Guatemala celebrations – the 20 best holidays and festivals in Guatemala
Guatemala is a small yet fascinating country, not short of things to do and amazing places to visit. Whether you are a nature lover or you are interested in history and culture Guatemala is for sure a place you will want to explore. And while it’s always a good time to go, being there during one of the Guatemala celebrations will add a special moment to your time there. In fact, one area where Guatemala really shines is in its cultural events, festivals, and holidays and in this post, I will tell you all the most interesting festivals and events in the country of the eternal spring.
I love visiting Guatemala, and I’m sure you will too. Here’s why: it has beautiful landscapes, varied climates, outdoor adventures, and fascinating culture.
Challenge yourself on a volcano hike or swim in the magical Semuc Champey, join a yoga retreat in Atitlan, or simply get inspired by the spectacular views and get lost in the cobblestone roads in Antigua.
But not many countries can top Guatemala’s giant kites, holy week celebrations, or the burn-the-devil day festivities in Guatemala City.
Then there are the parades on Independence Day, the fireworks on Noche Buena, and the drunken horse racing of Todos Santos. I’ve compiled this list of Guatemala’s best, biggest, strongest, and most pyromaniac-friendly cultural events.
It’s going to be a ride! So let’s dive in.
The most important Guatemala Celebrations
New Year’s Day – 1 January
New Year’s Day is a public holiday in Guatemala. It’s usually a quiet day in Guatemala City, with everyone recovering from the festivities of New Year’s Eve.
Most Guatemalans spend the day with family, letting off a few fireworks and eating some delicious holiday fare. If you’re in Guatemala for New Year’s Day, be sure to eat tamal.
This traditional food is usually made from rice or maize, with a savory filling made with sauce and a chunk of pork or chicken. It is often wrapped in cana lily leaves and steamed.
Another way Guatemalans love to celebrate the new year is to buy some “bombas” and set them off at six a.m., noon, and six p.m. These triangle-bomb fireworks give off a satisfying BOOM and signal “fun” to all Guatemalans.
Unfortunately, these are not ideal because the pets (especially dogs) are terrified by them. But that’s how they do it and that is not going to change.
Feria de Fraijanes/Coffee Harvest Festival – 2-4 February
In Guatemala, each city and town has its own patron saint. The town puts on a fair to celebrate their saints’ day. Celebrations usually include beauty contests, parades, religious ceremonies and dances, religious processions, and more.
Vendors set up booths near the central park to sell pizza, tacos, churros, and typical candies. You can also play arcade games and go on small thrill rides like Ferris Wheels, roller coasters, and spinning teacups.
The “Feria de Fraijaes” commemorates the Sacred Heart of Jesus. Since this also corresponds to the coffee harvest, it is also considered a coffee harvest festival.
Celebrate by checking out the agricultural exhibits, drinking coffee, and enjoying loud music.
Caravana del Zorro – First Saturday in February
On the first Saturday in February, up to 35,000 motorcyclists gather for the “Caravana del Zorro“, or “The Caravan of the Fox. Together, they ride 224 kilometers from La Plaza de la Constitución in Guatemala City, to the Basílica de Esquipulas.
There, they honor one of Guatemala’s famous religious icons: the Black Christ of Esquipulas. This tradition dates back to 1961 when a man named Rubén Villadeleón, nicknamed “El Zorro” made the journey with six friends.
Over the years, the event has gotten bigger and bigger and is now one of the largest motorcycle pilgrimages in the world. Some of the motorcyclists dress up in costumes with wigs or superhero capes. Sound like fun? Rent a motorcycle and join up!
Día de la Marimba – 20 February
On February twentieth, Guatemala celebrates “Marimba Day.” And what better way to join the fun than listening to marimba music? Check ahead, and you may be able to buy tickets to a marimba concert put on by the Guatemalan Symphonic Orchestra. Wouldn’t that be cool?
The marimba is Guatemala’s national instrument. It is made from Hormigo heartwood, which grows exclusively in Central America.
Semana Santa/Holy Week – 10-17 April
Semana Santa, or Holy Week, is one of the most important religious holidays in Guatemala. If you’ll be in the country during Easter, I highly recommend heading to Antigua Guatemala! Antigua was the Spanish colonial capital and puts on the biggest and most elaborate holy week celebrations.
Guatemala celebrations – the 20 best holidays and festivals in Guatemala During the following week, Catholic churches all across the country put on religious processions.
They make elaborate “alfombras” or “carpets” on the streets. These carpets are made of colored sawdust, flower petals, seeds, and fruits and are very beautiful.
Be sure to take a picture because as the procession passes, they get destroyed.
Good Friday and Resurrection Sunday
In Antigua Guatemala, the largest processions occur on Good Friday and Resurrection Sunday. On Good Friday, the processions take place late at night with solemn music as they commemorate the crucifixion of Jesus. On Resurrection Sunday, the music is upbeat and celebratory.
Good Saturday is one of Guatemala’s largest national holidays. Over two million people head to Guatemala’s lakes, rivers, bathing areas, natural swimming pools, and the pacific coast. Families get together to swim, have a picnic, and enjoy their time off.
El Día del Trabajo – 1 May
On May first, Guatemalan’s celebrate El Día del Trabajo, or Labor Day. It is a great day to hang out with your Guatemalan friends when they are off from work and enjoy some traditional foods, such as a churrasco (a barbecue).
Jueves de Ascención – A Thursday in May
On “Jueves de Ascension” Mam Maya people celebrate a special festival to the World God. This festival takes place along the shores of Lake Chicabal, a sacred lagoon in Guatemala’s Quetzaltenango Department. During ascension day, the Mayan priests and priestesses carry out rituals asking for rain and good crops.
Festival de San Pedro La Laguna – 24 June
Another town fair to check out is the Festival de San Pedro La Laguna on the 24th of June. The Catholic Church puts on religious ceremonies, there are arcade games, festival food, and music.
The event is held in honor of Saint Peter, the town’s patron saint. One thing to look out for is the “Baile de Abuelos,” the “Dance of the Grandparents.”
Festival de Santiago/Saint James Day – 25 July
Another great town fair to visit is the “Festival de Santiago.” It takes place in Antigua Guatemala and is held in honor of the Apostle James, Antigua’s patron saint.
Festivities last during most of the month and include traditional dances, parades, concerts, races, artistic shows, handicraft sales, and lots of traditional foods.
Cobán National Folkloric Festival (Rab in Ajaw)- last week of July
Cobán’s National Folkloric Festival is one of Guatemala’s most unique beauty contests. Prior to the festival, Mayan communities choose their princess for the competition.
The participants are chosen based on their beauty as well as how many languages they speak, how well they know the cultures and traditions of their communities, their opinions on important topics, and their leadership abilities.
They must give speeches in both Spanish and their Mayan language, answer questions and give compelling arguments. At the end of the festival, the winner is given a quetzal-feather crown and named the national indigenous queen.
Fiesta de la Asunción de la Virgen – 15 August
Another great event you won’t want to miss is the Fiesta de la Asunción in Guatemala City.
This festival celebrates the immaculate conception of the virgin and includes traditional dancing, traditional foods, and religious ceremonies. Visit Sexta Avenida in Zone 1 and check out some of the Catholic Churches on that street.
They’ll probably have some religious processions in honor of the capital city’s patron saint. Be sure to visit the nearby Relief Map and eat some candied figs while you’re at it!
Día de la Independencia – 15 September
Buy a flag, don your Guatemala jersey, enjoy a blue-and-white popsicle and watch a rousing parade. It’s Independence Day in Guatemala!
On September 15th, seven countries in Latin America celebrate their independence from the Spanish conquistadors – Guatemala, Mexico, Honduras, Nicaragua, El Salvador, Chile, and Costa Rica. All that to say, if you celebrate on this day, you’ll be in good company. (source)
Read more about Independence day in Guatemala and how you can join the celebrations.
Festival of Saint Francis of Assisi – 4 October
Another saint’s day to celebrate is the Festival of Saint Francis, held in Panajachel. Pig out on delicious candy, try your hand at some arcade games, take a risky trip on the rickety Ferris Wheel, and enjoy a concert or two.
If things get too loud, find a quiet section of lakeshore and watch the sunset over the gorgeous expanse of Lake Atitlán.
Also, read – 8 ways to get from Guatemala City to Lake Atitlan
Día de los muertos/Día de Todos Los Santos – 1 and 2 November
November first, the “dia de los muertos“, or Day of the Dead is another of Guatemala’s religious traditions you won’t want to miss. Families gather to remember and honor their deceased relatives on this day.
They clean and paint their family mausoleums, decorate with flower displays, and have a picnic in the cemetery. They also leave out food and drinks for the dead.
If you want to see Day of the Dead celebrations, I highly recommend visiting the central highlands. Go to a cemetery to see what is taking place.
Be sure to try “fiambre” a cold salad made from pickled vegetables, cheese, and cold cuts. It’s one of those traditional Guatemalan dishes you’ll either fall in love with or hate.
If you’re squeamish, avoid fiambre made with pickled pig’s feet!
Day of the dead in Santiago and Sumpango
Another event you won’t want to miss on the day of the dead is the huge kites of Santiago Sacatepéquez.
During the year, artists make giant kites from lengths of bamboo and tissue paper. They try to fly them on November first.
The kites are intricate and beautiful and sometimes flightworthy too!
Drunken Horse Racing/ Skach Koyl Festival – 1 November
In the town of Todos Santos Cuchumatán, the celebrations on November 1st look quite different from the rest of the country!
The men dress in the traditional outfits, spend October 31st drinking hard liquor, and get thoroughly drunk. The next day, they take part in “Skach Koyl” which more or less means “Race of the Souls.”
Sometimes they are so drunk, they tie their hands to the saddle to keep from falling off!The race is up to seven hours long and is considered a right of passage.
Men are expected to participate at least four times during their life. The last person still on their horse at the end of the race wins a live chicken and the title “El Capitán.” Pretty crazy, right?
La Quema del Diablo – 7 December
Another interesting Guatemalan celebration occurs on December seventh. On this day, many people in Guatemala city, remove trash and other old items from their houses. This clears their house of spirits.
They also burn the devil in effigy (usually in the form of a piñata). If you’re a bit of a pyromaniac, choose travel dates in December and make this one of your best trips yet!
Fiesta de Santo Tomás – 14-21 December
You’ve probably noticed a theme by now, saints days are pretty important in Guatemala! Let’s head over to Chichicastenango, home of one of Guatemala’s most famous indigenous Mayan markets. Chichi is a pretty cool place to visit at any time, but if you go there on their saints day, you won’t regret it!
In addition to watching traditional dances in honor of the patron saint Thomas, you’ll also get to watch the Danza del Palo Volador.
During this dance, men dressed in elaborate costumes climb a 30-meter tree trunk and then swing down and around it, upside down, until they reach the ground again.You can also see the Danza del Palo Volador in Cubulco Alta Verapaz and in Joyabaj Quiché.
Noche Buena/Christmas Eve – 24 December
Christmas Eve, or “Noche Buena” is one of the biggest Guatemalan festivals, right on par with Semana Santa. This is a great night to spend in Guatemala City or Lake Atitlán.
Spend time with friends and family, eat a delicious “tamal navideña” and drink steaming fruit “ponche“. At midnight, join every Guatemalan in the country in lighting off fireworks to bring in Christmas.
Finish off with a midnight meal of roasted turkey and a gift exchange.
Navidad – 25 December
Since most of Guatemala’s Christmas celebrations take place on the 24th, or very early on the 25th, Christmas Day is a quiet sleepy holiday.
Catch up on rest, eat leftover traditional food. It’s also an amazing day to drive around Guatemala City. There’s zero traffic!
Of course, nothing is open either, but it could be a cool opportunity to take pictures.
Safety in Guatemala
New Year’s Eve – 31 December
New Year’s Eve is celebrated much like Christmas Eve in Guatemala. The focus is still on family, but there are also big concerts and parties among friends.
It’s a great night to watch the fireworks in Guatemala City, catch some crazy fiestas in the party town of San Pedro La Laguna, or join the crowds under the famous arch in Antigua for the midnight countdown.
If you’re lucky, you may even witness a “torito.” This is a wooden cage shaped like a bull and covered in fireworks. A brave or foolish man wears it like a costume and runs around terrifying crowds while firecrackers explode off of it.
Guatemalan celebrations and festivities are part of Guatemalan Culture and history and participating in one of them will make your trip even more interesting.
So you can choose what celebration sounds more fascinating and build your trip around that date.
Keep in mind though that celebrations such as Semana Santa and the Day of the dead are the most popular so if that’s when you want to travel to Guatemala you should book in advance.
Learn more about Traveling to Guatemala
- Visit Guatemala in October – Weather and Climate and Other Travel Tips
- Where to Stay in Lake Atitlan Guatemala – The Best Areas & Hotels
- 11 ways to get from Antigua to Lake Atitlan
- 7 ways to get from Guatemala City to Lake Atitlan + practical tips
- The Day of the Dead in Guatemala – 6 incredible things to do
- Guatemala celebrations – the 20 best holidays and festivals in Guatemala
- How Independence Day in Guatemala Is Celebrated + 6 Exciting Things to do
- The ultimate Guatemala Packing List + what to wear
- The Best Time to Visit Guatemala for deals, weather, and events
- 5 amazing things to do at El Paredon Guatemala + how to get there and useful tips!