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
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.
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.
Fine Art Photography of Lake Chapala
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 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.
Fine Art Photography of Lake Chapala
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.
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.
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.
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.
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:
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:
The catrina contest takes place on November 2 at 3 p.m.
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.
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.