Monday, April 9, 2012

Holy Week in Granada, Nicaragua

cruz de la catedral
Today completes my first week in Central America, which happened to coincide with Holy Week or Semana Santa.

For you non-Christians out there, Holy Week commemorates the week between Palm Sunday, when Jesus returned triumphantly to Jerusalem, through Good Friday when he was crucified and buried, to Easter Sunday when he was resurrected, according to the Christian Bible.  Because of Catholicism's strong influence in Latin America, Semana Santa is a Big Deal.

Granada's reputation as the tourism capital of Nicaragua had turned me off to the idea of spending a week here, as I expected everyone to speak English.  I've been pleasantly surprised, though—the vast majority of the tourism here is domestic (weekenders from Managua), and I've spoken exclusively Spanish for the week I've been here.  Every time I think I spot a gringo in shorts, I eavesdrop on his conversation and he's speaking Spanish!

nica family on vacation
For Nicaraguans, Semana Santa is a week of partying, beaches, and vacations.  Not exactly pious and religious!

I arrived in Granada on Tuesday of Semana Santa, and every day the streets were more and more crowded with vacationers.  The Central Park is packed with couples strolling arm-in-arm, families with young children, and vendors selling ice cream, fried snacks, and shoe-shines.  The city stinks of horse dung; families of vacationing Managuans enjoy little city tours in horse-drawn carriages, and I think every horse within a 20 mile radius has been recruited for this week.  Every evening, starting around dusk, party trains stuffed to the gills with men, women, and children would thump their way down our street, blasting Latin dance music behind a farm tractor straining under the load.

holy image displayed in bamboo and palm creche in the cathedral courtyard

There are some religious processions.  Every church has its own schedule and no one knows for sure what happens when (ask three different people, get four different answers).  Generally, all of the churches seem to take down their religious icons, display them in the courtyard for a few days, parade them around the city, then put them back in their niches to rest for another year.

preparing the holy image

I caught the procession of Christ interred coming out of the main Cathedral on the evening of Good Friday.  As a North American, the purple pointy hats freaked me out a little.  Then I felt bad for the poor guys wearing them—must be hot under there!

el santo intierro
Before leaving the States, I poked around a bit on the internet to learn about Holy Week/ Semana Santa in Granada, Nicaragua and couldn't find much.  So, if you've stumbled on this post wondering the same thing, feel free to leave a comment with questions.

If it helps... yes, you will be able to find a place to stay, though it might not be your first choice and you might have to switch hotels during the week.  Most of the Nicaraguans stay with family or in hotels catering to domestic tourists (not the ones listed in your LP guide).  Transport is definitely scarce (buses run less frequently and stop earlier on Thursday through Sunday, taxis are more expensive), but if you were desperate to move on, you could find a way or else book a private tourist shuttle.  Overall, though, I wouldn't count on “getting much done” in the North American sense this week.  If you're looking for a huge spectacle, you won't find it here (try Antigua in Guatemala, Sonsonate in El Salvador, or even Leon here in Nicaragua).  This is a week to relax and do a lot of people watching...  and stay away from inebriated Nicaraguans!


  1. I agree, the purple pointy hats are a little freaky :) Sounds like a fascinating week overall though