Where to go during Holy Week in Colombia
Colombia is the sixth country with the most Catholics in the world. While growing up, not everyone practices but religious events such as Holy Week and Easter are usually a good excuse to rest and visit traditional destinations at this time of year. So, if you want to visit Colombia during the week, we suggest some of the most traditional places and the most common rituals during this time of reflection, so you can enjoy your stay to the fullest.
In 2018, Holy Week will begin on Sunday, March 25 and will run until Sunday, April 1. In Colombia, unlike other countries, the Monday after Easter is not a holiday.
Places to visit during Holy Week in Colombia
We suggest five places where this week is a big event!
1. Holy Week in Popayán. It’s cataloged as one of the most appealing destinations to experience the liturgical acts. Popayán is known as 'the white city' because in the historic center all of its architectural works are white and when the sun sets over them there is a magical flash. This city was the capital of the Great Colombia before the Independence, because of how it stood out like the cultural and economic epicenter of the area. Its historical route, the devotion of the people and the majesty of its processions have made Popayán known as the Jerusalem of America.
Holy Week is a celebration that begins the preparations months in advance. The sculptures of the procession have been carved by European and Latin American artists, and those in charge of going out in the events with the floats have a tradition that goes back through generations. In 2009, Unesco declared these religious activities as Intangible Cultural Heritage of Humanity.
Travel tip: If you’d like to learn more about the activities that will take place throughout the week, we invite you to consult the official program here.
Popayán is one of the most attractive destinations for living the liturgical acts / Source
2. Holy Week in Mompox. Located north of Colombia, in the county of Bolívar, this town was declared a National Monument in 1959. Its streets are an ode to the colonial era: the main and most tourist access route is the Magdalena River, but you can also get there by land and air. It’s a place that is suspended in time, a scene like those from the film by Francesco Rosi, based on the book by Gabriel García Márquez, Chronicle of a Death Foretold.
Mompox has two major activities during the year: Holy Week and the Jazz Festival; The first is one of the most outstanding in Colombia. The processions look like a dance: two steps to the front and one back, creating an enveloping rhythm for the observer. One of the most emblematic days is on Holy Wednesday, where the locals dress in their best costumes, in the cemetery, a serenade to the deceased.
Travel tip: ethe trip to this charming town consists of taking a bus from the terminal of Cartagena to Magangué (5 hours approximately) then embarking on a slab or a ferry to get to Mompox. Before embarking on the route to Mompox, you can visit Cartagena. Take a guided walk through the walled city, and eat traditional Easter sweets in El Portal de los Dulces or climb the Totumo volcano.
Take advantage of your time in Cartagena during Holy Week and try the typical sweets at El Portal de los Dulces / Photo: Sergejf
3. Holy Week in Santafé de Antioquia. Known as 'the cradle of the Paisa race', this town settled in the Colombian northwest was once the capital of Antioquia. With more than four centuries of history, its streets reveal to the tourist not only the roots of the Colombian time but also the customs of yesteryear.
The important week here is represented by Quito art figures- which almost seem real!- making these processions here a different show. Each participant in the procession fulfills a special role, from dressing the statue and carrying it until he is fully aware of it during the pilgrimage. Learn more about the tradition in this link and discover how the local’s faith is expressed.
Travel tip: This town is an hour and a half from Medellin, so you can go and return the same day with a Santa Fe de Antioquia Day Tour. If you want to know more about it, we recommend that you schedule some Easter activities to attend.
4. Holy Week in Jericó. This Antioquian town saw the birth of the first Colombian saint: Mother Laura Montoya, who was canonized in 2013. Thus, Jericó, in addition to its landscapes, shows a whole religious history. The center of the celebration of Holy Week is the parish of the Immaculate Heart of Mary; from there they begin and end almost all of the ceremonies.
5. Holy Week in Pamplona: belonging to the county of Santander, sharing a border with Venezuela, this district is the center of Santander's culture. It is a proper city for religious tourism due to its different spaces dedicated to the Catholic faith. In the colonial period, Pamplona was characterized as a mercantile and road corridor, since expeditions departed from it to territories still unknown, hence its nickname 'the founding city of cities'.
The main event is the children's holy week, where hundreds of children who have rehearsed in schools participate in processions and other ceremonial acts. Dressed as nuns, and Nazarenes, freighters, among others, they fulfill the roles of the processions and parade through the streets of Pamplona.
Within the framework of this religious celebration there is also the International Choral Music Festival, whose main stage is the Santa Clara Cathedral of Pamplona.
Travel tip: If you’re in Pamplona, we advise you to go out and discover the magic of the most representative towns of Santander, where there is history, culture and gastronomic variety.
Reserve a tour through the villages of Santander here.
Pamplona is a city of its own for religious tourism, do not miss visiting it during Holy Week! / Source
6. Holy Week in Yopal. Its Holy Week, unlike many parts of Colombia, is not characterized by processions or religious events, but rather by complementary activities that occur around the week, such as craft shows, sports activities, religious concerts, theater and activities that facilitate children's understanding of religious mysteries.
Travel tip: The plains are characterized as an adventurous destination, we advise that you go prepared with comfortable clothes, sunscreen and a great fearless spirit to live this experience.
Myths and customs of Holy Week in Colombia
Precisely because of the religious fervor of Colombians, within this society there are at least three myths and three customs that you will surely hear about from locals during your holidays.
- The most passionate expressions of love during Holy Week can bring about as a consequence that you can’t detach yourself from your beloved. It’s a very peculiar myth that, depending on how its seen, can be good or bad.
- Bathing in the river or in the sea during these holy days can make you turn into a fish. This myth is very popular among the people in the north of the country.
- Bathing after 3 o'clock in the afternoon (time of Christ's death) can make the water turn to blood.
- Don’t eat red meat during the week..
- Don’t go out to parties, for it’s a week of reflection and atonement.
- Some fast on Good Friday.
Come and discover Colombia during these dates and remember to be respectful of the most devout, while enjoying your stay.
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By: Laura García Betancur, Colombian, journalist and audiovisual communicator from the University of Manizales, Colombia.