Cemeteries are not so much for the dead as for the living. Nowhere else could this be better illustrated than in Mexico, where the nation devotes three days and nights during the Day of the Dead to partying with family in the local panteón with the spirits of their dead relatives.

Chapel at Panteón de Belén
A visitor looks at the top of the cemetery’s chapel.

In the heart of the hustle of Guadalajara, Jalisco, lies a 19th-century cemetery, which once housed the remains of some of Jalisco’s major historial figures. Today, it has been turned into a museum for tourists and history buffs. The tombs for the cemetery’s famous dead people are now gone, relocated in 1952 to the Rotonda de los Jaliscienses Ilustres located in downtown Guadalajara. But the cemetery’s impressive architecture and history remains.

It’s generated many legends over the years and is a source of many supposed ghost sightings. One of the most popular events is the night tour, filled with ghost stories. The tours around the Day of the Dead are also a favorite attraction for local tapatios.

An area that was used by the lower classes has since been turned into grounds for a neighboring hospital, but the remaining part is now a museum open daily to tours. It’s a fascinating place to spend an hour or two wandering around, inspecting the architecture, reading the headstones.

If you go…

Hours: Open 7 days, 8 a.m. – 6 p.m. Nighttime ghost tours are also given on weekends.

Location: Calle Belén 684, Centro, Guadalajara 44280

DetailsTours are given in Spanish, though English tours are also usually available at certain times. To enter, you must go on a tour or you pay a $250 peso fee for a photographer’s permit to roam the grounds unaccompanied (my friend entered free with me included in the cost of my permit). Paying the photographer’s permit might be a good option if you don’t want to be guided through the cemetery.

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Graves at the Panteón de Belén in Guadlajara
A pastiche of graves of varying sizes and shapes dot the central area of the cemetery. Visitors are reminded to stay on the paths and not wander into protected areas of the graveyard.
Graves dotting the cemetery Panteón de Belén
The paths take you all over the graveyard. The cemetery used to be much larger, until the poor people’s side was paved over long ago to make way for a growing Guadalajara.
Old gravestones at Museo Panteón de Belén
Old graves at the Pantéon de Belén in Guadalajara, Mexico.
Headstones at the Panteón de Belén in Guadalajara, Jalisco
All the tombs at the Panteón de Belén date back to the mid- to late-1800s.
Grave for Jean Young and Joseph Johnston in the Panteón de Belén in Guadalajara.
The tomb for Joseph Johnston and Jean Young (otherwise known forever as “wife of Joseph Johnston” on her own headstone). The Scottish couple provided help to Guadalajara’s poor in the late 1800s. Today, their headstone has become an altar, as visitors leave items such as flowers, hypodermic needles, Ritalin, rosaries, inhalers, and other offerings with the hope that their prayers will be heard and answered.
Tomb for el Niño Nachito at the Panteón de Belén in Guadalajara
Toys left on the tomb of el Niño Nachito, a five-year-old boy who died in 1882. In his short life, legend says, he suffered an intense fear of the dark and of being in confined spaces. So much so that for ten nights after he was buried, his body was found the next morning above ground on top of his tomb. Each night he was reburied until it was officially declared paranormal activity. One of the panteón’s popular events is the night-time ghost tour.
Tomb for el Niño Nachito in el Museo Panteón de Belén in Guadalajara.
Toys left on el Niño Nachito’s tomb.
The tomb for el Niño Nachito in the Pantéon de Belén in Guadalajara.
Toys left on el Niño Nachito’s tomb.
Grave for an infant at the Pantéon de Belén
A headstone for an infant at the Pantéon de Belén. It reads: “The child Esther Ortiz died 2 of April of 91, at 10 months, 9 days from birth. RIP”
Inside one of the mausoleums.
Inside one of the mausoleums.
Arches and columns at the Panteón de Belén in Guadalajara, Mexico.
Each one of the placards on the wall is a headstone for a dead person, whose remains are inside the wall. This style of column-and-arch architecture can be found in other Mexican cemeteries of this era, which is an efficient way for dealing with burials in a big city.