The Day of the Dead (El Dia de los Muertos) is an ancient Aztec cultural tradition practiced throughout Central America. 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
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 Day of the Dead festival is celebrated all around Guatemala, but the most spectacular events are held in the highland villages of Santiago Sacatepéquez and Sumpango, about a 30-minute drive from Guatemala City.
Ways to Celebrate
Head to Santiago Sacatepéquez or Sumpango to see the giant kite festival, Guatemala’s most spectacular Day of the Dead celebration. Locals launch giant kites (some as tall as a 5-story building) into the skies. The kites are believed to keep away evil spirits and provide a method of communicating with the dead. The vibrant kites are handcrafted using delicate tissue paper and traditional papel picado techniques, with messages are attached to the tail of each kite. Other traditions include cleaning and decorating family grave sites and feasting on traditional foods such as pan de muerto.