Why You Should Visit Cementario General in Xela: Guatemala’s Most Beautiful Cemetery

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Last Updated on July 30, 2017 by Audrey Scott

“For safety reasons, we'll need to go in groups of at least four to the cemetery,” our Spanish language teacher informed us.

“Why,” we wondered. “Are the dead coming back to life?”

Bright colors at Cementario General in Xela, Guatemala
Bright colors and flowers at Cementario General in Xela (Quetzaltenango), Guatemala.

Fortunately, there was no Night of the Living Dead moment featuring slow-moving corpses dressed in traje (traditional Guatemalan clothing) stalking us through the aisles of mausoleums, marble statues, and colorful drawer-like niches filled with loved ones.

Just the opposite: the morning spent with our Spanish teachers at the Cementario General in Xela (Queztaltenango) turned out to be one of our most remarkable.

Although not quite as polished as Recoleta Cemetery in Buenos Aires, Xela's Cemetario General gets the nod for the colorful and visually eclectic. It also provides a glance into Guatemala's socioeconomic structure and how the delicate balance of merging Mayan beliefs with more recent Catholic traditions plays out in the way that Guatemalans honor their dead.

Perhaps we have as much to learn about other cultures from their cemeteries as we do from their streets.

Cementario General in Xela, Guatemala
A fisheye view of the Cementario General in Xela, Guatemala.

On a more practical note, criminals have been known to prowl the Cemetario General in Xela. Hence, our teacher's recommendation to travel in groups. Although our class didn't encounter any thieves during our visit, the police collected from the sidewalk a man who had drunk himself to oblivion earlier that morning.

In spite of all this, we highly recommend making the effort to visit this stunningly beautiful place.

Find a hotel in Xela (Quetzaltenango), Guatemala

About Audrey Scott
Audrey Scott is a writer, storyteller, speaker and tourism development consultant. She aims to help turn people's fears into curiosity and connection. She harbors an obsession for artichokes and can bake a devastating pan of brownies. You can keep up with her adventures on Twitter, Facebook, and Instagram. And you can learn more about her on the About Page and on LinkedIn.

15 thoughts on “Why You Should Visit Cementario General in Xela: Guatemala’s Most Beautiful Cemetery”

  1. Hi Audrey and Daniel,

    Just a small correction. Cemetery in Spanish is spelled “cementerio”, so in this case it would be Cementerio General de Xela.

    Hope you don’t mind! 🙂

  2. @Andreas: The bright colors are really what make this cemetery special. Some of the mausoleums are beautiful and sophisticated, but it’s the colorful drawer that are most interesting I think.

    @Roger: Why, thank you! Glad you enjoyed it!

  3. Really funky and colorful! I haven’t been to Guatemala but I’ve been to Recoleta which is sad and stunning in it’s own way.

  4. @Dave & Deb: Glad we were able to show some of the beauty of this cemetery in this panorama.

    @Jennifer: I agree with you about Recoleta being both sad and stunning at the same time. It’s a beautiful place, but also feels like it’s in decay or past its prime.

  5. @Shannon: Scenes like these are great for the panorama medium. I know schools need to be protective, but it is sometimes tough to gauge how “peligroso” something really was. At our school, the rules were that groups needed a minimum of four people to visit the Cemetery because of thieves. Here’s something for you to visit next time!

  6. I didn’t go because it was too “peligroso” according to everyone at the school but I wish I had! Love the panorama though – next best thing to having stopped in myself 🙂

  7. Hi Daniel and Audrey,
    Wow, these shots are amazing and the post are nicely written! The cemetery in Guatemala is so unique. Your post makes me want to go for a visit.I never see a cemetery like that compare to the US one. I’ll come back to your blog again, great post!

  8. @Sarah: Thanks for stopping by and glad you enjoyed this panorama. It may sound morbid, but we enjoy visiting cemeteries when we travel – they really tell you so much about the culture of a place.

  9. Yea it really does tell you about the culture. They actually look beautiful, not trying to be disrespectful to the dead. But The stone are painted with colors instead of the Grey one I always see. Are all the cemeteries look the same there?

  10. @Sarah: We also find a lot of cemeteries we visit on our journey physically beautiful and very peaceful. In this cemetery, there were two sections. The painted “drawers” were all painted different colors – these are for the middle class essentially (I forget how much they cost). However, the wealthier tombs were more like mausoleums and those are less colorful and made more from grey stone.

    I don’t know for sure, but perhaps the tradition of colorful paint comes from indigenous (Mayan) culture. The colors used here are also used in the weavings for clothes and in embroidery.

    We saw the Guatemala City cemetery from afar, but I believe there were some colorful areas there and the cemetery in Livingston had painted graves which were painted all different colors.

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