Day of Dead Celebrations Throughout Mexico

“Mexico” Mike Nelson
Sep 25 · 7 min read
Day of dead skull mask worn by reveler. Mexico.
Day of dead skull mask worn by reveler. Mexico.
Smile! You’re on Dead camera.

Most of us know about the Día de los Muertos (Day of Dead) festivities in Mexico.

However, it never pays to assume anything. Just in case any readers are still trying to crawl out of the 60’s, this is not a Grateful Dead concert.

The festivities start Sept. 28th and go to Nov. 2nd. Hotels at the well-known locations for observing them are pretty much filled up months in advance.

Typical Day of Dead scenes from around Mexico. Photos Mike Nelson, Alvin Starkman.
Musicians play the loved one’s favorite tunes. Photos Alvin Starkman, Mike Nelson.

Pátzcuaro and Oaxaca

Those of you who, like me, are procrastinators and afraid of commitment didn’t take the well-known advice to make your reservations a year in advance in Pátzcuaro (close to Isla Janitzio), Oaxaca or any of the other uber-cool destinations.

Grave covered with marigolds. Day of Dead, Oaxaca, Mexico
Grave covered with marigolds. Day of Dead, Oaxaca, Mexico
Oaxaca cemetery. Photo by Alvin Starkman

Fake News

Fear not, you can still enjoy the ceremonies in the towns and visits to cemeteries. (Actually, I check with Booking.com every September and even those destinations have a few rooms left). So much for “well-known facts.”

Please go to my website, for information about driving to the lesser-known locales and a Booking link.

A real fact is you can go to any town, village or city and some sort of celebration of the afterlife will be happening. Any cemetery, from the humblest to the most ornate with tombs to rival the Pharaohs will be decorated. Honoring those who have gone before is not limited to one place or to the rich. All do what they can.

Central Mexico (CDMX, Mexico, Morelos, Puebla, Guanajuato)

Mexico City has plenty of hotel space available and a parade as well as celebrations in local cemeteries.

Panteón Civil de Dolores

The Panteón Civil de Dolores (Cemetery of Dolores) is the largest cemetery in Mexico.

The cemetery is on Av. Constituyentes in the Miguel Hidalgo section of the city. It is bounded by Chapultepec Park, sections two and three. The GPS coordinates are: 19.40629, -99.20359

Rotonda de las Personas Ilustres (Rotunda of Illustrious Persons) is the part of the cemetery that honors men and women who were considered great contributors to Mexico through the ages.

The entire cemetery is 590 square acres with 700,000 official graves, but many of them are condos so the total interred is more than 1,000,000 souls.

Residents include:

Agustín Lara — Composer — 1900–1970

Juan O’Gorman — Muralist — 1906–1995

José Clemente Orozco — 1883–1949

Angela Peralta — Opera Singer — 1845–1883

Carlos Pellicer — Poet, modern art evangelist — 1899–1977

Dolores del Rio — Actress — 1905–1983

Diego Rivera — Muralist — 1886–1957

Juventino Rosas — Composer — 1868–1894

Francisco Sarábia — Aviator — 1900 -02939

David Alfaro Siqueiros — 1896–1974

Manuel Sandoval Vallarta — Physicist — 1899–1977

San Andrés Mixquic

is a completely different experience. It is more of a reverent and somber reflection of live and death. On Nov. 1, it starts with a procession through town with a coffin carrying a white cardboard skeleton borne by pallbearers. They stop at houses along the way, let down their burden, pray and eat pan de muerto. The coffin ends up at a cemetery and a funeral is performed.

On Nov. 2, at 4 PM, bells chime from the Augustinian Convent. That is the signal to begin a procession to the cemetery at the end of town. Citizens carrying gladiolas and cempasuchil (marigolds) and unlit candles troop to the cemetery. After sweeping and washing the graves, they cover them with the petals from the flowers. At midnight, the candles are lit and the only light comes from hundreds of candles. People softly pray and reflect on the life of the departed. Some sobbing takes place in hushed tones. In this one place, the mortal coil is the thinnest. Dead and living, it’s hard to tell the difference.

This suburb of CDMX is accessible by the Metro, from the Taxqueña station. After that, you exit and take a micro #RTP149 to the town. Or take a taxi.

Now for the possibly bad news. The church was damaged in an earthquake in 2017. Last year, it was not ready for the festivities, but this year it should be. Ask locally if you go to Mexico City.

Xochimilco

gets all cleaned up and the boats are festooned in Dead attire. This can be appreciated during the daytime.

is just a little NE of Cuernavaca. There cemeteries have festivities between October 31 stand the 2 ndof November.

Huaquechula, Puebla

is THE place to be in Puebla state. About an hour drive from south from Puebla city, this little town goes big for DoD. Their are as elaborate (and costly) as any in the Republic. I’ve never measured them, but some reputedly rise to ten feet tall. These high-rise altars are from the Huaquechula native heritage. Locals open their homes to visitors to respectfully admire their altars. As in other places where this is true, accept a small offering of food or drink to be polite. Ask first, though if it is alcoholic if you don’t want a surprise. Hot chocolate, hibiscus water are just as available as pulque and asking is fine. If you start your tour at the cultural center in early afternoon, they often have maps to homes that are open. Otherwise follow the marigold trail. See Atlixco below for accommodations.

Atlixco, Puebla

at the foot of the volcano Popocatépetl is known as “The city of flowers” and is a Pueblo Magico. During DoD, floral carpets cover the main square.

This is in this list not because it has a lot going on, but because it is very close to Huaquechula, which DOES have a lot going on. It is a better place to stay especially if you are into warm springs and spas.

Should you stay here, the waters from the volcano are reputed to be medicinal and there are spas here. They also have voladores (flying pole dancers) similar but very different than the Totonacs in Veracruz state. Here the top flyer is a birdman with wings of quetzals. It is quite a colorful town even by Mexican standards. And of course, it has churches and a convent dating back to 1680.

Puebla city, Puebla

has street decorations and a parade on the night of Nov. 1, but is not a huge celebration.

Chignahuapan, Puebla

is one of my favorite towns because of the waterfalls and hot springs and spa. It has a Festival de la Luz y la Vida on Nov. 1. It is on the nearby lagoon. Downtown on the zócalo are other festivities.

A tour operator who can take you to most of these places in Puebla state is Carlos Rivero. http://www.riveros.com.mx/muertoseng.html

San Miguel de Allende, Guanajuato

has a four-day celebration called La Calaca.

Xico, Veracruz

goes all out. If rooms are not available, Coatepec and Xalapa are nearby.

Tamazunchale, San Luis Potosí & Hidalgo State

Rudy Jonquitud Reyes, a local displaying marigold wreaths — a mainstay of Day of Dead ceremonies throughout Mexico. They help the departed find their way home.

(and the whole Huasteca Potosina area — which also includes Hidalgo state) celebrate the Nahuatl festival of Xantolo. There are dances, costume competitions, lots of cross-dressing and general dead hilarity in the town squares. The people are so open they even invited me to dance and take part in as much fun as I could stand. They are probably the most humble, authentic ceremonies you will see.

In the unlikely event Tamazunchale hotels are full, the nearest towns are Xilitla and Cd. Valles. Both of these are too far to drive from Tamazunchale at night on the winding highway, so if you can’t get a room, don’t even think about it.

Xilitla, San Luis Potosí

Eerie sculpture Xilitla, SLP
Eerie sculpture Xilitla, SLP

is a spooky place on the best of days. For Xantolo they go all out. There are parades (impromptu as well as somewhat organized), street dancing on the square and general hilarity. To me, this place is a real portal to the other world, so keep your eyes open and your spirit aware.

Cd, Valles, San Luis Potosí

while I am not aware of any major events in this hub of the area, you should be able to find someone to take you to the small-town celebrations nearby, which are famous for their energy.

Aguascalientes, Aguascalientes

as home to the creator of , José Guadalupe Posada, there is a Festival de las Calaveras (Festival of the Skulls). They folks here celebrate for a whole week — from October 27 to Nov. 5. There are two official parades with floats. This only became a big deal in 1994 but it is huge in the city. The National Dead Museum will also be open to visitors — with more than 2,000 macabre mementos collected by the renowned engraver Octavio Bajonero Gil.

San Juan Chamula, Chiapas

(near San Cristobal de las Casas) have an indigenous ceremony called Kin Anima.

Merida, Yucatan and Pac Chen, Quintana Roo

go all out decorating their cemeteries.


Originally published at https://www.mexicomike.com on September 25, 2019.

“Mexico” Mike Nelson

Written by

“Mexico” Mike’s been writing about travel and society in Mexico for 40 years. He’s driven every highway, & many goat trails looking for offbeat stories.

Welcome to a place where words matter. On Medium, smart voices and original ideas take center stage - with no ads in sight. Watch
Follow all the topics you care about, and we’ll deliver the best stories for you to your homepage and inbox. Explore
Get unlimited access to the best stories on Medium — and support writers while you’re at it. Just $5/month. Upgrade