Hidden among the cramped alleyways of Santiago Atitlán, Guatemala, several men hold vigil in a dimly lit room veiled in cigarette smoke. Every day for the entire year, they will attend to Maximón—a mischievous folk saint with origins in indigenous Maya and Spanish Catholic beliefs.
Maximón, also known as San Simón, represents light and dark. He is considered a trickster—both a womanizer and protector of virtuous couples. According to legend, the village fishermen traveled frequently for trade and enlisted Maximón to protect the virtue of the wives they left behind. It backfired. Instead, Maximón is said to have disguised himself as a loved one so he could have sex indiscriminately.
Today, Maximón’s effigy resides in a different family’s home every year—his wooden body is dressed in a typical male suit of the region and placed on a petate, or straw mat. Traditionally he was only brought out during Holy Week, but because of high demand from pilgrims, tourists, and brujos (shamans), he is on display year-round.
Those seeking miracles, good health, and love make offerings at his shrine in exchange for his favor—moonshine, hand-rolled cigarettes, and money are his vices of choice. His cofrades, or attendants, spend their days smoking and drinking by his side, and it is considered the highest honor to host him. He is brought out during Holy Week and paraded through the streets before being placed in a different home for the following year.
Travel tip: If you're seeking favors from Maximón, local taxis will know where to find him. Tourists are generally welcome, but go prepared with an offering.