Guatemala is roughly 50% Catholic, a huge chunk of them living in and around Antigua. As such, Semana Santa (Holy Week, the week leading up to Easter) here is no laughing matter. Throughout the 40 days of Lent, shining purple banners hang from the city’s buildings and cacophonous religious processions swing into gear. Massive parades mark Semana Santa’s official start on Domingo de Ramos (Palm Sunday), after which each day has something of interest for all visitors. On Thursday, Antigueños cover the streets with colorful alfombras (carpets) of colored sawdust and flower arrangements (see picture below). Locals spend all morning creating their designs and filling them in with sawdust in painstaking detail. Just hours later, these majestic creations are thoroughly trampled by the Good Friday processions.
These religious parades begin from churches throughout Antigua. The centerpiece of each is a gargantuan statue of Christ perched on a wooden platform several meters in length and weighing a few tons. Each platform requires dozens of men to lift and carry. It is a symbol of great honor and responsibility to be chosen to participate. Following the day, the color purple that seems to adorn every nook and cranny of Antigua is is traded for black in remembrance of Christ’s crucifixion. The week culminates on Domingo de la Resurrección (Easter Sunday) with elaborate church services and celebratory white decorations. Semana Santa is a powerfully spiritual experience that attracts visitors from around Central America and the world. If you’re looking to avoid hordes of tourists, this is not the best time to visit Antigua, but a couple days will definitely be worth your while. Hotels in Antigua raise their prices and fill up weeks and months in advance, but with a little persistence you should be able to find a spare room, even if it is with a random family. In 2016, Holy Week runs from March 20th to 28th.
Photo Credit: Rosa Vazquez