And Then Sunday Happened – Semana Santa in Antigua


And Then Sunday Happened - Semana Santos in Antigua, Guatemala

My 90 day limit is fast approaching and I’ve heard bad, expensive things happen to travelers who overstay their welcome in Guatemala. I’ve bought my ticket to San Cristobal in Mexico and can’t really say I’m excited about the 10+ hour bus journey that starts at 5am. It’s Sunday. I leave tomorrow.

I was here for the processions last Sunday — during the 40 days of Cuaresma (Lent), the whole city celebrates the Passion, Crucifixion and Resurrection of Christ, culminating each week in a procession from a nearby village. Eighty cucuruchos (carriers) haul a massive wooden platform called an anda through the streets as penance for past sins.

And Then Sunday Happened - Semana Santos in Antigua

And when I say massive, I mean it — some weigh up to 7,000 pounds. God knows what that is in metric numbers. After the main anda passes, a smaller one rolls buy, carried by women and supporting a statue of the Virgin Mary. The town was full of thousands of penitents, dress in purple satin robes. Pretty cool.

I thought I had seen it all by now and was worried about my passport issues, so I made plans to get out of the country. Room prices doubled during Semana Santa (Holy Week) and I wasn’t too excited about that either — Antigua isn’t exactly cheap to start with.

And Then Sunday Happened - Semana Santos in Antigua

Then Sunday happened. Expecting more of the same, I step into the street this morning to find the cobblestones covered by large ‘carpets’ of dyed wood shavings, grass and flowers. Several people work on each, carefully creating intricate designs via the use of large plywood stencils.

Speaking to the hotel owner I learn that these designs are traditional, handed down through the family. Every carpet is different. They’re a fleeting form of art, though, as each will be trampled over by the incoming procession in just a few hours. While we carefully step around them to avoid damage, hundreds of penitents’ feet will soon walk right through.

And Then Sunday Happened - Semana Santa in Antigua

I spend the day running about, taking photos of the colorful carpets and the various processions of revelers. Every eye I meet is followed by a smile and a nod. The vibe is electric. After 9 hours, 18 gigs of photos and 2 batteries, I head home.

The manager tells me that the peak is Thursday, when no one sleeps and processions roam the streets through the night. I also learn that the penalty for over-staying your 90 days is –she claims– only “ten quetzals a day”. Roughly $1.50 a day. I wish I’d known.

So the one reasonably cheap room I was staying in has been rented out. All that is left is their honeymoon suite which is now going for $46 US a night. My daily budget is $30. Dammit.

But after thinking about it, I decide screw it. This is a once in a lifetime chance. Four days over budget isn’t going to kill me — it’s so easy to get caught up in the budget mentality that you miss things you regret. And in the end, it works out even better. I mention my website to the owner and we work out a discount.

For a mention on my site, they’ll trade me my fare to Mexico and a midnight tour of the most well-done carpets on Thursday night — about one night’s rent overall. And I’ve stayed here twice now for over two weeks in total — obviously I approve of the place and think it’s a good value. It’s the first time I’ve worked a trade like this and I don’t feel like a prostitute. Score.

And Then Sunday Happened - Semana Santa in Antigua

I change my ticket to Saturday, giving me Friday to sleep and recover after a night of wandering the streets. As I write this, the hotel owner is spreading dyed sawdust in the sun to dry.

It should be an amazing night.

{ 12 comments… read them below or add one }

Ayngelina April 3, 2012 at 8:27 pm

Antigua is the ultimate Semana Santa destination, I would have loved to have been there.

San Cristobal is one of my favourite regions in Mexico, such a great history. Make sure you also get up to Oaxaca.


wes April 3, 2012 at 9:57 pm

Thanks, Ayngelina! I’m thinking of renting an apt in Oaxaca for a month or so.


Wrabbit007 April 3, 2012 at 10:31 pm

Go with the flow and don’t be afraid to change plans! Those are the best days, hands down! I am jealous and the photographs are stunning – those colors!!


Laura April 9, 2012 at 8:36 am

Dude? Where’s the ads? I was gonna click on them daily for the next week and you a beer. What an amazing experience you’re having this week, one that is Worth Every Penny!

Peace and safe travels!


wes April 10, 2012 at 12:01 pm

Ha, thanks for the support. I’m going to include them in the photo post so they get more traffic — I really liked the place. Unfortunately I have about 1000 photos to dig through.


Brock - Backpack With Brock April 9, 2012 at 6:27 pm

Your photos are so beautiful and colourful. Awesome!


wes April 10, 2012 at 12:00 pm

Thanks, Brock! I appreciate that.


Candy April 10, 2012 at 8:33 am

I am so happy that you decided to stay. It was wonderful to meet you and spend some time exploring. The alfombra’s were amazing and it’s always nice to share the excitement with someone.

Safe travels my friend.


wes April 10, 2012 at 12:03 pm

Me too! The weekend was a blast. Thanks for sharing it and I hope we run into each other again someday.


Jun April 12, 2012 at 4:16 pm

It’s interesting to see how culture and religion mix to come up with distinct local traditions. We follow the same 40-day lent in the Philippines where people bleed themselves and nailed to crosses as a way of purging sins but we don’t carry the massive platform and trample colorful artwork on the streets. Fascinating. Keep writing…..


Michele Peterson April 17, 2012 at 2:08 pm

I love your photos of the processions and alfombras – they’re a great reminder for me to zoom in close for the most dramatic shot. Did you see any of the alfombras with fruit worked into the design? In our neighbourhood of San Jose Villa Nueva people incorporated whole mangos into the design which was messy but fascinating.


Betsy April 23, 2012 at 12:55 pm

WOW! I sooo want to see photos of the alfombras getting trampled. Was it possible to get any goods shots of that?
Have fun in Oaxaca.