Religious tourism in Guatemala is one of the richest experiences for foreign visitors and can be enjoyed throughout the country. In addition, its rich history envelops visitors in a unique, mystical atmosphere.
You can participate in pilgrimages for Christians, such as the pilgrimage to visit Hermano Pedro de Bethancourt who was a Religious of the days of the Colony and who was canonized in 2002.
Holy Week in Guatemala is an awe-inspiring mix of symbols, sounds and aromas. Colorful carpets made of dyed sawdust, flowers, foliage and grains, perfumed by the smell of incense in the air, mark the way of the traditional processions of the season in cities and towns. Holy Week has become one of the tourist and religious attractions that are most memorable and sought-out by tourists from around the world, many of whom come year after year to participate in the religious liturgies or simply to enjoy the sights and sounds.
Religion in Guatemala has over 400-year-old traditions and pilgrimages that follow different paths. Central Americans and Mexicans participate in many of these pilgrimages in Guatemala.
Esquipulas is an emblematic city in religion and for religious tourism. It welcomes approximately 3 million visitors yearly. Every year, a record 32 traditional national and foreign pilgrimages to Esquipulas are organized. The Basilica of Esquipulas Cathedral is home to the Black Christ of Esquipulas, a wooden image termed “black” because, over the course of 400 years of veneration, its wood has acquired a dark coloring.
Visits to basilicas or sanctuaries are popular in departments such as Chiquimula, Alta Verapaz, Quetzaltenango and Antigua Guatemala. These visits, surrounded by an aura of mysticism, offer history, architecture and colonial beauty.
Three celebrations attract foreign pilgrims particularly:
- Novena to the Lord of Esquipulas in January, with pilgrimages from all throughout Mesoamerica.
- Holy Week in Antigua Guatemala, one of the most solemn and largest religious events of the Christian world and which is particularly relevant in Antigua. The liturgy is further enhanced with the colorful sawdust carpets that the processions walk over, and the city offers cuisine, history, and architecture.
- In October, the month of the Holy Rosary of the Basilica of the Virgin of the Rosary in the Church of Santo Domingo in Guatemala City, pilgrims come from different parts of the country.
- Santo Hermano Pedro
This is a journey of spiritual and mystical reflection, which represents the places where Holy Hermano Pedro of San José de Betancourt worked and tended to destitute and abandoned people, to whom he dedicated his whole life. The Pilgrim’s Path in Antigua Guatemala depicts his journey. Hermano Pedro requested prayers at night in the streets of Santiago de Guatemala, in favor of the souls of purgatory, while he rang a bell and repeated the famous refrain: “Remember brethren, we have but one soul, and if we lose it … we shall not recover it “.
- The looms of Pedro Armengol
This was the first place where Holy Hermano Pedro worked. He entered the trade of rustic cloth-and fabric-making, working as a weaver, sharing his life with almost 400 men who did forced labor from the prisons of the city. Here he began evangelizing, through example, by teaching the devotional prayers and the Holy Rosary with love, urging his fellow weavers to rectify their mistakes and lead a proper life. The looms suffered considerable damage during the earthquake of 1,773. The site is approximately 1-kilometer (0.6 mile) East of Antigua Guatemala, on National Road 10. It’s located on private property and is closed to the public.
- Monument to Hermano Pedro and the Matasanos Bridge
The old arch supported a bridge that crossed the Río Pensativo upon entering the city. The monument recalls the site of the original bridge, which was demolished in the mid-twentieth century. On February 18, 1651, Holy Hermano Pedro crossed the bridge and, kneeling, kissed the ground and said “here I shall live and die”. At that moment the earth shook and an earthquake struck. He thought it was because of him, a great sinner coming to the city. The monument marks the place where this narrative happened. Currently this place is on the public road and there is a sculpture in his memory and a tree of esquisúchil (scientific name Bourreria huanita).
- Real de Santiago Hospital
Founded by the first bishop of Guatemala, Monsignor Francisco Marroquín, circa 1553, to tend to Spaniards and mulattoes under the care of the religious of San Juan de Dios. Here, Hermano Pedro took shelter to recover after walking the road between Puerto Trujillo in Honduras and Santiago de Guatemala. The building was severely damaged by the earthquakes of 1773, and was later abandoned. It was here that Holy Hermano Pedro learned in the school of life to be charitable, as he saw the suffering of many who received no aid during the time he was sick in this hospital. It’s located on private property and is closed to the public.
- Church of Nuestra Señora de la Merced
Holy Hermano Pedro prayed in this church before the Blessed Sacrament, mainly at nighttime. It is said that the Priest in charge of the Church provided him with the key to the door to go in whenever he finished with his charity work. On Holy Thursday, Holy Hermano Pedro participated in the Procession of Penitents at midnight, dressed as a Nazarene and carrying a cross on his back. Currently, the Church of La Merced is visited by the devout faithful. Church Visits: Monday to Sunday from 08:00 to 12:00 and from 15:00 to 18:00. Free access.
- Church and Convent of Compañía de Jesús (Ibero-American Training Center, Spanish Cooperation)
In 1625, the fourth College ran under the name of Colegio de San Lucas, granting academic degrees in Theology and Philosophy. Hermano Pedro entered the school with the intention of becoming a priest, but dropped out as he had trouble learning Latin and was unable to obtain his identification documents.
Father Manuel Lobo, a Jesuit priest, was confessor, spiritual guide and executor of the Hermano Pedro will. The mural painting of the Church is considered the largest in the Old Kingdom of Guatemala. Currently, the Ibero-American Training Center and the Workshop School for Workers, both from the Spanish Agency for Development Cooperation, operate here.
Open Monday to Sunday from 9:00 a.m. to 6:00 p.m.
- Plaza Mayor
Three esquisúchil trees were planted to honor Holy Hermano Pedro at the Main Plaza. This tree is commonly referred to as “Hermano Pedro’s tree”.
- Palacio del Noble Ayuntamiento (Palace of the Noble City Council)
The current building was inaugurated in November 1743, on the same site where the previous City Hall buildings had been located. On April 7, 1799, it became the seat of the municipality of Antigua Guatemala.
The Main Hall of the Municipality is on the upper floor of the building, displaying the chairs and table used by the Municipal Corporation during regular sessions and ceremonial events. The chair used by the Mayor has a carved back with a commemorative inscription to Holy Hermano Pedro that exalts his life, virtues, and works. Open from 8:00 a.m. to 12:00 p.m. and from 2:00 p.m. to 6:00 p.m.
- San José Cathedral
The Cathedral is witness to the expressions of fervor of Holy Hermano Pedro to the Blessed Sacrament during the procession of the Octave of Corpus Christi, which crowned the Main Plaza. His cloak hung from a flag that was tied to a pole, as he danced and recited couplets in honor of the Blessed Sacrament. Free admission to the Cathedral: Monday to Sunday from 08:00 am to 12:00 noon and from 3:00 pm to 5:00 pm. Paid entrance to the Ruins.
- Calle de los Pasos
It runs from North to South from the San Francisco El Grande Church to the Ermita del Santo Calvario. There are 10 chapels that mark the stations of the Way of the Cross, according to the Franciscan tradition. At 1,322 steps, it is the same distance traveled by Jesus with the cross on Good Friday, from the Praetorium to Calvary.
Holy Hermano Pedro had great devotion to the Passion of Jesus. As penance on Friday nights, he dressed as a Nazarene and, carrying a heavy cross on his shoulders, performed his own Way of the Cross along Calle de la Amargura – now Calle de los Pasos – where he meditated on the Mystery of Redemption. The site is on the public road.
- Escuela de Cristo Church
Father Bernardino de Ovando, Holy Hermano Pedro’s spiritual guide, lived here.
When Hermano Pedro died on April 25, 1,667, many people wanted to pay their respect but since the nursing room of the Casa de Belen was very small, Bishop Payo de Rivera decided it would be better to hold the wake at the Church of the School of Christ. The next day the procession went out through Calle de los Pasos to the San Francisco El Grande Church to hold mass and to bury him in accordance with his will.
At present the School of Christ is the seat of the Parish of Our Lady of the Remedies. In its square there is an esquisúchil tree that was planted there in 1994.
Hours: Daily 9:00 am to 12:00 noon and from 3:00 pm to 5:00 pm. Free entrance.
- Santo Calvario Hermitage
Built at the southern end of the Calle de los Pasos by the Third Order of the Franciscans in the mid-seventeenth century. Holy Hermano Pedro live here during the most decisive stage of his life, when he discovered the real reason why God had brought him to Guatemala. He recovered his joy and his apostolic and charitable zeal. Holy Hermano Pedro participated actively, as supervisor and promoter of the Work, with good will and humility.
In 1657 Pedro de la Rosa concluded the sculpture of Christ for the Hermitage. The people call it “El Cristo del Hermano Pedro”. On March 19 of that year, Holy Hermano Pedro planted the Esquisúchil tree in its garden.
Hours: Daily from 8:00 a.m. to 12:00 noon and from 1:00 p.m. to 5:00 p.m. Closed Wednesday.
- Hospital and Temple of Nuestra Señora de Belén
The first hospital for convalescents of Latin America was founded in this place, as well as the first early education school, for poor children and adults. The site where Holy Hermano Pedro lavished love and care for the sick and the destitute who came to him in search of respite.
The old Plazuela de Belén is located to the west, where the Plaza a la Paz and the monument to Holy Hermano Pedro were later built, with a plaque containing the prayer of San Francisco de Assis.
Hours: Monday to Friday from 09:00 am to 12:30 pm and from 2:30 to 4:30 pm. Saturday, from 9:00 am to 12:00 noon.
- Beaterio o beatas de Belén
The Bethlemite Sisters settled in this Church of the Blessed Nuns of Bethlehem. The facade of the church boasts a sculpture of Holy Hermano Pedro in an attitude of devotion to the birth of Jesus.
- Church and Convento of San Francisco el Grande
The tomb of Holy Hermano Pedro is inside the church. Today, it is a pilgrimage site; people come to thank him for favors received or to ask for his intervention.
South of the temple you can see the Franciscan Museum of Holy Hermano Pedro. It consists of three rooms: the colonial room, the hall of miracles and the room of the Holy Hermano Pedro. The first one contains vestiges of the splendor of the Franciscan church, the second one has the offerings that the faithful have dedicated to him, and the third one houses the relics, and the portrait painted by Antonio Montúfar, considered the oldest and the one that most resembles him.
Hours: Museum and Colonial Monument: Monday to Sunday from 9:00 a.m. to 4:30 p.m.
An entrance fee is charged at the museum.
- Social Work of Hermano Pedro
At present, the Social Works occupy the San Pedro Apóstol old hospital for the clergy. Here, Holy Hermano Pedro visited the clergy who were in poor health. The Social Works are managed by the Order of the Franciscan Friars. Medical assistance, educational, spiritual, religious, moral and social education for low-income patients is offered. For this reason, today it is the heart of evangelical inspiration of the faith.
Hours of service for visits:
From Monday to Saturday from 8:00 am to 10:00 am and from 2:00 pm to 3:00 pm.
Visits by appointment only.
- Road of Santo Peregrino
With a tradition of over 400 years, pilgrims have arrived from different geographies of Mesoamerica in the Religious Destination of Esquipulas through different routes and in various means of transportation. Since the 1970s, the most traditional and widely used are the highways to the Atlantic, specifically CA-9 and CA-10.
Annually, an average of 1.2 million pilgrims worship in the Camarín del Santo Cristo in the Basilica, and an estimated 3 million annual visitors enjoy the city of Esquipulas in general, 32 traditional national and foreign pilgrimages take place, an estimated 60% of whom use highways CA-9 and CA-10 from traditional points of origin and from different cities in Guatemala, as well as from the neighboring countries of Mexico, Honduras and El Salvador throughout the year.
The daily movement of tourists, locals, and goods circulating to or from the borders of El Florido, Agua Caliente and La Ermita as well trade coming from different regions in Guatemala through the Verapaces, the Guatemalan Caribbean, Petén, the rest of the East and Guatemala City, and all the movement coming from the western and southern regions of the country makes these regions bustling centers of trade and religion, co-mingled with tradition and mysticism.
The Pilgrim’s Holy Route crosses 13 municipalities along highways CA-9 and CA-10, linking 3 departments of the Mystical and Natural Eastern Region, namely El Progreso, Zacapa and Chiquimula.
- The Path of the Bak´tunes
Ceibal, located in the tropical rainforest south of Peten and on the banks of the Río de la Pasión, is one of the most important and largest cities in the region. Very well preserved temples and stelae are still standing at this site.
To get to the park you can take a bus or a boat trip on the La Pasión River, which is ideal for enjoying the peaceful Petén jungle. In addition, you can see fauna like crocodiles, turtles, herons and hawks. Once at the site you will find pyramids, ceremonial temples, homes and an astronomical observation complex; all of this is surrounded by the song of the birds, howler monkeys and the exuberant tropical forest.
In addition, in Ceibal there are five stelae that commemorate the end of 9 Bak’tun and the beginning of 10 Bak’tun. This is one of the main attractions at the site, the finest and best preserved from the Late Classic period. They are located in the main square of the site, in a pyramidal temple.
- Tikal National Park
Declared Cultural and Natural World Heritage Site by UNESCO in 1979, Tikal National Park houses the remains of the largest and most important city in the pre-hispanic history of the Maya, as well as 550 square kilometers of exuberant tropical forest, home to a great diversity of species of flora and fauna.
The Tikal National Park is located in the north of Guatemala, in the department of Petén, 495 km from Guatemala City and only 64 km from the City of Flores, Petén.
- Uaxactún Archaeological Park
The Uaxactun Archaeological Park is located near Tikal, in the department of Petén, and is surrounded by 47 hectares of tropical jungle in the Maya Lowlands. In addition to its unparalleled natural beauty, Uaxactún was an important center for the development of monumental art during the Pre-Classic period. The great importance of this city is reflected in its monumental art, a fact evident in the largest masks ever found in the Maya territory.
Currently, the Astronomy Observation Complex of Uaxactun continues to have great importance for the ceremonies performed by the Maya people. The equinox and solstice is still celebrated here every year during the Festival of Uaxactún.
- Yaxhá – Nakum – Naranjo National Park
The Yaxha-Nakum-Naranjo National Park is an extensive park where four Maya cities are located: Yaxha, Nakum, Naranjo and Topoxte Island. It is also a wetland of global importance and habitat to a great variety of migratory birds.
The ancient Maya city of Yaxha is located on the banks of the Yaxha and Sacnab lagoons, and offers an incomparable landscape. This city reached the height of its development during the Early Classic Period, holding an important role in the Maya World for over 1500 years.
In Yaxha you can see architectural sets that mark the solar cycle (the solstice and equinox). There is also a complex of twin pyramids, similar to the one found in Tikal, which were used to celebrate the cycles called K’atun of the long-count Maya calendar.
The cities in this park are still of great importance and are widely visited by different Maya groups to perform religious ceremonies.
- El Mirador
El Mirador is a spectacular site with a fabulous diversity of natural resources, and is home to the largest Maya pyramid in the world. The Maya who lived in El Mirador developed writing, astronomy, mathematics, and agriculture, systems, among others, making them a very sophisticated culture a thousand years earlier than previously thought.
Among the temples and monuments in this site is the highest pyramid of the Maya World, La Danta Pyramid. In addition, astronomical observatories and triadic groups have been discovered, which have a main pyramid and two small ones that symbolize creation, according to Maya mythology.
- Takalik Abaj Archaeological Park
Located in the municipality of Retalhuleu, among the slopes of volcanoes and mountains in the Pacific, this site stands out as much for its natural beauty as for its archeology and history.
Tak’alik Ab’aj played a very important role in trade of the region before being dominated by the K’iche’s during the Post-Classic Period. In its monuments, representations of the Olmec culture and trends of the beginning of the Maya style traditions can be seen. The origins of the Maya calendar and its relationship with astronomy are also evident.
Tak’alik Ab’aj remains a ceremonial site of great importance for the Mam and K’iche’s, who still come to the site to perform ceremonies to bless their crops and families.
- Iximche Archaeological Park
This archaeological park is considered sacred for the Kaqchiqueles of the Guatemalan highlands. It is known as a place of Maya pilgrimage and rituals. Iximche is located in the municipality of Tecpán, in Chimaltenango, 40 km from its capital, 56 km from Antigua Guatemala and 91 km from the capital city, Guatemala City.
- Kaminal Juyú Archaeological Park
The archaeological site of Kaminal Juyu is located in Guatemala City. This was a very important trade center for the Mesoamerican region from the Pre-Classic to the Post Classic periods. Although much of the old K’iche’ city has been destroyed by the urbanization of modern Guatemala City, you can still find part of this site in zone 7 of the capital.
- Quiriguá Archaeological Park
Quiriguá is not only recognized for having the largest and best conserved stelae in the Maya world, but it also houses a great diversity of species typical of the rainforest north of the Motagua River. It was declared a World Heritage Site by UNESCO in 1981 for its natural and cultural importance.
In the Quiriguá ball game plaza there is a zoomorphic piece that narrates how the city was founded under the supervision of the founder of Copán, ‘Mo’ Kinch Yaks Kruk.