Celebrating Day of the Dead in Guatemala
Day of the Dead (Día de Muertos) is an ancient indigenous tradition practised throughout Mexico and Central America, including Guatemala. Despite the name, it’s a joyful celebration—a time to remember and pay tribute to deceased ancestors, friends, and family. Here’s what to know about Guatemala’s Day of the Dead.
When to go
Here's when to celebrate Día de Muertos in Guatemala.
Guatemala’s main Day of the Dead celebrations are held on Nov 1 and 2, coinciding with the Catholic holidays of All Saints’ Day and All Souls’ Day. Preparations often begin months in advance, and if you’re visiting Guatemala in the weeks before the festival, you might see local families and children crafting colorful kites, making sugar skulls, and decorating gravestones with traditional offerings.
Where to go
The best spots to celebrate.
The Day of the Dead festival is celebrated all across Guatemala, but arguably the most spectacular events are held in the highland villages of Santiago Sacatepéquez and Sumpango, which are 30 minutes and just over an hour from Guatemala City respectively. There, enjoy the Kite Festivals which see locals create giant, elaborate kites (barriletes) which seem to defy gravity as they swoop through the air over the cemeteries below on November 2.
Alternatively, head to Todos Santos Cuchumatán where you can catch the annual Carrera de las Cintas, a chaotic and famed horse race that marks Day of the Dead in Guatemala.
Ways to celebrate
How Día de Muertos is marked in Guatemala.
As with many other countries that celebrate Day of the Dead (or their own local variant), Guatemalans who observe the day flock to cemeteries to pay respects to their deceased loved ones. Some stop by briefly to leave flowers, while others stick around all night to help the spirits cross back into the land of the living.
Then, of course, there’s the tradition of creating those enormous kites (some can be as tall as a 5-story building) in highland villages, using delicate tissue paper and traditional papel picado techniques, with messages attached to the tail of each one. The kites are believed to keep away evil spirits and provide a method of communicating with the dead.
Food, as ever, also plays an important part. Expect to find Guatemalans and outsiders alike tucking into local favorites such as spiced stews (including fiambre), tamales, and ayote en dulce (sweet potato served with milk).
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