Lakeside Guide to Lake Chapala, Ajijic, Mexico

Carnaval

At a Glance

Carnaval in Ajijic is one of the town’s most rambunctious fiestas, involving a major parade filled with allegorical floats, crossdressers, and the town’s masked zayacos.

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Pre-Carnaval Events in Ajijic

Carnaval lasts seven days in Ajijic, but due to the Catholic liturgical calendar, those exact dates vary year to year.

In 2019, Carnival — spelled Carnaval in Spanish and otherwise known as Mardi Gras north of the border — occurs on March 5. But the real events in Ajijic always start three Sundays before.

All the parades are organized by the town’s charros (cowboy) association, so there are lots of horses, cowboys and Ajijic’s unique tradition of the crossing-dressing masked sayacas, who chase kids through the street and throw flour at the crowds.

Additional parades occur:

  • Sunday, February 17
  • Sunday, February 24
  • Saturday, March 2
  • Sunday, March 3
  • Monday, March 4

The pre-Carnaval parades start at a house on Galeana behind St. Andrew’s Church. It heads to the plaza, and then to Seís Esquinas (Six Corners) along Hidalgo, before turning east and heading to the town’s bullring via Constitución/Ocampo. (Constitución, like the other east/west streets in Ajijic changes its name to Ocampo once you cross Morelos).

Pre-Carnaval Parade Route

Below is the parade route for the pre-Carnaval parades. The parade route for the actual day of Carnaval is slightly different.

Carnaval Day

In 2019, Carnaval Day (Mardi Gras) is Tuesday, March 5. The parade starts at 9 a.m. and ends about two hours later.

Carnaval Day Parade Route

The parade route for this day is different than the one pre-Carnaval parade route above.

The parade on Carnaval starts at the foot of the tianguis, where market day takes place, and proceeds west on Constitución/Ocampo. Once the parade reaches Seís Esquinas, it turns east and heads to the plaza along Hidalgo.

Last updated December 23, 2018

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Photos of Carnaval

The Masked Sayacas of Carnaval in Ajijic

One of Ajijic's unique traditions are the sayacas, who form a core part of the town's Carnaval celebrations each year.

A group of sayacas pose for a photo after one of the parades which take place before Carnaval. There are six parades before carnival and some days are more popular than others. The Sunday before Carnaval is the best day to see the sayacas.

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The sayacas gather before each parade in this house to get dressed and ready for the 10 a.m. spectacle.

Boys often dress up in women's clothing and vice versa. Kids who are about 5-20 years old participate.

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The sayacas put on masks and the dress code is "elegant."

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The sayacas chase kids down during the Carnival parades.

Fine Art Photography of Lake Chapala

Masked Zayaco in Ajijic

Masked Sayaca During Carnaval

A man dressed as a sayaca looks for his next “victim” during the Carnival celebrations in Ajijic.

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The sayacas carry a bag of flour with them.

People who dress as female sayacas carry purses, such as this Marc Jacobs purse, to keep the flour.

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Which the sayacas use to throw and otherwise cover the crowd.

Until even the dogs are covered.

Doña Licha was responsible for organizing the sayaca tradition for several decades. She died in 2018.

Guelaguetza

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The sayacas walk through the streets of Ajijic during five pre-Carnival parades.

The kids taunt the sayacas into giving chase.

A group of sayacas confab to decide on who will be the next kid to tackle.

Sayacas work in tandem to take down a man and shower him with a purse full of flour in the town's lienzo charro.

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A sayaca stands victorious over one of his tackled victims.

After each of the pre-Carnaval parades, the crowd ends up here in the lienzo charro, where the charros (cowboys) practice the sport-art of la charrería.

After each of the pre-Carnaval parades, the crowd ends up here in the lienzo charro, where the charros (cowboys) practice the sport-art of la charrería.

More kids egg the sayacas on with taunts, mild obscenities & gestures.

Ruben laughs after getting showered in flour after one of the sayaca parades.

A sayaca with a baby doll necklace poses for a portrait.

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Fine Art Photography of Lake Chapala

Frida Kahlo Catrina

Frida Kahlo Catrina on the Day of the Dead

A woman dressed as a catrina of Frida Kahlo on the Day of the Dead in Chapala, Mexico.

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This boy's mask wouldn't stay on, so he took it off. With a fist full of flour, and his other hand stuffed into his flour-filled purse ready as a backup, he's eyeing a girl across the street that he'd like to engage next.

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Valentina Jiménez drinks a Victoria beer during the parade.

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A boy dressed as a sayaca.

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A boy dressed as a sayaca before the parade.

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A dad requests a photo with his son during one of the five pre-Carnaval parades in Ajijic, Jalisco, Mexico.

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A girl competes in a contest for best catrina dressed as a bride in the main plaza in Ixtlahuacán de los Membrillos, Jalisco, Mexico.

The Day of the Dead in Jalisco, Mexico

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In the Lienzo Charro After the Pre-Carnaval Parades

Each of the five pre-Carnival parades ends at the town's lienzo charro. The best translation might be "bullring," but this is a ring for riding bulls, not killing them.

At the end of the parades, kids and sayacas chase each other for about 15 minutes. Kids who successfully escape the sayacas' attack get enormous roars from the audience, which on some days reaches 1,000 people. (The Sunday before Carnaval is always the most popular day with the most sayacas.)

Immediately after the 15 minutes of sayacas, and without any official warning, a bull is let loose in the ring. It's a sign of bravery to straddle the wall and let the bull get as close to you as possible.

But sometimes too close is close enough.

Then there is a little bull riding.

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A man winces after being thrown from a bull.

Regino Flores thrusts his sombrero into the air and yells, "¡Viva México, cabrones!" Regino offers horseback rides in Ajijic and other areas along Lake Chapala.

Regino Flores exits the lienzo charro.

Boys watch the bull riding under the gaze of the Virgin Mary.

Carnaval Day in Ajijic, Mexico

Carnival in 2019 is March 5. This parade is different than the five pre-Carnival parades that come before. It has lots of floats, lots of spectators and lots and lots of flour.

Carnaval in Ajijic is filled with flour. Don't expect not to be covered in flour if you stand with the rest of the crowd on the sidewalk as the floats go by.

A Carnaval float with a fake banda with fake instruments.

Jimador in Arandas, Jalisco

At Tequila Cazadores, They Use the Mozart Effect to Give Their Agave Juice Happy, Fermented Lives

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A real banda with real instruments.

A boy with a feathered mask sits on a float in front of balloons during the Carnaval parade.

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A young charro drinks his Yoplait while riding in the parade.

Two girls ride on a horse while a butterfly passes overhead.

The local association of charros always forms an important part of the Carnaval and pre-Carnaval parades in Ajijic.

Gerardo López Pimienta offers a drag off his bottle of tequila during the Carnaval parade.

Sayacas during the Carnaval day parade. With so many floats and people, the sayacas spend more time on Carnaval day dancing and throwing flour than chasing kids through the streets.

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Sayacas try out a mechanical bull on wheels, which turned out to be a favorite float with the crowd.

Jimador in Arandas, Jalisco

At Tequila Cazadores, They Use the Mozart Effect to Give Their Agave Juice Happy, Fermented Lives

See this Photo Essay
See this Photo Essay

A sayaca throws confetti during the Carnaval parade in Ajijic, Jalisco, Mexico

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Jorge "Churro" Beltrán dressed as a Mexican wrestler during Carnaval. Carnaval has a queen, king and a jester. Churro was the jester in 2017. Churro is a talented painter.

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Fine Art Photography of Lake Chapala

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