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:

Continue reading below for a complete look at what goes on in the towns of Ajijic, Chapala and Ixtlahuacán de los Membrillos.

Last updated October 16, 2019

Dane Strom

Dane Strom The Lakeside Guide

I moved to Ajijic in 2010 when I decided to quit my job of seven years as an editorial assistant at The Denver Post in Colorado. I'm the photographer, web designer, programmer, marketer, writer... the everything behind this website, The Lakeside Guide. All of the businesses on this website appear here for free at no cost to them. If you find this site useful, please consider giving a small donation to become a site patron. Learn more about The Lakeside Guide or check out my other website about photography of Mexico.

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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, which is also sometimes called El Día de los Inocentes. 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.

Visit the cemeteries in the area on the afternoon of November 1 to see people creating altars and cleaning the graves. Or go after dark to see the graves illuminated by candlelight.

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

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 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.

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.

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

Mari Huizar cleans up and decorates her family's plot in the Ajijic cemetery. It was the first Día de los Angelitos for her daughter.

Mari Huizar cleans up and decorates her family's plot in the Ajijic cemetery. It was the first Día de los Angelitos for her daughter.

Day of the Dead in the Ajijic Plaza

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 at the plaza and a wall with hundreds of terracota skulls and candles is illuminated across from the main church at 8 p.m.

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.

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. In 2019, the candles will start to be lit at 8 p.m.

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A VW Beetle is parked at the Ajijic plaza after being made into an altar on November 2.

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.

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People make tapetes de aserrín (sawdust carpets) on the plaza.

People make tapetes de aserrín – 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.

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.

Fine Art Photography of Lake Chapala

Day of the Dead Skull Altar

Day of the Dead Skull Altar

A skull, white cross, candles, dyed sawdust, marigolds, Corona bottles and other offerings adorn an altar on the Night of the Dead in Chapala.

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Purchase This Fine Art Print

The Night of the Dead Parade

In 2019, The Night of the Dead parade in Ajijic will start at Aldama and Constitución, near the Wednesday market. It will head east to Seís Esquinas and end at the plaza.

Chapala also has a nighttime parade that usually starts sometime between 7 and 9 p.m. near the malecón at Church San Francisco.

The Noche de Muertos parade on November 2 starts at 7 p.m. at Aldama and Constitución, and ends at the main plaza.

The Noche de Muertos parade on November 2 starts at 7 p.m. at Aldama and Constitución, and ends at the main plaza.

Kids ride on a float during the parade.

Kids ride on a float during the parade.

Lola La Tequilera sings mariachi after the Night of the Dead parade.

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.

The plaza in Ajijic will be filled with altars such as this one.

The plaza in Ajijic will be filled with altars such as this one.

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

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.

Watch this video from the local newspaper, El Semanario de la Laguna, of the Ajijic cemetery on the night of November 2 to get an idea of the ambiance.

If you watched the video and were expecting tranquility and solemnity, now you know that the Night of the Dead in Ajijic is much more of a fiesta than a vigil.

Candles illuminate many of the altars in the stillness of the nights of November 1 and 2, which normally has fine, rain-free weather at this time of year. Families in Ajijic do not really spend the whole night at the cemetery, unlike places such as Pátzcuaro in neighboring Michoacán, where the night is a dusk-to-dawn affair.

Since there are other activities happening in Ajijic at the plaza (and the parade ends at the plaza), many people stay in the plaza and take part in the activities there. Some families will build altars either inside or outside of their homes, too, which is a tradition that is not as popular in Ajijic as it once was.

By midnight, when I've been at the cemetery taking photos, it's been mostly empty and silent. Some people come and go to deliver flowers and pay their respects. Others might be holding vigil quietly at a grave, but are mostly heard and not seen in the darkness.

How long the fiesta lasts might depend somewhat on whether the Day of the Dead falls on a weekend and people don't have to work the next day. In 2019, the night falls on a Saturday.

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

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.

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 graveyard on the Day of the Dead in Ajijic, Jalisco, Mexico.

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.

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

A dog stands on a grave.

A dog stands on a grave.

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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Purchase This Fine Art Print
Jimador in Arandas, Jalisco

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See this Photo Essay
Two kids dressed as catrines in the Ajijic graveyard on the Day of the Dead.

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

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

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.

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, Jalisco, Mexico.

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.

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

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

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

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

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A catrina in Chapala.

A catrina in Chapala.

Another catrina in Chapala.

Another catrina in Chapala.

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Frida García dressed as Mexican painter Frida Kahlo in Chapala.

Frida García dressed as Mexican painter Frida Kahlo in Chapala.

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Lake Chapala Sunset

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See this Photo Essay
A catrina in Chapala.

A catrina in Chapala.

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Day of the Dead catrina in Chapala, Jalisco, Mexico.

A catrina in Chapala.

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Sayaca during Fiesta de San Sebastián

Carnival & the Masked Sayacas of Ajijic

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See this Photo Essay
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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.

Day of the Dead in Chapala
Day of the Dead
A woman, probably related to those in the pictures due to a striking resemblance, stands nearby an altar in Chapala.

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 Day of the Dead 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 in Chapala, Jalisco, Mexico.

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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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.

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.

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

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

An altar on a grave in Chapala.

An altar on a grave in the Chapala graveyard.

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

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.

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

Balloons float over a tomb in the Chapala graveyard.

Balloons float over a tomb in the Chapala graveyard.

Ixtlahuacán de los Membrillos

Ixtlahuacán will be putting on its fifth Festival de Día de Muertos in 2019 from November 1-3. Like the previous years, hundreds of people will compete over four days for serious cash prizes. Last year, the total amount given away was $285,000 pesos ($15,000 USD).

Contests include best altar, best corona, best tapete, and a catrina contests. In past years, there have been two catrina contests: one for catrinas dressed as brides and another general competition that's open to everyone. This year there will be just the general contest.

Though still a relatively new festival in Ixtlahuacán, people come from Guadalajara and surrounding towns to compete. There is also a national category for competitors who come from outside Jalisco.

Here is the 2019 schedule:

Altar Contest

The altar contest in 2019 will be held on November 2 and is highly recommended, with some of the finest altars in the area.

The altars need to be finished by 1 p.m. on November 2 and must stay up until 6 p.m. on November 3. So if you want to see people building the altars, go on November 2 before 1 p.m. Go in the afternoon that day to see the altars after they're finished or visit after 8 p.m., when the streetlights go out and the altars are lit.

This entire avenue gets shut down from the highway to the plaza and on November 2 and 3, most of the blocks will be lined with altars:

Catrina Contest

The catrina contest takes place on November 2 at 3 p.m.

Corona Contest

Coronas are wreaths decorated with natural or artificial flowers, leaves and sometimes other objects. The corona contest will take place on November 1 this year. People will start making them at the plaza after 9:30 a.m. and will be on display until the end of the festival.

Tapete Contest

Tapetes are "carpets" where dyed sawdust, flowers, seeds and other maerials are used to create elaboate designs. It's a tradition, not just for the Day of the Dead, that is most popular here in the middle of the country.

This year's tapete contest in Ixtlahucán will take place on November 3 at the main plaza. People will start creating them at 7 a.m. and they must be completed by 2 p.m. They'll be on display for the rest of the day. A respresentative for each tapete, dressed as catrina, will be on hand at each at 2:30, at least for a while, to explain to the judges the work they did to create the tapete.

This is the world's tallest catrina at 157.8 feet (48.1 meters) in 2017 n Ixtlahuacán de los Membrillos, Jalisco, Mexico

This was the world's tallest catrina at 157.8 feet (48.1 meters) in 2017 in Ixtlahuacán de los Membrillos, Jalisco, Mexico.

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

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.

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

An altar in Ixtlahuacán.

An altar in Ixtlahuacán.

A community altar remembering families of Ixtlahuacán de los Membrillos.

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 de los Membrillos, Jalisco, Mexico.

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 de los Membrillos, Jalisco, Mexico.

A catrina bride contest participant in Ixtlahuacán.

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Another catrina bride contest participant in Ixtlahuacán de los Membrillos, Jalisco, Mexico.

Another catrina bride contest participant in Ixtlahuacán.

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This ballet 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.

This ballet 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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Purchase This Fine Art Print
Actors put on a play in Ixtlahuacán de los Membrillos which describes the story of the Day of the Dead.

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.

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

A grave in the San Antonio Tlayacapan graveyard on the Day of the Dead.

A grave in the San Antonio Tlayacapan graveyard.

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

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.

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

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

Deciphering the Meaning Behind the Day of the Dead Altar

See this Photo Essay
See this Photo Essay

Fine Art Photography of Lake Chapala

Revolution Day

Soldaderas on Revolution Day

Women played a significant role during the Mexican Revolution, which girls from the local schools commemorate every year on Revolution Day.

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Purchase This Fine Art Print

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