But it seems that the Day Of The Dead gets even more popular with each passing year.
According to legend, Día De Muertos (as it’s known in Mexico) is when the dead return to earth to visit their living relatives. It’s a simultaneously somber yet celebratory period and is a holiday that originated in Mexico 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 (which is often called Día de los Muertos in the United States) has origins in both Aztec and Catholic cultures and has various rituals and traditions that stem from both backgrounds.
It takes place starting on October 31st and running through All Saints Day on November 1st, and All Souls Day on November 2nd. During this time, there are numerous Day of the Dead festivities that range from visiting cemeteries with family members or culling arrangements in flower fields to parties and many a Day of the Dead parade.
It’s believed young children return to earth as angels on November 1, while deceased adults return on the second of November.
Where is Día De Muertos celebrated?
Though Día de Muertos is most associated with Mexico, it is celebrated throughout Latin America–but because it started in Mexico, it’s our favorite place to celebrate it in real life.
As the holiday has become more popular, you’ll find locals and visitors alike celebrating across the country. While you’ll find celebrations from Mexico City (especially in the Xochimilco neighborhood) to San Miguel de Allende, the more traditional regions of Michoacan and Oaxaca are best known for this holiday.
For example, in Michoacan, people head to the island of Janitzio on Lake Pátzcuaro while across the state of Oaxaca, especially in the smaller town of the Valles Centrales.
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.
Cemeteries and graves are decorated throughout the country with papel picado (a colorful paper garland), candles, and flowers (with orange marigolds on adult graves and white orchids on children’s graves).
Additionally, people build ofrendas or altars to celebrate the loved ones who have passed by showcasing objects coveted by and representing the deceased — including photos, trinkets, and even their favorite foods.
During the holiday, you’ll find people dressed in elaborate costumes and with their faces painted to represent the dead and look like skeletons. One of the classic characters of the holiday is La Calavera Catrina also referred to as La Catrina, and is the inspiration for many women’s outfits where they’re wearing the turn-of-the-century dress. There are also many representations of skulls (or Calaveras), from hand-painted ceramic skulls to sugar skulls.
Food Made For Day Of The Dead
But, unsurprisingly, what we particularly love about Day Of The Dead is that the holiday has its own set of foods made just for the occasion.
Everything from tamales and specific kinds of moles to sweets and bread is supposed to help counteract the bitterness of death, as the bread of the dead is known as 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 do it right. It should be said that some people mistakenly equate this holiday to Halloween but it is a holiday that is more somber and less festive (read: not a time to dress scantily and drink all night).
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 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 so the weather tends to be ideal fall weather 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. 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–directly inspired by the 2015 James Bond movie Spectre!
Also, leading up to the holiday, several events and defiles or parades throughout the city.
If you want to be at the epicenter of Día De Muertos festivities, Oaxaca is the place.
A visually stunning town with rich food culture, an extensive indigenous history, and even a UNESCO World Heritage site, Oaxaca is a popular spot for travelers searching for the more historical side of Mexico.
Sure, you’ll find no shortage of travelers this time of year as Oaxaca is well-known for its celebrations, but the city is a beautiful and vibrant place if you don’t mind the crowds.
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 stay in the town of Oaxaca, be sure to head to the neighborhood of Jalatlaco where there are murals depicting the holiday and often a calenda or two to mark the occasion.
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 its quaintness makes 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 2018 celebrating the holiday 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 consider exploring Michoacan.
If you head to Michoacan for Day Of The Dead, you’ll dive into the local culture, traditions, and heritage as we run from the city of Morelia to the town of Pátzcuaro. Less traveled, and 100% worth getting to know, practices on the mythical Lake Patzcuaro show its historical roots and are a place where Día De Muertos traditions are alive and well.
Thinking of heading to Mexico to celebrate Day Of The Dead IRL? Come join our 2023 Oaxaca group trip!
Can’t make it to Mexico? Celebrate at home and try your hand at a few of the festive recipes, florals, and decor we created for our Day Of The Dead party!
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Opening Photo Credit: Yakov Knyazev