Top Day of the Dead Destinations - The Dead are Coming!

Vibrant and colorful celebrations, dancing skeletons, homemade altars, candies and skulls and specially prepared delicacies- sounds like a description of a theme party, doesn’t it? Well, that’s what the Day of the Dead actually is! It is a collection of revelries having its roots in the pre-Hispanic indigenous cultures. Not to be confused with Halloween, this festival is celebrated with the aim to demonstrate affection and respect towards the dead. People throughout Mexico dress up and have a gala time with parties, concerts, fun fairs and parades while making offerings to the deceased. 

Day of the Dead, or Día de los Muertos, as it is called in Spanish, is a two-day-long festival celebrated on 1st and 2nd November in Latin America, especially in Mexico. As the tradition goes, it is believed that the dead would be insulted with mourning and sadness and so, people choose to honor the departed souls with gatherings and fiestas instead. Unlike festivals like Halloween, which have a somber undertone, Day of the Dead is out and out about celebrating life! 

Needless to say, this day is not merely a public holiday but a cultural experience. Different locations in Mexico celebrate this day with different rituals, customs and traditions which are rife with symbolism. Here is our list of top Day of the Dead destinations to head to if you truly want to enjoy the glory of this day and understand what the celebration is exactly about -

1. Janitzio and Patzcuaro, Michoacan

Janitzio and Patzcuaro, Michoacan

Image Source: Pixabay.com

The island of Janitzio, nestled in the Patzcuaro lake, is a hotspot for the Day of the Dead celebrations in Michoacan. Elaborate processions, folk dances, chanting and singing characterize the festivities on this island while the local food adds to the flavor of the day. Indigenous Purepecha people perform their traditional rituals at the local cemetery late at night and invoke the spirits of the dead. 

Flowers and skulls adorn the cemeteries as people pay their respects to the dead and set the mood for the celebrations. Folks reciting Calaveras, which are funny and sarcastic poems, add to the liveliness of the festivities on this island. An impressive spectacle of thousands of fishermen in their boats with brilliantly shining torches, casting a fiery glow on the water, awaits the tourists gathered at Janitzio and Patzcuaro, Michoacan to commemorate the Day of the Dead. 

2. Merida, Yucatan

Merida, Yucatan

Image Source: Wikimedia Commons

Owing to a huge presence of Mayan ethos in Merida, Yucatan, this place has its own, cultural way of celebrating the Day of the Dead. Popularly known as the Hanal Pixan in this region (which roughly translated means "feast for the souls") the merriment here are all about offering food to the spirits of the deceased people. 

Pibipollo, a traditional specially seasoned chicken tamale wrapped in banana leaves and cooked in an underground pit, is prepared and offered to the dead. Shrines are arranged and decorated with food offerings, flowers, family photos and candles to welcome the spirits home as well as praises and prayers are recited in order to purify the air around these shrines. Merida, Yucatan is one of the most happening places you must pay a visit to if you want to witness the best of the Day of the Dead activities in Mexico.

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3. Riviera Maya

Riviera Maya

Image Source: Pxhere.com

Home to the Xcaret theme park which hosts the annual Festival de la Vida y la Muerte, or the Festival of Life and Death, Riviera Maya is a great place for tourists looking to experience the fascinating Day of the Dead celebrations. People sporting traditional Mexican attire, colorful events, Day of the Dead parades, music concerts and most importantly, ample photo opportunities await visitors at the Riviera Maya!

Visitors can also enjoy scrumptious dishes that are typically prepared as a part of the Day of the Dead celebrations. From sugar candy skulls, bread of the dead (dough shaped like bones) to drinks like atole and pulque, you can sample it all! 

4. Oaxaca, Oaxaca

Oaxaca, Oaxaca

Image Source: Pxhere.com

Imagine walking down the mural-painted streets on the Day of the Dead as a part of night time carnival processions (called comparsas) - sounds surreal and exciting, doesn’t it? Head over to Oaxaca to participate in the various Day of the dead processions, witness vigils at the local cemeteries and be a part of the magical festivities!

The altars in Oaxaca, especially are worth a mention- intricately designed and tastefully decorated colorful pieces of work, embellished with flowers and ornaments, they are nothing short of fantastic pieces or art. Often, paths leading up to the alters are decked with marigold petals and are believed to guide the spirits to the altars. 

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5. San Andres Mixque

San Andres Mixque

Image Source: Pixhere.com

Tombs and graveyards ornamented with flowers and sweets, burning incense sticks, glassy-eyed men praying and churches as well as shops adorned with papel picado, the beautiful Mexican papercraft,  welcome visitors to the Day of the Dead celebrations in San Andres Mixque, Mexico.

Community members, armed with flowers and broomsticks, make their way to the nearby cemeteries and go on a grave-cleaning spree to welcome the departed souls back to earth. As the night falls, the air is filled with music from local Mariachi groups as they play songs to welcome the dead. Twinkling candlelight, dancing shadows, reverberating sounds of the prayers and the thick incense smell gives a mystical feel to the Day of the Dead celebrations in San Andres Mixque, Mexico.

6. Chiapa de Corzo, Chiapas

Chiapa de Corzo, Chiapas

Image Source: Pixabay.com

The culturally rich Mexican state of Chipas is well known for its amusing customs, traditions and folklore. Home to several indigenous communities, the Day of the Dead festival is known by different names throughout this state. Of all the various fiestas in this state, the celebration in the colonial town of Chiapa de Corzo is the most notable one. 

Considered to be one of the top Day of the Dead destinations in the world, this place is known for its supremely colorful and vivacious take on these revelries. Flamboyant ribbons, live music, fresh flowers and a large number of candles characterize the celebrations of this day in Chiapa de Corzo. 

7. Aguascalientes

Aguascalientes

Image Source: Wikimedia Commons

Day of the Dead celebrations would be incomplete without the signature La Catrina Puppets. The birthplace of engraver José Guadalupe Posad, the pioneer of the etchings of the La Catrina Puppets, Aguascalientes celebrates the Day of the Dead fiestas for over a week, before ultimately culminating with a grand parade of skulls along Avenida Madero.  

Locally known as the Festival de las Calaveras or the Festival of Skulls, this celebration is takes place on the city fairgrounds with a large variety of stalls, exhibitions, concerts, performances, traditional food and handicrafts.

Day of the Dead celebrations are a perfect way for you to get a sneak-peek into the beautiful culture and traditions of the Mayans and Aztecas. With November nearing, it is time for these celebrations to begin in full swing! You better book your tickets and be a part of this one-of-its-kind revelry. Hurry up! The dead are coming!

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ABOUT THE AUTHOR
MEGHANA AGASHE MEGHANA AGASHE

Oscillating between reality and day-dreaming, Meghana is a journalist by education and a travel-blogger by profession. The eternal love for exploring different places and cuisines, the urge to interact with people across cultures and the thirst for adventures is what drew her to the world of travel. An effervescent and a happy-go-lucky person who draws inspiration from the world of books and movies, she believes in mostly following her heart and very rarely, her brain! One moment you might find her curled up with a book and a cup of coffee while in the next, she might be reaching out for her keys and heading for a road-trip. Unpredictability is something that defines her the best and her sensitive nature juxtaposing with her ambitious attitude, makes her a contradiction of all sorts.

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