Disclosure: This post was written in partnership with Mexico Tourism. All opinions are my own.
One of my favorite things about blogging is experiencing different cultures. Earlier this month, I was in Mexico for The Day of the Dead, a holiday where Mexicans honor their deceased loved ones each year. When translated to English, Dia De Muertos seems pretty creepy, but it’s nothing like it sounds. Mexicans celebrate Day of the Dead by vibrantly decorating graves and altars, visiting cemeteries, and indulging in delicious seasonal foods.
It’s the perfect time for a trip to Mexico because you can experience all the different ways this special holiday is celebrated from the complex face paintings and costumes to the parades. It gives you a full sense of what Mexican culture is really like! I was able to spend my time in Mexico City and Oaxaca, and I’ve learned that there are so many fun things to experience in Mexico for Day of the Dead.
Here are my top 10 things to try starting in Mexico City:
1. Try a La Catrina Makeover
I highly recommend trying a La Catrina makeover. La Catrina is the infamous skull (or sugar skull), which many of you may be familiar with around Halloween. However, don’t be mistaken as there’s no correlation between Halloween and Day of the Dead. La Catrina has become a known symbol for Dia de Los Muertos and there are so many ways to portray this look. I saw it stamped on the faces of women, kids, and men. Some were intricate and scary while others looked delicate and spirited. It forces you to mix colors to achieve the most vibrant results and combine rhinestones with makeup. This look requires a certain level of skill, which I haven’t quite mastered. I also recommend looking up a tutorial on Youtube if that’s your cup of tea. It’s so much fun!
2. Learn about Day of the Dead at Dolores Olmedo Patiño Museum (Day of the Dead special exhibition)
This is a gorgeous museum full of interesting and flamboyant exhibits and art! Most people come here to see the masterpieces of Diego Rivera and Frida Kahlo; however, the Day of the Dead is a special exhibition not to be missed at this museum! I was so impressed with the ofrendas, which were meticulously crafted and so well put together. They were vibrant, moody, and rich – and such a great embodiment of Mexican culture.
3. Experience The Day of the Dead Parade
During the Day of the Dead celebration, a parade takes place in Mexico City. The parade encompasses the history and traditions from across the country and this year, it took place on October 28 and was marked by participants festively dressed in costumes, antique cars, and colorful floats. Witnessing all of the dances and costumes was sure an inspiring sight for me and I’m glad that I got to be one of the thousands of attendees to be a part of the event, as it is one of the Day of the Dead’s newest traditions. The parade ended at The Zocalo in the Historic Center, packed with traditional shrines and altars decorated with the holiday’s iconic marigolds. Various stages were set up and every type of music can be heard throughout the square!
4. See La Catrina en Trajinera
Xochimilco, located south of Mexico City, is known for its tranquil waters and islands. And I loved that you could navigate it on boats! Can you imagine how dreamy it was to attend a candle-lit evening observing beautifully decorated alters? It was such a surreal moment and definitely a once-in-a-lifetime experience.
For those who are a little new to the culture and the festivities revolving around the celebration of the dead, La Catrina en Trajinera is a great cultural activity that you must see. They present the play “Flores para Los Muertos”, the literal translation of the title means “Flowers for the Dead.” It is a narrative show compiled of stories, myths, and poetry with a traditional selection of live Mexican music. After seeing all of the performances, I was finally starting to understand why there’s such a huge celebration of the dead!
5. Taco Tasting
Getting an authentic local food experience for me is always super important when traveling abroad. So of course, tacos are a must when in Mexico - and I was on the hunt to find the best out here! We took a tour called "Tacos and Mezcal Tour with Sabores de Mexico" and it led us to a variety of spectacular surprises. Taqueria Selene reigned supreme for classic al pastor tacos (my favorite!), plus service was extremely fast. Second runner-up was El Califa de Leon - super chill and casual taco joint. They made really phenomenal steak tacos.
6. Try Mezcalería For Mezcal Tasting
Mezcal is alcohol made from cooked agave and is widely confused with tequila. But like Day of the Dead and Halloween, the two have distinct differences. Mezcal is much smokier, sweeter, and richer than tequila – and a MUST-TRY when in Mexico. I got to taste the best mezcal at La Botica and it was very appealing. The upscale vibe and minimal decor really suit my taste and was the perfect way to end a busy day spent trekking around Mexico City.
Now moving to southern Mexico in Oaxaca, I found it the ideal destination to really immerse in the Day of the Dead celebration.
7. Visit the traditional hand-made carpets/tapestry for Day of the Dead
The altars here are works of art along with the sand tapestries. Oaxaca is known for their tapestries that comprise of fanciful images of skeleton motifs and stories around the Day of the Dead. There are plenty of them around the markets and buildings in Oaxaca, but the workshops are the best place to see them!
Día de Muertos en Oaxaca Mexico
8. Visit the cemeteries of Xoxocotlán
Another place to visit in Oaxaca during Day of the Dead is the Xoxocotlán Cemetery. During the celebration, the cemetery becomes packed with residents dressed in costumes coming to celebrate and remember their deceased loved ones. It’s quite fascinating to watch someone decorate and even paint gravesites with fervor – the flowers and candles all create a very magical feeling. It does seem a little awkward at first since it’s so new to me, but the cemetery feels like a happy place on Day of the Dead.
9. Look out for amazing altars throughout the city
As I mentioned earlier, the Day of the Dead altars in Oaxaca are a site to see! They’re intricate and decked out in flower petals, fruits, baskets, pottery, and bread cut out in unique sizes and shapes. Some even look like mini temples! They’re found in homes, on the streets, and in businesses. You don’t have to look hard either… Your eyes will naturally spot them without trying!
10. Tour by Oaxaca’s Traditional Markets
This is probably the best way to traverse the local markets and try out the special foods made only around Day of the Dead – especially the Pan de Muertos. If you’re in Oaxaca for Dia De Muertos, you’re not just in for a lot of fun – but also lots of treats. Trying local foods for the celebration of Day of The Dead is not surprisingly one of my favorite must-dos for the occasion. Eating is always fun in my book – but it’s on a whole new level with special food that is offered just for the celebration. One of my top traditional local foods that you have to try is pan de muerto or “bread of the dead”. This one is sugary and has a slight orange taste to it. It’s doughy but not filling at all that’s why it is sometimes served with hot chocolate too.
If you’re thinking about visiting Mexico for Dia De Muertos, then I highly recommend that you go for it. Having visited Mexico before many times, I have to admit that it is such a different vibe during this festive week – and one worth going to experience all the fun!mexico