Enjoying Semana Santa in Guatemala
Throughout Latin America, celebrating Easter involves much more than just attending church on Easter Sunday. We celebrate with an entire week of events with specific religious meanings and traditions for each day of the week. We call this week Holy Week or Semana Santa.
Celebrating Holy Week Guatemalan Style
Guatemala is one of my favorite destinations during Easter because it is famous for its Holy Week processionals, or religious-themed parades winding through the streets of cities and villages.
When visiting keep in mind that Guatemala City, Quetzaltenango, and Antigua have the biggest parades.
The most important days of Holy Week in Guatemala or Semana Santa en Guatemala are Palm Sunday, Good Friday, and Easter Sunday. Pretty much like it is throughout Latin America, which means businesses are totally closed so be prepared.
What you may find valuable is that each city has its unique twist on the traditional celebrations for these days. Wherever you go during this Guatemalan holiday you will be sure to see huge floats with crosses, statues of the Virgin Mary, and other symbols which people carry on the shoulders of purple-robed “cucuruchos” as a show of devotion or penance.
If you are looking for a unique experience make sure you attend at least one reenactments of the Passion, which is also vital to Semana Santa in Guatemala.
Easter in Antigua – Best Holy Week in Guatemala
Take it all in while you walk through the cobblestone streets of the charming, colonial city of Antigua, Guatemala. The streets host thousands of international tourists all year long, but the best time to visit is during Holy Week.
The city of Antigua erupts in celebration during this time, with one of the world’s most unique and beautiful ways of honoring the sacrifice of Jesus Christ: the alfombras de acerrín or carpets of sawdust.
Alfombras de accerín are decorative and aromatic “carpets” made from colored sawdust, flowers, and pine needles. Locals create these elaborate decorations in the streets along the routes of the various Holy Week processionals, like in the picture above.
The carpets or alfombras can be up to 1 km long even though the locals only have 24 hours to make them. Sometimes they use a cardboard template to guide the design, and sometimes they do everything freehand. Either way, the result is a vibrant, colorful carpet that is destined for destruction.
As the holy processionals pass through the streets, the alfombras created in their honor will be crushed underfoot and destroyed.
Be prepared because you would not only see the carpets on the streets, but also in churches which use these beautiful alfombras in preparation for various vigils throughout the week.
When to Go and What to Do
While the most colorful parts of Antigua’s Easter celebrations take place during Holy Week, the season actually begins during Lent.
If you want to experience all the religious aspects of Easter in Antigua, you should arrive early and participate in the vigils and processions every Friday and Sunday during Lent. Antigua also celebrates La Semana de Dolores or week of sorrows which is the week before the Holy Week.
If you have only one week to visit go during Semana Santa, when the processionals will become more elaborate and exciting.
If you only have one day to spend in Antigua during Holy Week, try to make it Good Friday or Holy Saturday because each of these days has two processionals, one in the morning and one in the afternoon or evening.
The second Good Friday procession actually lasts all night and travels over the longest alfombras. Each processional will have its own carpets of sawdust. If you are lucky, you might get invited to assist in the creation of the alfombras on these days.
Remember, because Holy Week in Guatemala and especially Easter in Antigua is very popular with tourists, rooms book up fast! Be sure to make reservations well in advance if you want to stay the night.