Pueblo Bonito Mexico Dia de los muertos
Pueblo Bonito Mexico Dia de los muertos
Pueblo Bonito embraced the holidays. (Photo by Harrison Shiels)


 If you’re dying to dive into the drama of Día de Los Muertos, Mazatlan is dramatic, user-friendly fun.


Pueblo Bonito Mazatlan Beach Resort and Pueblo Bonito Emerald Bay Resort, Mexico

Virtuoso, the world’s most influential network of luxury travel advisors and providers, has renamed the term “bucket list” to the more optimistic name “wander list.” But for me “bucket list,” the connotation there are places I wanted to go before I “kicked the bucket” – was appropriate for the cultural experience in which I desired to participate: Día de Muertos: The Day of the Dead. 

Before I “took a dirt nap” or “croaked” or “shuffled off this mortal coil,” I wanted to be in Mexico to soak up the two-day fiesta that takes place after Halloween on November 1 and 2 over what is known in the Catholic world as All Souls Day and All Saints Day. The macabre-yet-colorful images of dancing skeletons in bright costumes have increasingly made their way into international pop culture. 


Dia de Muertos parade Mexico
Dia de Muertos parade. (Photo by Harrison Shiels)


For instance, a Día de Muertos parade with haunting floats was the fanciful elaborate opening scene of the 007 movie “Spectre.” Daniel Craig’s James Bond blended into the parade wearing a skeleton costume with a top hat. The Land of the Dead was the setting for the Pixar Animation/Walt Disney film “Coco.”

I was told Pueblo Bonito Beach Resort and Pueblo Bonito Emerald Bay Resort in Mazatlan truly embraced the tradition in an authentic, enthusiastic way. They’d planned a “Celebracion del dia de Muertos” with a Mexican buffet, pinata, fireworks and music at their Restaurant Palomas.  

I was dying to dive into the drama.


Dia de los muertos
Live music played through the decorated cemetery on Nov 2. (Photo by Harrison Shiels)


Resorting to Pueblo Bonito’s Emerald Bay Resort Spa

The beach was bumping with traditional, live brassy Banda music so I took a shuttle from the original Pueblo Bonito Beach Resort 10-minutes’ drive over to Pueblo Bonito Emerald Bay, a newer, quieter, statelier experience just outside town with more and better swimming pools but less beach (great for viewing but not so much for swimming.)

The resort also spared no expense in creating a spa so calming and creative it could revive anyone from feeling dead, and it looked like literally that’s what the staff was trying to do when I walked in. I was greeted by spa manager Adrian Dominguez who was helping decorate the lobby for Día de Muertos. 


Part of the altar in the Emerald Bay Spa lobby
Part of the altar in the Emerald Bay Spa lobby. (Photo by Harrison Shiels)


“Here at the spa, we have created an honorary grave with photos of people we’ve known and of famous people. These celebrities represent Mexico around the world,” he explained, while pointing at the framed pictures he’d placed on various levels of the tiered grave. The grave is like a colorful, macabre haunted Christmas tree with candles and flowers. Then I noticed the food and tequila. “We put tequila and a special ‘pan de muertos’ bread baked only during these days.”

“Food and booze on a grave?” I asked Dominguez while sipping a bottle of breakfast beer he’d handed me (it was Mexican Modelo cerveza, but since it was 10 in the morning, I refer to it as such.)

“Most of the population, for two days, celebrates the lives of their deceased relatives by cleaning the actual graves and decorating them with flowers. They also place the favorite foods and drinks of the dead on the burial sites and listen to live Banda bands and other live music played in the cemetery. Tradition says the dead will come and eat and drink their favorite food. It’s a symbolic way to share a meal together again when we have breakfast at the grave the next morning,” Dominguez detailed.

“The next morning?”

“Yes. People stay overnight and sleep in the cemeteries next to the graves of the departed,” he explained. 

“Have you stayed overnight at a grave?”

“I, myself, have not done that,” he admitted.

“Too afraid?”

“No, no. The message is to not be afraid of death. We respect it but we don’t see death as something bad. We’re not looking for it, mind you. But we believe the dead remain around us.”

“Even in this spa?” I kidded.  

“Si. We have a ‘visitor’ in this spa. There is a ghost in this spa.”

I thought Dominguez was teasing so I joked that if one had to be an eternal ghost, why not choose to haunt a luxurious spa?  

“A couple times a year we see her here relaxing. Nothing to worry about,” he said straight-faced. 

I took another swig of Modelo and looked past the decorative grave down toward the dressing rooms. “The ghost is a ‘she’ eh?” 

“The ‘Catrina’ is the popular symbol of Día de Muertos. ‘La Catrina’ is the skeleton of a woman walking around in fine garments,” Dominguez detailed. In viewing her image, I could see the traditional “Catrina” wears a hat over a decaying face with dark, sunken eye sockets and bared teeth forming a grizzly grin.  She is the pervasive effigy of Día de Muertos in the way “Bonhomme ” is recognized to represent Quebec City’s historic Winter Carnival or Mickey Mouse does Disney Parks.   


Meson de Los Laureanos restaurant in El Quelite
Meson de Los Laureanos restaurant in El Quelite. (Photo by Harrison Shiels)


Revitalization in the Pueblo Bonito Emerald Bay Spa

I didn’t happen to see a “Catrina” in the spa but I did see why the extensive facility, amenities, services and staff have the ability to “revitalize” people and bring guests back to life, in a sense. Restorative power is an understatement at Pueblo Bonito Emerald Bay’s Spa. 

“The quality of the treatments we offer is amazing due to the training. We pay attention to details. Different guests have different needs, for instance, during a massage or a facial,” Dominguez explained.  

Be sure to arrive early to not only ease into a treatment but also to run yourself through what seemed like a human car wash of the eight, included hydrotherapy stations. You’ll walk on a path of reflexology stones while hot massaging water shoots at your calves, ankles and tops of your feet, for instance. 

I was also shown the eucalyptus steam room; jacuzzi; sauna; swimming pool; and cold plunge pool. Dominguez suggested only a light morning meal before a treatment and advised some stretching, too.  

“Mexico is very welcoming. The beaches are perfect. It’s a paradise. The visitors are treated as family,” he said.


One of Pueblo Bonito Emerald Bay Resort’s pools and the Sea of Cortez
One of Pueblo Bonito Emerald Bay Resort’s pools and the Sea of Cortez. (Photo by Harrison Shiels)


Día de Muertos in Mazatlan After Dark

As darkness fell, I found myself overlooking the Plazuela Machado in Mazatlan’s old, historic center from Casa 46, the intricate regional Mazatlecan cuisine restaurant Pueblo Bonito operates in the Colonial Spanish-style city away from its two resorts. Its Library Bar is a canteen to watch sports or play poker with craft cocktails. An extensive wine list, cultural art collection and historical, maritime, and carnival photos serve as eye candy on the way to and from my table. From the La Terraza section of Casa 46 a panoramic window of Casa 46 revealed the Día de Muertos fiesta atmosphere below.  

“Catrinas” displays of all makes and models – life-sized and super-sized – glowing and lit – moving and living plus stoic statues – haunted the square, streets and storefronts. The costumed afterlife blended with the breathing, and I caught myself doing double-takes on passersby as if I, myself, were a character on the television show “Walking Dead.”

It was spooky; it was beautiful, and for honoring Muertos, it was very, very lively.


“Catrina” with Michael Patrick Shiels in historic Mazatlan
“Catrina” with Michael Patrick Shiels in historic Mazatlan. (Photo by Harrison Shiels)


Spooky Showtime

The biggest surprise was my evening visit to the old city’s Angela Peralta Theater, where I’d expected to see a celebratory stage show. Instead, the entire theater was the show. Beginning with the huge, decorative but foreboding skull hovering over the front doors, the entrance, lobby, courtyard, and stage itself had been turned into an artistic house of performance haunts.    

Throughout the night each timed-entry group moved from room to room to see costumed characters create live-action, sophisticated scenes with singing creepy choirs, baritones belting voices from the balcony, dancing Catrina’s, and dramatic readings. 

The most hair-raising haunt of all revealed itself after we’d been led actually onto the stage to see a scene. It turned out I was being seen from the seats. While watching the presentation I got the feeling I was also being watched, so I turned around to see the haunted heads of Catrina’s which had popped up in the theater seats! 

It seemed there was an entire troupe of performers in macabre makeup putting on this interactive experience throughout the theater. It was extremely impressive, and I salute all of them and am grateful for their amazingly creative work and the effort it took. Even the Mayor of Mazatlan, Luis Guillermo Benitez Torres, went through the theater for the first performance of the night before he presided over the dazzlingly frightful but cute and charming Día de Muertos Parade along the Malecon. It was obvious the mayor was very proud of the activities and his town.  

“We have invested in the city, the streets, a new Malecon, and the sports stadiums – the biggest soccer and baseball stadiums in Mexico. We have a new cruise ship terminal. The objective is to make Mazatlan the best destination in Mexico,” the mayor said, standing in front of a streetside Muertos display featuring an elaborately dressed Catrina character in all white petticoats moving to Andrea Bocelli music. Tourism is the number-one activity in Mazatlan. 70-percent of income comes from tourism. Mazatlan was founded before the United States existed. The United States and Canada are very important to Mazatlan. We are also seeking non-stop flights from Europe.”

It is also worth noting that in addition to Día de Muertos, Mazatlan’s biggest annual event of the year is its six-day, Mardi Gras-style Carnival – the third largest in the world after Rio and New Orleans. 


The Angela Peralta Theater Muertos presentation
The Angela Peralta Theater Muertos presentation. (Photo by Harrison Shiels)


Pueblo Bonito’s Place in Mazatlan

Pueblo Bonito’s two resorts in Mazatlan, particularly the original beach resort, have a very authentic atmosphere and lots of locals and domestic Mexican guests. The mayor is very aware of Pueblo Bonito’s importance to Mazatlan.

“Pueblo Bonito Resort is important because they keep a lot of tradition. The Banda music you hear on the beach each day there was invented in Mazatlan,” said Torres.   

Having said that, it is worth getting away from the resort to walk the streets and see the shops and drop in for a glass of sangria or coffee in historic Mazatlan. Don’t worry – you won’t be far from the water: the cruise ships enter the Port of Mazatlan on one side of town and the aforementioned new, miles-long Malecon stretches along the sea and is a scenic place to stretch your legs on the west side of the city, where you can get a view of, and even climb to, the world’s second-highest lighthouse.

Whether you are seeking an active holiday or wish to “play dead,” Mazatlan’s two Pueblo Bonito Resorts – Pueblo Bonito Mazatlan Beach Resort; or the quieter Pueblo Bonito Emerald Bay Resort, have what you seek.  


Read more on Michael Patrick Shiels’ travel blog, The Travel Tattler. Contact Travel Writer Michael Patrick Shiels at [email protected]

Michael Patrick Shiels

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