Dia de los Muertos (Day of the Dead) is one of the most important celebration of the year in Mexico. There are lots of parades and other celebrations all over the country. In most of the cities, streets and houses are decorated for several weeks. Here are my tips and all you need to know to celebrate el Dia de los Muertos in Mexico.
All you need to know about El Dia de Muertos
The Day of the Dead is Mexico’s most defining festival and despite its name is no somber occasion, but rather a vibrant affirmation of life. The belief is that departed loved ones have permission to visit friends and relatives once a year, and they are welcomed in homes and in local cemeteries. For the occasion, these places are decorated with candles, incense, sugar skulls, and orange Cempasúchil (marigold) flowers to guide the spirits. Families also put ofrendas (offerings) of food and drinks for the spirits to enjoy. Usually, it is something that they used to love when they were still alive (their favorite meal and/or drink).
The celebration lasts several days from October 31 to November 2nd. October 31 is dedicated to children who died without being baptized. November 1 is designated as All Saints’ Day and corresponds to children or young dead people, while November 2 is called the Day of the Dead, that is, all adults.
How and where to celebrate El Dia de Muertos in Mexico
Disclaimer : Participation in the celebrations of El Dia de Muertos must be done with the utmost respect. Obviously, as a foreigner, you must not disturb or bother the families who are celebrating the loved ones they have lost.
What to do in Mexico City for El Dia de Muertos
Go to the Zocalo of Mexico City
The Zocalo (the city’s main square) is filled with giant skeletal characters and mega-ofrendas during the celebrations. Each character represents a state of Mexico and wears the traditional outfit of the region.
Join the Parade of Mexico City
In 2023, the Parade will take place on November 4. It will start from the main entrance of Chapultepec to the Zocalo. More information here.
Interesting fact : Before the Spectre movie where James Bond battled his way through crowds of skeleton-masked Mexicans, there was no Day of the Dead Parade in Mexico City. The Government has since created an annual parade, the Desfile de Dia de Muertos, which is now one of the greatest spectacles in the country.
Celebrate local event in Coyoacan
Coyoacan is a neighbourhood in the south of Mexico City. It looks more like a little town. The area has kept its authenticity, with a charming colonial architecture and very colourful houses. More about this neighbourhood here.
Coyoacan is a great place where to celebrate El Dia de Muertos. For the occasion, all the streets are decorated, there are Cempasúchil everywhere and there are local events and celebrations. It’s the opportunity to see these celebrations from a more authentic point of view. We participated to parades with locals and there was a family atmosphere.
Each neighbourhood of Mexico City have their own events, parades, and so on. You can check the social media or websites of each “Alcaldía” (neighbourhood) to find more information.
Get your ticket for a special show in Xochimilco
Xochimilco is a place outside the city centre of Mexico City, where you can rent a boat by the hour to wander on the canals. Many locals love to go there during the weekend.
If you want to experience it in a more unique way, there is a show organized for El Dia de Muertos. It is a theatre play of the Llorona, that you watch from the boat, called “La llorona en Xochimilco”. This is a lakefront opera is based on the Mexican legend of the Llorona. La llorona is a ghost from the folklore of Mexico. According to legend, she appears as the grieving soul of a woman who has lost or killed her children, searching for them in the night by a river or lake.
More info about Xochimilco here.
To follow the main events of Mexico City, you can check this page.
Have your Dia de Muertos make-up done
Mexicans are used to disguise themselves for the occasion, including the famous make-up to look like skeleton. There are stands everywhere, so it will be easy to find. It’s a fun thing to do for the occasion!
Visit the village of Mixquic
Míxquic is best known for its Day of the Dead commemorations. San Andrés Mixquic is located southeast of Mexico City.
The Day of the Dead in San Andrés Mixquic is known for its famous “Alumbrada” (=lightning) in which hundreds of people gather at the town’s pantheon to offer offerings to their dead. Mixquic is one of the most emblematic places in central Mexico during the first days of November. The tombs are full of flowers and illuminated with candles. Entire families spend the entire night in the cemetery to receive the people who are no longer in this world and who return once a year to accompany them during the Day of the Dead.
Important information: Mixquic is receiving more and more visitors and the presence of tourists in intimate spaces makes some locals uncomfortable. The residents of the neighbourhood enjoy their tradition and like to share it with the world, as long as those who come to visit are respectful and understand that locals way of receiving the dead is not a spectacle.
Celebrate Dia de los Muertos in Oaxaca City
The city of Oaxaca became an unmissable destination for the Day of the Dead. In Oaxaca City, the Day of the Dead is celebrated in a slightly different way, because here this tradition is taken very seriously and year after year the government and the different municipalities strive to keep the customs alive by organizing a whole program of activities that begin usually from October 29 to November 3.
The Oaxacan comparsas is one of the traditions that stands out among the other Day of the Dead activities in the rest of the country. The comparsas are parades that take place in some neighbourhoods of the city of Oaxaca where there are people dressed up as characters, such as the devil, death. The purpose of these walks is to parody and make people laugh with verses that make fun of some situation or event that has happened during that year. These walks are accompanied by music, fireworks.
You can also visit the pantheons (with the utmost respect). Decorating, celebrating and illuminating cemeteries for 2 consecutive days is an ancient Day of the Dead tradition in Oaxaca. Among the most famous pantheons in Oaxaca to visit on Day of the Dead are:
- San Felipe
If you want to go in Oaxaca to celebrate the Day of the Dead, you need to book an accomodation well in advance, as the destination is very popular at this time of year. Last year, in 2022, it was fully booked few weeks in advance.
This was my 2023 guide to celebrate El Día de Muertos in Mexico! Follow me on Instagram for daily info about this special occasion throughout this month.