Santiago Sacatepéquez and Sumpango
These towns, found between 20 and 25 kilometers north of Antigua, are noteworthy for their Nov. 1 Giant Kite Festival.
In addition to the lively atmosphere of a typical Mayan fiesta, you’ll be treated to an awe-inspiring display of larger-than-life kites, typically 20–50 feet wide.
The kites are painstakingly crafted from tissue paper and bamboo reeds incorporating colorful and elaborate designs. Judges are on hand at the festival to name the best entries in a variety of categories.
Kites under 20 feet in diameter are flown over the town cemetery later in the day and are believed to be a vehicle for speaking with the souls of departed loved ones. The flying kites are representative of the floating spirits of the dead. Larger kites are only for show and typically carry a message or theme, sometimes overtly political in nature.
The weather is typically windy during this time of year, with the surrounding hillsides still tinged with verdant hues thanks to the recently ended rainy season. The colorful cemetery structures and the typical native dress of the Mayan people cap off a Technicolor dream of a day.
The festival in Sumpango, the larger of the two towns, takes place in a broad field adjacent to the cemetery. Santiago Sacatepéquez has a somewhat more cramped setting, its cemetery being perched on the edge of a plateau and extending down a gently sloping hillside.
Many Antigua travel agencies have special trips to both towns on these days, or you can go by bus. Santiago Sacatepéquez lies a few kilometers off the Pan-American Highway. You can take a direct bus from Antigua or get off from any Guatemala City–bound bus at the junction and continue from there. For Sumpango, your best bet is to get to Chimaltenango, also on the Pan-American Highway, and connect from there.
© Al Argueta from Moon Guatemala, 3rd Edition. Photos © Al Argueta www.alargueta.com