Wow, can you guys believe I’ve been living in Antigua for a whole year already? When I think about the day that I arrived and immediately fell in love it feels like it was yesterday!
Every year during Holy Week and the other weeks leading up to Easter, hundreds of thousands of people descend on Antigua for Semana Santa. I had only heard bad things about being in town during this time, and we were planning to leave, but unfortunately I was in a full arm cast (more on this later), during the month before. This meant that I was super uncomfortable and I didn’t know how my arm would feel once the cast was off, and if I would be up for spending hundreds of dollars on last minute flights or taking a bus for 12 or 13 hours.
Once my roommate Cristina and I realised we were going to be in Antigua for Semana Santa (and believe me, we did a lot of last-minute searching for accommodation), we decided to make the most of it. You do need to be careful about being out and about during this time, as pickpocketing is terrible and the level of crime goes up in general. My roommate’s friend decided to fill his cargo pants with screwed up pieces of newspaper one year, arriving home to find that his pockets had been picked clean. Sucks to be whoever was left with a handful of paper.
At first glance, Semana Santa seems like quite a morbid occasion, and since it’s all about Jesus’ death (this is a very religious country), it’s easy to see why. I was a little taken aback by the slow, solemn processions as people (even small children) carried huge statues and floats on their shoulders.
We never had to look for a procession during the week of Semana Santa, we just kind of bumped into them as we went about our business, since there were multiple processions each day. Once, we made the mistake of leaving before lunch, spent a few hours at a coffee plantation and then returned to find that we had no hope of getting home as there was a huge procession blocking our street and all of the streets around it.
There was even a procession on our street one night:
While the processions were interesting (and a pain in the butt if you needed to get somewhere quickly) I really loved seeing the Alfombras. These incredible rugs are made from sand and they take hours and serious attention to detail. They only last long enough for the procession to walk over them and destroy them, and then people take any parts of the alfombras that they can find left behind, as they’re considered to be blessed.
One night our neighbours were making an alfombra, so we sat on the street and watched until 1.30am.
They had only gotten this far when we left and apparently didn’t finish until 6am:
This is the end result:
While the detail is stunning, I think I’m most impressed by the fact that so much work goes into something that is destroyed so quickly. I’m sure there’s a lesson in there somewhere…
It was so fun to discover new, colourful alfombras every day. I can’t imagine myself (or anyone I know) spending hours upon hours creating something so intricate, only to watch it be destroyed.
If you’d like to visit Antigua during Semana Santa (and you should), be sure to book your accommodation super early. Check on Air BnB as many locals leave and rent out their houses, and choose somewhere a couple of blocks away from the centre so you can get away from it all if the noise and crowds get to be too much.
When you’re out and about, only take what you need- one phone or camera and just a little cash or one card. That way you can enjoy the experience without constantly worrying about being robbed.