Why you should book your Mexico ‘Day of the Dead’ trip NOW
Hello Mexico! and the ‘Day of the Dead’ festivities
For the last two years we have run our exceptional Hello Mexico! trip to coincide with the ‘Day of the Dead’ festivities! And they have been, in a word, absolutely awesome. The holiday is celebrated throughout Mexico and is huge in most places. It runs, officially, from the 31st of October and the 1st and 2nd of November. Day of the Dead focuses on gatherings of family and friends to pray and remember loved ones who have died. but there is nothing sombre about this festival. Even in the cemeteries music, food and alcohol is encouraged.
Mexico City: Reforma Avenue Parade
In 2019, we start our trip on the 29th of October in Mexico City for two nights close to the Reforma Avenue. We suggest that you spend a couple of days in Mexico City beforehand, especially because the 26th of October is the huge parade that goes from the top of the Reforma Avenue right down to the Zocalo (Central Park). This parade was actually initiated a couple of years ago when seen on a James Bond movie. Definitely not traditional, the parade is absolutely worth seeing. We suggest that you get in early to grab a good spot among the throngs of people who gather for this event.
There is nothing sad about this time of the year
Mexicans treat death very differently to what we do. There is nothing sad about this time of the year. How can you be sad when there is ‘Pan de los Muertos’ (bread of the dead)? A sweet bread, almost like a big doughnut that can be topped with sugar or filled with delicious creams.
In 2018 we were treated to enormous coloured skulls and giant intricate alebrijes (brightly coloured Mexican folk art sculptures of fantastical creatures) along the Reforma Avenue. We spent hours walking up and down taking photos of these and soaking in the ambiance. Almost every business we entered (from the pet store to coffee shops and toy stores) had an altar to honour their dead.
The altars are decorated with fruit, flowers, favourite foods of the dead and more. While in Mexico City we also take an included trip out to the Toltec archaeological site of Teotihuacan. Discover the secrets with a locally guided tour. These two nights in the city are a fabulous introduction to Mexican culture, especially at this time of the year!
Oaxaca: one of the best places to celebrate Day of the Dead
From Mexico City we drive about 5 hours to Oaxaca (Wa-ha-ca) for the nights of the 31st of October, 1st and 2nd of November. Oaxaca is one of the best places to celebrate Day of the Dead. Hotels book out months in advance and traffic in and out is intense. We have already made bookings for our hotels, local guides and transport, so don’t worry!
Take in the ambiance of Oaxaca
The next day is a free day to enjoy Oaxaca and take in the ambiance of it all. Oaxaca is also a wonderful place to shop – it’s a very arty town with some exquisite souvenirs that can’t be found anywhere else. While you are out and about there are lots of options to cater to your culinary interests. Oaxaca is renowned for their food.
The night of the 1st we take a drive out to a local village to see what they get up to during this time, away from the tourists, away from the big city. It is, in a word – epic! Constant dancing, more food, more traditions and great costumes! It’s my favourite night!
We have a big day on the 2nd encompassing the rest of Oaxaca’s offerings: a visit to Hierve el Agua (an impressive petrified waterfall); the town of Tule, which boasts the world’s biggest tree; a traditional weaving co-op where they use natural dyes only; and, of course, a Mezcal distillery (and tasting). Then, after all of that we spend a couple of hours wandering around the archaeological site of Monte Alban at the top of the mountain.
But we still aren’t done. Around 6pm we will see ourselves in one of the cemeteries back in Oaxaca.
Day of the dead from a local perspective
Away from all of the commercial aspects of Day of the Dead, it’s important that we show you the local side, the families that are honouring their dead. Now, to clarify, the first time I went to the cemetery years ago, I wasn’t sure about it, I wondered whether I was imposing on the families. But it’s not like that at all. The families want to show off how much work has gone into decorating the graves. And believe me, they are impressive. They encourage you to take photos and listen to the pounding mariachi music!
San Cristobal de las Casas
After 3 days in Oaxaca festivities, it’s time for a flight to Tuxtla where the ambiance is back to normal. Tuxtla, the capital of Chiapas, is where we connect to the town of San Cristobal de las Casas, a gorgeous highland town that’s a little cooler, and with a big Mayan presence. Our afternoon will be spent wandering the picturesque town, enjoying chocolate produced in the region and sampling the best homemade tostadas you will ever taste!
San Juan Chamula and Zinacantan
The next day we take a drive to the villages of San Juan Chamula and Zinacantan. Spanish isn’t even the first language here, it’s Tzotzil. We’re guided by our extremely knowledgeable local guide who takes us through both villages, explaining the traditions that have been handed down through generations.
Take a step back in time in Palenque
Leaving the cooler weather for the heat of the jungle we take our private bus via Agua Azul and Misol Ha waterfalls to the town of Palenque. Beautiful weather for a dip, some empanadas and a cold beer. We’re going to take in a jungle tour here, which should see us spotting howler monkeys, toucans and ancient artefacts while scrambling through the jungle. After a quick breakfast break, we head in to the mesmerising archeological site of Palenque. Step back in time while our local guide explains the ins and outs of this dynasty. Get to know the ‘Red Queen’ and ‘Pakal’. Our last night in Palenque we head to the jungle for dinner at a local restaurant that’s known for their live music!
The Caribbean Coast and Cenotes of Santa Barbara
Our last days see us reaching the Caribbean coast. We travel through the states of Tabasco, Campeche and finally the Yucatan where we are greeted by the wonderful city of Merida. With its rich Mayan heritage and incredible colonial architecture, it is a “must see,” especially at night when the whole centre of the city has it’s buildings lit up.
From here you can choose to see the city on your free day, visit the stunning archaeological site of Uxmal or cool off in the cenotes of Santa Barbara! If you haven’t ever been for a swim in a huge clear sink hole, this is your chance. A nice way to take a break from the heat that Merida is famous for.
Unfortunately our trip does have to end. But to end it, we take you out on a high note. Departing Merida early, we are one of the first groups through the door at the most visited archaeological site in Mexico. Chichen Itza is the ‘Mecca’ of the Mayas and well worth a visit, which is exactly why we include the entrance and a local guide. A couple of hours meandering the site will see us leaving just as the crowds arrive. A leisurely drive will see us hit the beach in Playa Del Carmen to finish our trip.
Ok that may sound awesome, you say, but why are you telling me to book now? Here’s why.
Our experience running our Hello Mexico! trip to coincide with Day of the Dead the last few years showed a significant increase in numbers of travellers joining in these special days. Some widely circulated articles had promoted Day of the Dead as the best time to visit Mexico, and in particular Oaxaca. (We agree.)
We have already booked our transport and local guides for 2019 and our hotels need to be confirmed in April/May. Also, considering that a Formula One race is scheduled for Mexico City at the end of October as well puts extreme pressure on hotels, flights, local guides and transport in the City. Whether or not you come with us, if you want to take in this festival we suggest you start looking now!