Away from the town center of Chichicastenango, Guatemala, on a hill that is rarely touched by tourists, one of the most colorful cemeteries in the world is hidden in plain sight. Steeped in Mayan tradition, the vibrant rainbow of pigments celebrates the afterlife, and can symbolize different family roles, like a color-coded clue to the puzzle of the dead.
Featuring rows upon rows of painted crosses and tall mausoleums, the Chichicastenango Cemetery is a perfect example of Guatemala’s brighter outlook on burials. In a town where the majority of the population is indigenous Mayan K’iche, the cemetery is also the home to a variety of rituals on Day of the Dead, including incense, alcohol, and the occasional chicken as offerings to the deceased.
Many tombs are colored based on the person’s family status. Tombs may be painted white to represent purity; graves of mothers are painted turquoise for protection; grandfathers are marked in yellow to indicate that the golden sun will protect humanity. Other graves break this more traditional mold, painted in lime green or red or the favorite color of the deceased.