Day of the Dead aka Dia de los Muertos in Guatemala

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We recently celebrated Dia de los Muertos (Day of the Dead) with our friends the Jensens here in Panajachel Guatemala. While Halloween, in our opinion, is an excuse to binge on candy and dress up in creepy costumes (and to act out of character), Dia de los Muertos is actually a ‘religious’ holiday – one meant to remember and honor your dead (kind of like Memorial Day).

A woman carrying flowers to the market to sell.

The tradition is to visit the cemeteries – the graves of your loved ones – and adorn them with candles, flowers (especially marigolds) and sometimes food and gifts. These celebrations can last all night long, and might involve prayers, chants and other ‘communications’.

But just like with most other holidays, there is also usually festivities and food involved (and due to American influence, we’ve sometimes seen some dressing up.)

We started our celebrations with a visit to the mercado to buy some more kites for flying.

A procession passed by while we picked out our kites…

Watch the video below (you’ll be impressed with the flute player) ;)

 There was lots of new additions to the regular market crowd, with all the flower vendors selling to those who will visit the cemeteries today.

I love this lady with her pile of flowers.

After the market we walked toward the lake to find a place to fly our kites.

With their cheerful colors…

Some were nothing more than a pile of dirt…

With broken crosses…

This one is awaiting occupants…

This tree is growing out of a grave…

This grave has a tree growing too…

That has very beautiful flowers…


Soon, I started to feel more than just wonder at the grave construction style.

I began to feel the weight of humanity, the reality of life and death and the temporary state of our existence. One day, I will be in a grave, or my children or someone else I know and love.

Some great conversations where had with the kids, as we passed the graves of babies and young children, surrounded by ‘remembering’ family members.

I intensely felt a lot of gratitude for living, healthy children – who’s lives were jeopardized just two years ago.

Life, while we’re living it, seems so long and permanent. It seems as though our children will always be young and that we’ll always be together. But that’s just not so…

It will pass by as if it were a dream.

I love callalilies, but I almost didn’t take a picture of this one because it was broken. But then I realized that somehow this broken callalily seemed completely appropriate…

Some people just sat at their loved one’s graves…


Others left flowers or candles…

Or burnt incense…

I love her colorful clothes

Some people were re-painting the graves, or doing some cleanup…


When we reached the end of the cemetery, with the ‘wall of the dead’, of course Greg had to say, “Man, this place is packed. People are dying to get in here.” 


Then as it always does, even after you really ‘feel’ the heaviness of life… it goes on as normal…

Rachel Denning
Rachel Denning is an unassuming mother of five who never really did any international traveling until she had four children. After a second honeymoon to Playa del Carmen, Mexico, she and her husband decided to sell most of their belongings and move their family abroad.

Driving from the United States to Panama, they settled in Costa Rica for a year, until the U.S. financial market crash in 2008, when they lost their location independent income. Returning to the United States to look for work, they knew they'd be back 'out' again, having been officially bitten by the travel bug!

Despite adjustments to living a simpler life (or perhaps because of it), they were able to save enough money to move to the Dominican Republic in 2009. After six months they came back to the States once more, where they were offered employment working with a non-profit organization in India.

They spent five months living in Tamil Nadu, then returned to the States once more (to Alaska) so they could have baby number five - Atlas.

From there, they set out in April of 2011 to drive, in a veggie powered truck, from Alaska to Argentina, visiting every continental country in North and South America.

Travel is a part of their life now, and they can't imagine doing anything else. Rachel photographs and writes about their incredible family travel adventures on their website, and they also have resources that encourage others to live a deliberate life.

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