Celebrate memories in Mexico during Dia de los Muertos
Explore Mexico in the fall and immerse yourself in the country’s enchanting Dia de los Muertos (Day of the Dead) celebrations. | By Laura Burkehart | September 22, 2022
Mexico is a magical place any time of year, but for an even more enchanting trip, visit in autumn during the Dia de los Muertos (Day of the Dead) celebrations.
Observed throughout Mexico, this is a festive holiday during which the souls of dead relatives are believed to visit their families in the earthly realm. Thought to be a combination of traditions from ancient Aztec beliefs about the cyclical nature of life and death, and medieval Spanish celebrations, Day of the Dead customs and traditions vary within different cities and communities.
Common rituals of the holiday seen throughout the country, though, include decorated ofrendas (altars) to honor deceased relatives, elaborately adorned sugar skulls and pan de muerto (bread of the dead) — a sweet bread and a staple of Dia de los Muertos.
From Cancun to Tulum and beyond, you can celebrate across the country by:
Immersing yourself: Observe these sacred celebrations with respect and reverence
Enjoying the sweet life: Colorful sugar skulls are found everywhere
Enchanting the senses: Take in the sights, scents and flavors of one of Mexico’s most beloved traditions
Cancun: Beyond the beaches
There’s no end to the special events during this time in Cancun. A four-day Dia de los Muertos event begins with a procession of Catrinas (dapper skeletons) on Oct. 30 and ends with a celebration in front of City Hall. Head to the Parque de las Palapas to see elaborate altars and celebrate with locals. Visit the dead at the Museo Maya de Cancun, where you can see recreated tombs, as well as remains adorned with jewelry and treasures while learning about sacred burial rituals from nearly 2,000 years ago.
Keep the historical momentum going by taking part in Hanal Pixan, the Food of the Souls celebration of the local Mayan people. It’s an elaborate tradition that takes place over several days. Shamans conduct a ceremony with chanting and music, which ends with a dinner served by the Mayan. Visit the Cancun Visitors Bureau to obtain a schedule of events for the four days of the holiday.
Make memories in Tulum
Get a taste of everything at Xcaret Park's epic celebration, the Festival of Life and Death Traditions. With something for the whole family — including puppet presentations and a space just for kids in the interactive Hacienda — you’ll experience rituals of the Mayan world, an archway made of Mexican marigolds, food, workshops and crafts, musical presentations and theater plays. To close out the festivities, attend the traditional Mass for the Feast of All Saints.
For an even deeper cultural experience, stroll through local cemeteries to respectfully admire the ofrendas. And don’t forget to sample the chocolate and pan de muerto that are sure to be offered at spots like downtown Tulum’s Xocolate Pasteles y Postres.
Vamos a la Playa (del Carmen)
Lose yourself in the echoes of ancient Mayan culture through food and once-in-a-lifetime experiences in Playa del Carmen. Learn about and sample mucbil pollo (large tamales filled with chicken, anchiote and chaya), a Yucatan dish traditionally served this time of year and believed to bring a connection between the world of the living and the dead. Other options in the area include a tour of the Pac-Chen eco-village, where you can observe the sacred Hanal Pixan rituals, including a breathtaking Mayan ceremony celebrating the dead inside a cenote.
You also won’t want to miss the thrilling Todas Somos Catrinas (We Are All Catrinas) festival honoring women artists and celebrating the beauty and culture of Mexico. This spirited homage to La Calavera Catrina, an icon of the Day of the Dead, includes a parade with participants dressed in elaborate Catrina costumes.
Puerto Vallarta: Let's dance
Folkloric ballets, mariachi music and shrines along the Malecon boardwalk and town squares make Puerto Vallarta a memorable and vibrant place to observe the holiday. Looking for dinner and a side of entertainment? The Rhythms of the Night cruise produces a magnificent show at the amphitheater under the stars.
Tequila is a classic ofrenda offering so be sure to sample a variety of Mexico’s finest in different parts of town and toast the departed. Visit the Olas Altas Farmers Market on Saturdays to taste the produce included in local celebrations. You’ll also find classic Jalisco libations like tejuino and atole to enjoy alongside tamales and mole. Don’t miss the parade, which moves from the Pantheon of Cinco de Diciembre to the Lazaro Cardenas Park.
No matter where in Mexico your fall getaway takes you, Dia de los Muertos celebrations are guaranteed to excite the senses and be filled with memorable moments to honor people and stories that should never be forgotten.
Laura Burkehart is an editor and writer who loves travel as much as she loves writing about it. She splits her time between North Carolina and Northern California.