “Association of North Akumal Neighbors”.