Red, blue, green yellow…kites wrap around the clouds, whispering to the spirits high in the sky. Below, earthbound “kites” of fantasy tower above the crowds and guard the gravestones.
In Guatemala—as in Mexico—people celebrate All Saints’ Day on November 1 by traveling to cemeteries to honor the dead. They repaint family tombs, adorn them with yellow flowers and picnic by the graves.
Santiago Sacatepéquez, about 12 miles north of Antigua in the central highlands, is one of the few places that celebrates with a giant kite festival.
More than 45 feet across, the kites are made of tissue paper stretched over a bamboo framework and bound together with rope and wire.
Thousands of people swarm the cemetery, many dressed in native Mayan garb. They perch on top of tombs, cheering the raising of the giant kites.
Locals believe these kites reach up to the souls of loved ones carrying messages from the living.
These expensive, monster works of art take months to dream up and create. The teams involved compete for cash prizes. Judged on size, creativity and originality, they depict religious, cultural, social and political themes.
Some enjoy short moments of glory before crashing to the ground amongst the gravestones causing chaos as hordes flee the toppling giants. Others fly victoriously on the wind, wing to wing with each other.
You can see the spectacle for yourself by booking through a travel agency or Spanish school in Antigua. Or go it alone by taking a bus headed to Guatemala City. In San Lucas (about 20 minutes’ drive) change for another bus to Santiago Sacatepéquez (about 10 minutes). Then just follow the crowds!
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Editor’s Note: This article was taken from a past issue of International Living’s monthly magazine. To get full access to all past and future articles and to receive the magazine in the mail or online each month, you can subscribe here.