Last Updated on September 20, 2023 by Nellie Huang
Wondering what it’s like to celebrate Day of the Dead in Mexico? Here’s my comprehensive guide to Mexico’s most colorful annual event.
Dia de los Muertos, Day of the Dead, is a vibrant and unique celebration of death, and one of the most important Mexican holidays. It’s far from a somber affair; in fact Dia de Muertos is a celebration of death, so grand even the deceased return to attend the party held in their honor.
It’s my favorite time to be in Mexico and I recommend anyone curious about Mexican culture to come celebrate Day of the Dead in Mexico! You get to join in parades, admire magnificent artwork in the form of altars and sand tapestries, and visit cemeteries at night where families gather, feast and sing in celebration of their departed loved ones.
I’ve have celebrated Day of the Dead in different parts of Mexico — they each have their own, special ways of celebrating the departed souls. To help you plan an epic trip to Mexico for Day of the Dead, I’ve compiled a detailed guide below with everything from the Dia de Muerto symbols to best places to celebrate Day of the Dead and food to eat.
Table of Contents
- What is Day of the Dead?
- History of Day of the Dead in Mexico
- How is Day of the Dead Celebrated Today?
- When is Day of the Dead in Mexico?
- Day of the Dead Traditions & Meanings
- Day of the Dead Food
- Best Places to Celebrate Day of the Dead
- Things to Know About Day of the Dead in Mexico
- Mexico Travel Guide
- Is It Safe to Visit Mexico for Day of the Dead?
- How to Stay Connected in Mexico
- Final Tips for Celebrating Day of the Dead
- Enjoy Celebrating Day of the Dead in Mexico!
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.
History of Day of the Dead in Mexico
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 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 is 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 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. In Oaxaca for example, there will be non-stop 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.
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.
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.
Day of the Dead Traditions & Meanings
Ofrendas : Day of the Dead Altar Offerings
Most families in Mexico will set up an altar at home in honor of loved ones who have passed on. The altar usually includes photos of deceased family members, their favorite food, candles, copal incense, sugar skulls and marigold flowers. It’s believed that when the dead come back to Earth, they’re hungry and thirsty from the long journey.
The altars are usually layered: the top tier contains photos of the remembered deceased as well as religious statues; the second tier will be where they place the ofrendas such as bottles of tequila, mezcal, or atole and the deceased’s favorite food. The third tier will be lit up with candles, and some people add a washbasin and a towel so the spirits may refresh themselves upon arrival at the altar.
In cities that celebrate the Day of the Dead with fervor, you’ll also see giant altars in main squares, parks, museums, restaurants and businesses. In Mexico City, you can find the most impressive ones at Museo de Arte Popular, Casa Azul (Frida Kahlo’s home) and Alameda Central.
Panteon : Visiting the Cemetery
It is at the cemetery where families come together on Dia de Muertos to share stories, and show their enduring love and respect for those who have passed away. During Day of the Dead, the cemetery is a visually striking and deeply meaningful display of the Mexicans’ cultural beliefs. Sharing stories about the deceased is one of the most important Day of the Dead traditions.
Many of the graves are lavishly decorated with a variety of symbolic elements to welcome the returning spirits. Papel picado are hung above the graves; these colorful tissue paper banners with intricate designs and cutouts add a festive touch. Photographs of the deceased are placed on the grave as a way to remember and honor their lives. Families often include items that were important to the deceased, such as their favorite foods, drinks and personal belongings.
Some families write letters or messages to the deceased, expressing their love, memories, and wishes. Candles are lit to illuminate the path for the souls of the departed and to help guide them back to the world of the living. Incense is often burned to purify the area and create a pleasing aroma.
Cempasúchil : Day of the Dead Flowers
Marigold flowers are also known as “flor de Muerto” (Spanish for flower of the dead) and is one of the most significant Day of the Dead symbols. Cempasúchil symbolizes the beauty and fragility of life.
Prized for their bright coloring and potent fragrance, marigolds are thought to guide the spirits to the living world with their vibrant colors and strong scent. Their petals are often laid out as walkways for the dead to find their way on earth so they may be reunited with their loved ones. Nowadays, you won’t see any altar without marigold flowers.
Just outside of Oaxaca, you can visit marigold farms before they are harvested for Day of the Dead. We visited the Cultivos del Viejo farm in Zimatlán del Alvarez, a 45-minute drive from Oaxaca centro. The plantation accepts donations if you’d to come in and walk in the fields (just be respectful). You can also see the unique cresta de gallo (crested cock’s-comb) with its red velvety flowers and edible leaves.
La Catrina : Artistic symbol of Day of the Dead
Everywhere you go during Day of the Dead in Mexico, you’ll see paintings, figures and people made up and dressed like her — La Catrina, an elegantly dressed female skeleton adorned in European clothing and often depicted wearing a wide-brimmed hat, has become a symbol of Dia de Muertos.
The classy skeletal lady was first created by Jose Guadalupe Posada, a political cartoonist and illustrator who used his art to comment on social issues. In 1910, Posada created an etching titled “La Catrina”, as a satirical commentary on the Mexican upper class’s emulation of European customs. The message was that, regardless of their social status, all people are equal in the face of death.
The image of La Catrina gained further prominence when Mexican muralist Diego Rivera included La Catrina in his famous work “Sueño de una Tarde Dominical en la Alameda Central” (Dream of a Sunday Afternoon in the Alameda Central). In Rivera’s mural, La Catrina is depicted walking alongside other historical figures, capturing the idea that death is an inevitable part of life.
Today, La Catrina is a recognizable and beloved figure often depicted in Day of the Dead celebrations through art, crafts, and costumes, becoming one of the most important Dia de los Muertos symbols of all times.
Alebrijes : Day of the Dead Creatures
Alebrijes are vibrant and fantastical Mexican folk art sculptures that represent creatures from the underworld. These colorful creations are often imaginative combinations of different animals, resulting in surreal and visually captivating forms. They hold deep cultural significance and have become emblematic of Mexican folk art.
Alebrijes were originally created by Pedro Linares López, a Mexican artist and artisan from Mexico City. In the 1930s, Pedro fell ill and, during his illness, experienced vivid and surreal dreams in which he saw a strange place resembling a forest. In this forest, he encountered animals that transformed into fantastical creatures with extraordinary features and vibrant colors These creatures communicated with him, and upon his recovery, Pedro felt compelled to recreate them.
Pedro started sculpting these creatures from cardboard and papier-mâché, giving life to the beings he saw in his dreams. He called them “alebrijes,” a term he coined for these surreal and imaginative creations. While these Mexican spirit animals aren’t traditionally a part of Day of the Dead celebrations, they have now made their way into the festivities. There’s a giant alebrije parade during Day of the Dead in Mexico City, and if you miss it, you can see huge alebrije sculptures at Museo de Arte Popular.
Tapetes de Arena : Sand Tapestries
During the Day of the Dead celebrations in Mexico, you’ll also notice many tapetes de arena”or sand tapestries on display. These colorful artworks are beautiful formations made with colored sand, seeds, flower petals, and other natural materials.
Just like altars and ofrendas, sand tapestries are offerings to honor deceased loved ones. They symbolize the ephemeral nature of life and the cycle of birth, life, death, and rebirth. The tradition is believed to have originated from ancient Mesoamerican rituals where flowers, seeds, and other natural materials were used to create decorative patterns as offerings to the gods and spirits. They are a visual and symbolic representation of the festive and spiritual aspects of the holiday.
Plaza de la Danza in Oaxaca City is a great spot to see massive tapetes de arena on display. At the end of the Day of the Dead celebrations, judges will decide which sand carpet is the winner of the competition. The Magna Comparsa ends here at Plaza de la Danza, making it an important spot for the Oaxaca Day of the Dead festivities.
Day of the Dead Food
Pan de Muerto : Day of the Dead Bread
This is a sweet and festive bread that is central to Day of the Dead celebrations. It’s often round or oval in shape, with bone-shaped decorations on top. The bread is slightly sweet and flavored with ingredients like orange blossom water or anise. You’ll often see it used as a decoration on altars and graves.
It’s best enjoyed with hot chocolate or coffee. I had the best pan de muerto at Mayordomo, a hot chocolate chain from Oaxaca. The Oaxacan pan de muerto is slightly different, with a candy face figurine (representing the departed souls) and sesame seeds on top.
Calaveras de Azúcar : Sugar Skulls
Sugar skulls are the quintessential Day of the Dead treat. They are not only delicious and decorative but they also carry symbolic significance. They represent the cycle of life and death and serve as a way to remember and honor deceased loved ones during the Day of the Dead festivities.
Originally introduced by Italian Catholic missionaries in the 1600s, sugar art started taking root here thanks to the abundance of sugarcane in the country. These days, they are made out of granulated sugar and water, then shaped by silicone sugar skull molds. These skulls are often inscribed with the names of the departed, using colored royal icing.
Atole and Champurrado : Hot Drinks
Having been around since the Aztec era, Atole is a warm, thick beverage made from masa (corn dough), water or milk, and sweeteners like cinnamon and vanilla. Champurrado is a variation of atole that includes chocolate. It is thicker than regular hot chocolate because it’s prepared with masa de maíz (corn flour). These drinks offer a soothing indulgence during the chilly Day of the Dead celebrations, providing a taste of warmth and tradition.
Tamales : Corn Dough
Tamales are a staple of many Mexican holidays, including Dia de Muertos. They are usually made from masa (corn dough) filled with various fillings such as meats, cheese, chilies, and even sweet ingredients like fruits and chocolate. These versatile delights come in both savory and sweet variations, and are always wrapped and steamed in a corn husk or banana leaf.
Mole : Sweet and Savory Sauce
The culinary pride and joy of Mexico, Mole is a complex and flavorful sauce made from both sweet and savory ingredients such as chilies, chocolate, indigenous spices, green tomatoes, sweet fruit and thickeners like nuts an d seeds. The ingredients are crushed and worked into a paste, then mixed with water or stock, and slow-simmered for hours and even days. It’s often served over meats and is a popular dish for special occasions.
Pozole : Meaty Stew
A common food during Day of the Dead in Mexico City, this savory, soupy stew of meat and spices gets an extra kick from an abundance of red chiles. Other types of pozole are found throughout the year and around the country, but the spicy red variety is tied to Day of the Dead celebrations.
Pib: Yucatan Specialty
In the Yucatán region, a special dish takes center stage during the Day of the Dead festivities. Mucbipollo, also known as the “pib” is an indigenous dish featuring a blend of chicken or pork, infused with an array of spices and corn dough. It is then carefully enveloped in banana tree leaves and positioned within an earthy fire pit to undergo cooking. Upon completion, the pib is unearthed and served, symbolizing the commencement of the Day of the Dead celebrations.
Alegrias and Pepitorias : Amaranth Candy
Alegría, Spanish for “joy,” has been around since the 16th century. The Mexican candy is often made with puffed seeds of the native amaranth plant, dried fruits, nuts and honey. Shaped into skulls for Day of the Dead celebrations and decorated in the style of calaveras with bright colors, the candies are either placed on the ofrenda or enjoyed by children. Similarly, pepitorias, made of pumpkin seeds and sugar syrup, are a popular Day of the Dead food.
Calabaza en Tacha : Candied Pumpkin
Candied pumpkin is a sweet treat made by simmering pumpkin pieces in a syrup made from piloncillo (unrefined cane sugar) and spices. The result is tender and sweet pumpkin that’s embodies the spirit of Day of the Dead in Mexico. It is often served with a spiced caramel-like syrup or over ice cream.
Best Places to Celebrate Day of the Dead
A bastion of indigenous culture, culturally-rich Oaxaca City (pronounced “wa-HA-ka”) is one of the best places to celebrate Day of the Dead, as it 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.
Read my guide to celebrating Dia de Muertos in Oaxaca.
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. Check out my 10-day Oaxaca itinerary.
2. 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 floats 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.
3. Patzcuaro & Janitzio Island
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!
On the night of November 1st, a candlelit procession leads from 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. These figures are displayed along the hillsides of the island and create a mesmerizing visual spectacle.
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. Day of the Dead celebrations in the Yucatán state have their own unique and distinct characteristics that set them apart 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, one of the best places to celebrate Day of the Dead. 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.
You might not have heard of this city in Mexico, but this city truly comes alive for Day of the Dead. 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.
Things to Know About Day of the Dead in Mexico
Celebrate Day of the Dead with a Group!
Celebrating Day of the Dead in Mexico is 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:
- 28Oct – 3Nov: Dead of the Dead Tour by G Adventures — For a full experience, join this Dia de los Muertos Oaxaca tour for 7 days and experience all the events I mentioned above with a guide and small group.
- 31 Oct: Day of the Dead Tour in Oaxaca — Prefer just a day tour? This daytrip lets you join in a family celebration and brings you to the town of San Agustin Etla.
- 1 Nov: Day of the Dead Tour in Oaxaca — This tour brings you to Jalatlaco and three different cemeteries, including the famous one in Xoxocotlan.
- 1 Nov: Day of the Dead Tour in Mexico City — This tour brings you to a cemetery (not Mixquic) and takes you on a trajinera (gondola) through the Xochimilco canals.
- 2 Nov: Mixquic Day of the Dead Celebration from Mexico City — This longer tour takes you to Mixquic and back, and allows plenty of time to experience Mixquic’s festivities.
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.
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.
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.
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.
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 artwork and vibrant displays of culture 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 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.
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.
How to Stay Connected in Mexico
Internet in Mexico is pretty fast and reliable, and you can get WiFi in most hotels and guesthouses. 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.
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 (dates have not been announced yet).
- 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.
Enjoy Celebrating Day of the Dead in Mexico!
I hope this massive guide to celebrating Day of the Dead in Mexico has given you a good idea of what to expect. 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:
- Best Places to Celebrate Day of the Dead
- Day of the Dead in Mexico City
- Day of the Dead in Oaxaca
- Day of the Dead Symbols & their Meaning
- What Are Alebrijes?
- Mexico Holidays and Traditions
- Oaxaca Road Trip: My 10-Day Oaxaca Itinerary
- 30 Cool Things to Do in Oaxaca City
- Monte Alban: A Guide to Oaxaca Pyramids
- Hierve el Agua: Oaxaca Waterfalls Guide
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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