About 20.000 years the first inhabitants arrived in what is now called Mexico. The inhabitants were fairly unorganized and spend their time tracking through the country hunting in the grasslands. Around 6500 BC the Indians started agricultural activities. The agriculture was of the slash and burn type. Around 3500 BC the agricultural skill had developed as such that they formed permanent villages in the center of Mexico. The Maya are not the first tribe to appear in Mexico, they were preceded by the Olmecs near the Gulf coast. The first Maya like tribes appeared around 200 BC in the south of Mexico (Chiapas).
Maya were predominant in three area's; the northern area which is the
Peninsula, the central area which is the Peeten area and the western area
which are the lowlands bordering to Belize. The Costa Maya falls under
western lowlands. The agricultural skills evolved between 200 BC and 900
AD to the extend that workers could be made available to built the beautiful
cities as we know them today. In the area around the Costa Maya the building
styles called Rio Bec and Chennes are found. The Mayan culture weakened
the period of 900 AD to 1200 AD. Other tribes influenced the building styles
in that period (an example of this is Tulum).
During the Mayan high times there was a flourishing maritime trade along the
Yucatan coast. The Mayan's used large dugout canoes. They traded in fabrics,
jade, obsidian, salt, shells etc. The area of Xcalak was a landing point because
of the two openings in the reef. Xcalak means "two passes". A small
unnamed site was found just east of the current village of Xcalak.
Cortes landed in 1519 on Cozumel and within three years he conquered most
of the territories. Twenty years later the Mayan's were defeated by Fransisco
de Montejo. Many Mayan's were killed in battle or by European diseases. In
this war many Mayan artifacts were destroyed by the Catholic monks.
the end of the 19th Century, the Mexican Navy took control over what is today
the state of Quintana Roo. In 1897 during the presidency of Porfirio Diaz,
a treaty was signed which established the territorial limits between British
Honduras (now Belize) and Mexico. This caused serious problems for Mexico
because the territorial limit was at the center of Boca Bacalar Chico canal.
This natural canal separates the Xcalak peninsula from Ambergris Key, and
as a result, Mexican military vessels lost access to Chetumal Bay and remain
at the mercy of Belize for permits.
Due to the lack of access to Chetumal Bay, Brigadier Ortiz Monasterios, the Mexican consulate, commissioned Engineer Rebolledo to find a suitable place to build a port in this area. Rebolledo selected Xcalak because two natural entrances through the barrier reef would permit navigation. (Xcalak means the twins in Maya, referring to the 2 cuts in the reef.) The port was established in an effort to permanently occupy this area. From this site, Mexico intended to direct a military campaign to stop the supply of arms to the Maya rebels of Quintana Roo, who were participating in what is known as the Caste War. This led to the establishment of a base on the southern limits of Xcalak peninsula.
In Oct. of 1899, a site was constructed on the Zaragoza Canal to provide access to Chetumal Bay. (This canal south of town has recently been reopened and re-dredged in another effort to allow military vessels access to the bay.) At the same time, in 1899, on the Caribbean coast, the widening of the entrance through the reef was initiated. In addition, a Decauville railroad was built between Xcalak and La Aguada (on Chetumal Bay) in order to relieve the boat traffic through the narrow international canal.
All the above resulted in a port system which overcame the lack of a direct entrance into Chetumal Bay. Equipment was unloaded in Xcalak, taken by train to La Aguada, and then reloaded and taken to Payo Obispo, which was founded 2 years earlier. Thus, the village of Xcalak was founded on May 19, 1900 as the base for the Southern Fleet and the first shipyard in the Mexican Caribbean. At the same time, the first telegraph in the state was built.
When the Federal Territory of Quintana Roo was created in 1902,
there were three important villages on the coast: Xcalak in the south, Vigia
Chico in the middle, and Puerto Morelos in the north. The Xcalak village was
the only village in the territory that did not depend on mahogany and chicle
(used for chewing gum). Xcalak relied upon fishing and the exportation of
coconut. The organization of copra, or coconut ranches, began in Xcalak and
expanded to the bay area. Copra exportation eventually replaced fishing.
In the 1950s, Xcalaks economy was very healthy, boasting developments such as stone and wood construction, an ice factory, and electric plant, storehouses for large quantities of copra, grocery stores, a billiard hall, a movie theater, an ice cream factory, etc. Xcalak was the most important supply center in the region. After Hurricane Janet, Xcalak was in ruins. Many of its inhabitants died, including the lighthouse keeper and many sailors. The survivors were traumatized and a large group migrated to interior towns. The survivors who remained in Xcalak returned to fishing. The area was repopulated with people from San Pedro and Sartenejas, Belize, as well as from Honduras and El Salvador.
The fishing trade resulted in social organizations. On Oct. 25, 1959, the Cooperative Fishing Production Society of Andrea Quintana Roo was founded. It consisted of 49 members. Fishing techniques were greatly altered with the arrival of the first outboard motors made by Calipso and Lister.
In 1980, a 120 km gravel road was built, forming the Chetumal - Carrillo Puerto highway. This established a land route between the village of Xcalak and the rest of the state. People often recall that the first vehicle to arrive in the village was a Land Rover.
At the end of the 1980s Costa de Cocos and the first dive shop, Aventuras Chinchorro (now XTC Dive Center), opened . Soon after that a second dive shop Xcalak Dive Center appeared. These developments increased tourism and marked the beginning of a new period.
On August 24, 1995, the government of Quintana Roo published the decree for the Ecological regulation for the area referred to as the Maya Coast (Punta Herero - Xcalak). The decree outlined tourism development plans for the Costa Maya corridor. Xcalak was designated as one of the sites for the greatest development. The restoration of the municipal pier in Xcalak was completed at the end of 1995 to facilitate tourism development. In June of 1996, a ferry pier was built at La Aguada in order to provide service between Chetumal and Xcalak. At the same time, the existing airstrip in Xcalak was enlarged.
There are approximately 300 native inhabitants
of Xcalak, most rely on fishing for their livelihood; however, many are now
working in tourism and recently the Tourism Cooperative was formed. Officials
that have their headquarters in Xcalak include: the Municipal Delegation,
State Government representative of the Judicial Police, a port captain, immigration
officer, and Navy base. As part of the social structure, other associations
have been formed: the Parents Association, the Electricity Committee, the
fishing Cooperative, and a Community Committee in which different representatives
of all community sectors participate. It is through the Community Committee
that issues regarding the management and conservation of natural resources
Mexican government is trying to improve the state of living for the Indian
population. The path chosen to do this on the Costa Maya area is to develop
small scale ecological based tourism.