Last updated on December 15, 2018
The buzz throughout the city is infectious on the Wednesday before Easter. Although Semana Santa (Holy Week) celebrations don’t “officially” kick off until the morning of Holy Thursday, the colorfully picturesque town of Antigua, Guatemala has been milking this holiday for the past two weeks—I’ve seen countless early Semana Santa processions and mini-carpets as offerings. I’m told these are just a tiny preview of what is to come, however. Antiguans may start the celebrations early, actual true madness descends on Wednesday, once tourists flood into Antigua, and family members of locals come the city as well to join together in the festivities.
Antigua is like a city taken right out of Disney world—the buildings maintain a uniform size, color-scheme that honor the beautiful baroque colonial architecture that’s weathered from history and harken’s back to a time of strong Spanish influence hundreds of years ago. The city is a UNESCO World Heritage site, which means Antigua can never stray too far from just precisely and exactly what it looks like right now—which is a tiny slice of colorful, colonial Spain.
If the town looks a bit Disney-fied under the best of circumstances (which it does . . . it’s just so pristine and out of place compared to other Guatemalan cities), once Semana Santa kicks off this tiny eight-block-by-eight-block city swells in size to accommodate the tourists and Guatemalans from all over the country who overwhelm the city.
I’ve been looking forward to Semana Santa in Antigua for quite some time now—photos of the amazing sawdust carpets, the parades of mourning that reenact the last days of Christ, it’s all one of those experiences that may only come once in a lifetime. So I was fully ready to brave the crowds and pickpockets (unfortunately they’re here and several backpackers had their purses razored because they weren’t cautious), to experience one of the largest Semana Santa celebrations this side of Atlantic (I hear that only Seville, Spain has larger Holy Week festivities!).
Semana Santa in Antigua was such a unique experience that I documented it ruthlessly in photos, stories and videos. The city is perhaps best known for the amazingly detailed alfombras, or carpets, that residents spend dozens of hours creating before the processions destroy them in a matter of minutes. But that’s just one part of it. The parades and marches strike melancholy in your heart as the dirges of the musicians moan through the air on Holy Thursday and Good Friday. The town literally reenacts Christ’s last days and a somber note falls over the city for days as Romans march through the streets condemning Christ to death, and processions of mourners take to the streets to follow the elaborate floats. All of this in the lead up to Easter Sunday, when the rejoicing and joy, paired with dinner and celebrations make for a contrast to the days spent in mourning. Never before have I seen an even so consume an entire city.
On top of all of that, the food and people were just amazing this week. In the coming week, I plan to share an epic post on the fascinating processions and carpets of Semana Santa in . . . Antigua style!