Salvadoran blogger Eddie Galdamez offers his recommendations for the best places to enjoy and experience Easter in El Salvador.
This week marks the start of Lent, the 40-day countdown to Easter, celebrated this year on April 4. Lent begins with Ash Wednesday, when Catholics traditionally fast, although nowadays most people simply try to give something up, like meat.
El Salvador is still a predominantly Catholic country. That means Lent, followed by Easter Week (Semana Santa) is an important cultural period. Semana Santa itself is one of the most important holidays in El Salvador and throughout Central America.
In El Salvador, for most people, Semana Santa is a time for reflection and family, not for eggs, bunnies, or shopping. That said, with schools and many businesses closed over the Easter period, many people use the time off to go to the beach.
It’s also a traditional time for Salvadorans living abroad to return home to visit their families.
Beaches almost deserted throughout the rest of the year (apart from Christmas – another busy time) get crowded over Semana Santa as people leave the cities for the holiday period.
Those who can’t get away for the whole week will at least try to get to the beach on Easter Sunday.
Last year, because of the COVID-19 pandemic, El Salvador cancelled its Easter celebrations. This year, the expectation is different.
It’s not so much that people want to celebrate and party during Semana Santa this year. More so, they want the churches open so they can worship and express their faith.
I have an uncle who turned 100 a few days ago. That’s a significant milestone few people reach, but in his mind, my uncle is more worried about El Salvador not cancelling Easter this year. Last year was the first time in 70 years he didn’t go to church over Semana Santa.
Plenty of people feel the same way as he does.
So what’s the best way to experience Easter in El Salvador?
If you ever get the chance, you should experience the Semana Santa traditions in El Salvador. If you want an authentic experience, go to a small town.
Suchitoto is about 45 kilometers from San Salvador. With remarkable cobbled streets, gorgeous colonial houses, an iconic church, and rich cultural traditions, Suchito is a great spot to check out the traditional Easter processions through the streets.
One charming aspect of Easter in El Salvador is the tradition of laying down “street carpets” (Alfombras de Semana Santa) for the Good Friday processions. These aren’t carpets in the traditional sense. They’re like mosaics made of colored salt, sawdust, or flowers laid down in beautiful patterns.
Suchitoto is famous for the quality of its Easter Street carpets to check out before the procession passes over them.
Juayua on the Ruta de los Flores is another great place to spend Semana Santa. It shares all the traditions of Suchitoto and other small towns like it.
Panchimalco has the oldest surviving colonial church in El Salvador, dating from 1725. The town comes alive over Semana Santa, with processions famous throughout the country.
Other great spots to enjoy Semana Santa include Sensuntepeque, with the largest street carpets in El Salvador. Izalco and Sonsonate also provide rich cultural experiences.
Larger cities like Santa Ana, San Miguel, and San Salvador also have events over Semana Santa, although I prefer the smaller towns. People tend to get out of the cities during this week, and the smaller towns and their traditions become attractions in themselves.
If you’re traveling in El Salvador during Semana Santa, it’s worth knowing a few things.
First, as schools, banks, and offices are closed, you’ll find beaches busier, and also the colonial towns mentioned above. It’s worth booking accommodations in advance. Be prepared for crowds you wouldn’t find at other times of the year.
Some municipalities enact dry laws over the Easter weekend, from Good Friday until Easter Sunday. Some only do Good Friday, and others not at all. Be sure to check, wherever you are, to avoid a surprise.
If you’re driving, be aware of street closures starting Holy Thursday to allow local people to make the street carpets. Also note that end end of the week is famous for its car accidents and drunk driving. This is a sad fact of life common throughout Central America at this time.
All in all, despite some of the inconveniences to traveling life, Semana Santa is a perfect time to visit. Even if you’re not Catholic, or even religious, you’ll be sure to have a valuable cultural experience over Easter in El Salvador.
Eddie Galdamez is a Salvadoran blogger and web designer who loves writing about his country. His favorite topics include tourism, politics, culture, and overall life in El Salvador. He runs El Salvador Info, a blog about all things El Salvador.