Semana Santa (Holy Week) is the week leading up to Easter Sunday and is one of the most important celebrations in Colombia and is a popular vacation time.
Colombia is a predominately Catholic country and many of the 18 Colombia holidays are religious holidays. Semana Santa commemorates the death and resurrection of Jesus Christ.
All over Colombia, cities, towns, family and people celebrate and recognize Holy Week in a variety of different ways and levels of intensity.
Semana Santa 2019 – What are the Dates?
The week of Semana Santa in 2019 in Colombia is considered to be from Sunday, April 14 to Saturday, April 20, which is the week before Easter Sunday.
It should be noted that many in Colombia take this entire Semana Santa week off. While only two of these days are considered national public holidays and two days are on the weekend, it has become traditional for many smaller businesses in Colombia to close for this entire week.
Schools are also closed during this week. But banks and government offices only close on the two public holidays during this week on Thursday and Friday. And the malls are open this week as well as most grocery stores and many restaurants.
The Days of Semana Santa in 2019
There are seven days of Semana Santa before Easter Sunday as follows:
Sunday, April 14 – Palm Sunday (Domingo de Ramos)
This day falls on the Sunday before Easter. The day commemorates Jesus’ entry into Jerusalem. This was the beginning of the end for Jesus.
Monday, April 15 – Holy Monday (Lunes Santo) and Tuesday, April 16 – Holy Tuesday (Martes Santo)
These two days during Semana Santa are pretty dead in the big cities in Colombia like Bogotá and Medellín. Many small stores and some restaurants are closed. So, these are good days to go to the movies. Or these are good days to head out of town to a nearby pueblo.
Wednesday, April 17 – Holy Wednesday (Miercoles Santo)
Holy Wednesday marks the end of Lent and the beginning of Easter.
In addition, this day is like a mini-Friday, as Thursday and Friday are official holidays. So, Wednesday is typically more of party night during Semana Santa with many bars and clubs open.
Thursday, April 18 – Maundy Thursday (Jueves Santo)
Maundy Thursday is a religious Holy day that is observed all over the world. It was established to commemorate the foot washing (Maundy) and the last supper of Jesus Christ with his Apostles. In addition, this holiday occurs the day before Good Friday.
On the Thursday and Friday holidays during Holy Week many of the small stores and restaurants in Colombia will be closed.
Friday, April 19 – Good Friday (Viernes Santo)
Good Friday, also known at Holy Friday, Great Friday and Black Friday, is a religious holiday that commemorates the crucifixion – and eventual death – of Jesus Christ.
In the Roman Catholic tradition, this day is typically treated as a fast day – a day in which one only has one full meal and abstains from the consumption of meat.
Saturday, April 20 – Holy Saturday (Sabado Santo)
Holy Saturday remains for Catholics more like a day of waiting, waiting for the great celebration that will take place the following day on Easter.
In Medellín, I have seen a few bars and clubs open on this Saturday but the city is pretty dead. I also have experienced Bogotá to be pretty dead on this day.
Sunday, April 21 – Easter Sunday or Resurrection Sunday (Domingo de Resurrección)
While not typically included as part of Semana Santa this is an important day. This day is a festival celebrating the resurrection of Jesus from the dead.
Churches are Popular During Semana Santa
Catholics in Colombia take part in ceremonial pilgrimages to visit churches in the city throughout Holy Week to evoke the journey Christ made during his crucifixion.
You will see processions in many cities in pueblos in Colombia during Semana Santa. The processions celebrate the passion and death of Jesus Christ through parades. It is one of the oldest traditions in Colombia, practiced since the Colonial period.
In the metropolitan Medellín metro area (Aburrá Valley), there are over 300 Roman Catholic churches. Most notably, there is a complete list of all the churches of the Archdiocese of Medellín.
We previously looked at the top 14 churches in Medellín and the Aburrá Valley. All these popular churches become busy during Holy Week. And churches throughout Colombia become busier than normal during Holy Week.
Smaller Towns are Popular
During Semana Santa, some of the smaller towns in Colombia come alive. For example, during Holy Week in Colombia, the sleepy colonial towns of Popayán and Mompox are transformed into bustling religious gatherings.
Popayán’s Semana Santa processions were even added to UNESCO’s Intangible Cultural Heritage Lists in 2009. Ancient religious images are paraded through Popayán’s historical downtown streets. And they are borne on wooden platforms.
People from all over the region and country flock to Popayán for the religious processions held during Holy Week.
The northern Colombian town of Mompox was declared a historical and architectural world heritage site. And Mompox has a long history of upholding Semana Santa traditions.
Residents of Mompox observe Holy Wednesday in a very distinctive religious celebration. They dress in their best clothing and participate in an evening procession through the streets. This procession concludes in a cemetery where they pass the night at the graves of loved ones, in a candlelit vigil, adorning graves with flowers and celebrating the lives of the dead with music.
The Valle del Cauca town of Buga is another popular destination for Holy Week. Each year, reportedly over half a million people descend on the town to take part in the Holy Week celebrations held around the large pink church – Basílica del Señor de los Milagros.
Pueblos are also Popular
Pueblos near Medellín and other cities are also popular during Semana Santa. For example, Jericó is known for being a religious pueblo. So, it’s a popular destination during Semana Santa. Also, Jericó is a pueblo where there are 19 churches for just under 12,000 inhabitants. And Santa Fe de Antioquia is another popular pueblo to go to during Semana Santa.
Girardota and Barbosa are two pueblos close to Medellín that are popular during Holy Week. These pueblos are very accessible via the Medellín Metro with metro bus connections from the northern Niquía metro station on Line A.
Girardota reportedly gets around 60,000 visitors during holy week. Also, Barbosa gets many visitors with its colorful Semana Santa processions that are similar to what you will find in many other pueblos and cities in Colombia.
The Bottom Line: Semana Santa 2019 in Colombia
Semana Santa is one of the most important celebrations in Colombia. And this week is a popular time to take vacations in Colombia. But remember many others will be traveling, so you should book transportation and accommodations in advance.
If not traveling and living in or visiting a big city like Bogotá or Medellín, you can enjoy more tranquility than normal, due to many residents traveling outside the city for the week of Samana Santa.
In over eight years living in Medellín, I have never traveled very far during Semana Santa. I don’t like fighting the big crowds and also dislike paying high-season rates for transportation and lodging. But several times I have traveled on easy day-trips during Holy Week to nearby pueblos like Barbosa and Girardota.
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