Where’s the best place to visit in Guatemala during Easter?
Latin America is a wonderful place in which to spend Easter, with many fascinating religious rituals and traditions offering a truly authentic experience and unique insight into its rich cultural history. But one destination that springs to mind that I’ve been lucky enough to enjoy at this time of year and would definitely recommend has to be Antigua, Guatemala. Guatemala’s former capital, it’s an historic, colonial city that has been meticulously restored and conserved and is now a UNESCO ‘cultural heritage of humankind’ boasting beautiful cobblestone streets, pastel façades beneath terracotta roofs, and parks decorated with fountains. There’s great shopping, plenty of restaurants, bars, museums and theatres, and it all sits in a dramatic setting on a plateau surrounded by mountains and volcanoes.
During Easter the city plays host to its world famous ‘Semana Santa’ (‘Holy Week’) celebrations in which all its residents take part. The main night of celebrations this year will be on Tuesday 26th March when the ‘Alfombras de Accerin’ is prepared. This is a beautifully hand-made carpet of colour made up of brightly coloured sand, sawdust and flowers that are intricately laid along the city’s winding cobblestone streets, marking the route for the grand procession the next day. These vibrant patterns and images (many depicting scenes from the last days of Christ) create what look like spectacular river-ways of colour.
his ritual preparation is really great fun and there’s a real sense of community and authentic family tradition that you can see first-hand being passed down the generations. What’s more, on a trip with Journey Latin America you get to take part and add your own creative mark to the procession.
The best part, and what’s so fun about all this, is that the next day you get to witness the procession march right over it, leaving behind a wake of mashed vibrant colour and strewn petals kicked up into the air.
On a trip with Journey Latin America you’re able to witness both the San Cristóbal El Bajo and San Francisco processions, and thanks to having a local guide you get to see it from great vantage points you wouldn’t otherwise be able to find, meaning you can capture some really great photos.
The procession and atmosphere is very somber and lethargic, played to the slow beat of a drum and sounds from huge brass euphoniums – almost like a slowed down Mardi Gras. Long lines of men dressed in purple robes carry giant floats known as ‘andas’, which is considered a real honour to participate in. It’s quite a sight, men of all different shapes and sizes clambering to hold the floats aloft – they almost take on a life of their own as they bob and wave their way through the streets.
The whole event is a real attack on the senses, and in addition to the atmospheric sounds and visuals, the air is thick with the smells of slow-burning incense. This is a strong part of the traditional ritual of the celebrations and really adds to the whole slowed-down feeling of the day.
Other than being made to go to Sunday school each week as a child my divine experiences (in the religious sense) have been few and far between, but I felt like I’d been elevated to a higher spiritual plane during the celebrations. Having taken part in the preparations and being so immersed and welcomed into the whole thing, it’s an experience that can be described, as I’ve tried to do here, but it really needs to be seen, smelt, touched and heard to be properly
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