UNESCO is responsible for protecting many cultural jewels and heritages, both tangible and intangible, and Mexico is a country which really benefits from their attention. Mexico boasts one of the highest concentrations of UNESCO sites and “heritages” of any country, and the Voladores de Papantla who perform their unique ritual in Puerto Vallarta bring one of the most unusual of Mexico’s intangible cultural treasures to life. These “flying men” ply their trade at the North End of the famed Malecon boardwalk in Puerto Vallarta.
Puerto Vallarta’s Voladores de Papantla on the Malecon
The show put on by the flying men of Puerto Vallarta takes place with the aid of a large pole situated next to the Malecon. Seven days a week, all year round, the Voladores put on several dazzling shows in their traditional, colorful garb.
This ceremonial dance begins when five Voladores, sometimes called flying men or birdmen, climb to the top of the pole where they wait until the Master Spinner begins to play a distinctive tune on his flute. The other four will begin to spin slowly, secured by a rope tied to one foot, towards the ground. During each dance the Master Spinner will guide the experience and play his music from the summit; the ropes will unravel a total of 13 times before the Voladores touch the ground. This is a unique experience that you won’t want to miss.
What is the history behind the Voladores de Papantla?
As with any ritual of this antiquity there are a few explanations as to how this “dance” came into being, but it is generally accepted that the ceremony dates back hundreds of years, and began in Central Mexico during a time of severe drought. Ancient legends have it that the indigenous people, seeing how the land suffered for lack of rain, believed that the Gods felt neglected and so were displeased. They withheld the rains as punishment, causing hunger and death.
The dance of the Voladores came about as a way to appease the Gods, and ask for the return of the rains; five young men searched the forest for the tallest tree they could find, and asked permission of the mountain God to cut it down. After removing its branches they dragged it back to their village where they set the trunk into the ground. Dressing as birds, they climbed to the top of the pole to get the gods’ attention, and four of them jumped from the top whilst the fifth remained to play music. This pleased the gods—apparently—and the rains returned.
Intangible Cultural Heritage
This ritual is so significant to the Mexican people, so intrinsic to their history, and so unique to this country that the dance of the Voladores has been named an intangible cultural heritage by UNESCO so that it can be protected and promoted.
If you want to experience something one of a kind, something truly memorable, when you visit Puerto Vallarta then make sure you see the inimitable Voladores de Papantla as they perform their ancient ritual.