Holy Week in Antigua, Guatemala
Guatemala has always been at the top of our list of places to visit, and we finally visited during one of the best weeks of the entire year – Holy Week in Antigua, Guatemala ( Semana Santa in Spanish). This UNESCO World Heritage site has been observing Easter with massive religious floats, processions and unique carpets (alfombras) along each of the processions.
While processions and vigils take place during all of Lent, the processions grow larger and more frequent during Holy Week. We arrived on a Thursday, had a quick lunch, got a map of the processions and made our way to the center of Antigua, Parque Central. The processions begin at their church, follow a pre-determined route and then return to the church. They carry floats that reflect the day of the week, or what happened to Christ during the final week leading up to Easter.
Even without the spectacle of hundreds of participants in the processions and the elaborate alfombras, Antigua is a stunning city. Founded in 1524, the 5,000′ valley is surrounded by three volcanos and the historic center is home to terrific restaurants serving local specialties and international options. Of course, famous Guatemalan coffee is available on nearly every block!
Our group followed processions on Thursday and we were especially successful, since the crowds (as we discovered on Friday) were not as large. It felt very easy to get in front of the processions to photograph them as they passed over the carpets, and then catch up to them to photograph different parts: the incense burners, the float carriers (cucuruchos), the marching band, maybe the women’s group. Of course, the colonial city really shines at dusk as the street lights come on and reflect off of the centuries-old cobblestones.
We started early on our Good Friday tour at 6:00am, but it was obvious that the city had been awake for hours and many of the alfombras were nearing completion. After a brief introduction from our guide, Elizabeth Bell, we walked along a couple of the procession routes that was covered with finished and in-progress alfombras. The precision, care and creativity that is involved in their creation is simply amazing.
Enjoy a few photos of the city and the processions. The next blog post will cover the Saturday processions and our Sunday visit to Chichicastenango.