Can you get lost in the jungles of Cozumel

I just watched an episode of ‘I shouldn’t be alive’, about a guy who got lost in the jungles of Cozumel. It took him 19 days to find his way back to civilization.

I’ve only been there once, but cozumel is only 184 square miles in size. And I assume the jungle area is even smaller. How do you get lost for 19 days? Can’t you just pick a direction based on the sun’s position, and walk in that direction for <5 miles?

Plus aren’t there trails in the jungle where tourists travel? I’d assume there are trails every mile or so.

I suppose if you can’t see the sun, you could just end up walking in circles. Thats the only situation I can think of.

Looking at it on Google Maps, it looks to be almost entirely dense jungle. I’ll go with “hell yes.”

Seems to me that you would have to be extraordinarily inept to get lost for that long in such a small area. Checking Google Earth, there are roads across it so you would never be more than about 5 miles from a road or the sea. Even if you can’t see the sun (unlikely) you could at least tell what direction it was rising from in the morning from the brightening of the sky. And as a tourist destination, I would imagine planes are landing at the airport all the time. You could at least walk in that direction since again it wouldn’t be very far from where you were.

A mile in the wilderness is further than you think it is. It is easy to get turned around, and without some form of tool, it is very hard to go in a straight line.

Even if you are able to orient yourself to go in a straight line, there may be things blocking you from that path, and you end up deviating from your original line more than you thought you would.

Yeah but there appear to be roads in the middle of the jungle connecting it back to civilization. From spending a few minutes on google earth, it seems like you’d never be more than 1-2 miles from a road.

If the sunrise wasn’t a clear enough signal, nor the planes and cruise ships arriving all day long, at night the lights from Playa Del Carmen illuminate the sky and would make it almost impossible to lose your bearings as long as you knew what they were.

That said the jungle is really dense and it would be very difficult for an unprepared castaway to move though it quickly. Lots of unpassable areas, open holes in the ground to underground springs, and lots and lots and lots of snakes. I wouldn’t want to be stuck in that jungle but it wouldn’t take 19 minutes much less 19 days to find the way back assuming you didn’t get bitten by a snake or fall in a cenote.

My Wife and I circled the Island on scooters. Not all of it is that dense.

OP - How’d he get lost in the first place? Why was he in the jungle?

Here is an article about it–it happened in 1993. (Which may mean that some of the roads in the current Google Maps weren’t there then.)

Actually, if you zoom in closer there are roads and (apparently) power lines or trails penetrating even the larger block of forest in the south. I doubt that any part of the island is more than 3 miles from a road or other access.

I assume that it is largely limestone like the rest of the Yucatan so there would be little surface water or defined streams to follow to the coast. Still, as noted there would be clues from the sun or lights to give you a direction to follow.

I have been in some hideously dense scrub forest that was extremely difficult to pass through, and I was still able to cover a mile in an hour or two. Anyone competent and healthy and who knew the sun rises in the same place each day or that lights in the sky means a town is in that direction should have been able to find their way out in a matter of hours, not weeks.

His story was featured in an episode of “I Shouldn’t Be Alive” on Animal Planet in 2012. I haven’t seen it, but it appears to be streaming for free on Amazon Prime. It will probably give a better picture of how it’s possible to get so lost.

Still, there has to be a certain level of incompetence involved.

ETA: and now I notice that you reference this episode. So if still appears far-fetched after seeing it, I up my estimate on the level of incompetence.

Ok, and maybe there wasn’t so much light from town back then. But still, you would only need to walk for 5 miles to get to the coast. Even if you didn’t know the shape of the island and by bad luck ended up walking it lengthwise in exactly the wrong direction it would be less than 20 miles.


To have walked 60 miles on an island only 8 miles across it and not hit the coast for 19 days seems like the guy had absolutely no capacity to navigate at all. And a canopy “20 feet deep in places” shouldn’t be enough to block out the sun. We’re talking about a scrub forest, not dense tropical forest.

Looking for some Mayan ruins.

Given his lack of navigation skills, I am skeptical about his estimate of the distance walked. He probably covered half that.

In the article he said he avoided walking at midday because of the heat, and only walked in the morning and evening. My guess is that he just followed the sun both times.

It seems like the title of the show should have been “Too Dumb to Live (Almost).”:slight_smile:

I believe he got lost at San Gervasio, which would put him on the north side of the Island.

Even so, you go west and you hit a road in under a mile. Go north and you hit the beach in 2 miles. Go east and you hit a beach in 3 miles. Go south and you hit a road in half a mile.

Even if he went northeast, he’d still hit a beach in 7 miles. That doesn’t even take into account whatever smaller trails are cut through the jungle area. Even if he only hiked at 1mph (which is probably a reasonable speed in the jungle w/o a trail) that still means he’d be at the beach or a road within a day.

The guy basically got lost in a big backyard, that is the impression I’m getting. He probably walked in a bunch of circles. I know walking in circles when lost is a serious risk, but that is why you use the sun, stars, lights from civilization, airplane noises, or just trees in the horizon to guide your path.

In one of his TV programs, Bear Grylls dragged something like a long creeper behind him through the jungle, as a visual aid to help prevent him from going in circles when the tree canopy obscured the sun. He also squeezed out and drank the water that was contained within some elephant dung.

You might be surprised how many people don’t know that the sun rises in the east.

Well, shit! That is the reason I keep losing my car in parking lots.

Studies have shown that people will often end up walking in a circle when visual reference points, such as the Sun, are removed from view. One interesting quote from that link: “Most dead hikers, after all, are found within a mile from where they got lost.”

Well, if he found elephant dung, he must have been at a zoo. He could have asked the zoo keeper where the bottled water is.