Cemeteries are often neglected travel destinations riddled with historical and cultural significance. So, to broaden the scope of your itinerary, here are some of the most beautiful necropolis in Latin America to commemorate the dead.
Latin America is home to many beautiful locations of all kinds: from amazing natural landscapes to colorful colonial towns. One thing, however, which you would probably not expect is to find particularly eye-catching graveyards. But when you think about the importance humanity places on the dead and their resting place (think of the jaw-dropping tombs built across most civilizations in history), it's not surprising to find cemeteries beautifully adapted to satisfy our most demanding aesthetic inclinations. Amazing cemeteries are found across the world, and Latin America is no exception.
(Photo by HalloweenHJB, Creative Commons)
Recoleta Cemetery in Argentina
Acclaimed as one of the best and most beautiful cemeteries in the world, this terrain in Buenos Aires used to belong to the Order of the Recoletos, a group of monks that arrived in the area in the 18th century. After the order was disbanded in 1822, their garden was converted into Buenos Aires’ first official burial ground. Each of the 4,691 vaults are built above the ground with intricate workings in marble and many elaborate statues that turn the potentially creepy atmosphere of a graveyard into an enchanting experience for visitors. There are several notable graves in the area, and it is the resting place of many remarkable personalities (from Argentinian presidents to Nobel prize winners), including Eva Perón and one of Napoleon’s granddaughters.
(Photo by Andrew Shiva)
Tulcan Cemetery In Ecuador
Tulcan, a small city in the province of Carchi in Ecuador, is well known for its deep wells and hot springs and, above all, a beautiful and outright original topiary garden-cemetery. Its evergreen bushes are shaped into a wide variety of animal and mythical figures to constitute the most elaborate topiary in the Americas.
(Photo by Diego Delso)
The Cemetery of Guayaquil In Ecuador
In the largest city in Ecuador stands The White City, also known as the Guayaquil Cemetery, made up of at least 50 acres of tombs and mausoleums, featuring an impressive mix of jaw-dropping architectural styles which encompass baroque, neoclassical, Jewish, Arabic, Moorish, Spanish, and Greco-Roman, among others. Notable figures interred at this site include presidents, poets, entertainers, and a supercentenarian.
(Photo by Natalia Cartolini)
Chauchilla Cemetery in Peru
An ancient necropolis that has been plagued by grave robbers for generations, this cemetery contains many full-body mommies and mummified heads scattered among piles of bones and artifacts. They were laid to rest before the 9th century, and most part of the burial place has been meticulously restored since 1997 after a law was passed that protected it from raiders. A truly haunting spot filled with the history and tradition of a long-gone civilization.
(Photo by Göran Höglund)
Santa Paula Cemetery in Mexico
Sometimes called Saint Paola Cemetery, this unique graveyard in Guanajuato was home to an infamous array of mummies which were found in a horrifying display of seemingly excruciating pain and suffering. The mummies, taken to a museum next door for the pleasure of fearless tourists, were originally laid to rest in the cemetery’s walls which held individual crypts stacked up to seven tombs high. Their story is truly mesmerizing.
(Photo by Russ Bowling)
The Santa María Magdalena de Pazzis Cemetery in Puerto Rico
Established in 1863, this colonial-style cemetery in San Juan, Puerto Rico, bears a kind of beauty —both physical and symbolic— found nowhere else in the world. It was built on a hill overlooking the Atlantic Ocean to symbolize the soul’s journey into the afterlife and features a dazzling display of simple graves and mausoleums against the backdrop of the Atlantic’s blue waters. Truly a wondrous site that will surely connect you with the depths of earth and sea.
(Photo by Andrew Shiva)
Cristobal Colón Cemetery in Cuba
In terms of historical and architectural significance, Cementerio Cristobal Colón (Christopher Columbus Cemetery) is arguably one of the most important in the world, and certainly in Latin America. (Well, perhaps Argentina's Recoleta Cemetery is up there with this one). It was built following increased demand of burial real estate after a cholera outbreak in 1868 filled Havana's earlier necropolis. Spanish architect Calixto Arellano was in charge of its construction, but he died before it was finished and thus became the cemetery's very first occupant. Though plagued by grave robbers in the past, this cemetery remains well known for its many elaborate mausoleums of vibrant white marble. Several of Cuba's heroes have been buried here, alongside chess world champion José Raúl Capablanca, famed epidemiologist Carlos Finlay, and many notable writers, explorers, and baseball players.
(Photo by Kenzie Campbell)
Punta Arenas Cemetery in Chile
Officially called The Sara Braun Municipal Cemetery, this necropolis features many elegant mausoleums surrounded by beautifully trimmed cypress trees along the many pathways scattered across the terrain. Inaugurated in 1894, its official name acknowledges the important donation made by one of Patagonia's wealthiest persons at the time, Sara Braun, who gifted the monumental stone gateway that serves as the main entrance. As legend has it, the only person to ever go through this gateway was Sara Braun herself. It was closed off soon after she died and today it remains inaccessible, as visitors are forced to use a side entrance in order to get in and out of the cemetery.
(Photo by Christopher Michel)
Real Del Monte English Cemetery in Mexico
This one is special. It’s not only a beautiful cemetery in the middle of a majestic forest —it’s also an actual English burial ground. It was built in the 19th century to bury English miners who were working in the nearby mining town, and has since become a worthwhile landmark. Filled with small tombs whose headstones feature intricate carvings with Celtic and Masonic symbolism, all of which are surrounded by tall thin trees, this cemetery provides a truly mystical experience —especially on a foggy night. To add to the charm, virtually every tomb was placed facing Great Britain. As such, Real Del Monte Cemetery represents a unique opportunity to see something different in Mexico: a bit of English folklore in a Latin American setting.
(Photo by Diego Delso)
Cemeteries may not be the first destination travelers think of when visiting a foreign land, but the best of them can nonetheless be beautiful or fascinating enough to be worth a visit. They are neglected landmarks whose historical value and potential for social significance is often underestimated. If you want to truly get to know the depths of any given culture, it's important to understand how they deal with death and how they treat their dead. It stands to reason, then, that cemeteries would be culturally revealing indeed.
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