Festivals and Events, Mexico City

Semana Santa: Mexico’s Easter Holiday

The Easter holiday is the most popular week of the year for family vacations in Mexico

Basilica de Guadalupe, Mexico City

One of the two busiest weeks for vacationing in Mexico is Semana Santa, or Holy Week, which runs from Palm Sunday through to Easter Sunday. The other week in the year when most people have at least several days off is the week between Christmas and New Year.

As with Thanksgiving in the United States, Easter is when Mexicans travel to be with their families, and it’s also the most popular time of year for family excursions.  School is out for two weeks and workers book time off and flock to Mexico’s beaches, or take vacations abroad.

If you travel to any of Mexico’s popular retreats or vacation spots during Easter, expect airports and bus stations to be hectic, interstate highways around principal cities to be busy, hotels to be heavily booked, and leisure attractions to be teeming with people.

Usually a first wave of holiday makers making their way out of major cities comes on the weekend ahead of Easter week, with a second wave leaving on Maundy Thursday and Good Friday.

From Mexico City, roads are often clogged for hours heading south to Cuernavaca and Acapulco, south-east towards Puebla and Veracruz, west to Guadalajara and Morelia or north towards Queretaro and the colonial heartland.

For chilangos staying home for the holidays, or visitors who appreciate a break from the madding crowds, this metropolitan exodus has advantages as the streets of the capital city empty out for a week. A journey that could take as long as two hours during a normal weekday is completed in 30 minutes. Parking spaces are easily found, restaurants and bars are far less crowded. Museums and parks are quieter, and lines to see special exhibitions are shorter.

Easter week is an ideal time to wander around the capital’s historic center, visit the famous Anthropology Museum on Reforma or take a leisurely strolls and a quiet lunch around the popular colonial enclaves of San Angel and Coyoacán. If you like to avoid the crowds and have a flexible schedule, visiting Mexico City during Easter and then heading out to Mexico’s beaches and colonial cities after the Easter holidays have passed will afford you the best of both situations: you’ll enjoy a tranquil capital and a quieter, off-peak, visit to a beach and/or colonial region afterwards.

The Easter holiday also has several effects on economic activity. Now, as in the weeks preceding the year-end holidays, costs of hotels and airfares rise with the added demand. These prices usually come down again after the holidays, but of course by then most people have already traveled and vacationed at the higher prices. People with school-age children or who work in formal employment often have limited flexibility to choose to go on vacation off-season, but those who are retired or have flexible work styles can save money — and the travel crush — by avoiding flights and holiday resorts at this time of year.

As the Semana Santa week moves back and forth between April and March, it also has an effect on economic indicators. The holidays make for active sales at stores and supermarkets, hotels and travel services, while putting a damper on other activity such as factories and construction works—many of which shut down at least on Thursday and Friday of Easter week. Those two days are official holidays and banks and financial markets are also closed. If Easter falls in March one year and April the next, March will have better production numbers the second year and April the worse numbers. Retailers, however, will report better results for the month that had the holiday. It all balances out in the end.

At the end of the Easter week holiday, the traffic flows return to their usual congested states, only this time with thousands crawling along roads traveling back into the cities—especially Mexico City.  If you have to travel in Mexico City on the first Monday after the two-week Easter break, allow yourself plenty of time and patience for your journey across the city.

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