In partnership with Visit Puerto Vallarta
We love planning a trip way in advance and having something on the calendar to look forward to. We also strongly believe in living life to the fullest right now, because tomorrow isn’t guaranteed. Not to put too fine a point on it, but that’s got us thinking about booking a flight to Puerto Vallarta, the picturesque coastal town nestled along Mexico’s Pacific coast, in time for their legendary Day of the Dead Festival. The 10-day celebration honoring the lives of deceased loved ones is steeped in color and tradition and has become the kind of cultural phenomenon you have to see and do in a particular place to truly experience it. The festival culminates with the observance of the actual holiday on November 1-2, which is to say, really soon, so we thought we’d give you a bit of background on what makes Día de los Muertos in Puerto Vallarta such a unique, must-see event while you still have time to jump on those flight and hotel reservations. If you just can’t swing it right now, that’s cool too. Puerto Vallarta has a ton of other reasons to visit all year round, a few of which we’ll touch on below.
Día de los Muertos
Día de los Muertos, or Day of the Dead, is a longstanding Mexican tradition celebrating life, love and remembrance observed all over the world. But no place does it quite like Puerto Vallarta. For 10 days, the streets of this seaside town burst to life with a captivating sensory overload. The waterfront promenade known as the Malecon is adorned with vibrant marigolds, giant calaveras (“sugar skulls,” as you may know them), intricately designed memorial altars called ofrendas, and Mexican folk art called papel picado. Aromas of the traditional incense copal and Palo Santo guide visitors around the boardwalk. The vibe is equal parts poignant and jubilant, reflecting the duality of life and death the festival celebrates. Witnessing the connection between the living and the departed in this way, in this place, is truly profound.
Tradition dictates that the 10 days of cultural activities culminate with the obligatory cemetery visit on November 2 where families gather to share stories and offerings. But again, this is no funeral. These visits almost immediately turn into a fiesta with street vendors hawking fresh flowers, classic Mexican street foods and fresh baked sweets, alongside mariachis soundtracking the whole spectacle. Imagine the world’s biggest family reunion, only the family is all of Mexico.
The World’s Tallest Calavera Catrina
The centerpiece of the festival is a towering testament to Mexican folklore, the world’s tallest calavera catrina, which will be unveiled on November 1 at the Malecon Lighthouse. Recognized by the Guinness World Records, this majestic figure is a 75.5-foot tall symbol of the town’s dedication to preserving its rich cultural heritage. The awe-inspiring catrina is adorned in traditional attire: a cocktail dress, wide-brimmed hat and nails the size of your arm hand-painted with motifs inspired by Puerto Vallarta. The original project, which debuted last year, was led by local artist Alondra Muca and took more than a year to conceive and create, with more than two months dedicated to construction alone. The Great Lady of the Malecon of Puerto Vallarta is truly a sight to behold.
Beautiful Beaches and Biodiversity
We recognize that the 10 days of the Día de los Muertos Festival is a somewhat tight window to plan your travels. The good news is Puerto Vallarta’s golden sand beaches get 360 days of sunlight a year. And there are loads of them, offering a range of experiences for any taste. Playa los Muertos is the locals’ favorite and the most traditional beach, with a bustling boardwalk offering fine dining, shopping and seaside beach clubs. Los Arcos National Marine Park is a must for divers and snorkeling enthusiasts. Humpback whales flock to the Banderas Bay from December to March, while thousands of sea turtles lay their eggs along Puerto Vallarta’s beaches from May to September. The secluded coves of Conchas Chinas, the southernmost beach in Puerto Vallarta, offer a relaxing vantage point to gaze at the Sierra Madre Mountains in the distance.
The Sierra Madre Occidental
Across from the sandy beaches along the Banderas Bay lie the Sierra Madre Occidental mountains. Head out on a day trip and take your pick between hikes, zip-lining, rappelling, horseback riding, or ATV tours through lush jungles and cascading waterfalls.
Mexican Food Paradise
Tacos al pastor? Check. The freshest ceviche? Got that. Churros? Go ahead, have half a dozen. This place is a culinary gem, and that goes so far beyond the fact that tequila was invented here in the state of Jalisco. There are far too many outstanding options for us to try and list them all, but we’ll try to get you started: Get your birria breakfast tacos at Birrieria y Taqueria Liz. Check out El Barracuda for mercadito style seafood (and its sister bar next door, El Solar, for cocktails). For ceviche, it’s Mariscos 8 Tostadas Estadio.
Art Galleries and Murals
Even if you miss the catrina, you can still experience one of the fastest growing art scenes in Mexico with more than 30 galleries displaying native Huichol art, traditional Mexican pottery and folk art, contemporary international sculptures, and murals and street art that have become recent tourist attractions. Guided art walks will ensure your photo ops with sculptures like Triton and Siren by Carlos Espino, The Roundabout of the Sea by Alejandro Colunga, In Search of Reason by Sergio Bustamante, or the iconic Boy on the Seahorse by Rafael Zamarripa.
A Welcoming Hub
Puerto Vallarta touts itself as “the friendliest city in the world,” and its welcoming and inclusive atmosphere has made it a longtime haven for LGBTQ+ travelers. The Zona Romantica, or Old Town, with its lively bars, clubs and boutique shops, stands as a testament to the town’s celebration of diversity.
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