Dia de los Muertos, or Day of the Dead, has become widely known in the United States as an after Halloween celebration with sugar skull face paint and colorful flowers.
But in Mexico, the feeling of Dia de los Muertos is much more sacred.
“Dia de los Muertos isn’t just a day for us, it’s a way of life. It’s our culture,” said Manuel Rangel Inda from Vallarta Eats, a Puerto Vallarta food tour company. I spent the weekend of Dia de Muertos in Puerto Vallarta experiencing the culture that envelops the town and the entire country of Mexico.
Starting on All Saints’ Day on November 1st, the city is in full swing for the celebration of the dead starting with Dia de los Inocentes to remember the babies and children that have died. November 2nd is Dia de los Muertos to honor deceased adults.
On November 2nd, with my face painted like a catrina (a female skeleton), I headed to downtown Puerto Vallarta to take part in the celebration. I started at the Panteón 5 de Diciembre cemetery where graves are covered with flowers, pictures, and favorite foods and drinks of the buried. Families sat near the headstones talking to their dead and children chased each other among the tombs. There was no place for mourning or sadness. Rather, this was a day to remember and celebrate the life of someone they love.
From there, I followed the Dia de los Muertos parade up towards the Malecon, the Puerto Vallarta boardwalk. It was hard to tell if the people in the parade signed up to be a part of it or if they jumped in. From cars with streamers and motorcycles adorned with skeletons to scout troops carrying a flag and women twirling their skirts, the street with the parade was filled with revelry. Led by a man in a white suit, a mask, and leading a band, the parade snaked down the Malecon for onlookers to watch and cheer on the celebration of life.
The streets of downtown Puerto Vallarta are filled with ofrendas, altars set up to embody the spirit of Dia de los Muertos or to remember a specific person who has passed on. My favorite was tucked next to a building that was a shrine to singer and Texas native Selena. Church services were also going on in town with the doors open so you could stop in and say a prayer to your relative.
After the parade, I went to the Marriott Puerto Vallarta where all their hotel departments set up their own ofrendas in the open-air patio by the pool. All day guests were invited to explore the area and look at these altars. “We put out flowers and candles so the souls can find their way to us,” said one of the Marriott staff. The hotel hosted a party after the parade to talk through the reasons behind each ofrenda and to celebrate the night together. The award for best ofrenda went to the department that built an altar to the pets that passed with candles, cat and dog treats, and small animal bowls on the ground in front of an altar with skulls and decorations.
The party, which is available by signing up with the hotel, included dinner and a show. A man dressed as a catrin was singing while dinner was served and, over dessert, there was a folklorico ballet which included men dancing with trays of liquor on their heads and women in beautifully colorful dresses. As the night went on, the celebration continued like a party. This is truly not a time for mourning, but a time for people to reflect on the great memories of those who have passed. “We do not get sad on this day. It’s a happy time to let the souls see us celebrating them,” said Cristina Hernandez, public relations and marketing manager of Marriott Puerto Vallarta.
I went into this with no expectation of the events but ended up spending time thinking fondly of those in my life that have passed. While the sun set over the ofrendas at the Marriott patio, I pondered over the items I’d place on the altar for those I still hold in my heart, the food and drinks, the pictures, and the tribute to their hobbies I think their souls would see and want to come back just for a glimpse.
Where to Stay:
Marriott Puerto Vallarta Resort & Spa allows travelers to learn about Jalisco’s rich culture – from it’s Dia de los Muertos celebrations to tasting of the property’s own tequila. This year, the fully reimagined resort completed a more than $20 million renovation project that spanned its lobby and common areas, guest rooms and suites, and, most recently, unveiled a spectacular upgrade to its infinity pool, and relocated the swim-up bar for full 180-degree views of Banderas Bay and its iconic mountains. By day, guests will enjoy cooling off with a beverage at Nosh, a new and more modern swim-up bar concept with a second level that serves sunset bites (and views) by night. Patrons can expect locally inspired “chilled” cuisine such as fresh tostadas piled high with bay-caught seafood.
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Cover photo Kayla Elliott
Kayla Elliott is a Texas native who now resides in Austin. She loves to travel, write haikus, and eat TexMex. You can see her adventures and the occasional dog picture on Instagram at kaylove74.