The Temazcal Tradition In Mexico

Last Updated Jan 11, 2024

If you have visited Mexico before or are planning to visit for the first time, you may have seen different tours, treatments, or rituals that include a “temazcal”. This ancient indigenous practice has become a trendy treatment in Spas all over the country.

But, what is a temazcal? And, maybe even more important, why you should get one in your next Riviera Maya vacations?

What Are the Origins of Temazcal?

Temazcal is a shamanic ritual that has been around for over a thousand years and was practiced by the different indigenous civilizations of Mesoamerica and North America, including the Aztecs, Toltecs, and Mayans.

The word “Temazcal” comes from the Nahuatl word Temázcalli, which means “house of heat” in the ancient language of the Aztecs.

In Mesoamerica, the temazcal had both a curative purpose and a ritualistic one. It was a ceremony that could take place either before or after battles with the purpose of purifying the soul and heal the body.

Temazcal was a ritual also practiced by participants in the ceremonial ballgame. This game had crucial ritual aspects to their culture and, as such, the players wanted to be as prepared as possible, hence the practice of temazcal.

Finally, it’s been proved by archaeologists that temazcal also had feminine elements included in its ritual practices. For instance, the physical structure of temazcal has the form of a dome representing the mother’s womb. In this sende, temazcal was also a place designed to give birth, especially reserved for the higher castes of society.

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What Happens During a Temazcal Ceremony?

Originally, temazcal ceremonies took place inside small domes especifically designed for that and only a handful of people participated on it at a time. However, modern temazcales have been adapted to fit the needs of mass tourism, meaning that nowadays a temazcal ceremony may involve as many as 15 or 20 people.

Before entering the little dome where the ceremony takes place, the shaman or guardiana (female guardian) perform the “blessing of the four directions”. This ritual is performed to ask for permission to the guardians of the four directions (north, south, east, and west) and for their blessing of the ceremony. It also involves a fruits, seeds, and flowers offering to Mother Earth.

Finally, before entering the dome, it takes place a cleansing and purifying of every participant with Copal smoke. Copal is a resin that Aztecs used to collect from trees and you can think of it as our modern incense.

Before continuing with the process of this fascinating Indigenous ceremony, it’s important to highlight the role of shamanes and guardianas. According to an ancient legend, Quetzacoatl, the feathered serpent god and one of the main gods in the Mesoamerican pantheon, gave the role of guardians of temazcal to women. In these Indigenous cultures, Quetzalcoatl was a god related to Venus and the cycle of life, death, and rebirth.


With time, this role of women in temazcal ceremonies got lost due to the male dominance of most activities in the modern societies resulted from the mixture of Spanish and Indigenous cultures. Most probably, that’s the reason you’ll get a shaman guiding you through your temazcal experience. However, if you have the opportunity to ask your shaman about the role of women or guardianas in this ceremony, don’t waste it as it’s a fascinating side of this story.

Once inside the temazcal dome, which may be made out of mud, stone, or cement, the participants sit down in a circle and in a really dark environment. In the middle of this circle, you’ll find the abuelas (grandmother) stones, which are volcanic rocks that have been just heated outside of the dome.

Then, it’s time for the shaman or guardiana to pour water on the hot stones, producing the characteristic steam that temazcales are famous for. As the ceremony progresses, more and more hot rocks are brought into the center of the circle and more water is poured unto them to keep the steam flowing. In some temazcal ceremonies, the temperatures inside the dome can reach up to 50 degrees Celsius.

Sometimes, the water poured unto the rocks has been infused with a mix of herbs with healing properties. Some types of temazcal ceremonies even involve participants drinking a herbal tea made of this mix, while still inside of the temazcal.

The effect of steam in the participants of the ceremony is varied, but usually serves to relax muscles and open the pores of the skin just like in modern steam baths. These effects help to achieve a body cleanse and release tension and toxins.

During the ceremony, the shaman or guardiana usually guides participants through the ritual by singing different chants, reciting sacred prayers or playing ritualistic drum-based music. This way, the shaman or guardiana makes sure that the temazcal ceremony serves its double purpose of physical and spiritual healing.

This last point is crucial to understand the meaning of a practice such as temazcal. Because if was only a bath steam, there would be no point in doing it this way, as every modern spa has steam baths in their facilities. It’s the spiritual side of the ceremony which gives temazcal its unique perspective.

Try to follow your shaman or guardiana explanations, chants, and prayers, in order to clean your mind of other thoughts and embark on a journey of introspection far from the usual stress, worries, and anxieties of daily life. By engaging with the significance of the ritual you’ll make the most of your temazcal experience making it much more than a simple “spa treatment” and more of a spiritual ceremony.

In total, the whole temazcal ceremony usually lasts for about 2 hours including the initial stages outside of the dome.


Benefits of Temazcal

Temazcal is a practice with plenty of benefits for both the body and the mind. Let’s explore some of the most important ones:

1. Cleans Your Skin

As mentioned before, it’s well-known the effects that steam has on skin, cleaning it of its impurities, opening the pores and producing a softer, smoother look.


2. Removes Toxins

Another positive effect of temazcal in our bodies is the release of toxins. There are even studies that have shown that steam-produced sweating facilitates the removal of toxins.

3. Improves Blood Circulation

The intense heat felt inside the dome during a temazcal ceremony results in the opening up of your capillaries, which allows the blood to flow freely all around the body.

4. Respiratory Cleansing

The high humidity and temperature generated by the steam coming from the hot rocks helps to clear your respiratory system and allows participants to breath better. If your shaman or guardiana are guiding you through a meditation this aspect of breathing better is crucial to improve the depth and quality of your meditation.

6. Purification of the Mind

Through the variety of rituals, chants, and prayers involved in the temazcal ceremony, your shaman or guardiana tries to take your mind to a different place, away from the stress and worries of modern life. Follow the leader of your ceremony with and open mind and an open heart and let them help you clean your mind and spirit.

7. Decreases the Risk of Dementia and Alzheimer

Research has shown High levels of sweating can help you to lose water weight. This is one of the main reasons for shamanes to keep pouring water onto the hot rocks to keep producing lots of steam and make all participants sweat as much as possible.

Relevance of Temazcal in the Mayan Culture

As we have discussed before, the temazcal tradition is a practice with deep ritualistic and cultural meaning for different peoples of Mesoamerica. Among the Mayans, the temazcal ceremony was a way to connect with the natural world, honor their ancestors, and pay homage to their gods.

Mayans understood temazcal as both a cleansing ceremony (of mind, spirit, and body) and a ritual of birth and rebirth depending on the circumstances. In any case, the meaning of a temazcal ceremony was to always produce a “new person” coming out of the temazcal dome. This could be metaphorically, as a cleansed and purified person could be considered “new” in a symbolic sense; or literally, as temazcales were also places for giving birth to Mayan babies.

This way, we can understand temazcal as a symbol for the origin of life, with the dome symbolizing the womb, and the participants in the ceremony becoming “new persons” after being purified by the mix of steam, herbs, hot rocks, chants, prayers, and music taking place during the ceremony.

Now that you know all of this amazing information, are you ready to born again and become a new person?


Where to Get a Temazcal in the Riviera Maya?

If you have decided that you do want to go through the mystical experience of a temazcal ceremony during your visit to the Riviera Maya, you’ll find out that there are plenty of options for you to choose from, making it difficult to know which one to choose.

For that reason, we’re here to help you find the most exclusive and unique temazcal ceremonies in the region:

1. Rosewood Mayakoba

As pretty much everything else at this outstanding resort located at the heart of the Riviera Maya, the temazcal experience at Rosewood Mayakoba is top notch in its attention to detail. Led by the resort’s resident shaman, the water used to produce the steam not only include a mix of herbs, but also a combination of essential oils giving it a unique effect.

2. Blue Diamond

Another luxury resort located just a few kilometers north of Playa del Carmen, Blue Diamond Luxury Boutique Hotel offers a temazcal experience in groups of 12 people. Their temazcal dome is made of stone and their shaman leads the participants through the ceremony including the use of ancient musical instruments.

3. Huaya Camp

Huaya Camp is a wellness paradise hidden in the jungle of Tulum. This place lacks the luxury and exclusivity of the big resorts, but compensates it with authenticity and a laidback attitude that for some result in a more enjoyable experience. Huaya Camp holds a Community Temazcal every Tuesday, Friday, and Sunday at 4:30pm.


There you have it, different temazcal options for all tastes, in different corners of the Riviera Maya. Now, it’s up to you to choose your favorite type of temazcal and embark in this mystical journey of self-exploration, introspection, and physical relaxation.

Remember to be respectful of Mayan traditions and try to learn as much as possible of this fascinating culture while experiencing your temazcal ceremony. For Mayans, a temazcal was much more than a simple wellness treatment and, when done with an open mind, it can help you to discover a new side of yourself.


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