Lonely Planet



WHAT IS IT? Every year, Mexicans pay tribute to departed loved ones with ofrendas (decorated memorial altars) and other festive rituals. The Aztecs and other indigenous peoples believed that the dead would briefly return around the end of the maize harvest, and that it was disrespectful to shed tears for them. When the Spanish colonised Mexico, these traditions mixed with Catholic practices.

WHEN TO SEE IT Strictly speaking, Día de Muertos means 2 November, All Souls’ Day, but it’s usual to begin the party the day before (All Saints’ Day), or 31 October – Halloween.

WHERE TO SEE IT The celebration was once associated exclusively with Mexico’s south and centre, where indigenous culture is strongest. Though it has now been made a nationwide event, northern areas such as Baja California are still not the best places to experience it. Parades and other big public events are another sign of the Day of the Dead’s growing appeal, but it was originally – and largely remains – a family-level observance, with candlelit vigils held at cemeteries, and ofrendas put up at home. We’ve listed six places (opposite) with different takes on this fiesta of joyful morbidity.

HOW TO SEE IT Parades aren’t held all over, but expect to see calaveras (ornamental skulls and skeletons) and other holiday items on sale, cemeteries at their busiest, and ofrendas in town squares and public places. G Adventures runs a seven-day Día de Muertos-centred trip to Oaxaca; the 2018 departure was priced from £1,075 (gadventures.co.uk).

GETTING THERE Mexico City is the best entry point overall (from £450), but Cancún has direct flights from the UK, and is good for the Yucatán in the southeast (from £300).