Advertisement
YOU ARE HERE: LAT HomeCollections

POSTCARD FROM GUATEMALA

Passion in Antigua's parades

April 09, 2006|Rosemary McClure | Times Staff Writer

The celebration is called Semana Santa -- Holy Week -- and no one in Latin America commemorates it the way the people of Antigua, Guatemala, do. Streets are lined with brightly colored carpets of flowers, and the air is heavy with the fragrance of incense. Larger-than-life statues of Jesus and various saints glide through the air on floats held aloft by battalions of worshipers. Thousands of people participate; thousands more watch.

*

Parade grounds

The annual event, which traces the Easter story of the crucifixion and resurrection of Christ, gets underway this morning, Palm Sunday, as reverent troops of men and women march through the winding cobblestone calles and avenidas of Antigua. Processions will be held almost daily this week, culminating in four solemn Good Friday parades, which will crisscross the city for hours. The weeklong Semana Santa celebration has become so famous that it draws visitors from around the world, swelling the city from 20,000 to more than 100,000.

*

A photographer's delight

Founded in the 16th century by the Spanish, Antigua is one of the oldest and most picturesque cities in the Americas, a treasure-trove of monuments and colonial architecture. Colorful shops and homes line the rough cobblestone streets in the 12-square-block Ciudad Vieja (Old Town), designated a national monument and a UNESCO World Heritage site. Massive volcanoes loom over the city, sending plumes of steam into the air. Many veteran visitors skip the crowded capital, Guatemala City -- about an hour's drive away -- and make Antigua their base. The charming city also appeals to first-time visitors, who feel safe on its well-patrolled streets.

*

War and peace

The highways and byways of Guatemala haven't always been friendly. Nearly four decades of civil war choked off tourism and left thousands of rural Maya Indians dead. But in 1996, the government signed a peace agreement formally ending the conflict. Now the country is changing and tourism is booming. More than 1.3 million people visited in 2005, about a quarter of them from the U.S. Many of the same qualities that draw adventure tourists to Costa Rica and Belize can be found here: volcanoes to climb, rivers to raft, jungles to explore. The flourishing tourism industry has meant new shops, restaurants and luxury hotels -- many of which are less than half the price of comparable U.S. hotels.

*

A real crowd pleaser

Antigua's Semana Santa processions are not for those who dislike crowds. The city's tiny streets are crammed with visitors trying to get a good view of the procession. Incense is so heavy it becomes a smoky, gray wall. Traffic is gridlocked and parking lots are jammed. Hotels jack up their prices, and many require minimum stays of four days or more. But for the hardy, Semana Santa is a spectacle. The tradition, which originated in Spain, is celebrated in cities throughout Guatemala. But no place else does it with the passion and devotion of the Antiguans.

*

Where to eat

Popular La Fonda Calle Real has three Old Town locations and serves Guatemalan favorites, with flavorful sauces over chicken, beef and pork. Entrees from $7-$15. 3a Calle Poniente, No. 7, Antigua; 011-502-7832-0507, www.lafondacallereal.com.

*

Where to stay

For Holy Week visits, make plans by December to ensure a choice of hotels. Meson de Maria, a small, year-old boutique hotel in Old Town, is well located and handsomely decorated with typical Guatemalan furnishings. It has a rooftop solarium. Doubles from $75; 3a Calle Poniente, No. 8, Antigua; 011-502-783-26069, www.hotelmesondemaria.com. Another Old Town favorite is Hotel Casa Santo Domingo, which has attractively landscaped grounds, an excellent restaurant, a museum and a pool. Doubles from $115. 3a Calle Oriente No. 28 A, Antigua; 011-502-7820-1222, www.casasantodomingo.com.gt. Guatemalan hotel bills include a 22% tax.

*

Getting there

From LAX, Lacsa and United airlines fly nonstop to Guatemala City. Mexicana offers direct flights (stop, no change of planes). American, Continental and Mexicana offer connecting flights (change of planes). Restricted round-trip fares begin at $345.

*

To learn more:

Contact the Guatemala National Tourist Institute, 011-502-2421-2800, www.visitguatemala.com. Also: Embassy of Guatemala, (202) 745-4952, www.guatemala-embassy.org.

Advertisement
Los Angeles Times Articles
|
|
|