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Friday, 01 January 2021

Forget Aladdin, Antigua’s Magic Carpets Are Better

Written by Bel Woodhouse
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It’s 3am and excitement hums through me. Strolling the cobblestoned streets of Antigua is magic. Filled with vibrant color, floodlights, haphazard gangplanks erected a foot off the ground and what seems to be an endless supply of smiling grandmothers that nod their heads as you pass. The air is rich with culture, tradition and the smell of some of the world’s best fresh ground coffee.



Beautifully shaded alfombras. ©Bel Woodhouse

It’s Semana Santa. Easter week in Antigua, Guatemala where a beautiful tradition exists. Glorious alfombras –temporary carpets– are skillfully built with care. Layer upon layer of sawdust, boldly colored sand and flowers fill the streets in some of the most stunning patterns I’ve ever laid eyes on.


Taking hours or the entire night to create, they are destroyed in a matter of minutes as the Catholic processions pass over them the following morning.


There’s no cars, no pollution, just the sound of laughter, friends talking and the encompassing feeling of family. Neighbors help each other, toiling over intricate stencils as grandfathers send the younger members of the family out onto the tiny trestles straddling their street wide masterpiece. Their job is to fill the patterned stencils with brightly colored sands over the hard to reach middle.


All the while, mothers and abuelas (grandmothers) are along the side whispering ‘con cuidado amor’ which means ‘carefully love’.


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Family working together. ©Bel Woodhouse



See, these amazing works of art have been passed down from generation to generation. It’s common to see three or four generations of the same family working together all night to create their families unique alfombra.

Grandfathers who previously helped their grandfathers in times past sit patiently to the side sipping coffee chatting with friends while overseeing the entire process, their days of sliding along the plank well and truly behind them.


It’s an all-sensory experience unlike any other. I’ve traveled all throughout Central America from Mexico down to Costa Rica, seen some beautiful festivals, carnivals and customs but this tradition is so stunningly beautiful it’s worth getting up in the wee hours for.


As you stroll the air is rich with refreshing pine when you pass the more natural alfombras built with fresh pine needles. Or, with the sweet fragrance of flowers as you stand in awe unable to believe your eyes at the sheer wealth of floral arrangements ready to be the crowning centerpieces.



Floral alfombras with lilies, chrysanthemums, sea lavender and daisies. ©Bel Woodhouse

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Last modified on Friday, 01 January 2021

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