Celebrating Day of the Dead in the Bay of Banderas

Mexico’s Day of the Dead is fast approaching, but death is anything but frightful during this traditional Mexican holiday honoring loved ones who have passed. In Riviera Nayarit 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 that date back over 3,000 years. The roots of this holiday can be traced back to pre-Hispanic cultures such as Aztecs and the Mayans. It’s value to the culture of Mexico is so important that UNESCO 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 to reunite with their families for a special celebration where the dead are greeted with their favorite foods, drinks, and treats.

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 is all about.

Puerto Vallarta and Riviera Nayarit come to life with festivals, parades, and altar displays to remember 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.

Day of the Dead in Puerto Vallarta

In Puerto Vallarta, Day of the Dead kicks off with a colorful 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.

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 neighborhoods, 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.

Day of the Dead in Sayulita, Nayarit

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, small villages, such as Sayulita, reveal a world decorated in skulls and skeletons. These iconic symbols are depicted as joyous rather than mournful. They are commonly seen as carved skull masks worn by revelers, 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. Just ending the rainy season, the humidity is low and everything is in bloom along the Bay of Banderas. As the celebration hits its stride, the fragrance of flowers, candles, and incense fills the autumn air. Walking from any local central plaza to a cemetery is especially magical on a warm evening.

This year, Sayulita will redecorate its streets in honor of fishermen and surfers who have died at sea. The festival begins on October 31 and ends on the night of November 2.

On 1 November, there will be a religious celebration followed by a procession from the church to the pantheon, accompanied by mariachis.

This is a holiday that everybody should experience at least once in their lifetime, before experiencing Day of the Dead from the other side.

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