Mexico is a great place to visit throughout the year, since it has many amazing attractions and a rich history. But the annual Dia de los Muertos celebration is one of the most popular times of year to visit Mexico, as visitors flock to Mexican cities to partake in the festivities.
If you’re planning on travelling to Mexico during Dia de los Muertos, we recommend booking well in advance.
> Read more: When is the best time to visit Mexico?
What is Dia de los Muertos?
The Day of the Dead, or Dia de los Muertos, is a Mexican celebration celebrated on the 1st and 2nd of November. Family members who have died are remembered through ofrendas (offerings) created by loved ones.
At midnight on November 1st, the celebration officially begins with Dia de los Angelitos (Day of the tiny angels), a time when the souls of all deceased children are said to be reunited with their loved ones for a full day.
The commemorations for adults who have passed away begins at midnight on the second of November. The public celebration of Dia de Muertos culminates the following day. Calaveras (skeletons) are a popular costume choice for recent years' celebrations, as citizens of participating cities gather for street parades.
Marigold flowers, pictures of the deceased, and the deceased's preferred foods and beverages are commonplace on these altars. It is thought that the deceased will be able to sense the prayers, smell the delicacies, and participate in the celebrations thanks to the offerings.
Day of the Dead is an unusual celebration of both life and death. It is definitely not a time of mourning, it is a time of fond memories - Mexicans like to celebrate death with joy and humour - this is not to say they do not feel sadness, it is just not the time for this.
What you'll experience if you visit Mexico during Dia de los Muertos
- Great food
- Beautifully decorated altars
During Day of the Dead celebrations, you'll see calaveras (sugar skulls) everywhere. There is typically a smile on the skulls as though to poke fun at mortality. Candies made of sugar, clay ornaments, and, perhaps most notably, painted faces all fall into this category.
Dia de los muertos is celebrated all around Mexico, but Oaxaca and Mexico City are particularly well-known for their carnival-esque parades that are popular with visitors. Mexico City in particular hosts the largest parade in Mexico, with a different theme each year.
The big parades and costumes are actually a relatively new addition to Dia de los Muertos celebrations - traditionally it was simply about remembering and honouring the dead. Families would go to the gravesites of loved ones, clean them, and even spend the night of the celebration at the cemetery, eating and drinking, perhaps singing and playing the guitar. The thinking behind it is the belief that the souls of those passed come back to earth on this night to visit their loved ones, so by celebrating in this way, families are in a sense spending time with those who have passed.
> Read More: Top 10 things to do in Mexico City
It should come as no surprise that Mexicans prepare a wide variety of dishes specifically for the day of the dead, since this celebration centres around offering deceased loved ones their favourite foods and drinks.
Traditional Day of the Dead foods include a hearty bowl of Sopa Azteca - a spicy tortilla soup, and Day of the Dead bread (pan de muertos), a sort of sugary sweet bun covered with bone-shaped bread embellishments decorating the top.
Oaxacan specialty, Mole Negro is also traditionally prepared during Dia de los Muertos, and the recipe for this richly-flavoured sauce is notoriously difficult to find outside of a family's vault.
> Read More: The best foods to try in Latin America
Beautifully decorated altars
The centrepiece of Dia de los Muertos celebrations for the Mexican people is the Ofrenda, which consists of various gifts presented to deceased family members. The table is covered with a vividly coloured cloth, covered with pictures and mementoes of the deceased.
You will find the ofrendas in public spaces now, but most Mexicans will make individual ones in their own homes. Families in Mexico City will turn a table into an ofrenda, decorated with marigolds, candy skulls, photos of family that have passed, including family dogs and cats, and they will put those family members' favourite foods and drinks out on the table too, even including dog chow for the family pets.
If you don't want to miss out on this unique experience you should book your trip as soon as possible since it can get very busy during these days.
It is also a perfect opportunity to stick around for a bit longer and explore Mexico and its many highlights such as Teotihuacan or Chichen Itza and Playa del Carmen on our Signature Mexico Tour.