The Holy Week or Easter Week, in Spanish called Semana Santa, is something else in Antigua Guatemala. A full week the cobblestone streets of this beautiful colonial town are filled with processions and ceremonies in homage to Jesus of Nazareth. It is a tradition going back for many centuries. In the 16th century missionaries from Spain from the area of Seville brought the religious tradition to Antigua. Nowadays it attracts thousands of religious people and tourists to be part of this impressive tradition. Even if you are not attracted to religion this is a must see event.
The first processions starts at Palm Sunday, one week before Easter. The procession exists out of gigantic floats carried by between the 40 to 100 carriers. The carriers are called Curcuruchas that carry the float that can weigh up to more than 3000 kilo through the street of Antigua. The Curcuruchas wear the traditional purple robes, hoods and white gloves. On Palm Sunday images of Jesus of Nazareth and the Holy Virgin are displayed on top of these floats. The floats are accompanied by bands banging the drums slowly and playing the tubas.
Following Palm Sunday many of likewise processions passes through the streets of Antigua. The processions are organized by all the different churches that exists in town. All the processions are with floats that mostly display Jesus and his last week before the crucifixion. At Wednesday evening even a float is carried proudly through town by children of ages around 6 years old (helped out by adults that actually are hidden underneath the float).
The processions can easily last for 10 to 12 hours and are not only during day time but specially on Thursday there are some that go on till 3 or even 6 o’clock in the morning. On Thursday in the afternoon there also masses in the most important churches of Antigua, the Cathedral, the San Pedro church and the Merced church accompanied by special ceremonies. After that the Corpus Christi will be displayed in all churches.
At midnight at Thursday passing through the streets of Antigua until almost 4 in the morning of Good Friday there will be the parade of Roman Soldiers. At 4 in the morning leaving the church of the Merced will be another procession with a float of Jesus carrying the crucifix. Around the processions gather thousands of people that pray in silence. Then at the central plaza in front of the Cathedral will be the Crucifixion ceremony. Followed by several other processions in the afternoon and evening and the purple robes will be changed with black ones.
On Holy Saturday again there will be some processions of which one is of the Virgin of Sorrow. The woman dress up in their best clothes and carry the floats around. Also some special masses will be held in the Cathedral and the Merced church.
Finally on Sunday the last day of the Semana Santa there will be the processions of the resurrection. This day will be accompanied by fireworks. Celebrations are held all around towns and families gather together.
At many places in Antigua the streets change into colorful artworks. On top of the cobblestones people create carpets, called alfombras, made of colored sawdust, sand, pine needles, flowers, plants, fruit, vegetables and seeds. The carpets represents images of the last week of Jesus, images of nature, Mayan images or just a beautiful designs. This beautiful carpets are made at the routes of the processions. People are working for hours on these carpets with sometimes a group of more than ten people. Once the processions passes over the carpets just a mix of colors will be left. Behind the float there will be local people with plastic bags which they fill up with all the fruit and vegetables that aren’t trembled yet. Behind the procession a cleaning team passes by to clean up the last remains of the carpets. And if there will be a new procession in a couple of hours or next day, new carpets will be made.
Visiting Antigua Guatemala during the Semana Santa week needs some good preparations and bookings on long time on forehand. In this period the city will be flooded with local people and thousands of tourists, all wanting to be a part of the holy week. Especially when you want to have a hotel in the middle of the historical center where all the activities are you will need to book like almost a year up front. Prices for a room will also be significant higher. Also entering town during this week is dramatic. Many streets are blocked for traffic and the streets that leads to the center that allow traffic will be hard to pass through. Don’t bother to rent a car to go to Antigua just use a shuttle. But when you finally are there it is worth all the effort. Pick-pocketing and theft are a big problem in this period because of the big crowds you might be a target. So leave phones, passports, expensive watches, necklaces and bracelets at the safe in the hotel.
Because of the Holy Week not everything will be open in Antigua. Some things just stay closed. Though besides the many processions there still is sufficient other things to do. Antigua also is the center of Jade for example. So you can find many shops that sell jade jewelry and there is also a jade museum which actually also is a shop with jade that gives you a little more detailed information about jade. Also worth visiting is the choco museum where you can find all kind of information about chocolate, the holy drink of the Mayans that used to rule Guatemala centuries ago. And of course you can taste chocolate over-there. Also the big market next to the big bus station where all the colorful chickenbusses stop is worth a visit. Besides all the souvenir stalls you will find also the fruit & vegetable market besides all kind of other groceries.
Also visiting many of the churches, cathedral and ruins of churches that were destroyed by the earthquakes that struck in Antigua are things to do for sure. Especially during the holy week when many churches are extra decorated. Also some churches have museums like the Cathedral and the Merced church that might be worth visiting.
And don’t forget the surroundings. Towering high above the town of Antigua is the majestic Agua volcano and a little further away the very active Fuego volcano that regularly spits high clouds of ashes from out of the volcano. So always keep an eye on them to make some great pictures. And if you feel like hiking on a volcano. At one and a half hour driving from Antigua is the Pacaya volcano where you can go for a guided tour. Or… just rent a bike and discover the surroundings of the town.
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