Basílica de Esquipulas

Central & Eastern Guatemala

A massive structure that has resisted the power of earthquakes for almost 250 years, the basilica is approached through a pretty park and up a wide flight of steps. The impressive facade and towers are floodlit at night. And if waiting hours to view a famed 'Black Christ' is your cup of tea, this is the right place to do it.

Inside, the devout approach the surprisingly small El Cristo Negro (Black Christ) with extreme reverence, many on their knees. Incense, murmured prayers and the scuffle of feet fill the air. When there are throngs of pilgrims, you must enter the church from the side to get a close view of the famous shrine. Shuffling along quickly, you may get a good glimpse or two before being shoved onward by the crowd behind you. On Sundays, religious holidays and (especially) during the Cristo de Esquipulas festival (January 14 to 15), the press of devotees is intense. On weekdays, you may have the place to yourself, which can be very powerful and rewarding.

Cruising the religious paraphernalia sold by the throngs of vendors around the basilica is an entertaining diversion. When you leave the church and descend the steps through the park and exit right to the market, notice the vendors selling straw hats that are decorated with artificial flowers and stitched with the name 'Esquipulas' – perfect for pilgrims who want everyone to know they've made the trip. These are very popular rearview mirror novelties for chicken-bus drivers countrywide.

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