In Mexico, Día de Los Muertos, or Day of the Dead, is a tradition dating back to the Aztecs in which families gather in cemeteries and erect home altars with symbolic spiritual ofrendas (offerings) for their lost loved ones. The holiday has garnered more international attention than ever in recent years, and travelling to observe and participate in Día de Los Muertos in Mexico has surged in popularity- in part due to the Disney Pixar film “Coco” (2017) and the depiction of a Día de Los Muertos parade in James Bond film “Spectre” (2015). By Mariah Tyler
We were invited to experience the holiday in Puerto Vallarta, in the state of Jalisco
Throughout Mexico, towns and cities host processions and sometimes even weeklong events for both locals and visitors to take part in. We were invited to experience the holiday in Puerto Vallarta, in the state of Jalisco, where we admired the beautifully made Calaveras (decorative skulls) and catrinas (the elegant female skeleton originally depicted by famous Mexican artist José Guadalupe Posada that became the icon for the holiday) and watched the parade along the Malecón (Puerto Vallarta’s mile-long waterfront esplanade).
Puerto Vallarta officially achieved the Guinness Title for 2022
This year, the resort town set out to build and break the record for the tallest Calavera catrina and officially achieved the Guinness title for 2022. The winning catrina towers above the Malecón and looks out onto Banderas Bay in a stunning blue dress with palm tree feathers adorning her hat. From the downtown parade to the cemetery and many ofrendas, the Day of the Dead is a unique time to visit Puerto Vallarta and to learn and appreciate the touching tradition local families have celebrated for generations.
Families make a pilgrimage to the cemetery to lay flowers
Throughout the day, families make a pilgrimage to the cemetery to lay flowers, most prominently marigolds and beautify the graves of their ancestors. The oldest cemetery in Puerto Vallarta is Pantheón 5 de Diciembre named for the surrounding neighbourhood which dates back to 1916. The street leading to the entrance bustled with vendors selling flowers and tacos to the families visiting the graves.
The mood is sombre, but the love and honour for ancestors are palpable as you observe the care that goes into freshening up tombstones and adorning them with items like paper Picado (a decorative tissue paper craft) and portraits of religious figures. Some locals were open to talking about the loved ones buried there and were welcoming guests at the entrance. When visiting a cemetery, especially as a tourist, it is always important to be respectful and mindful of others.
Locally crafted Catrinas and Calaveras dotted our walk towards the centre of the celebrations
Locally crafted catrinas and Calaveras dotted our walk towards the centre of the celebrations along the Malecón and around the Plaza de Armas, the main square. Here, an array of ofrendas made to honour people and groups important to the city were on display. The altars typically have Papel Picado, marigolds, salt, water, pan de Muertos (bread of the dead), photographs, incense, and sugar skulls. Each item is believed to help guide the spirits in the night. Some will also have personal items and favourite foods and treats of the deceased.
In Puerto Vallarta, the parade has been happening for seven years
The Malecón is lined with familiar Calaveras, representing everyone from Frida Kahlo and Marilyn Monroe to members of The Beatles. Here is a skeleton figure honouring the famous Jalisco-born singer and songwriter Vicente Fernández Gómez, who passed away last December. Hundreds of tourists and locals line the streets waiting for the parade procession. Parades were not always a part of the tradition, but for some areas, a procession depicted in a James Bond film in 2016 spurred the idea for tourism boards to host parades. In Puerto Vallarta, the parade has been happening for seven years and consists of many local groups of all ages.
The Day Of The Dead In Puerto Vallarta is an exceptional affair to witness
A parade participant shows off an elaborately colourful costume in traditional skull makeup. The use of skeletons and skulls reminds us that death is a part of life and in the end, we are all just bones. A core belief of the holiday is to not fear death but to commemorate it. As the parade starts, young females lead the procession dressed in traditional attire and costumes.
Drums beat and a ballet Folklorico group shows off their dance moves in colourful dresses. Both smiles and stoic faces were setting the tone for the parade but many were more than happy to stop and pose for the camera. Some royally dressed young girls perched atop cars wore stunning costumes and magnificent floral headpieces.
Jalisco is well known for tequila, mariachis, and traditionally dressed Mexican horse riders
Jalisco is well known for tequila, mariachis, and charros (traditionally dressed Mexican horse riders). The Charrería (competitive equestrian games) is Mexico’s national sport, and it’s a point of pride for anyone who learns to take part. Below, a young charro in a skull face sits perfectly on the back of a donkey following a group of adult men riding as charros in the parade.
We experienced the exclusive Day of the Dead dinner at Marriott Puerto Vallarta Resort and Spa
After the parade, we went back to Marriott Puerto Vallarta Resort and Spa and experienced their guests’ exclusive Day of the Dead dinner. Guest packages offer floral headpieces, catrina makeup sessions, and a special dinner experience on the resort plaza. It’s an easy way to get a taste of participating in celebrations without crashing intimate family gatherings.
The mariachi band played as a male and female skeleton duo danced around marigold-strewn and candle-lit spaces. Each department at the resort is tasked with erecting an ofrenda, and guests vote on the best one.
Public altars may honour famous people and even honour pets
The detail and care behind each ofrenda are illustrative of how much love and respect is paid to those in the afterlife. Remembering and carrying the spirit of the dead helps heal any pain or sorrow that lingers for families and loved ones. Public altars may honour famous people or multiple people at once. Some even honour pets.
Standing in front of an ofrenda at night while mariachi music plays, smelling the marigolds and incense as the candles flicker and the papel picado sways in the wind, you get a sense that other spiritual worlds may be present. To experience this as an outsider feels like a privilege and a gift — one that will remain in memory long after the return home.
Hero and Feature Image Credit: Mariah Tyler
This story first appeared on www.travelandleisure.com