I recently traveled to Guatemala to attend the spectacular Giant Kite Festival which takes place every year on Día de los Muertos (Day of the Dead) in the small Mayan village of Sumpango. The festival attracts thousands of people from all over the country as well as many tourists from all over the world. After reading about the festival several months back and seeing images of these remarkable kites, I decided to make the trip.
The practice of flying kites during the Day of the Dead goes back several thousand years. It is believed that the kite (or “barrilete”) creates a connection of communication between the spirits of the dead and their families here on Earth. Some also believe that the kites frighten away disruptive spirits and assure a peaceful reception for the ancestors.
In Sumpango, kite makers (“barrileteros”) work in teams for months from after work to late in the evening to prepare the kites (some as large as 60 feet!) for the festival, which takes place on November 1. The kites resemble giant paintings, similar to a giant mural you would see in Miami’s Wynwood Art District or the Bushwick Collective in Brooklyn. They are made, however, not with paint or spray cans but using layers of hand-cut, colored paper, the same type of thin paper used to line gift boxes(!). The kites are then folded up and taken to the festival where they are fastened to large bamboo poles for display or for flying.
With my Lumix GH4 in hand and a few good lenses (and more than just a little help from my daughter), here’s a video I shot and edited that helps illustrate just how spectacular the Giant Kite Festival of Sumpango, Guatemala is. So make sure you put this kite festival on your bucket list of places to visit – you won’t be sorry (just remember to always be looking up when the kites are flying – especially the bigger ones!). Special thanks to Julio Roberto Asturias Chiquitó of the Asociación Barriletes Hijos del Viento Guatemala for all his support and hospitality.