Local festivals and celebrations offer a unique insight into a country and its culture. Central America is made up of seven countries: Belize, Costa Rica, El Salvador, Guatemala, Honduras, Nicaragua and Panama; each with their own distinctive and lively culture. Within these countries some annual celebrations are shared, others are unique to the country such as Independence Day, or specific to an area or city. Even the shared holidays can be celebrated very differently, but all tend to be loud and colourful.
Festivals almost guaranteed to be marked in each of the Central American countries include New Year, religious celebrations such as Christmas and Easter, and Carnival although this isn’t always in the lead up to Lent. The celebration of Semana Santa (Holy Week) is particularly colourful in Antigua, Guatemala with processions of floats and carpets of flowers. Primarily associated with Mexico, the Day of the Dead (1st and 2nd November) is also a significant day in many Central American countries, where people remember their dead relatives in the cemeteries throughout the region with flowers, food and processions.
Cited as the biggest festivals in Central America and one of the best celebrations in the world, Fiesta de Santo Tomas in the Maya town of Chichicastenango in Guatemala is an eagerly anticipated event each year. Celebrated for seven days up to Saint Thomas’s Day on 21st December, there are processions, dancing and fireworks, culminating in the extraordinary dance of the ‘palo volador’ (the flying pole).
Although festivals and celebrations can be crowded and busy, in Central America they are also great fun. If you are lucky enough to get caught up in one through good fortune or planning, it will be a memory for life.