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Celebrating the Day of the Dead in Puerto Vallarta is a fascinating cultural experience.

Read on for a detailed guide to this traditional holiday and all the events happening in PV. But first, a little history lesson…

Puerto Vallalrta Mural
One of many excellent murals in PV. Photo by Sasha Savinov

Day of the Dead History

Known in Spanish as Día de Muertos, the Day of the Dead goes back thousands of years to the time of the Aztecs.

They had a festival dedicated to the Goddess of the Underworld named Mictecacihuatl. Try saying that one three times fast.

Initially, it took place in the 9th month of the Aztec calendar. Not surprisingly, the colonizing Spaniards weren’t so fond of this indigenous celebration.

They moved the festival to the end of October in order to associate it with the Christian holiday of Allhallowtide. These days, the Day of the Dead is celebrated on November 1st and 2nd.

day of the dead mexico

While the Christian observances during Allhallowtide have always been a bit mournful, Día de Muertos is a far more joyous affair.

It’s a time to celebrate those who have left this physical world and the lives they led, not a time to sit around and mope.

This is because it’s believed that the deceased actually return during this special holiday. If they came back to see everyone sitting around crying, it wouldn’t be a very fun time now, would it?

At midnight on November 1st, the pearly gates open to allow the spirits of children to return first.

That’s why the first day of the holiday is called Día de los Inocentes (Day of the Innocents) or Día de los Angelitos (Day of the Little Angels).

Meanwhile, the spirits of adults can return on November 2nd. That’s why the Day of the Dead celebrations actually goes on for a couple of days. Preparations start days or even weeks in advance, though.

day of the dead mexico

Customs for the Day of the Dead

Many people will go to the cemetery in the days before the holiday. They go there to clean and decorate the graves of their loved ones.

In the lead-up to the Day of the Dead, the cemetery in the 5 de diciembre neighborhood is bustling with visitors. It’s fine to walk around the outside, but it’s not exactly appropriate to go in unless you’re invited by locals.

Something you’ll see everywhere is the Mexican marigold. It’s also known as Flor de Muerto (Flower of the Dead) for its popularity this time of year. In fact, some even leave a path of them from the graveyard to their home to help guide the spirits.

One of the most important customs is the building of colorful altars. These are called ofrendas and each one is unique. People use flowers, incense, candles, trinkets, and pictures to create these altars for their loved ones who have passed.

Day of the Dead altar
This is how I want to be remembered. Photo by Sasha Savinov

Around the time of the Day of the Dead in Puerto Vallarta, you’ll see ofrendas all over town. Many of them feature decorative skulls, called calavera.

In fact, the calavera has become such an important symbol of the holiday that local artists have started painting more large-scale versions to be put around town. Strolling along the Malecon, you’re sure to spot a few vibrant calaveras.

Of course, it wouldn’t be a Mexican holiday without some special food. The pan de muerto (bread of the dead) is a sweet, soft bread that is often decorated with some bone-shaped pieces.

If you’re around during the Day of the Dead, you’ll notice bakeries all over town selling this traditional sweet bread. Grab some and a cup of atole, which is a hot corn-based drink with cinnamon and vanilla.

face painting day of the dead puerto vallarta

Day of the Dead Puerto Vallarta Events

With the success of the huge Day of the Dead parade in Mexico City, our little city by the bay decided to follow suit. These days, there are many different public events throughout PV from late October to early November.

While it’s hard to top the parade in the capital, PV decided to go big in another way. In 2022, the city is breaking the Guinness Book of World Records for the tallest Catrina ever.

Known as La Calavera Catrina (the Elegant Skull), this famous symbol of the Day of the Dead actually started out as a satirical cartoon. It was meant to poke fun at the upper class and politicians who tried to act more European in the early 1900s.

Puerto Vallarta Catrina
The record-breaking Catrina. Photo by Sean Beaulieu

For the 2022 Day of the Dead in Puerto Vallarta, the city is constructing a 25-meter-tall Catrina on the Malecon. It’s a whole 10 meters taller than the current record holder, so PV should hold it for a while. You can see a video clip of it here!

You can even become Catrina yourself, as face painting has become one of the more popular activities. There are plenty of artists around town who can do some amazing Day of the Dead-themed face paint.

There are plenty of other festivities going on throughout the week. This includes musical performances, folkloric ballet, and even a Day of the Dead parade of our own.

As you can see, this is a very exciting and cheerful time of year. Visitors are invited to take part in the festivities and enjoy this vibrant Mexican holiday alongside the locals here in PV.

As long as you’re respectful (i.e. not walking around the cemetery snapping pictures), you’re welcome to join the celebration. It really is a wonderful time to be in Puerto Vallarta and a reminder to cherish loved ones.

Day of the Dead Mural
What a great time to be in PV. Photo by Sasha Savinov

Planning a trip to Puerto Vallarta? Check out these posts!

day of the dead puerto vallarta pin

Sasha is a teacher, writer, and video producer from Detroit, Michigan. He graduated from Michigan State (Go Green!) and has since lived in China, Indonesia, Mexico, and Colombia. Sasha and his wife Rachel run Grateful Gnomads, where they write about teaching ESL, digital nomad life, long-term travel, live music, and more.

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