Mexico’s Day of the Dead is right around the corner. But death is not something to be feared on this holiday. In Puerto Vallarta and Riviera Nayarit, two vibrant destinations on Mexico’s Pacific Coast, it’s the time of year that feels most alive.
Day of the Dead 2018
Day of the Dead is one of Mexico’s most important traditions because of the mystical rituals that surround it. Roots of the celebration can be traced well over 3,000 years ago in pre-Hispanic cultures such as Aztecs and the Mayans. UNESCO has since declared it an Intangible Cultural Heritage of Humanity.
In modern times, the 2-day celebration runs from 1– 2 November, encompassing All Saints’ Day (1 Nov) and All Souls’ Day (2 Nov). The popular belief is that those who have left us return from beyond the grave. Back on Earth, they are reunited with their families who pay respects by offering food, drink, treats and gifts.
Living alongside death means that Mexicans have learned to accept it in their lives. But this is also a time for tourists to see what Mexican heritage all about.
Day of the Dead Parades in Puerto Vallarta
In Puerto Vallarta, Day of the Dead kicks off with a colourful parade from the cemetery to the Malecón, a mile-long boardwalk dotted by art sculptures. The parade heads towards the Cuale River market, passing red-roofed buildings and cobbled streets as well as different parks and churches. Ballet dancers perform for cheering crowds along the way. Mariachis serenade the dead and alive alike with lively music.
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Everywhere you look, you’ll see people dressed in dapper skeleton costumes and skull make-up known as the Catrina. Large altars built around the city hall from across the Malecón guide the spirits home. Many businesses also put up beautiful altars for public display. If you walk through the neighbourhoods, you can even see small altars on the sidewalks in front of houses.
Live performances and art exhibitions pop up throughout the event. A folk festival, catrina contest and fireworks cap off the night with a bang. Of course, many other attractions in the area will tempt you too.
Rhythms of the Night – SAVIA by Vallarta Adventures is the #1 dinner show in Puerto Vallarta. It’s a great option during Day of the Dead because they have altars, catrinas and more to match the entertainment. See an explosion of acrobatic skill, pulse-pounding rhythms, vibrant dance, spectacular costumes and an interpretation of the Aztec creation story, where the spirit world once again comes alive!
Revelry Day of the Dead in Riviera Nayarit
Nearby, Riviera Nayarit comes to life with festivals to remember and revere the dead. Families gather at gravesides to celebrate the lives of deceased loved ones. Carpets of marigold line hundreds of altars in tribute to those who are no longer with us.
As the festivities reach full swing, mariachi bands, sombreros and skeletons flood the streets. Some well-known local artists, from the Huichol to the hipsters of Revolucion del Sueño, create elaborate yet traditional altars adorned in festive crafts and crepe paper.
Meanwhile, seaside towns such as Sayulita reveal a world decorated in calacas. These iconic symbols are depicted as joyous rather than mournful. They are commonly seen as carved skull masks worn by revellers, figures made of wood or clay, or as candies eaten by relatives and friends.
Another unique Day of the Dead dish is pan de muerto, a sweet egg-based bread baked in simple round shapes, often engraved with a skull and crossbones. Spirits are believed to absorb its essence after their long journey back to Earth.
Besides all the fun, you can’t beat the weather this time of year. There’s hardly any rain, low humidity and everything blooms along the coast. As the celebration hits its stride, the fragrance of flowers, candles and incense fills the autumn air. Walking from the central plaza to the cemetery is especially magical on a warm evening.
Day of the Dead in Sayulita
This year, Sayulita will redecorate its streets in honour of fishermen and surfers dead at sea. The festival begins on 31 October and ends on the night of 2 November.
On 1 November, there will be a religious celebration followed by a procession from the church to the pantheon, accompanied by mariachis. It all forms a holiday that everybody should experience at least once in their lifetime.