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Does Guatemala Celebrate Día de Muertos?

Picture this: The sky is covered in vibrant colors and designs as gigantic kites soar above you, dancing with the wind. This breathtaking spectacle is a hallmark of Día de Todos los Santos in the towns of Sumpango and Santiago Sacatepéquez Guatemala. A question we often hear is "Do Guatemalans participate in Día de Muertos or Day of the Dead traditions?" The short answer is yes, but it looks a lot different than what you may see in México or other parts of Central and South America.
In Guatemala, it's referred to as Día de Todos los Santos or All Saints Day and is celebrated on November 1st of each year. Similar to Mexican Día de (los) Muertos, this day is all about honoring the lives and memories of lost loved ones, with many Guatemalans believing their spirits return to visit them this day. So, what exactly does a Guatemalan Día de Todos los Santos look like? Let's dive in!

The Giant Kites of Sumpango and Santiago, Guatemala

There are two towns in particular in Guatemala that have elaborate celebrations each year to visit and honor the dead. The Giant Kites, known as "barriletes", are believed to serve as an element of communication between realms that allow people to connect and communicate with their lost loved ones on this day. These iconic kites are handmade by individuals, groups, and community organizations from throughout the country and are proudly displayed in Sumpango and Santiago on November 1st. These intricately designed kites can either stay stationary on the ground, animated by a gentle breeze, or be launched into the sky to fly depending on their size and design. Each one tells a unique story, weaving a vibrant tapestry of traditions and beliefs.

Families and communities come together to craft these masterpieces, adorning them with complex designs, vibrant colors, and heartfelt messages and they can take months to construct and a bit of a financial investment as well. Aside from their beauty and grandeur, the "barriletes" serve as a symbolic bridge between the living and the departed, a way to honor and remember loved ones who have passed away. In more modern times, the kites often display important messages for the community, including messages of love, unity, caring for the environment, women’s rights, and indigenous rights. The kites vary in size from 2 to over 20 meters in diameter and are made of tissue paper so that, even though they are large, they can be flown when the wind permits. It's hard to imagine the size of these kites until you're standing next to one, or watching one take flight above you.

The festival takes place just steps from the cemetery where you will still see family members going to visit their loved ones' graves - bringing offerings of food and flowers. Many will sit and eat a traditional dish called "fiambre" with their families at the grave of a deceased family member. And while there isn't nearly as much mezcal flowing through the cemetery as in Oaxaca, you will find folks sipping on rum or aguardiente and paying for mariachi or marimba music to be played at their grave as an offering. Witnessing this event is incredibly special and for those coming from the US, it's a unique opportunity to see how other cultures process and celebrate the circle of life. This is a great option for those who have already been to Día de Muertos in México and want to see how the neighboring country just south of Mexico celebrates this holiday.

Fiambre: A Feast for the Festivities

Now, let's talk about Fiambre, a dish that takes center stage during these celebrations. Fiambre is a meal that's eaten in Guatemala on November 1st and 2nd and is often prepared on the 31st to allow the flavors to mingle overnight. Fiambre is an incredibly nostalgic plate for many Guatemalans, one that they grew up eating and associated with this special holiday.

So What is Fiambre?

It's essentially a mosaic of pickled vegetables, deli meats, and cheeses, all arranged meticulously on a platter. Made with an average of 50 ingredients known to include pork, chicken, shrimp, cured meats, cheese, pickled vegetables, onions, pacaya flower (an under-the-sea looking bud that grows on palm trees native to Guatemala), and a dressing made from mustard and vinegar. This vibrant dish can either be served white, red, green, or "in need of assembly", a true reflection of Guatemala's diverse cultural heritage. Fiambre Rojo is made with beets while Fiambre Blanco is without beets. Fiambre Verde is vegetarian friendly, while Fiambre Desarmado keeps all of the ingredients separate allowing you to mix and match based on personal taste!
This colorful dish is said to have first appeared during the Spanish colonial period and has a fascinating history that reflects the cultural blend of Indigenous, Spanish, and other influences in Guatemala. The origins of "fiambre" can be traced back to the pre-Columbian era during which time the indigenous communities practiced the tradition of honoring their deceased ancestors by preparing elaborate feasts. Some ingredients used in modern "fiambre", such as squash seeds and jocotes (a type of fruit), have their roots in these ancient Maya customs. With the arrival of the Spanish conquistadors in the 16th century, new ingredients and culinary techniques were introduced to the region, merging with the existing Indigenous culinary traditions. This fusion gave rise to dishes like "fiambre", which incorporated Spanish cold salad-making methods and European ingredients.
Over centuries, the recipe for "fiambre" continued to evolve as families in different regions of Guatemala began to add their own unique ingredients and variations to the dish, resulting in numerous regional versions of "fiambre". Still, the core elements of any fiber include various vegetables, cold cuts, cheeses, and pickled items, all arranged in a visually striking and colorful manner Today, "fiambre" is an integral part of Guatemalan culture and is prepared and enjoyed during the All Saints' and All Souls' Day celebrations. Families often gather to prepare this dish together, and it remains a symbol of remembrance and unity, bringing people together to honor their ancestors. Keep reading for a recipe from dear friend Joaquín's cooking school, Cuscún, and try and make your own "fiambre" at home!


  • 1/2 lb cooked turkey breast, shredded
  • 1/2 lb cooked ham, diced
  • 1/2 lb cooked chorizo sausage, sliced
  • 1/2 cup cooked and diced bacon
  • 1/2 cup cooked mixed vegetables (green beans, baby carrots, cauliflower, broccoli, peas, corn)
  • 1/2 cup cooked beetroot, diced (for red Fiambre)
  • 1/2 cup cooked garbanzo beans (chickpeas)
  • 1/2 cup cooked black beans
  • 1/2 cup cooked white beans
  • 1/2 cup cooked rice
  • 1/2 cup cooked pasta (small shells or macaroni)

For the Dressing

  • 1 cup white vinegar
  • 1/2 cup water
  • 1/4 cup olive oil
  • 2 cloves garlic, minced
  • 1/4 cup fresh mixed herbs (parsley, mint, cilantro, chives)
  • 1/4 cup finely chopped white onion
  • 1/2 tsp dried oregano
  • Salt and black pepper to taste
  • Pickled jalapeño peppers (to garnish)


  1. Prepare all cooked ingredients, ensuring they are cooled and ready to use.
  2. Create a salad base on a large platter or in a bowl by arranging shredded turkey, diced ham, sliced chorizo, diced bacon, cooked mixed vegetables, beetroot, garbanzo beans, black beans, white beans, rice, and pasta.
  3. In a mixing bowl, combine white vinegar, water, olive oil, minced garlic, chopped herbs, chopped onion, dried oregano, salt, and pepper to make the dressing.
  4. Pour the dressing evenly over the salad base, coating all ingredients. Adjust the amount of dressing to your preference.
  5. Garnish with pickled jalapeño peppers for a spicy kick.
  6. Cover and refrigerate for several hours or overnight to allow flavors to meld.
  7. Serve chilled as a colorful centerpiece during celebrations. Enjoy your Fiambre!

Here is a little video you won't want to miss from our Guatemalan friends talking about this festivity in their own words! 

At Heart of Travel, we believe in embracing local customs and traditions with respect and authenticity. That's why we're so excited to be partnering with Flow Yoga Adventures on their Antigua Cultural Immersion tour happening this October 28th to November 3rd, 2023. Experience Sumpango during Día de Todos los Santos and witness the awe-inspiring kite festival up close and personal. Engage with the skilled artisans behind these incredible creations and gain insights into the cultural significance of this age-old tradition. You can learn all about the trip here and snag one of the few remaining spots left!



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