What is “Semana Santa” anyway?
No, friends, it has nothing to do with Santa Claus. In most of Latin America, the end of Holy Week, or Easter Week, is a festival time. Most countries offer national holidays for at least Good Friday, if not other days as well. Most schools are closed and families take advantage of the opportunity to celebrate together. For Roatan, that means HUGE crowds. Semana Santa is the busiest time of year for the island as an enormous influx of tourists arrives to enjoy some carefree days on the beach. What that translates to is that West Bay Beach is packed, West End bars are slammed, and really loud music will be blasting from everywhere. It’s a festival feeling and it’s great fun if you want to participate. If you’re seeking more tranquility, this is the week to head to the East End of Roatan instead.
If you’re visiting during Semana Santa here are a few things to keep in mind:
- There will be more roadblocks as police try to manage the crowds and control the traffic. Have your license on you at all times when you are driving and be polite. They’re just doing their jobs.
- Both West End and West Bay will be incredibly crowded, so be smart about your personal belongings. You certainly don’t need your passport, credit cards, and all your electronics while you’re sitting in a lounge chair on the sand. Enjoy the moment and leave all that stuff secured in your hotel room. Wherever there are large crowds, there can, of course, be issues.
- Be safe. Again, folks, whenever there are large crowds getting drunk all day and night in a celebratory fashion, there can be issues. Sometimes drunken fights break out – much like at sporting events in the U.S. Sometimes drunk guys just don’t take a hint and insist upon chatting you up to an uncomfortable degree – again, much like at any dive bar in the U.S. It’s the same situation everywhere so just treat this like your average college spring break ridiculous scene and you’ll be fine.
- While we are always on Island Time around here, during Semana Santa things will take even longer, so be patient. We don’t always have these crowd levels so hotel and bar staff will definitely be overwhelmed. Give them a break, relax a second, and just go with the flow. It’s not their fault the place is crowded so it might take you a few extra minutes to get your beer.
- Acknowledge cultural differences and remember that if you traveled from the U.S. or Canada or anywhere else…this is not your country. You are a visitor, so be polite. Semana Santa is called Holy Week and that’s not just because it’s Easter. This week is something locals look forward to all year. This may not be your culture so if something seems different to you, remember you’re the weird one here. Don’t get upset if the people in the hotel room next to you are blasting their music and getting drunk. Don’t be annoyed if the person in the cab with you is talking so loudly on the phone you’re confident the entire island can hear. And don’t forget that this is a Spanish-speaking nation and you will likely be surrounded by non-English speakers. You are the visitor. Remember that.
Semana Santa can be a really fun experience for you if you’re ready to dance, drink, and revel in the festivities. If that’s not your style, just be aware that this happens every year and avoid coming this week. For those who are here right now, enjoy!