Goth Tulum! Valladolid folk art museum, sugar skulls, Mexican graveyard with Loco Gringo Tours.
Happy Dia de los Muertos — Day of the Dead! To celebrate, let’s explore the spooky side of Tulum, Mexico. (I was there earlier this year with Yukiro, and have been saving this special post until now.)
Yukiro and I enjoyed relaxing at Karisma El Dorado resort, but we didn’t want to leave the country without seeing a sugar skull or two.
We put our trust in concierge / tour company Loco Gringo, and they truly delivered. Our local guide Paulina arranged a perfect day that included a visit to a colorful Mexican cemetery, and folk museum with hundreds of Day of the Dead skeletons!
Wherever in the world I travel, I seem to end up in a graveyard. It’s no surprise that my Goth friends and I are interested in how different cultures honor their dead.
In the ancient city of Valladolid, the tombstones are painted in bright, colorful hues. Many people think of cemeteries as fearful or depressing places. However, in Mexico, death is represented by smiling and dancing skeletons.
Every year from Oct 31 to Nov 2, Mexico celebrates Day of the Dead (Dia de los Muertos) with skull facepaint, music and raucous parades. It’s believed that the deceased come back to visit during this time of the year.
On this special day, families tend to the graves of their loved ones. They leave offerings of bright sugar skulls, flowers, and the favorite food and drink of the departed.
Outfit details: yes, that’s my Scottish Fold cat peeking out from under my leather jacket!
My top is a gift from illustrator Lili Chin. She makes custom pet portraits that can be printed onto shirts and other products. If you’re interested in a custom drawing of your cat or dog drawing, check out her site.
This is not your typical orderly graveyard, with plots in a row. Each resting place is festively decorated in ways that celebrate the deceased’s personality and life.
No two headstones were alike. Despite being a home for the dead, Valladolid cemetery felt like it was bursting with life.
According to local legend, a vampire is buried in this giant grey mausoleum…
These bright coffins seemed to be inviting us to join the party. The decorative elements were a mix of Christianity and Mexican folk traditions.
We even spotted a sacrificial tribute to the ancient Mayans, who once ruled over this area (Tulum and Riviera Maya).
(Loco Gringo also took us to see the famous pyramids Chichen Itza and Ek Balam — read about it in this post!)
Dancing with the dead. I wonder who lies beneath the hot pink grave…
Our guide Paulina answered all our questions about these traditions. I can’t think of a single Riviera Maya tour that will take you to the graveyard… but Loco Gringo is extraordinary, and tailored the day exactly to our interests.
Paulina introduced us to the “old graves-keeper” (who didn’t seem that old), and translated Spanish for us. He told us an eerie ghost story about the time he dug a grave, and felt someone grabbing onto his arm… eek!
Without Loco Gringo‘s expertise, we would never have visited this magnificent cemetery.
We climbed back into the van, and our driver took us a short distance to Casa de los Venados: Valladolid’s folk art museum.
The name translates to “house of deer,” hence the blue man mascot with the animal on his poncho.
Loco Gringo suggested that I visit Casa de los Venados, since it has the largest private collection of Mexican folk art in the world.
We stepped into a home that had multiple rooms and courtyards filled with fascinating works.
The hacienda’s owners, John and Dorianne Venator, began their collection decades ago. Today, their home has over 3000 pieces of art, and is open for the public to appreciate.
The curators have a fine eye for works that reflect the history and humor of Mexico.
To our delight, there was an extensive collection of spooky art. Devils, skulls and monsters — oh my!
We had fun turning the dial of this toy, and watching the parade of demons, skeletons and coffins march into the mouth of Hell.
We saw many interpretations of sugar skulls (I got nail art from Glam Nail Studio to match).
Who is the nun holding a head? We learned she is Juana Inés de la Cruz, a nun and poet who is the face of the 200 peso note. (Perhaps she inspired The Conjuring 2 movie?)
The folk art spanned all mediums and sizes, from the ancient Mayans to modern-day artists.
In one of the many mini-courtyards, I found a tile mural of Frida Kahlo, with a black monkey on her shoulder.
Frida Kahlo is one of Mexico’s most celebrated artists, and a personal favorite of mine.
An entire room is dedicated to the female painter. How many Fridas can you count in this image?
Yukiro and I had never seen so many Day of the Dead representations in a single museum.
We smiled at the Calavera Catrinas, or Dapper Skeletons. First depicted by Jose Posada in 1919, these elegant skull-people are always dressed aristocratically.
In Mexican folklore, the dead are joyful during Dia de los Muertos. I wouldn’t mind rejoicing with these smiling musicians skeletons.
Even the devils like to have fun. They’re represented as cheerful, naughty creatures, rather than as beings to be feared.
Casa de los Venados’ owners did a wonderful job in re-vamping the original house. They added a fabulous outdoor area, with a glass bridge spanning several pools of water.
Look up, and you’ll see these happy Mexican skeletons waving at you! I thought the undead pet was a cat, but it’s actually a dog wearing a bandanna.
I didn’t know much about Mexican folk art before visiting this museum. It was fantastic to see so many high quality works under a single roof.
Cheers to this glorious pool, fed by multiple overhead streams!
I found a cat-face fountainhead to match my tank top.
We ducked into the dining room and paid ode to La Catrina, the grand ol’ dame of death.
At this point, our eyes were popping out of our heads — there was so much to see, in every conceivable space! Even the carved dining chairs and chandeliers were Mexican works of art.
You’d think that a Goth lived here, with all the skulls and bones.
The corner table had a surreal display. I want that monkey for myself.
These photos show only a fraction of Casa de los Venados. I encourage you to visit the Valladolid folk art museum, and see the rest.
Muchas gracias Loco Gringo for being the perfect local guides!
We’re not exactly “regular tourists,” and would have been bored with a cookie cutter tour. But Loco Gringo took the time to learn about us, and tailored the itinerary to our dark fascinations.
We hope you’ll reach out to them if you visit Tulum, Riviera Maya and Cancun, Mexico.
Do you share our fascination with Day of the Dead? Have you ever dressed up and celebrated it?