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.
Normally, all over Colombia, cities, towns, family and people celebrate and recognize Holy Week in a variety of different ways and levels of intensity.
The week of Semana Santa in 2021 in Colombia is from Sunday, March 28 to Saturday, April 3.
Samana Santa last year in 2020 was essentially cancelled with no Semana Santa processions and without Masses in churches due to the coronavirus pandemic and a national Colombia quarantine. Parishioners were asked to stay home during this week in Colombia in 20202 due to the quarantine. All normal activities were cancelled in 2020 during this week due to the nationwide Colombia quarantine.
In 2021, churches in Colombia will be open during Semana Santa but with capacity limited to about 35 percent. Also, there won’t be the normal large processions during this week in 2021. We checked in many cities and large processions during this week are not permitted in any city we looked at.
Also, many cities are doing a curfew during this week in 2021. Bogotá’s mayor announced on March 25 that Bogotá will have a nightly curfew from midnight to 5 am on March 26 to March 29 and on March 31 to April 5.
Medellín and Antioquia will have nightly curfews from midnight to 5 am nightly from March 23 to March 30 and from 5 pm to 5 am nightly from March 31 to April 4 with a dry law during these nightly curfews. And nightly from 6 pm to 5 am on April 5 to April 9.
In addition, Barranquilla has announced nightly curfews from 6 pm to 5 am from March 31 to April 5 with also a dry law during these nightly curfews.
Other municipalities in Colombia will have nightly curfews during Semana Santa if ICU occupancy is higher than 70 percent from 10:00 pm.to 5:00 am on March 31 to April 5 according to an announcement by President Duque.
Semana Santa 2021 – Coronavirus Impacts
As part of the preventive measures taken to prevent the spread of coronavirus, there is a suspension of the traditional Semana Santa processions in 2021. Also, social distancing and wearing a face masks in churches will be required.
It should be noted that many in Colombia typically take this entire week off for vacation. 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.
But banks only close on the two public holidays during this week on Thursday and Friday.
The Days of Semana Santa in 2021
There are seven days of Semana Santa before Easter Sunday as follows:
Sunday, March 28 – 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, March 29 – 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. Normally these are good days to go to the movies. Or these are good days to head out of town to a nearby pueblo. But due to the coronavirus pandemic, people will be staying at home.
Wednesday, March 31 – 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 normally more of party night during Semana Santa with many bars and clubs open. But the bars and clubs in Colombia are currently closed due to the coronavirus pandemic and everyone is supposed to be at home during the quarantine.
Thursday, April 1 – 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.
Friday, April 2 – 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 3 – 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, normally the city is pretty dead. Also, I have experienced Bogotá to be pretty dead on this day. But in 2020, cities will be even more dead than normal due to the quarantine.
Sunday, April 4 – 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. However, the churches in Colombia are open with limited capacity during this week due to the coronavirus pandemic.
Normally you will see processions in many cities in pueblos in Colombia during this week. But there won’t be processions in 2021. 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 normally become busy during Holy Week. And churches throughout Colombia normally become busier than normal during Holy Week. But the churches are all closed during the quarantine in Colombia.
Smaller Towns are Popular
During Semana Santa, some of the smaller towns in Colombia normally come alive. For example, during Holy Week in Colombia, the sleepy colonial towns of Popayán and Mompox are transformed into bustling religious gatherings. But this won’t happen in 2020 due to the coronavirus pandemic.
Popayán’s 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 this week. 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 normally 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 normally 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. But this will change in 2021 with no processions.
The Bottom Line: Semana Santa 2021 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. Last year, this celebration was completely subdued with no processions, no travel and no Masses in churches.
In 2021, churches will be open with limited capacity. But there will essentially be no processions during Semana Santa in 2021. Also, some cities such as Santa Marta are considering a curfew.
In over eight years living in Medellín, I have never traveled very far during Semana Santa. But in 2021, I will be staying home like many people due to the coronavirus pandemic in Colombia.
Typically I don’t like fighting the big crowds and also dislike paying high-season rates for transportation and lodging during Semana Santa. But several times in the past I have traveled on easy day-trips during Holy Week to nearby pueblos like Barbosa and Girardota.
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Editors note: updated on March 18, 2020 with information that Semana Santa will be different in 2020 due to the coronavirus pandemic. There will be no Semana Santa processions and only small Masses in churches behind closed doors.
Editors note: updated on March 29, 2020 with information that Semana Santa in 2020 will have no Semana Santa processions and no Masses in churches and parishioners have been told to stay at home during Semana Santa due to the national quarantine in Colombia.
Editors note: updated on April 5, 2020 to add information that Antioquia tightened controls during this week and banned vehicular traffic for passengers along the department’s highways, including national and departmental routes, with increased checkpoints to prevent travelers from spreading coronavirus to other regions.
Editors note: updated on March 18, 2021 with dates and information about Semana Santa in Colombia in 2021.
Editors note: updated on March 23, 2021 to add information about a nightly curfew in Medellín, Antioquia and Barranquilla during Semana Santa.
Editors note: updated on March 25, 2021 with information about Bogotá’s nightly curfew during Semana Santa.
Editors note: updated on March 30, 2021 with information that the nightly curfew in Medellín and Antioquia from March 31 to April 5 is from 5 pm to 5 am.
Editors note: update on April 4, 2021 with information that the nightly curfew in Medellín and Antioquia has been extended to April 9.