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Sauna and Temazcal: two wildly different centuries old traditions

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Saunatimes had the pleasure to be on assignment these last couple weeks, traveling into the heart of Mayan country to experience and report back to you about Temazcal.  Per Wikipedia:

What is a Temascal?

A temazcal [temasˈkal] is a type of sweat lodge which originated with pre-Hispanic Indigenous peoples in Mesoamerica. The word temazcal comes from the Nahuatl word temāzcalli [temaːsˈkalːi] (“house of heat”)[citation needed], or possibly from the Aztec teme (to bathe) and calli(house).[1] Temazcal in English is also written as temezcal, temascal, or temescal.

For temazcal discoveries, a good place to call home base is the Eco Chic Tulum beach area.  Within a mile, there are a handful of Temazcals at different hotel/resorts along the beach as well as a couple of wellness spas across the street from the beach road.  All promote and advertise.


Times are posted, including one location that offers their Temazcal sessions only twice monthly: during the full moon and new moon cycles.  We will be reporting more on these specific locations in future articles here on Saunatimes.  For now, we discovered the Temazcal at the  Maya Tulum resort by walking along this trail


To describe the details of my Temazcal experiences would be like telling readers the plot of the latest Star Wars movie.  Yet, as with the movie where we know the good guys win in the end, with Temazcal – like with sauna – we are left with having a good sweat and feeling relaxed, rejuvenated, and restored.  A couple other similarities between sauna and Temazcal are cool downs and the use of a whisping stick (Vihta in Finland, Venik in Russia), but few other similarities come to mind.

A temazcal looks a lot like an Italian wood fired pizza oven


Volcanic rocks are heated for an hour or two in an open fire pit like this one:

Temazcal fire box

The differences between sauna and temazcal

  • Once you enter the temazcal, you don’t leave until the ceremony is complete.

A temascal ceremony is:

  • made up of four detailed sessions, marked by the closing, and after, reopening of the porta (door).
  • led by a “guide” who is in the building with the group the entire time.
  • supported by a guy outside who brings in hot lava rocks on a pitchfork before each of the 4 sessions.

The process is different because you:

  • are seated around in a circle, on the ground, back leaning against the stone or brick wall.
  • are asked to reverse your “L” position during two points in the ceremony so your back is on the ground and your feet ride up the wall.
  • recite words spoken from the guide.
  • chant together.
  • listen to wisdom and prayers, consistent from gosh knows how many centuries back.

Afterwards, you get up and waddle out of the temazcal.  You are doused with cold water by the hot brick guy, and handed a towel.  You then are asked to regroup, and stand outside in a circle, in the same positions as within, and you informally talk about your experience.

I could list more differences between sauna and temazcal.  But this would be merely a divisive tangent.  What is important to consider is that sauna and temazcal are two centuries old traditions.

Both evolved separate from each other as culturally significant cultural practices.

Both provide a community bonding experience.

Both are interwoven with the sanctity of each others’ culture: important practices of health and wellness, spiritual connectivity, and a general wellbeing that has allowed both Finnish culture and Mayan culture to prosper and thrive.  However, so far, only one of these two cultures has produced any good hockey players.

Roberto Cezare, temazcal director and 2nd line left wing, Tulum Generals ice hockey team.





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4 thoughts on “Sauna and Temazcal: two wildly different centuries old traditions”

  1. Interesting global travel to find the cultural variations of a sweat lodge/sauna. Thank you for the description of the rituals in this “south of the border” experience!

  2. I really would like to know the true nature of mesoamerican extent in House of Heat practices all throughout the vastlands,wetlands,drylands, and any other lands within the borders of ADAMS/ONIS TREATY. Being able to learn these ceremonies may bring about old connections to the diverse unity in Vespucci.

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