Fun on the Riviera Nayarit

Dia de Los Muertos

By Cat Morgan

On Dia de los Muertos, or more commonly known as the “Day of the Dead”, Mexicans celebrate every year on November 1st, and 2nd throughout Mexico. Mexican peoples start preparing for this event months in advance, creating elaborate altars that honor their deceased loved ones. This holiday is greatly celebrated and is a large part of the Mexican heritage and culture, and is passed down from generation to generation.
If you enjoy Mexico, and would like to see true Mexican culture, Dia de los Muertos is a holiday not to be missed! I try to travel to as many of the Riviera Nayarit cemeteries that I can. Some of these cemeteries are very small, yet all are beautifully decorated as family members are remembered, and honored. I shot these photos, and they are from a very small cemetery, just off the Punta Mita Hwy up the back way to Sayulita, the Sayulita cemetery, and the night photos are from San Pancho, as well as the children’s street parade.

3000 Year Old Tradition
This 3000 year old ritual initially began in August, the 9th month of the Aztec Solar Calendar, and was celebrated for the entire month honoring the dead. This tradition continues today on the Riviera Nayarit and all of Mexico as families make altars in honor of a family member or loved one, or an outstanding community member that has benefited society that has passed away the previous year, and all loved ones. The Day of the dead begins November 1st, and is the day that celebrates those who died as children and is called the “Day of the Little Angels” or All Saints Day, and November second is to celebrate the adults, and is also known as All Souls Day.

A Mexican View of the Afterlife
Many Mexicans in Mexico traditionally have different views of the afterlife, as some of their beliefs include keeping your identity when you die, and then return for this day, the Dia de los Muertos. Elaborate alters are created with flowers, candles, and painted skeletons and skulls that are dressed up to honor their loved ones. This shows respect and that they are not forgotten. Alters are a way to guide the spirits home, and for meeting and celebrating in the cemeteries. People also dress up like Catrina or skeletons as part of the celebration with amazing make-up and lavish costumes.
Mexican folk art of the skeletons or skulls, which are very popular and sold all over the Riviera Nayarit and Mexico, are made out of chocolate and sugar (for the kids), ceramics, and paper mache. Well known Mexican Folk Artists create very elaborate altars, often signing their artwork.

Elaborate Alters
The elements are important in an altar, which are water, earth and salt. Alters are constructed in several layers, and at least 3. On one side of the altar clothing from the deceased is laid out, and in the center of the first level a photograph with a path to the earth, incense and colored paper that symbolize the life and death aspects. Skulls, candles and marigolds are placed at the altar, along with water, fruit, bread and corn for the offering the feast along with music. The main colors are purple, black and orange; however, you will find many vibrant color creations.
Families gather at the gravesides and have a fiesta and visit as a time of honoring their loved ones, and celebrating their lives. There is a lot of creativity, time and energy put into the making of a Dia de los Muertos altar, and often contests are held. There are alters at all of the pueblo cemeteries, some of the churches, and there are usually altars in the town plazas.

Who is Catrina?
La Catrina, or also known as la Flaca, la Huesuda, la Pelona are a fixture on Dia de los Muertos, and all throughout the Riviera Nayarit and all of Mexico. You will find these fun skeletons everywhere for Dia de los Muertos, and all year long in stores and art shops dressed up in many different elaborate costumes, making beautiful collector’s items, or a fun gift for a friend, as you will be sure to find one that is dressed up fitting the work trades, such as musicians and also along traditional lines such as weddings.
Catrina is not a fancy model…this lady is la Muerte….and this mi amigos, is a lady of death!

Cat Morgan, owner of the Riviera Nayarit Fun Regional Network ( invites you for comments, questions, any Riviera Nayarit
news, or advertising interests.


  1. Hi Cat,

    Interesting article and summary on the Day of the Dead. I an surprised that it did not include reference to the ‘The Navigator’, the Mayan ruler Hanab Pakal II, and the Tombstone of the Sarcophagus in the Temple of the Inscriptions at Palneque .

    There he was represented in his journey into the underworld, as the Maya believed in three worlds, the sky or upper world, the world of the living on the intermediate level, and the world of the dead, or the underworld.

    In the biblical books of Enoch and Noah , both demi-god and Prophets, it describes the underworld consisting of tall mountains and three deep valleys, where the Lord of Spirits sends the spirits sinners and are set apart in great pain until the great day of judgement , each in accordance to their wrongdoing.

    Also there is the American Navajo reservation ceremony of ridding the evil spirits, where the medicine man builds fires in two great pits set a quarter mile apart. The family members form a circle and the medicine man enters the circle with a tray filled with hot ashes to see into the world where the evil existed.

    Taking the tray of ash to the second fire, it would be thrown into the fire, where looking to the south, thousands of souls of the dead trapped in the earth, would rise out of the ground and rush towards him, as the medicine man would cast them back in the ground. I have a picture of the thousands of souls, that shows many bright colored orbs within a clouds of smoke.

    I also have a digital picture taken at the Colma (Near San Francisco) Cemetery where a friend was laying on the ground at his grandfathers grave, and talking to him, where an orb came out of the ground and floated away. Neither my friend or his wife saw the orb that showed up in the six pictures taken. Today my friend went back to his grandfathers grave with a sound recorder, and when he spoke to his grandfather, the return voice said “Go away!”, or “Get away”.

    This indicates that the spirit never dies, but is waiting for judgement , and a chance to see and hear from family member. Interesting – both my mother, father, my younger sister remains are kept at this cemetery. When my friend e-mailed me two of the pictures mentioned above, and I took a picture off my computer screen ,
    looking at the picture on my digital camera, there was a second orb in the shape of a hand with an extended finger pointing to my friend.

    I wonder what the message to me meant ?

  2. The San Francisco Bay Guardian weekly free newspaper published a “Death Issue” in celebration of Mexico’s “Dia de Los Muertos” , entitled “Let’s talk about death”, where they gave the life expectancy of Americans: For a woman the life expectancy is 81.1 years in the U.S., but 3.2 more years for women in San Francisco; 76.3 years for men, and 2.6 years longer for men in San Francisco.

    I wonder how this compares for men and women in Puerto Vallarta, and Canada -for all the expats in PV?

    The annual death rate per 100,000 residents in the U.S is 704.6 (Record low rate in 2011) ; In California 638.8; and in San Francisco 601. And, 76.16% of the people believe in life after death.

    And in the daily free parent company, The San Francisco Examiner, the front page headline was “Will too many revelers kill Day of the Dead ?”; and the article “Day of the Dead lost in translation?” Where somber Mission event’s neighbors fear influx of rowdy celebrants, where some attendees behave as if the festival is a combination of Halloween and Carnaval .

    For myself- I celebrate each day that I am alive, which is over 28,134 and counting.

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