A few years ago I was in Puerto Vallarta, Mexico because of a hotel mistake fare at the Sheraton Puerto Vallarta (where we paid $124.93 for 6 nights), but the visit happened to overlap with the celebrations for the Day of the Virgin of Guadalupe on December 12th, which I’d never heard of before. Also unbeknownst to me was the fact that Puerto Vallarta happens to be one of the best places to be for this Mexican holiday.
Covid-19 altered the usual festivities over the last two years, but according to Puerto Vallarta’s website, the vibrant parade of processions is returning in 2022.
In this post, I’ll briefly explain what this event is and whether or not it’s worth a visit.
What is Day of the Virgin of Guadalupe?
You can read the full story here, but I’ll summarize it as well: On December 12 of 1531 the Virgin Mary (referred to locally as the Virgin of Guadalupe) appeared to an Aztec man named Juan Diego and gave him a message for the local bishop with instructions to build a church on Tepeyac Hill. As the story goes, the bishop did not believe Juan Diego’s message until the Virgin of Guadalupe appeared to Juan Diego again with instructions to collect flowers at the top of the hill. Despite the winter season, Juan Diego found the flowers at the top of the hill and used his coat to carry them down to the Bishop. This left an imprint of the Virgin of Guadalupe on Juan Diego’s coat, compelling the Bishop to finally believe him. Now this coat is preserved in Mexico City at the Basilica of Our Lady of Guadalupe at the base of the Tepeyac Hill.
Why is the Day of the Virgin of Guadalupe such a big deal in Puerto Vallarta?
As we discovered last year when we happened to be in Puebla during this holiday, you won’t necessarily see large processions and parades in every town and city across the country. In Puebla there was a sort of Christmas market set up by the church, but in Puerto Vallarta we’d seen incredible processions that included vibrant costumes, dances, floats, and reenactments, and which essentially took over the whole historic center of the city.
What I didn’t know until recently was that December 12th has special importance in Puerto Vallarta because it happens to also be the day Puerto Vallarta was founded. So not only is Puerto Vallarta the city with the longest Day of the Virgin of Guadalupe celebration (with processions that go on every night from December 1st to December 12th), but the final night has special significance too, as it’s also the town’s foundation anniversary. While I’m not 100% sure which day we saw the processions downtown, looking back through my travel notes, I’m pretty sure the pictures I’ll share below are from the 12th.
The processions in Puerto Vallarta follow a route to Our Lady of Guadalupe Parish in Centro. According to the website, the exact route is here:
If you go to the historic downtown area on the 12th though, I think it will be hard to miss.
What you’ll see at the Day of the Virgin of Guadalupe in Puerto Vallarta:
One of the things that made this event so cool (other than the fact that it was totally unexpected given my prior ignorance of the holiday), is that it includes both religious flairs, floats, and decorations as well as Aztec costumes and dances.
Should you go to Puerto Vallarta just for the Day of the Virgin of Guadalupe processions?
On the one hand, the procession in Puerto Vallarta had so many interesting costumes and dances, I’d have to say that it’s one of the more serendipitous cultural experiences I’ve stumbled upon. And I always appreciate those experiences which I can tell exist for the locals themselves and not for tourism only. This was definitely one of those experiences.
On the other hand, Puerto Vallarta is pretty low on my list otherwise, as far as destinations in Mexico go. I’ve written before about how much I love Mexico City, and eventually I’ll have to write about the incredible road trip we took from Monterey to Mexico City a few years ago. But beach-resort destinations like Puerto Vallarta are not my thing. Just my personal preference.
I was definitely disappointed when I discovered that these huge Day of the Virgin of Guadalupe celebrations are not a Nationwide thing and are somewhat unique to Puerto Vallarta, (though I think Mexico City also celebrates on a grander scale as well.) In short, if you are more of a beach-resort kind of person and you already know that you like Puerto Vallarta, (or if one of the Hyatt All-Inclusive resorts in the region was already on your radar for example), then it’s definitely worth scheduling your trip to overlap with the Day of the Virgin of Guadalupe celebrations.
The costumes you asked about are of the Aztec “Romeo and Juliet” Popo and Itza.
That hotel must have price mistakes often! We stayed there in May 2021 for ~$25/night!
Thanks for the article.
BTW, you wrote “we payed”. The grammar guru in me cringed after reading this.
Doh! My bad!