… a travel photography blog

Giant Kite Festival – Soaring with the Spirits

The first of November in Guatemala is El Dia de Todos Los Santos or All Saints Day and is the official festival of kites. They believe that the barriletes soar up to the spirits of deceased relatives and deliver messages from the living and that the sound of the wind blowing against the airborne kites keeps the evil spirits away allowing the deceased to rest in peace.

Also, check out my posts Giant Kite Festival – Labor, Love and Elbow Grease and Giant Kite Festival – Life Amidst the Graves.

Flying barriletes.

Santiago Sacatepequez is one of the places where it’s celebrated on a truly grand scale and thousands flood into the cemetery on this day to watch the exhibition unfold.

Giant barrilete bearing the name Santiago Sacatepequez.

Here, the barriletes are a super race of kites, like something from a fantasy land. They are brightly colored, oversized, circular giants of elaborate tissue paper mosaics on a bamboo framework, bound together with rope and wire and up to 20 meters across.

Another giant.

Rear view of the barriletes showing bamboo framework.

Groups compete to produce the most incredible works of art and judges assess them on size, color, creativity and originality. These jumbo kites usually depict religious, cultural, social, political or ecological themes.

Barrilete with an ecological theme.

Another with ecological theme.

Close-up of a barrilete with a folkloric theme based on Guatemalan legends. El Cadejo is a mythical dog that is said to protect drunkards and wanderers at night.

Barriletes are expensive to produce and the workmanship is painstaking and time-consuming, taking months to dream up and create.

A smaller barrilete.

Trying to resurrect a fallen giant using ropes and bamboo poles.

This one didn’t make it.

Raising another giant.

Close-up of bamboo framework.

Team working together to raise a jumbo barrilete using ropes.

Everyone running to avoid the falling barrilete. One crashed down on stone graves trapping people under it but everyone rushed to frantically raise it and help those beneath. Miraculously no-one was hurt.

Crashed and destroyed, dashing the hopes of the team.

From beneath the gaudy wreckage.


Another being raised.


The top of a barrilete before it’s raised.

A team takes a break on the bamboo framework. Thousands of people swamp the cemetery, perching on family tombs to fly kites or get a good view of the spectacle. This is the one day of the year when people climb, sit or stand on graves without causing offense.

Working together. Most of the teams are made up of young men.

The triumphant and the fallen.

Trying to fly a smaller barrilete from the roof of a family tomb.


Looking through the wreckage at a family sitting on a grave.

Completely broken. Barrilete and team.

Check out my article Guatemala’s Giant Kite Festival in International Living Magazine and my other kite festival blog posts Life Amidst the Graves and Labor, Love and Elbow Grease.

7 responses

  1. Dan

    Wow! Terrific photos Lucy, and what wonderful subject matter, certainly cheers up a rainy northern european day.

    November 15, 2010 at 1:39 am

    • Thanks Dan, I know how much you like kites! These are incredible!

      November 15, 2010 at 3:08 am

  2. you spelled soaring wrong…

    October 31, 2011 at 11:29 pm

    • Oops! Thanks for pointing that out Kei. That was a big error and has left a sour taste in my mouth!

      November 3, 2011 at 2:00 pm

  3. but the pics are nice

    October 31, 2011 at 11:30 pm

  4. Pingback: Todos Santos: A Drunken Guatemalan Horse Race « loca4motion

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