Guide to Semana Santa in Nicaragua

It’s almost Easter, and Semana Santa, or Holy Week, is in full swing across Latin America and beyond. Nicaragua is no exception–traditional processions, foods, artwork, and events fill these seven days. What is this religious holiday, and how is it celebrated in Nicaragua? Discover everything you need to know about Holy Week in this guide to Semana Santa in Nicaragua.

What is Semana Santa?

Semana Santa translates to “Holy Week,” and it marks the days leading up to Easter. It is a religious holiday observed by Catholics and other Christian denominations, and is considered a time of prayer and penitence in these traditions. Semana Santa is a huge event in Latin cultures like Nicaragua’s, with lots of traditional activities and services taking place over the course of the week.

When is Semana Santa in Nicaragua?

Semana Santa begins immediately following Palm Sunday, which is the last Sunday before Easter, and ends on the Easter holiday. The exact dates change every year, but it generally occurs between March and April. Semana Santa in Nicaragua is a seven-day observance. It is always the final week of Lent.

What are the most important days of Semana Santa in Nicaragua?

The Good Friday Santo Entierro procession

While each day of Semana Santa is considered holy, there are three days that hold the most significance in Nicaragua:

Palm Sunday

Palm Sunday is the Semana Santa “kick-off.” The religious in Nicaragua celebrate this day with the Procesión de la Burrita, or the “Donkey Procession.” It is also known as Jesús del Triunfo, the Triumphant Jesus. In a biblical reenactment of Jesus’ arrival in Jerusalem, participants carry palm fronds and cheer as a statue or an actor playing Jesus rides through town on the back of a donkey.

Good Friday

Good Friday is the most solemn day of Semana Santa. It falls on the Friday before Easter. To commemorate Jesus’ crucifixion, Nicaraguans take part in a sort of funeral march on Friday morning. The ceremony is known as Santo Entierro, or “Holy Burial.” The procession bears a large, candlelit casket, on which rests a statue of Jesus.

Easter Sunday

Easter Sunday is the culmination of Semana Santa in Nicaragua, and is underpinned by joyful celebrations. Most notable is the Reunión tradition, a symbolic procession that represents Mary’s reunion with her son, Jesus, after the Resurrection. The Easter march originates at two churches: one bearing a statue of Jesus, and the other of Mary. The two figures eventually meet in the middle, the happy moment marked by song and prayer.

How is Semana Santa celebrated in Nicaragua?

Semana Santa is celebrated in Nicaragua with a series of religious and cultural traditions. Here’s a short guide to the biggest Semana Santa festivities:

Traditional Foods for Semana Santa in Nicaragua

Sopa de queso con rosquillas

Many Nicaraguans do not eat red meat during Semana Santa. Instead, these traditional foods are popular alternatives:

Sopa de queso

Sopa de queso is a creamy cheese soup thickened with cornmeal. Typically served with crispy rosquillas, it is widely considered the most traditional food for Semana Santa in Nicaragua. It’s a simple dish, but fills up families abstaining from meat during Holy Week.

Gaspar fish soup

Gaspar, or gar, isn’t much to look at–a large fish with a long snout, it recalls the prehistoric. But during Semana Santa in Nicaragua, gaspar turns into a flavorful seafood soup. This traditional dish is prepared with jocote, bitter orange, tomatoes, and rice to round out the meal.

Almíbar

A mix of slow-cooked fruit and candy, almíbar is a sweet, syrupy dessert traditionally enjoyed in Nicaragua at Easter. It’s prepared with mango, jocote, papaya, cinnamon, and cloves. Some variations may include pineapple, coconut, tamarind, or currants. Nicaraguans often pair sugary almíbar with a drink called pinol.

Nicaraguan Religious Traditions of Semana Santa

Sawdust carpets of León (Visit León)

Nicaragua recognizes Semana Santa with religious traditions that take place all around the country. These are some of the most famous celebrations you can find during Holy Week:

Sawdust carpets

Traced back to Sutiaba, León, this art form is the most beautiful Semana Santa tradition in Nicaragua. City streets are decorated with colorful sawdust carpets called Alfombras Pasionarias, or “Passion Carpets.” Depicting scenes from the Easter story of Jesus, the intricate images are painstakingly created by hand all week, then kicked up during the Good Friday procession. It’s a fleeting, profound tribute to Semana Santa in Nicaragua.

Ox cart pilgrims

Convening in Nandaime, a town outside Granada, ox carts from all over Nicaragua make a Semana Santa pilgrimage to Rivas. Hundreds of carts process across the country together over four days, eventually arriving at the National Shrine of Jesus in Popoyuapa. The centuries-old tradition is celebrated each year to honor Jesús del Rescate, and culminates in an outdoor Mass.

Via Crucis

The Stations of the Cross, known as Via Crucis in Nicaragua, occur on Fridays throughout Lent in Nicaragua. This religious tradition follows the Passion of Christ: a procession pauses at 14 different stops, each representing a stage of Jesus’ route to Calvary.

Aquatic Stations of the Cross, Isletas de Granada

Via Crucis Acuático

During Semana Santa, the Stations of the Cross take a form that is unique to Nicaragua: they move from land to lake. The Via Crucis Acuático, or Aquatic Stations of the Cross, take place by boat in the Isletas de Granada. Each boat is decorated with produce and flowers, like the national sacuanjoche. One carries a full brass band. The lead boat transports a statue of Jesus to 14 different islets, each featuring children reenacting the station’s corresponding scene from the Passion. The Aquatic Stations of the Cross last about three hours.

La Judea

La Judea is similar to the Via Crucis in that it depicts the Passion of Christ. However, La Judea is more of a theatrical performance than a prayerful procession. In this Lenten religious tradition, Nicaraguans act out the life, death, and Resurrection of Jesus. Actors devote themselves to the task, creating costumes and preparing diligently to represent their characters. The Judea is not confined to Holy Week, but can be found in many places around Nicaragua throughout the 40 days of Lent.

San Lázaro

A less somber tradition is the Fiestas de San Lázaro celebration, which technically takes place right before Semana Santa in Nicaragua. Dogs descend upon Iglesia Santa María Magdalena in Monimbó, Masaya to be blessed in honor of Saint Lazarus. The animals are often costumed for the occasion–there is even an award ceremony for “Best Dressed Dog”! This unusual religious tradition can be traced back to the biblical belief that dogs licked the wounds of Saint Lazarus.

Where to celebrate Semana Santa in Nicaragua

Perrito de San Lázaro

Semana Santa is a bit like the “Spring Break” of Nicaragua. For some Nicaraguans, Semana Santa is a religious holiday marked by prayer and fasting. For others, it’s a party. 

The beach towns–particularly San Juan del Sur–are ironically flooded with raucous tourists during Holy Week. April is one of the hottest months in Nicaragua, and families are eager to take vacations to the coasts, packing the beaches with people. 

HN Hint: It may be worth waiting out the Easter holiday before taking a trip to Nicaragua’s beautiful beaches.

If you’re in Nicaragua for Semana Santa but you aren’t looking to party, the cities will hold more mellow festivities. While many local shops and establishments will be closed for the Easter holiday, you can still take part in the cultural traditions leading up to it. 

Here are three major places where you can celebrate Semana Santa in Nicaragua

León: Go to León during Semana Santa to witness the incredible sawdust carpets in Sutiaba.

Granada: Granada is a great place to celebrate Semana Santa in Nicaragua because you can participate in the Aquatic Stations of the Cross on Lake Nicaragua and see the ox cart pilgrims gathering in Nandaime.

Masaya: Visit the Monimbó neighborhood in Masaya right before Semana Santa begins to see the San Lázaro blessing of the dogs.

Conclusion

Semana Santa is first and foremost a religious holiday in Nicaragua. But even if you don’t practice, you can still appreciate the many beautiful traditions that take place during this sacred time. Semana Santa in Nicaragua is a cultural celebration with many creative expressions of faith passed down through generations. If you visit during Holy Week, take the time to stop and see the unique traditions of Nicaragua.

Did you visit Nicaragua during Semana Santa? Share your experience in the comments below!

Meet your Tour Guides

Hola! We’re Gail & Luis, a team of two with a deep love for Nicaragua. Luis, a professional tour guide, is the knowledgeable source behind the blog. Gail, an American writer, is the voice. 

We started this blog as a way to stay connected from afar and support Nicaragua in our own small way.

Today, our mission is to open hearts and minds to the wonders of Nicaragua and make it easier than ever to start planning your trip.

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