Cenotes and the Mayans

The source of water and life

An Oasis in the middle of the jungle? Tell me more!

The Yucatan Peninsula area has extreme weather: heavy rains are expected between four to six months a year and the calcareous geological constitution of the Riviera Maya inhibits the water to remain on the surface and it filters down to the water table, which usually is very deep.


Because of these conditions, cenotes were the main source of water for the ancient Mayan civilization. To the Maya, cenotes were a source of life, the reason to develop cities and nearby settlements, remarkable elements of the sacred geography, symbolic sceneries and open spaces for rituals of life, death, rebirth, fertility and rain. The divine dynasty of Mayan governors knew that the symbolic and practical control over the cenotes meant political and social control of life and death; hence the deep and ancient veneration. The importance of these bodies of water was clearly demonstrated by altars and shrines built next to them and also by the offerings that lie deep down in their blue waters.


For the ancient Maya and other Mesoamerican groups, caves and cenotes were portals to the underworld, they believed that when people died, they traveled a long walk towards Xibalba. This mythical place, where the gods and ancestors soujourned, was physically located in the subsoil and underwater. Thus, caves and cenotes were considered by the Mayans as places where life begins, containers  of virgin waters, points of origin for some grupos or lineages and appropiate spaces for diverse rituals.

The fantasic mythology of the underworld and its association to caves as portals was written in a great universal text corpus called Popol Vuh. Following the written word of the crossing of the twin heroes across Xibalba has allowed us to discover the kingdoms of night and darkness. 


This is why cenotes are considered to be oasis of the Mayan jungle, sources of peace and energy, places where magic emanates as a mirage from the deepest sites of Earth in a crystalline and pristine form. Cenotes are fertile places not only for its flora and fauna but also for its quality to make us realize the roots of the ancient Maya, their beliefs and their myths.