Discover Xibalbá: The Mayan Underworld


If something is not lacking in the Yucatan peninsula, it is myths and legends; If you know this land, surely you have heard about myths and famous and fabulous stories like the Xtabay, fascinating subject in itself, but, have you heard of Xibalba? Surely if you have heard that term it has more to do with a new ecological park that Grupo Xcaret will open soon, but believe me, the story is much more than you might think, so I invite you to read this interesting article about the Mayan underworld.

The Meaning of Xibalba

The name of Xibalbá comes from the same root as xibij “to frighten” (compare xubunel and its variant subunnel, “fright, ghost”); the ba end could come from ball "place of" [1], so it could be translated as "place of fear" or "place of fear". It is the underground realm where the souls of the deceased travel after leaving the underworld. For the ancient Maya, this was not a place of eternal punishment or suffering, but simply a stage in the soul's journey towards its final destination. It was considered a place of transition and transformation.

The Lords of Xibalba

In the hierarchy of the Mayan underworld, the Ajawab, known as the lords of Xibalbá, ruled this dimension. They were fearsome and powerful beings, in charge of maintaining the balance between the world of the living and that of the dead. The twelve lords of Xibalbá had specific roles and fulfilled important functions in this dark kingdom.

1. Hun-Camé (one-death) and Vucum-Camé (seven-death): The supreme judges of the Mayan underworld. They were the ones who dictated the rules and duties of the other lords.

2. Cuchumaquic and Xiquiripat: Responsible for the shedding of human blood, symbolizing the sacrifices that were made in honor of the gods.

3. Ahalcaná and Ahalpuh: Causers of diseases and ailments, such as suppuration of the legs and redness of the face.

4. Chamiaholom and Chamiabac: The bailiffs of the underworld who, as a sign of their rank, carried a bone rod and were in charge of thinning people until leaving only their bones, symbolizing the fragility of life and the inevitable death.

5. Ahaltocob and Ahalmez: Causes of misfortunes and obstacles on the way back home of the living.

6. Xic and Muttley: Responsible for guiding lost travelers through dark and dangerous paths, leading them to death.

The lords of Xibalbá personified the dangers and challenges that humans faced in their lives and in the afterlife.

The Connection with the Cenotes

Cenotes, la entrada al Xibalbá

Cenote is a term exclusive to Mexico and its origin comes from the Mayan word "dzonot" which means "abyss" [2].

The Mayans believed that cenotes, natural freshwater sinkholes, were access portals to the underworld of Xibalbá. For them, these bodies of water were sacred and represented a direct connection between the underworld and the realm of the dead. It was considered that submerging in the crystalline waters of the cenotes allowed the transit to the underworld, facilitating the journey of souls to their final destination.

Fun facts

Here we present some curious facts about Xibalbá and its relevance in the Mayan culture:

• According to the Popol Vuh, the sacred book of the Maya, the divine twins Hun Hunahpú and Vucub Hunahpú challenged the lords of Xibalbá to a ball game of life and death. Although they were defeated and lost their lives, their children, the gods Ixbalanqué and Hunahpú, managed to avenge them and defeat the evil beings.

• The ancient Maya considered the hollow trunks of ceiba trees to serve as a kind of “telephone” between the underworld and the underworld. The roots of these trees reached into this underground kingdom, while their tops touched the sky.

• Xibalbá was not seen as a place of punishment or reward. It was simply the next world in the cycle of existence of human souls after life on Earth.

• Grupo Xcaret, a renowned tourism company, has plans to open a new theme park in the Yucatan dedicated to Xibalbá. This park will offer visitors a unique opportunity to explore and learn more about the amazing underground world of the Maya.


For Mesoamerican cultures, death was an inseparable part of life; Xibalbá was a very real place for the Maya, unlike the current concept of the underworld (hell), so learning about death from the perspective of the ancient Maya allows us to better understand the richness of their culture and spirituality. The sacred cenotes, the lords of Xibalbá and the epic stories transmitted through the Popol Vuh are fundamental elements in this fascinating cosmogony. Knowing the concept of Xibalbá is entering a universe full of myths, rituals and a deep connection with nature and the spiritual.




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