Lakeside Guide to Lake Chapala, Ajijic, Mexico

Day of the Dead

At a Glance

Mexico’s most famous holiday is celebrated in full force in the towns of Ajijic, Chapala, and Ixtlahuacán de los Membrillos.

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The Day of the Dead is celebrated in full form in the towns at Lake Chapala.

Check out Jocotepec, San Juan Cosalá, Ajijic, San Antonio Tlayacapan, Chapala and Ixltahuacán de los Membrillos. All will be holding celebrations in their central plazas and cemeteries.

Both November 1 and November 2 are excellent days to go to the cemetery to see families cleaning out old decorations and putting up new ones.

All of the objects left on altars have meaning. Learn about the meaning behind 25 objects found on altars in the local towns or watch this short video:

Last updated December 19, 2018

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Photos of Day of the Dead

November 1: Día de los Angelitos

The "Day" of the Dead is actually three days long and starts on October 31. El Día de Muertos was a summer holiday prior to the Spanish takeover of the country, when it was moved to coincide with the Catholic Allhallowtide triduum. No real activities take place on October 31, at least in Ajijic, which is too busy celebrating the feast for the Virgin of the Rosary, the town's patroness.

November 1 is the Children's Day or Day of the Little Angels. Families who have lost children go to the cemetery on this day to decorate graves. It's said that the children, eager to get back to the world of the living, run ahead of their elders and arrive early, before the main events on November 2.

This grave in the Ajijic cemetery is decorated with balloons and children's decorations for the Día de los Angelitos

An altar for friends and family members, including a teenager, made by his grandmother, Beatriz.

An altar for a boy on November 1 outside a home on 5 de Febrero Street in Ajijic.

Coronas – flower wreaths – line a grave at night on Children's Day in the Ajijic graveyard.

Day of the Dead in Ajijic

Ajijic is full of Day of the Dead celebrations, mostly centered around the cemetery and the main plaza. Altars and sawdust carpets are built on November 2 and a wall with hundreds of terracota skulls and candles is illuminated outside the main church.

The idea for this wall of terracotta skulls, seen here illuminated by hundreds of candles on the Day of the Dead, was planned and executed by Efrén Gonzalez. Each skull remembers a deceased town member, whose name is engraved on the base. The wall is across from church San Andrés on Marcos Castellanos street and is lit each November 2, usually at 9 p.m.

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Fine Art Photography of Lake Chapala

Aztec Dancer on Mezcala Island

Aztec Dancer on Mezcala Island

Jaime Rodríguez stands on top of the fort walls on Mezcala Island, a half-mile stretch of land rising out of Lake Chapala, Mexico. A local indigenous group successfully used the island as a fortress against the Spanish during the War of Independence in the early 19th century.

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A VW Beetle is parked at the Ajijic plaza after being made into an altar on November 2. VW Beetles were sold in Mexico between 1954 and 2003. The new Beetle, the A5, is still made only in Mexico and the last one will roll off the assembly line in Puebla in 2019, sealing the car's long history in the country.

People make tapetes de asserín – sawdust carpets – on the plaza.

The street on the south side of the plaza is closed down to make room for a block-long tapete. These sawdust carpets are particularly common in central Mexico for the Day of the Dead and other fiestas.

The Night of the Dead parade usually starts at 7:30 p.m. at the cemetery and heads east along Ocampo and Hidalgo until it reaches the plaza.

The Noche de Muertos parade on November 2 starts at the cemetery, usually at 7:30, and ends at the main plaza.

Kids ride on a float during the parade.

The Virgin of Zapopan Visits Chapala

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Lola La Tequilera sings mariachi after the Night of the Dead parade. After the parade, there is music and some other activities in the plaza or displays in the Ajijic Cultural Center.

Some families set up altars privately in their homes. Others will build streetside altars such as this one.

Ajijic Graveyard

The center of the Day of the Dead celebration is the graveyard, where families come to gather around graves and remember the lives of loved ones and friends.

Don't wait until November 2 to visit the cemetery. There's just as much going on the day before. Families spend both afternoons replacing old decorations and putting in new plants, making everything bonito for the Noche de Muertos on November 2.

Candles illuminate many of the altars both nights in the stillness of the night, which normally has fine weather. Families in Ajijic do not spend the night at the cemetery, unlike places such as Pátzcuaro in neighboring Michoacán. By midnight, the cemetery is mostly empty, apart from a few people coming and going.

Papel picado, decorated with figures and shapes, hangs over a tomb in the Ajijic graveyard.

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The early autumn evening sun lights up paper picado in the graveyard. These perforated designs are sometimes made from plastic, but the traditional ones are still hand-cut in tissue paper, making it a recognized Mexican folk art.

A boy walks through the Ajijic graveyard on the Day of the Dead.

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The Hugo Valerio family decorates their family tomb on November 1.

A man passing through the graveyard takes time to stop at a grave on the Day of the Dead.

A dog stands on a grave.

Two kids dressed as catrines in the Ajijic graveyard on the Day of the Dead.

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Fine Art Photography of Lake Chapala

Aztec Dancers on Mezcala Island

Aztec Dancers on Mezcala Island

Sergio Hernández and Kode Rodríguez perform a dance in the ruins of an old fort on Mezala Island in Lake Chapala.

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Candles illuminate a woman's altar on the Night of the Dead in the Ajijic cemetery.

Candles and marigolds on a grave for Rocío Márquez in the cemetery.

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Day of the Dead in Chapala

Chapala hosts a number of Day of the Dead events, the biggest of which are the rows of altars which line the block leading to the malecón. Most of these altars are made by kids from the local preparatory schools, who get graded at the end of the night by their teachers. Students build altars dedicated to famous Mexican and world figures, based on a certain theme.

Other members of the community and businesses also set up altars here throughout the afternoon of November 2. Lots of people show up to this event by late evening. Candles are lit around 6 p.m.

Marigold flowers hang from an altar in Chapala.

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Hundreds of paper marigold flowers of various colors create a backdrop for an altar.

An altar for Saint Toribio Romo, a martyr of the Cristero War, and Humphrey Bogart.

The Virgin of Zapopan Visits Chapala

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See this Photo Essay

Catrinas are stationed at the altars to explain the life stories behind the deceased.

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A catrina in Chapala.

Another catrina in Chapala.

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Frida García dressed as Mexican painter Frida Kahlo in Chapala.

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A catrina in Chapala.

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A catrina in Chapala.

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Cinco de Mayo Street in Chapala

A couple blocks from all the action at the malecón, families along Cinco de Mayo street set up altars on the evening of November 2. This tradition seems to be petering out. Last year, only about a half-dozen houses put altars outside. You might still find some altars on this here, but most people are now setting up altars with the prep schools by the malecón.

A woman, probably related to the deceased in the pictures due to a striking resemblance, stands nearby an altar in Chapala. You'll often find (living) family members nearby. Don't hesitate to tell them what a beautiful job they've done.

A curbside altar with a skull, candles and marigolds, a white cross made from salt, a drawing from a Mayan codice, sawdust, and bottles of Corona beer.

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Accordion Player in Chapala

Traditional Mexican Music Genres

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Chapala Graveyard

During the day, the cemetery in Chapala is a good place to see families remembering loved ones on November 1 and 2. But it closes by 9:00 p.m., so don't plan on a late-night visit.

Musicians wander the graveyard November 2 and families hire them to play around the grave. Sometimes a radio might play the favorite songs of the dead.

A woman sells cotton candy in the Chapala cemetery on the Day of the Dead.

An altar on a grave in the Chapala graveyard.

A mausoleum decorated for November 1, Children's Day, in the graveyard in Chapala.

Papel picado is interspersed with photocopied photos of family members at the grave in Chapala.

Balloons float over a tomb in the Chapala graveyard.

Ixtlahuacán de los Membrillos

Ixtlahuacán will be putting on its fourth Festival de Día de Muertos in 2018. Like last year, hundreds of people will compete over four days for serious cash prizes. This year the total amount being given away is $285,000 pesos ($15,000 USD).

Contests include best altar, best corona, best tapete, and two catrina contests: one for catrinas dressed as brides and another general competition open to everyone.

Though still a relatively new festival in Ixtlahuacán, people come from Guadalajara and surrounding towns to compete.

The altar contest this year will be held on November 3 and is highly recommended, with some of the finest altars in the area. People spend the day building altars, which are lit at 8 p.m.

This entire avenue gets shut down from the highway to the plaza and on November 3 and 4, most of the blocks will be lined with altars.

This is the world's tallest catrina at 157.8 feet (48.1 meters).

One of the elaborate altars built for the altar contest in Ixtlahuacán de los Membrillos, Jalisco, Mexico.

This tapete (carpet) of the calavera catrina was created using beans, seeds, flowers, and sawdust.

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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An altar in Ixtlahuacán.

A community altar remembering families of Ixtlahuacán de los Membrillos.

A girl competes in a contest for best catrina dressed as a bride in the main plaza in Ixtlahuacán. This year's contest is at 5:00 p.m. on November 2, but get there earlier to get some shots of the catrinas as they arrive and register.

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A catrina bride contest participant in Ixtlahuacán.

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Another catrina bride contest participant in Ixtlahuacán.

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This balet folklórico dancer was painted as a catrín and dressed for Veracruz-style dances on November 5, 2017, in Ixtlahuacán. The town's Festival de Día de Muertos spans four to five days.

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Actors put on a play in Ixtlahuacán de los Membrillos which describes the story of the Day of the Dead.

San Antonio Tlayacapan

The graveyard in Santonio Tlayacapan is located here:

Flowers, both artificial and real, line a grave in the graveyard in San Antonio Tlayacapan.

A grave in the San Antonio Tlayacapan graveyard.

These coronas, which translates to crowns, for sale outside a home in San Antonio Tlayacapan.

A Day of the Dead calavera in the plaza in San Antonio Tlayacapan.

Fine Art Photography of Lake Chapala

La Charra

La Charra

Escaramuza cowgirl Jaqui Gómez rides her horse along the shore of Lake Chapala, Mexico. “La charrería is a sport that gets everyone’s attention, but few understand it.”

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