December has some of the best weather of the year in Guatemala, with warm, dry days and little to no rain. It does get down to around freezing at night, especially in the Highlands, but with great visibility at this time of year, it's an ideal time to go hiking and climb Acatenango Volcano. There are very occasional downpours on the Caribbean coast, but the rest of the country is pretty dry, with average daily temperatures between 70°F in the mountains and 85°F in the tropical lowlands.
Crowds and Cost
The great weather and month-long Christmas festivities combined with the seasonal holidays in North America and Europe make December one of the most popular months to visit Guatemala. This means that accommodation and activities fill up a long time in advance, so you need to make sure you plan ahead. It also means that you are paying peak season prices, especially over the Christmas and New Year period—and especially in Chichicastenango for the festival and Antigua, where most people want to ring in Christmas and/or the New Year.
Although Christmas is celebrated all across the country, New Year's is a little different. As Guatemalans use both the Mayan calendar and the Gregorian calendar, the Mayan New Year's celebrations are more rooted in tradition and festivity, whereas the 31st of December is a more recent celebration, with people gathering in Antigua and Guatemala City for fireworks displays and more chilled out celebrations in other touristed areas around the country, like Lake Atitlán and Flores.
Where to Go
Antigua is the most popular place to spend the holiday season, but we highly recommend heading to Chichicastenango for the Fiesta de Santo Tomás in mid-December. It's also a great time to go to Tikal and explore the temples, head to the beaches for some R&R, or swing by Lake Atitlán to visit the traditional Maya villages and enjoy one of the best sunset spots in Guatemala—sitting on a wooden jetty over the lake with the crests of ancient volcanoes in the background. It's a busy time of year no matter where you choose to go, so book ahead.
What to Do
Holiday festivities in December take center stage here. With more events in December than any other month, it's a magical time to explore Guatemalan culture. First off is La Quema del Diablo (The Burning of the Devil), which takes place all across the country on the 7th December, when people burn effigies shaped like the devil and things that are no longer useful to them so they can start the new year with a clean slate.
Then, in mid-December, La Fiesta de Santo Tomás takes place in Chichicastenango. This week-long festival blends together K'iche' Maya and Catholic traditions, culminating with a huge party on December 21st—the day of Saint Thomas the Apostle, the patron saint of the town—which features the Palo Voladores (Pole Flyers) and is an experience not to be missed.
This also overlaps with Las Posadas de Navidad, a tradition dating back to Spanish times that takes place from the 16th to the 24th of December. For the nine nights leading up to Christmas, statues of Mary and Joseph are paraded through the streets of towns and villages and taken to three houses in succession. Two houses will turn the procession away, and the final one will welcome the procession with food and drink. On the final day of the procession, the statues are taken to the church for mass at 11 pm, followed by fireworks and celebrations at midnight. Christmas day itself is a relatively quiet affair.
December is a great time to visit both the usual touristed places and the off-the-beaten-track destinations up in the mountains and the highlands around Huehuetenango. Visibility is good, so it's the perfect time to climb Acatenango and spend the night on an active volcano, or to visit the temples at Tikal. It's also perfect to visit Rio Dulce for some R&R on the river, or to swim in the tiered limestone pools in the jungle in Semuc Champey. We recommend ringing in the new year in Antigua or on Lake Atitlán, although there are celebrations in the capital as well.
Events in December
La Quema del Diablo (The Burning of the Devil) - December 7th: Guatemalan Christmas festivities start on December 7th with giant bonfires on every street corner where locals burn everything from old furniture to devil-shaped piñatas as part of a symbolic ritual to cleanse the soul and the home in preparation for the new year. This is followed by La Procesíon de la Virgen de Concepcíon, where a statue of the Virgin Mary is carried around the town before a mass is held in her honor. After this, there is usually dancing into the night, especially in cities like Antigua.
Fiesta de Santo Tomás, Chichicastenango - December 13th to 21st: This week-long festival blends together ancient Mayan K’ich’e and Christian traditions. There is dancing, music, food, and street parades, leading up to the main event, the Palo Voladores (Pole Fliers). Based on an ancient Mayan ritual, masked dancers fly upside-down around a huge central pole, bound by their ankles. The festival culminates in a huge firework display.
Las Posadas de Navidad - December 16th to 24th: The Posadas take place for the nine nights leading up to Christmas to celebrate the nine months that Mary was pregnant with Jesus. Each night, a float carrying statues of Mary and Joseph is taken to three different houses. The first two will turn them away, and then the third will welcome them and those who are part of the procession into their home for food and drinks.
Navidad (Christmas) - December 24th and 25th: The real Christmas celebrations begin on December 24th with a Christmas feast, followed by midnight mass where the float with Mary, Joseph, and Jesus is taken to the church. Then there are fireworks and firecrackers on the street and everyone comes out to wish their neighbors a happy Christmas. After this, it's time to open presents.
New Year's - December 31st & January 1st: While most people head to Antigua for the New Year's celebrations, there are quiet celebrations in other places around Guatemala and some fireworks and festivities in Guatemala City. However, the biggest celebrations are in Antigua, where there are street markets, musicians and dancers, and masked locals performing traditional dances, including La Quema de Toritos y Alas (The Burning of the Bull and Wings) where a man in a bull costume covered with fireworks chases people around the main plaza while the fireworks explode. After this, there are even more fireworks to ring in midnight itself.
Traveling to Guatemala in December? Check out this Great Itinerary
Luxury & Mayan Culture in Guatemala - 8 Days. If you feel like splashing out and treating yourself over the festive period then this week-long Luxury Mayan adventure includes a helicopter tour to Lake Atitlán and out to the spectacular ruins at El Mirador. Speak to our Local Specialists to see about adding on a few days before or after the tour to enjoy the Christmas or New Year's celebrations in Antigua.