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They are considered a time-honored tradition by religious folk; a unique cultural and photographic opportunity by many a tourists, and a commuting nightmare for anybody attempting to drive through Puerto Vallarta’s El Centro neighborhood during the first 12 days of December. Regardless of where you stand, literally, the annual pilgrimages in honor of Our Lady of Guadalupe, the celebrated Roman Catholic icon of the Virgin Mary, are right around the corner. This is a very important religious celebration in Mexico, so those of us that live here year-around, learn to cheerfully adapt our rhythms and schedules as needed during these days. Here are a few, basics facts to keep in mind:

What They Are

A peregrinación or pilgrimage is a journey of moral or spiritual significance to a shrine of importance to a person’s faith. In Mexico, peregrinaciones usually take place during Semana Santa, or Holy Week, and also in the 12 days that precede December 12, the day in which Mexico honors Our Lady of Guadalupe.

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What Goes On

Faithful pilgrims gather at different points around the city, at various times of day and pre-determined routes, walking together toward Puerto Vallarta’s Church of Guadalupe in El Centro and singing praises to the virgin. Some wear traditional and pre-hispanic garments. Many businesses organize their own groups to pray to the virgin together for health and prosperity.

All Day Long?

Pretty much. The most spectacular peregrinaciones take place during the evening, when traffic along Juárez St. is usually limited to pedestrian traffic and all surrounding streets serve double-lane duty.

What’s In It For Spectators?

Amazing people watching! Plus vendors flock to the streets selling traditional Mexican snacks. Street photographers will delight at the variety of photo opportunities around the downtown area. Pilgrims frequently walk holding lit candles, making processions visually spectacular. Music of all types is performed and sung along the processions by different groups. At the same time. Sometimes in tune. It’s chaotic and wonderful!

The final and largest procession takes place late at night, December 11. Just before midnight, peregrinos gather at the church to sing “Las Mañanitas,” the traditional song sung in Mexico to celebrate a person's birthday.

Best Place to Watch

Anywhere along the route, but it’s always most exciting near the Church of Guadalupe.

Why?

No need to re-invent the wheel. Thank God for Wikipedia, where you can find a pretty accurate account on how a vision of a girl, the Virgin Mary, appeared to the peasant Juan Diego on December 9, 1531.

And Now, a Few Tips