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10 Best Places to Celebrate Day of the Dead

While Day of the Dead is celebrated throughout Mexico, each region has its own unique traditions. Here are some of the best places to celebrate Day of the Dead.

In the heart of Mexico’s tapestry of traditions and festivities lies a celebration that transcends time and mortality. This spirited homage to the deceased is known as “Día de los Muertos” or Day of the Dead. With its roots deeply intertwined in indigenous beliefs and Spanish influences, Dia de Muertos has evolved into a mesmerizing fusion of remembrance, reverence, and revelry.

As November approaches, a palpable excitement permeates the air, for it is during this time that Mexico awakens to celebrate the eternal connection between the living and the departed. From the bustling streets of Mexico City to the tranquil shores of Lake Pátzcuaro, we bring you a list of the best places to celebrate Day of the Dead. I have included how to get there and some highlights of the Day of the Dead celebrations in each spot.

best places to celebrate day of the dead - where to celebrate day of the dead

What is Day of the Dead?

The origins of the Day of the Dead can be traced back to pre-Columbian indigenous cultures in Mexico, such as the Aztecs, Maya, and Purépecha. These civilizations had elaborate and deep-rooted beliefs about death and the afterlife. Death was not viewed as an end but rather as a continuation of life in another form. These cultures often practiced rituals and ceremonies to honor the deceased and their journey to the afterlife.

Over time, the Day of the Dead evolved into the vibrant and colorful celebration known today. Communities throughout Mexico, and now in various parts of the world, participate in parades, processions, dances, music, and art exhibitions that celebrate the continuity of life and death.

The Day of the Dead was added to UNESCO’s list of Intangible Cultural Heritage as “a defining aspect of Mexican culture.” Dia de los Muertos is a part of who the Mexicans are, and remains a part of their tradition for as long as there are Mexicans.

best places to celebrate day of the dead - oaxaca

When is Day of the Dead in Mexico?

Officially, Day of the Dead is a two-day holiday, taking place November 1st and November 2nd. But in many cities, Dia de los Muertos can be a week-long affair. Some events start as early as 23 October and many decorations and altars will be up by 26 October. The parade in Mexico City usually takes place on the Saturday before 1-2 November.

If you’re planning a trip to Mexico for Day of the Dead, I suggest planning to stay from 26 October to 2 November. There will be events happening throughout the week, from parades to street parties, outdoor markets, display of mega ofrendas, and food festivals. Spending a week will give you time to experience all the events and explore the city and its surroundings.

best places to celebrate day of the dead - oaxaca

Where to Celebrate Day of the Dead

1. Mexico City

It is in the capital, Mexico City, where the Day of the Dead celebrations are the biggest, loudest and grandest. Mega ofrendas (altars) are erected in major squares and museums; while giant Mexican alebrijes parade through the streets. Men, women and kids alike adorn beautiful skull paintings and enjoy food and drinks at the cemeteries to honor their deceased family.

This was where we celebrated our first Day of the Dead and it completely blew us away! Carnivals are held in every neighborhood, mega altars are on display and a massive parade takes over the historic center. Plus, there are tons of interesting attractions and museums in Mexico City to explore and the nearby Teotihuacan pyramids to visit.

Read my guide to celebrating Day of the Dead in Mexico City.

best places to celebrate day of the dead - mexico city parade

Highlights of Mexico City Celebrations

  • Day of the Dead parade — The biggest event during Day of the Dead in Mexico City is the desfile. Catrinas with oversized skull heads and massive floats take to the streets of the historic center. The parade usually takes place on the Saturday before 1 November.
  • Alebrije parade — The parade of Mexican spirit animals will take place on Saturday, 21 October 2023 at 12:00pm, starting from the Zocalo and ending at the Angel de la Independencia.
  • Mega procession of the Catrinas — Anyone can actually participate and march along in this catrina procession along Paseo de la Reforma. It starts at 18.45 on 22 October 2023.
  • La Llorona — This musical show staged on the floating islands of Xochimilco will have performances every weekend from 6 Oct to 12 Nov 2023 and daily shows during the week between 29Oct to 2Nov 2023.
best places to celebrate day of the dead - parade mexico city

How to Get to Mexico City

There are direct flights to Mexico City from many major cities in the US, including New York, Miami, Los Angeles, and Atlanta. You can get return flights as cheap as US$300. Note that many domestic airlines in Mexico charge for carry-on luggage, so be sure to check your booking before flying. Search for flights here.

2. Oaxaca

A bastion of indigenous culture, culturally-rich Oaxaca City (pronounced “wa-HA-ka”) is has the most deeply-rooted Dia de Muerto traditions and time-honored rituals. The celebrations in Oaxaca are smaller scale and more intimate, night-long vigils at the cemetery are immensely spiritual and comparsas (parades) are more traditional.

This culture hub is home to Mexico’s most colorful traditions, most vibrant art scene, and richest culinary culture. Plus, it’s blessed with ancient archaeological sites and the fabulous Pacific coast, all just a hop away. While you’re here, make sure to check out Monte Alban ruins and the unique Hierve el Agua petrified waterfalls. Last year, we celebrated Day of the Dead in Oaxaca and felt that it was a lot more spiritual immersive experience than in Mexico City. Check out our 10-day Oaxaca itinerary.

Read my guide to celebrating Dia de Muertos in Oaxaca.

where to celebrate day of the dead - oaxaca

Highlights of Oaxaca Celebrations

  • Magna Comparsa — It’s the main event in downtown Oaxaca and it’s the first official parade to open the Oaxaca Day of the Dead celebrations. Last year, it took place on 27th Oct 5pm in the historic center.
  • Mega ofrenda at Zócalo — The main square is home to the biggest ofrenda in Oaxaca, as well as concerts, food markets and exhibitions. 
  • Jalatlaco Festival —The bohemian borough of Jalatlaco (to the east of the historic center) plays host to many comparsas including a kids’ parade.
  • Xochimilco Festival — Throughout the week, you’ll find markets selling pan de muertos, altar competitions and bike parades in the oldest district of Oaxaca.
  • Cemetery Vigil — The biggest overnight celebrations take place at Santa Cruz Xococotlán. Panteon Xoxo (15 minutes away) gets packed with families throughout the holiday. If you’d rather join a group, this night tour will bring you there and allow you to join the celebrations in a respectful manner.
celebrate day of the dead - cemetery vigil in oaxaca

How to Get to Oaxaca

The most convenient way to get to Oaxaca is by flying into the Oaxaca International Airport (OAX), located just outside of the city. The small airport serves mainly domestic destinations (Mexico City, Guadalajara, Monterrey), but also has flights from Los Angeles, Houston and Dallas.

Flights to Oaxaca tend to be higher than normal during Day of the Dead. Direct flights from Los Angeles to Oaxaca cost around US$300-400 return. Flights from Mexico City to Oaxaca cost only $50 return. Budget travelers can also just take a bus from the Terminal de Autobuses del Sur in Mexico City to Oaxaca; it takes 6-7 hours depending on traffic. Pre-book your bus tickets here.

The fastest way to get from Oaxaca airport to the city is to book a transfer. You can also take the colectivo (small, shared van) for $3-5 right outside Oaxaca Airport. Once there, pick up a brochure with the festival schedule at a tourist booth.

3. Patzcuaro & Janitzio Island, Michoacán

Michoacán is renowned for its elaborate and traditional Day of the Dead festivities, as the area around Lake Pátzcuaro has a strong indigenous population. Many of the Day of the Dead traditions here are rooted in the local Purépecha culture. We will be celebrating Day of the Dead in Michoacan this year  look out for our post later this year!

See also  30 Mexican Holidays and Traditions

On the night of 1 November, a candlelit procession leads from the pueblo mágico of Pátzcuaro to the nearby island of Janitzio. This event, known as “Noche de Muertos,” features colorful canoes and boats adorned with candles and flowers, creating a beautiful sight on the lake. The island is known for its iconic tradition of creating large candlelit figures that represent various themes.

Pátzcuaro is also located near the monarch butterfly sanctuaries; Dia de Muertos coincides with the start of the annual migration, making it a perfect time to visit Michoacán. Read my guide on how to see monarch butterflies in Mexico.

how to celebrate day of the dead - janitizio island

How to Get to Michoacan

To reach Pátzcuaro and Janitzio Island in Mexico, first fly into General Francisco J. Mujica International Airport (MLM), also known as Morelia Airport. This airport serves several Mexican cities including Mexico City and Cancun. Search for flights here.

Pátzcuaro is situated approximately 82 kilometers (about 51 miles) southeast of Morelia Airport. Renting a car at Morelia airport gives you the flexibility to drive to Pátzcuaro and explore the area at your own pace. Otherwise there are lots of buses that go from Morelia to Pátzcuaro, check for bus schedules here.

From Pátzcuaro’s pier, you can take a boat to Janitzio island. There will be regular departures on the night of 1 and 2 November but make sure to check with your boat captain when he will be returning. You can also book a day tour to Pátzcuaro from Morelia [Read my guide to Morelia.]

best day of the dead celebrations - patzcuaro

4. Merida, Yucatán

In the Yucatán, the Day of the Dead is known as “Hanal Pixán,” which translates to “Food for the Souls” in the Mayan language. This term reflects the central focus of the celebrations, which involve preparing and offering food to the souls of the departed. As one of the best places to celebrate Day of the Dead, Merida has always had its own unique and distinct characteristics that differ from other parts of the country.

The Yucatán has a rich Mayan heritage, and elements of Mayan cosmology and beliefs are interwoven into the Hanal Pixán celebrations. Families visit cemeteries to clean and decorate the graves of their relatives. They often bring special offerings and light candles to illuminate the path for the souls of the departed. In some communities, it’s common to spend the night at the cemetery, maintaining a vigil and sharing stories of the deceased.

In addition to family-based observances, there are public events and parades that take place in Merida. There are also plenty of things to do in Merida, including free cultural shows and museums, as well as archaeological sites just an hour away.

best day of the dead celebrations - hanan pixal in merida

How to Get to Merida

Merida has a small airport, Manuel Crescencio Rejón International Airport (MID), just 20 minutes from the city centre. There are direct flights from Miami, Houston, Mexico City and many other parts of Mexico. Check for flights to Merida.

You can also fly into nearby Cancun Airport, which serves many more cities around the world. From there, it’s a 4-hour bus journey to Merida. You can easily turn that journey into a road trip; check out my 10-day Yucatan itinerary.

best day of the dead celebrations - hanan pixal in merida

5. Aguascalientes

You might not have heard of this city in Mexico, but Aguascalientes is one of the best places to celebrate Day of the Dead, for good reason. The birthplace of engraver Jose Guadalupe Posada, Aguascalientes in Central Mexico stretches the Day of the Dead celebrations to a week with the spectacular Festival de las Calaveras (Festival of Skulls) taking place from October 28 to November 2 each year.

The week-long festival takes place on the city fairgrounds with exhibitions of handicrafts, stands with traditional food and seasonal fruit, and varied theater productions, and concerts. The grand parade of calaveras (skulls) along Aguascalientes’ Avenida Madero is a highlight of the festival.

best day of the dead celebrations - aguascalientes

How to Get to Aguascalientes

The nearest airport to Aguascalientes is the Licenciado Jesús Terán Peredo International Airport (AGU). There are direct flights from major Mexican cities like Mexico City, Guadalajara, Monterrey, and Tijuana, as well as a few US destinations. Search for flights!

From the airport, the best way to get into the city center (which is a 33-minute drive away) is by taxi or Uber. Alternatively, book an airport transfer service that will take you straight to your hotel.

Alternatively, Aguascalientes is a 2h 45m drive from Guanajuato and a 3h 15m drive from San Miguel de Allende. If you’re planning to do a Guanajuato road trip, you can easily include Aguascalientes in your itinerary.

best day of the dead celebrations - aguascalientes

6. San Luis Potosí

Indigenous influences in San Luis Potosí’s Day of the Dead celebrations have always set it apart from other parts of Mexico. The Huastec indigenous communities in the region have their own unique Day of the Dead traditions, which they affectionately refer to as “Xantolo.”

The festivities kick off in late October and extend through early November, creating a month-long celebration of remembrance and reverence. The heart of the celebration often takes place in the town square, where day-long parties come to life with music, dance, and traditional foods.

A striking feature of Xantolo in this area is the tradition of crafting “welcome arches.” These arches, meticulously adorned with colorful decorations, serve as warm greetings for visitors and passersby during the holiday season. These arches are not merely ornamental but are laden with various offerings, such as traditional foods, fruits, and symbolic items, symbolizing the warm hospitality of the local communities.

where to celebrate day of the dead - san luis potosi

How to Get to San Luis Potosí

To get to San Luis Potosí, you’ll want to fly into Ponciano Arriaga International Airport (SLP). This airport serves several domestic destinations like Mexico City, Monterrey, and Guadalajara. Search for flights there.

Once you land, the airport is approximately 10 kilometers (6 miles) from the city center. The most convenient way to reach downtown San Luis Potosí from the airport is taking a taxi. There are official taxis at the airport and they are the only ones allowed to service the airport. The fare is approximately US$23.

best day of the dead celebrations - san luis potosi

7. Campeche

In the quaint town of Pomuch, nestled within the region of Campeche, locals have nurtured a profound connection with the Day of the Dead that spans centuries. Among the myriad of Day of the Dead traditions in Campeche, one particularly captivating ritual stands out – the time-honored practice of “bone-washing.”

Families gather to meticulously wash the tombs and tenderly clean the bones of their departed loved ones. After this cleansing ritual, a poignant step follows. Ossuaries, the receptacles where these sacred bones repose, are left open to bask in the gentle embrace of the sun and the cleansing touch of the air. This elemental communion is believed to renew the spiritual connection between the living and the deceased.

However, the tribute does not conclude here. Relatives embark on a creative journey, adorning and painting the ossuaries with meticulous detail. Each one becomes a unique canvas, a lovingly crafted masterpiece that speaks to the individuality of the departed soul. To complete this heartfelt gesture, the ossuaries are draped with delicately embroidered white tablecloths, upon which the name of the beloved deceased is lovingly inscribed.

How to Get to Campeche

The gateway to Campeche is Alberto Acuña Ongay International Airport (CPE). This airport primarily serves domestic flights, including connections to cities like Mexico City and Cancún.

Once you arrive at the airport, it’s approximately 5 kilometers (about 3 miles) from the city center. An airport transfer service is the easiest and most convenient way to get to the center. It only costs US$15 on Viator.

Pomuch is located about 30 kilometers (approximately 19 miles) southeast of Campeche. Renting a car is a convenient way to travel to Pomuch from Campeche. A 1-week rental from Campeche only costs US$155. Check for car rentals here.

best day of the dead celebrations - campeche

8. Chiapa de Corzo, Chiapas

The pueblo mágico of Chiapa de Corzo is a charming enclave perched along the shores of Grijalva River. Every Day of the Dead, a grand celebration unfolds within the sacred precincts of the cemetery. On 1 November, families embark on a journey to the cemetery, bearing with them an array of offerings that include vibrant flowers, ornate decorations, and a sumptuous feast for their departed loved ones.

As the midnight hour approaches, the cemetery paths come alive with the mesmerizing presence of catrinas and calacas, elegantly costumed and gracefully parading through the hallowed grounds. This enchanting spectacle is accompanied by the melodious strains of music and captivating theatrical performances, infusing the atmosphere with a jubilant spirit of celebration.

Chiapas is a region with large Tzotzil Maya and Chamula communities — you’ll find many towns here, not just Chiapa de Corzo, brimming with celebrations: from the fiesta-filled celebrations of el Romerillo with music and rides, to the women adorning flower-embroidered outfits in Zinacantán, and the more solemn atmosphere of Amatenango del Valle.

See also  Oaxaca Day of the Dead: 2024 Schedule + Events
best place to celebrate day of the dead - chiapa de corzo

How to Get to Chiapa de corzo

The closest airport to Chiapa de Corzo is Angel Albino Corzo International Airport (TGZ) in Tuxtla Gutiérrez. The airport serves major airports in Mexico like Cancun, Mexico City, Monterrey and Guadalajara. Book your flights.

Chiapa de Corzo is located approximately 15 kilometers (about 9 miles) from the airport. To get from the airport to Chiapa de Corzo, you can take a taxi; there are official taxi stands at the airport. Alternatively, you can catch a colectivo from the terminal in the city center of Tuxtla Gutiérrez to Chiapa de Corzo for 10 MXN (US$0.50).

best place to celebrate day of the dead - chiapa de corzo

9. Chignahuapan, Puebla

The charming lakeside town of Chignahuapan, nestled within the idyllic setting of Puebla, is renowned for its soothing hot springs and enveloping fog. The village has a remarkable Day of the Dead tradition known as the “Festival de la Luz y la Vida” (“Festival of Light and Life”). This enchanting event serves as a captivating fusion of reverence and festivity, drawing both visitors and locals alike into its warm embrace.

The journey commences from the heart of town, where a vibrant procession takes form, guiding participants along a path that leads to the picturesque Almoloya Lagoon. This pathway, illuminated by an awe-inspiring multitude of candles, torches, and radiant lights, casts a spellbinding glow upon the surroundings.

Upon reaching the tranquil shores of the Almoloya Lagoon, the Festival de la Luz y la Vida comes to life. The festivities commence with a mesmerizing pre-Hispanic dance, a poignant offering to honor and pay homage to the dearly departed. The grand finale of this enchanting festival culminates in a spectacular display of fireworks, painting the night sky with vivid colors and offering a poignant send-off to the spirits of the departed.

best place to celebrate day of the dead - puebla

How to Get to Puebla

The nearest airport to Chignahuapan is Hermanos Serdán International Airport (PBC), also known as Puebla Airport. This airport primarily serves domestic destinations within Mexico, including cities like Mexico City, Cancún, Monterrey, Tijuana, and others.

Chignahuapan is approximately 130 kilometers (about 81 miles) northeast of Puebla Airport. Renting a car at Puebla Airport provides flexibility and allows you to drive directly to Chignahuapan. Alternatively, Chignahuapan is just a 2.5-hour drive from Mexico City; you can book a private transfer.

best places to celebrate day of the dead - puebla

10. Guanajuato

One of the best places to celebrate Day of the Dead, Guanajuato draws in a huge crowd every November, as people flock here to see the campus of the University of Guanajuato that has transformed for this special Mexican holiday. This spectacular tribute, painstakingly crafted by the university’s students in collaboration with local artisans, serves as a radiant homage to the institution’s revered academic luminaries.

As the sun sets, this extraordinary altar transforms into a captivating spectacle, particularly enchanting for avid photographers. A celestial sea of candles encircles the altar, casting a warm, ethereal glow that transfixes the beholder.

best place to celebrate day of the dead - guanajuato

How to Get to Guanajuato

Guanajuato has a small international airport but it serves several major cities in the US, such as Dallas, Atlanta, and Houston. Del Bajío International Airport (BJX) is about a 45-minute drive from Guanajuato city center. Search for Flights here!

There is no direct public bus or train service between Guanajuato and the airport. If you’re not renting a car, the taxi fare from Guanajuato Airport to city center is around 500-600 MXN (US$25-30).

An alternative is flying into Mexico City, which is a 4.5-hour drive to Guanajuato. You can find much cheaper flights there from outside of Mexico. From there, take the excellent first-class bus from Mexico City on ETN or Primera Plus.

best place to celebrate day of the dead - guanajuato

Day of the Dead Guide

History of Dia de Muertos

The Aztecs held a festival dedicated to the goddess Mictecacihuatl, the “Lady of the Dead,” who presided over the underworld. This festival was celebrated during the ninth month of the Aztec calendar (approximately August) and involved offerings to honor the deceased, including skulls made of amaranth seeds.

For the Aztecs, death was simply a trip to Mictlán, the underworld in Aztec mythology. This was a blessing, not a curse. They saw death as more of a transition than an end, and the underworld was a place they could relax and enjoy.

When the Spanish conquistadors arrived in the early 16th century, they brought Catholicism with them. The Catholic All Saints’ Day (November 1) and All Souls’ Day (November 2) were aligned with the beliefs and practices related to death and ancestor worship. As a result, the indigenous celebrations merged with these Catholic holidays, creating a syncretic tradition.

How is Day of the Dead Celebrated Today?

Traditionally, Dia de los Muertos has always been a family affair. Families erect ofrendas (altar offerings) to honor their deceased family members. They then decorate the altar with bright orange marigolds, painted skulls, flickering candles, bottles of tequila and colorful paper cutouts. Every single item holds a meaning — click to learn more about Day of the Dead symbols.

The celebrations have evolved over time — newer traditions such as street parades and parties have shifted the atmosphere of the holiday away from something quiet. In Mexico City, a massive parade takes over the historic center with giant floats carrying Mexican alebrijes and Catrina figures; while in Oaxaca, there are marching bands blaring their trumpets and guitars in different neighborhoods and street carnivals that last through the night.

Despite the raucous parties and street parades, Day of the Dead celebrations in Mexico are still very much centered on the family. The holiday’s traditions are alive within their homes, with families gathering together to honor and celebrate their loved ones over music, food and drinks. 

When Is Day of the Dead Celebrated?

October 31: All Saints Eve

On October 31 or All Saints’ Eve, families usually gather to decorate intricate ofrendas (altars) at home or on the gravesites of their departed loved ones. This is the eve of the souls returning, so these preparations must be completed before midnight, marking the anticipated arrival of these souls.

November 1st: Day of the Little Angels

November 1 is also known as Día de los Angelitos or Day of the Little Angels, a day dedicated to honoring children who have passed away. The spirits of these angelitos (angelic children) return on the preceding night, precisely at midnight.

The festivities, however, continue throughout the entire day. It’s worth noting that this day might also be referred to as Día de los Inocentes or Day of the Innocents, but don’t mistake it for the Day of Holy Innocents on December 28.

day of the dead in mexico

November 2nd: Day of the Dead

November 2 is the official Day of the Dead in Mexico. During this day, families and loved ones commemorate the departed adults in their lives. While the spirits of all adults return on the night preceding this day, exactly at midnight, the celebrations usually last through the entirety of November 2.

On the last two days of the Dia de Muertos, you’ll find the cemeteries at their most festive as families gather to celebrate the dead. They’ll often decorate the panteon (cemetery) with marigold flowers, candles, and food — sometimes they play music, enjoy food and drinks here all through the night.

mixquic cemetery during dia de los muertos

Things to Know About Celebrating Day of the Dead in Mexico

Celebrate Day of the Dead with a Group!

Celebrating Day of the Dead in Mexico is such a deeply immersive experience, but it can also get extremely hectic and intense. If you’re not a confident traveler or you don’t do well in crowded places, your best bet is to book a group tour. They will take care of the logistics and the local guide can give you a great overview of Dia de Muertos traditions.

We didn’t book a tour, and we went to all the events and cemeteries mentioned in this article ourselves. It was easy taking Uber around. But for solo travelers who don’t speak Spanish, it might be wise (and more fun!) to join a group.

Here are some Day of the Dead tours available:

day of the dead in mexico

It Gets Busy in Mexico

In recent years, more and more travelers are flocking to Mexico for the Day of the Dead celebrations. Being able to witness and join in the festivities is truly a once-in-a-lifetime experience, and I honestly think it’s the best time to visit Mexico.

See also  Day of the Dead in Mexico: The Ultimate Guide 2024

However, this means that airfares and hotel prices are higher than ever, and accommodation gets fully booked months in advance. You’ll also need to prepare for the overwhelming amount of tourists wherever you go. Oaxaca in particular was packed with foreigners when we visited in 2022.

Day of the Dead is NOT Halloween!

If there’s one thing you need to know about Dia de los Muertos — it is not Mexican Halloween.  Deeply rooted in indigenous traditions, the Day of the Dead is a celebration that honors deceased loved ones and reflects a belief in the continuity of life and death. It has a strong connection to pre-Columbian cultures like the Aztecs, Maya, and Purépecha.

Halloween, on the other hand, has its roots in Celtic and European pagan traditions. It originated in the Gaelic festival of Samhain, marking the end of the harvest season and the beginning of winter. It has evolved into a more commercialized holiday, emphasizing on silly costumes, going to parties and trick or treating.

That said, Mexicans (usually the younger generation) do celebrate Halloween and tend to dress up in ghoulish costumes on 31 October. Kids also go trick-or-treating and get candy. But Halloween is definitely not as celebrated as Day of the Dead in Mexico.

Dress Appropriately for Day of the Dead in Mexico

As mentioned, Dia de los Muertos is not the Mexican Halloween — please leave your sexy nurse or superhero costumes at home! Most people wear black dresses or simple floral dresses. You can find beautiful Mexican embroidered dresses in local markets for cheap (US$10-15).

Keep in mind that at this time of the year, it gets chilly in the evenings in many cities like Oaxaca and Mexico City. It will be dry and warm during the day, but the temperature drops once the sun sets. So pack jeans and a sweater or light jacket for night time.

dia de muertos in mexico face painting

Be Respectful at Cemeteries

During Day of the Dead in Mexico, cemeteries are filled with people gathering, singing and celebrating their departed loved ones. The atmosphere is incredible: people huddle in blankets, sipping tequila, and telling stories amidst candlelight and burning incense. Outside the cemetery, you will find street food carts, games stores, and a carnival-like atmosphere.

Even though the atmosphere in the cemeteries are lively and festive, remember to be respectful. Don’t touch any of the graves or displays, and don’t sit on them.

mexico death festival - cemetery vigils

It’s ok to Get Your Face Painted

Many people will get their faces painted at Dia de los Muertos. I checked with many locals, and they confirmed that it’s not rude/disrespectful to wear facepaint in the cemeteries either.

There are tons of makeup artists with temporary stands in the main squares of the cities and some outside the cemeteries. A face paint usually costs around 100 – 150 MXN ($5-7.5) and takes 10-20 minutes. They’ll have a book of designs to choose from, or you can show them what you want on your phone.

To complete the look, you can also get flower crown headbands from these street vendors. Most are inexpensive, at around 100-200 MXN ($5-10). I suggest buying them online before your trip, Amazon has a few options.

best places to celebrate day of the dead - face painting

It’s Great Fun for Kids

If you’re thinking of bringing your kids to celebrate Day of the Dead in Mexico, I’ll say hell yeah! It’s a fantastic celebration for kids — the colorful decorations, alebrije animals, papel picado and altars will appeal to the little ones and the carnival atmosphere gets kids of any age excited. Let’s not forget that they get to dress in Mexican traditional wear and get their faces painted!

We’ve brought our 8-year-old daughter with us to every Day of the Dead celebration, and she has always had a blast! She loves getting dressed up and joining in the loud street parades. The cemeteries scare her a little, but we don’t usually spend too much time there. Plus, she enjoys playing games at the fun-fair outside the cemeteries. That said, those with tiny toddlers might find it more stressful to navigate the crowd.

mexico day of the dead with kids

Mexico Travel Guide

Whether you are traveling Mexico for a year or a week, I always recommend travelers to buy travel insurance. You never know what will happen, plus you’ll get compensated for things like flight cancellations, delays, loss of luggage and other incidents. Read my travel insurance guide.

Safety Wing is the most popular travel insurance company for COVID19-coverage. I use their Nomad Insurance plan, which covers COVID-19 as any other illness as long as it was not contracted before your coverage start date.

oaxaca day of the dead cemetery

Is It Safe to Visit Mexico for Day of the Dead?

It can get crowded in many parts of Mexico during Day of the Dead; but as long as you’re on your guard, you will be fine. Be on the alert while in crowded areas or when joining in a comparsa (mini parade), especially at night. My husband, daughter and I all never felt unsafe celebrating Day of the Dead in Mexico City and Oaxaca.

But I have heard of friends getting robbed while drinking on the streets in Oaxaca. Things like that do happen, so keep your wits about you. Always make sure to keep your belongings close to you, bring minimal cash with us, and stay in a group. Avoid seedy areas or please don’t get drunk on the streets if you’re alone.

death festival mexico - mexico city crowd

How to Stay Connected in Mexico

To get internet on the go, I recommend getting an eSIM before traveling. With a Mexico eSIM (digital SIM card), you can toss out your physical cards and simply activate it on your phone through an app. I have bought many eSIMs on Airalo and they have all worked perfectly. Airalo is the world’s first eSIM store. Check out Airalo’s Mexican eSIMs

You can also get a SIM card at the airport upon arrival or at any OXXO shop in Mexico. A SIM card itself costs between 29 and 149 pesos (around $1-6 USD). You can get 3GB of data valid for 30 days on the sin limite plan (unlimited) for 200 pesos (~8 USD.) That will also give you unlimited calls, texts, and most social media within North America.Read my guide on how to get a SIM card in Mexico.

day of the dead festival in mexico - oaxaca

Final Tips for Celebrating Day of the Dead

  • Book your hotels early and reserve Day of the Dead group tours in advance as it’s a very busy time of the year.
  • Plan to arrive in Mexico by 26th October as the festivities start early. The big parade in Mexico City usually takes place on the Saturday before 1 November. In 2023, it will likely be on 28th October.
  • Be respectful of the Oaxaca Day of the Dead celebrations. This Mexican holiday celebrates the deceased with centuries-old traditions. Have fun and join in the celebrations, but don’t get drunk or high on the streets.
  • Dia de Muertos is not a version of Halloween, so please do not wear sexy nurse or superhero costumes.
  • Read up on Day of the Dead symbols and understand their meaning — it will make your experience in Mexico all the more meaningful here.
  • Do not touch ofrendas or anything you see on an altar, it’s disrespectful.
  • Tourists are welcome to visit the cemeteries during Day of the Dead, but please do not touch anything on the altars or sit on tombstones.
  • Avoid taking photos of people, or ask for permission before taking. Do not use flash at night.
  • Cash is king in Mexico, so carry cash with you at all times. Only nice restaurants and hotels will accept cards.
day of the dead mexico - oaxaca altar decorations

Enjoy Celebrating Day of the Dead in Mexico!

I hope this list of best places to celebrate Day of the Dead has helped you decide where to go. I have also written specific posts on celebrating Day of the Dead in Mexico City and Oaxaca Dia de Muerto celebrations, including schedules of events, specific places to visit, and restaurants to try. Let me know if you have any questions in the comments field below.

For those who are planning to travel more of Mexico, check out other articles I’ve written on Mexico:

Disclaimer: This post contains affiliate links i.e. if you book a stay through one of my links, I get a small commission at NO EXTRA COST to you. Thank you for your support!

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