Chalk it up to the "Coco craze" or simply that more of us are falling enamorado with Mexico, but it seems that Day Of The Dead gets even more popular with each passing year.
According to tradition Día De Muertos (as it's known in Spanish) is a time when the dead return to earth to visit their living relatives. It's a period that's simultaneously somber yet celebratory and is a holiday that originated in Mexicoa and with a history dating back thousands of years. Also, it's hands down one of the most beautiful cultural traditions you'll experience with color, sounds, and sights that are sure to make all your multisensory dreams come true.
If you love Mexico as much as we do, you'll want to add a trip to Mexico for Day Of The Dead to your travel bucket list because there's nothing quite like hopping on a plane and seeing it with your very own eyes!
But First, What Is Day Of The Dead?
The holiday of Día De Muertos has origins in Aztec and Catholic cultures and takes place during the observance of All Saints Day on November 1 and All Souls Day on November 2. The holiday is a sort of hybrid of the two cultures and as such there are traditions that pull from both.
It's believed young children return to earth as angels on the first night while deceased adults return on the second evening. Though Día De Muertos is most associated with Mexico, it is, in fact, celebrated in throughout Latin America -- but because it started in Mexico it's our favorite place to celebrate it in real life.
And What Are The Day Of The Dead Traditions?
There are numerous traditions for celebrating the holiday and different regions of Mexico have unique recipes and manners of celebrating. However, there are also a few commonalities across all Day Of The Dead celebrations in Mexico.
Throughout the country cemeteries and graves are decorated with papel picado (a colorful paper garland) and flowers (with orange marigolds on adult graves and white orchids on childrens' graves). Additionally, people build altars to celebrate the loved ones who have passed by showcasing objects that were coveted by and represent the deceased -- including photos, trinkets, and even their favorite foods.
During the holiday you'll find people dressed in costumes and with their faces painted to represent the dead and there are many representations of skulls (or calaveras) from hand-painted ceramic skulls to sugar-candy skulls.
Speaking of, what we particularly love about Day Of The Dead is that the holiday has its own set of foods made just for the occasion. There is everything from tamales and specific kinds of moles to sweets and breads that are supposed to help counteract the bitterness of death like pan de muertos.
So Where Are The Best Places To Celebrate Day Of The Dead In Mexico?
There are Day Of The Dead celebrations across Mexico but, to us, a few places really do it right. Here are a few of our favorite traveler-friendly places to partake in Día De Muertos:
If you’ve never been to Mexico before, heading to the country's cultural epicenter, Mexico City, to explore around Día De Muertos couldn’t be a better pick. It's a time of year when Mexico City's rainy season is coming to an end and Day Of The Dead feels are in full force.
Translation: the local markets are overflowing with marigolds, the sweet smells of copal incense, and loads of the sweet brioche-like bread, pan de muerto. Also, leading up to the holiday, there are also several events and desfiles or parades throughout the city. In a rare moment of real life echoing Hollywood, there is even a Dia De Muertos parade on the city's main avenue -- Avenida Reforma -- that was directly inspired by the 2015 James Bond movie, Spectre!
If you want to be at the epicenter of Día De Muertos fetivities, Oaxaca is the place. A visually stunning town with a rich food culture, an extensive indigenous history, and even an UNESCO World Heritage site, Oaxaca is a popular spot for travelers in search of the more historic side of Mexico.
Sure, you’ll find no shortage of travelers this time of year as Oaxaca is well-known for its celebrations, but if you don’t mind the crowds, the city is a beautiful and vibrant place. From the markets to the parties in the streets and far out in the middle of nowhere among the wild agave fields, there is no shortage of celebrations to experience.
If you’re looking for a smaller spot that's lesser-known to foreigners the Guadalajara suburb of Tlaquepaque is the perfect place to learn about all the Day Of The Dead traditions. This colorful village is just 20 miles from downtown Guadalajara but it's quaintness make it feel a world away from the big city bustle. And during Day Of The Dead, the cobblestoned streets and colonial-era buildings of Tlaquepaque are lined with altars and people milling about celebrating the occasion. Team Salt & Wind Travel spent 2019 celebrating the holdiay in the state of Jalisco and we loved every minute.
Michoacán's Lake Patzcuaro
If you’ve been to Mexico before and want a deep and meaningful dive into a destination centered around local, you’ll want to explore Michoacan. It is, in fact, our pick for Day Of The Dead 2020 celebrations! If you join us on our boutique group trip to Morelia during Día De Muertos in 2020 you'll dive into the local culture, traditions, and heritage as we head from the city of Morelia to the town of Pátzcuaro. Less traveled and 100% worth getting to know, traditions on the mythical Lake Patzcuaro shows its historic roots and is a place where Día De Muertos traditions are alive and well.
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Photo Credit: Yakov Knyazev