With 90% of the Colombian population identifying as Catholic, Semana Santa (Holy Week) is the biggest and most anticipated celebration of the year. Sleepy colonial towns explode into song, dance and processions, candle-lit cathedrals overflow with smartly dressed crowds, and families get together for hearty, home-cooked feasts and sweet treats. Read on to find out how to celebrate Easter in true Colombian style.
Founded in 1564, Mompox is one of the earliest colonial settlements in Colombia. What is normally a very quiet town any other time of year, during Holy Week Mompox sees a huge influx of Colombian visitors to experience the colourful processions, live music performances and huge mass ceremonies. The most unique event here, however, is the Serenade of the Dead: as night falls on Holy Wednesday, families gather in Mompox’s cemetery to decorate the tombs with flowers and candles to the sounds of guitars, drums and singing. The cemetery will stay filled with people, music and flickering candles until sunrise.
Created by painstakingly carving 250,000 tonnes of salt into a network of tunnels, huge prayer rooms and archways, the dramatic underground Salt Cathedral is considered to be one of Colombia’s most stunning attractions. On Easter Sunday, the church is packed with visitors from all over the country for the special Easter mass which takes place in the awesomely lit main hall. Come early if you want a seat.
Known to many as the “Jerusalem of Colombia”, thousands of Colombians flock to colonial Popayan during Holy Week for candle-lit mass, huge street parties and spectacular processions. Every evening between 8pm-11pm, the streets fill with incense, music and giant religious statues covered with flowers as onlookers light the way with candles; a tradition that has been happening here for more than 400 years. The celebrations are so spectacular, that, in 2009, it was added to the UNESCO list of Intangible World Heritage Sites. An experience you won’t forget.
Hosting some of the country’s best Easter parades for over 350 years, Santa Fe de Antioquia is yet another small colonial town that comes alive with tradition during Semana Santa. During the week-long celebrations, the sleepy, cobblestone streets undergo an incredible transformation: the whole town becomes covered with a thick cloud of incense as the women lead the processions, followed by a full orchestra and pilgrims carrying elaborate religious statues.
Forget Easter eggs and chocolate bunnies. In Colombia, families celebrate with a hearty stew made from codfish, spinach and chickpeas. Originating from Spain, Potaje de la Vigilia – translating to “fasting soup” – follows the tradition of abstaining from red meat during this period, and is usually served on Good Friday.
Towering 10,000 ft above Colombia’s capital, Monserrate mountain is considered a very special holy site by Colombians. Every year, thousands of pilgrims climb (many on their hands and knees) to the small white church on the very top of the mountain to pray to the shrine devoted to ‘El Señor Caido’ (the Fallen Lord). Tourists are welcome to join the trek, and are rewarded with spectacular views over Bogota. If you don’t fancy the steep ascent, there’s also a cable car and funicular.