Semana Santa, also known as Holy Week, is one of the most popular holidays in Mexico, second perhaps only to Christmas in terms of reverance and participation. For 2011, Semana Santa falls between April 17th and April 24th, however the children get two weeks off from school, so you can expect Puerto Vallarta to be busy the week after Easter too.
The week of Easter is marked with colorful processions, family gatherings and lots of religious ceremony. April 17th is Palm Sunday (Domingo de Ramos) and the vendors outside of the church sell woven palm fronds for the priest to bless. On April 23, Mexico celebrates Sábado de Gloria (Holy Saturday), marking the day Christ was in the tomb. April 24th is Domingo de Pascua (Easter Sunday), celebrating the Resurrection of Christ. There are special masses held Thursday-Sunday.
While the week of Easter and the week after hold a special religious significance for the mostly Catholic population of Mexico, not everyone in Puerto Vallarta is there to pray. It’s estimated that during Semana Santa and at Christmas, one out of every 5 Mexicans heads for the beach for vacation. That means more than 20 million Mexican tourists hit the beaches throughout the country and guess where one of the most popular places to go is…Puerto Vallarta!
If you plan on traveling in or around Puerto Vallarta during Holy Week, first you should have made reservations well in advance because nearly every hotel (certainly every affordable hotel) will be booked. The rates also generally triple during this time. Second, I hope you’re not driving anywhere. The traffic is horrible, especially taking into consideration the maze of one-way streets and poor signage in Puerto Vallarta. Add a bunch of out-of-town drivers and you’ve got gridlock and accidents galore.
That’s not the only downside to Semana Santa. The influx of tourists to the beach means that there will be one heck of a party wherever you go, as families camp or spend the entire day at the beach, listening to music, eating and enjoying each other’s company. Of course, the flip side to this is that the beaches are packed with revelers all day; noisy revelers who frequently leave piles of garbage and bottles behind. Like Spring Break nearly anywhere in the world, you can expect loud music, drunk people everywhere (Mexicans, Americans, Canadians and even a few Europeans thrown in for good measure),and trash and urine in the streets. Of course, it’s not all bad…
On the plus side, the beach is one giant party. If you like that atmosphere, you’ll probably make a dozen new friends or so on any one trip to the water. There’s great music and dancing too. There are celebrations everywhere the week after Easter as Catholics are released from Lent and turn to party-mode. Great food, live music and fireworks will be found all over town, including the Romantic Zone and the Malecon.
If you’re looking for a quiet vacation to a charming seaside town, this is not the time for you. If you want dancing all night and partying all day, you will love Puerto Vallarta during Semana Santa. Just be respectful of your Mexican hosts. This is still a holy time for many families and however tempting it is to take photographs or pop into the church to view the beautiful mass, make sure that you are dressed appropriately (no bathing suits in church, people!), don’t interrupt service and ask permission before taking photos of people you don’t know, especially children.