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12 Best Places to Experience Day of the Dead in Mexico

While Día de Muertos, Day of the Dead, is a holiday that revolves around death, it’s not a somber affair and arguably makes Mexico one of the world’s best places to visit in November. Before I moved to Mexico, I didn’t know much about it, but this isn’t a time of mourning, rather a time to celebrate life, honoring those who have departed. It officially takes place on November 1st and 2nd, when the veil between the living and the dead is said to be thin enough that the departed can cross back over, allowing friends and families to reunite. The parties sometimes last for days and include colorful costumes, elaborate decor, music, dancing, and lots of food. While specific traditions can vary depending on the destination, it’s an important event throughout Mexico. If you want to experience Day of the Dead, these are the best places to be in the country to do it.


Mexico City Day of the Dead celebration in Mexico City
Credit: Day of the Dead celebration in Mexico City by © Diego Grandi | Dreamstime.com

Mexico City

There’s no place that does Day of the Dead bigger than the capital. In Mexico City, there is a massive celebration that includes colorfully costumed entertainers, huge and elaborate floats, and catrinas (magnificently painted skeletons) dancing through the streets. It starts at the Esella de Lux (Pillar of Light) monument and travels to Zócalo, the main square in the history center. Every block will be lined with spectators who join in on the fun. Plus, while you’re here, you can explore the artisan markets, marvel at the murals in the Palace of Fine Arts, and visit world-class museums like the National Museum of Anthropology in forested Chapultepec Park, the second largest urban park in North America.

Guanajuato Woman in Day of the Dead costume Guanajuato, Mexico
Credit: Woman in Day of the Dead costume Guanajuato, Mexico by © Rodrigolab | Dreamstime.com


The UNESCO-listed city of Guanajuato is one of the most picturesque in the country, with brightly painted buildings that spill down the hillsides. It’s in the heart of the highlands, about 4.5 hours northwest of Mexico City. The colorful architecture, cobbled streets, and leafy plazas give it a European feel, but it’s distinctly Mexican, with a rich history and a spectacular Day of the Dead celebration. The capital of the state of Guanajuato, it attracts thousands of visitors who come to see the monumental altar at the University of Guanajuato, which students and locals help to create, commemorating their illustrious academic figures. The entire city will be festively decorated, with little marigold flowers and altars seen throughout. A parade and various outdoor shows are included, too.

San Luis Potosí Catrina costume for Day of the Dead
Credit: Catrina costume for Day of the Dead by © Jesus Eloy Ramos Lara | Dreamstime.com

San Luis Potosí

During the pre-Hispanic era, death wasn’t seen as an end but rather a transition, a journey through time and space toward true life. Among the indigenous people of the Huasteca Potosina region, this tradition lives on. They celebrate all aspects of Day of the Dead, but it’s referred to as Xantolo in San Luis Potosí, known for its colonial buildings and imposing church and monastery, the baroque-era Templo de San Francisco. The celebration includes all of the usual festivities and aspects like elaborate altars, sugar skulls, marigolds, and skeleton decor, but there are also day-long parties in the town square that begin in late October and run through early November. You’ll see various welcome offerings, too, meant for visitors who travel through. Save some time to also visit the stunning waterfalls nearby, one of the top things to do in Mexico.

Oaxaca Day of the Dead in Oaxaca, Mexico
Credit: Day of the Dead in Oaxaca, Mexico by © Kobby Dagan | Dreamstime.com


The capital of the state of the same name, Oaxaca is surrounded by the Sierra Madre del Sur Mountains while offering an authentic Mexican experience known for its outstanding local cuisine, architectural gems, and vibrant markets. A UNESCO World Heritage Site, it’s also famous for its colorful festivals, which include Day of the Dead. In fact, the festivities here are what helped put spending the holiday here on many travelers’ bucket lists. It’s often referred to as the capital of Mexican folklore, and there will be marigolds, decor, and altars throughout the colorful streets, along with music, parades, and lots of delicious Oaxacan cuisine.

Xalapa Dressed up for Day of the Dead
Credit: Dressed up for Day of the Dead by © Aurora Esperanza Ángeles Flores | Dreamstime.com


The Day of the Dead celebration in the eastern, coastal state of Veracruz is said to be more important than Christmas, and in the city of Xalapa, the celebration includes the Xalapa Mictlan Festival, an art-focused event with numerous theater, dance, and music companies taking part. Performers come from across the country for one of the most theatrical celebrations in Mexico; all focused on the theme of death. It takes a week to prepare for the festivities, which also include family gatherings in homes and graveyards to honor the return of the souls of their loved ones.

Mérida Day of the Dead Portrait in Merida cemetery
Credit: Day of the Dead Portrait in Merida cemetery by © James Kelley | Dreamstime.com


In the most colorful Yucatan city and one of the best places to visit in Mexico, Mérida, the Day of the Dead festivities take on a Mayan twist. The Paseo de las Animas is one of its most popular events, held on the night of October 31st, starting from the main Mérida cemetery, Cementerio General de Mérida. The parade features thousands adorned in traditional attire with their faces painted as skulls, but unlike many other cities, it’s all black and white. Visitors can participate, too, with face painters set up before the parade. You’ll see many large altars throughout the city, and you’ll be able to sample traditional Yucatan dishes like pib, a crispy, baked tamale.

Aguascalientes Day of the Dead in Aguacalientes, Mexico
Credit: Day of the Dead in Aguacalientes, Mexico by pxfuel.com


Known for its Spanish colonial architecture and its National Museum of Death, which exhibits funerary art and artifacts from pre-Columbian times to the present, Aguascalientes is the birthplace of José Guadalupe Posada, the man responsible for drawing the illustration that inspired La Catrina, the elegant female skeleton figure that is the main Day of the Dead character. Not surprisingly, it hosts one of the country’s biggest and best Day of the Dead celebrations as one of the most authentic experiences without many other tourists around. The Festival de Calaveras, or Festival of Skulls, includes the Parade of Skulls on the night of November 1, a spectacular procession that makes its way down Avenida Madero in the historic center. There will be many altars, papier-mâché skeletons, and other decor, along with tasty traditional Mexican foods.

Pomuch Pomuch Cemetery, Compeche, Mexico
Credit: Pomuch Cemetery, Compeche, Mexico by © Guadalupe Rojas | Dreamstime.com


The small Mayan village of Pomuch in the Yucatan Peninsula in the state of Campeche has a unique Day of the Dead tradition. Hundreds of visitors arrive, making their way to the cemetery to observe the ritual. The bones of the dead are dug up, cleaned, and added to every family’s altar in order to honor them and allow them to be “present” during the festivities. The bodies aren’t removed for at least three to five years, with the Sepulturero, or grave digger, ensuring that it’s done correctly and every bone is cleaned before being placed in a smaller box. Typical tamales are prepared in honor of the dead and for the living to invite them to the feast.

Janitzio Island Offering on Day of the Dead, Janitzio Island, Michoacán
Credit: Offering on Day of the Dead, Janitzio Island, Michoacán by Gustavo Valdes R. via Wikimedia Commons

Janitzio Island

Janitzio Island is the largest of five islands in Lake Pátzcuaro in the state of Michoacán, about five hours west of Mexico City. While it’s best known for its night of Day of the Dead celebrations, it’s worth arriving a day or two earlier to watch the preparations. There will be Day of the Dead artisan markets, sugar skulls, and altar decorations. According to legend, on the night of November 1st, the ghostly guardians beneath the lake awake to the tolling of the church bells, emerging from the lake and coaxed up the steep stairs to the cemetery, fanned in with butterfly nets. Don’t be surprised if the winds pick up to help blow the spirits in. It begins during the day with a festive atmosphere that includes music, candles, Cempasúchitl flowers, food, and drinks. Then, throughout the night, you’ll see people arriving at the graves with their various offerings.

San Miguel de Allende Mojigangas walk through San Miguel de Allende, Mexico
Credit: Mojigangas walk through San Miguel de Allende, Mexico by © Adeliepenguin | Dreamstime.com

San Miguel de Allende

San Miguel de Allende is one of Mexico’s top vacation destinations, and it also boasts a four-day festival as part of the Day of the Dead ceremonies throughout November to help preserve the ancient traditions. Known as “La Calaca,” it includes all the good things in life, hosted at multiple venues throughout the city. There are immersive cultural activities, including live art installations, cemetery tours, and traditional altars. The evenings bring live music, costumed processions, and parties that last until dawn.

San Cristobal de Las Casas San Cristobal de Las Casas, cultural capital of Chiapas, Mexico
Credit: San Cristobal de Las Casas, cultural capital of Chiapas, Mexico by © Pablo Hidalgo | Dreamstime.com

San Cristobal de Las Casas

In Chiapas, a lesser-known destination in Mexico, there will be a significant indigenous presence at Day of the Dead celebrations in communities throughout the southern state, including San Cristobal de Las Casas, the cultural capital. In this colonial mountain town, the indigenous customs are still alive, and the streets will be filled with color, gastronomy, and traditions as the people honor their loved ones and worship their momentary return. You’ll also see children who head into the streets to ask for the calabacita, dressed as scary contemporary characters, while singing and ringing boats filled with stones.

Cuernavaca Members of Morelos folkloric dance school dressed for Day of the Dead parade, Cuernavaca, Mexico
Credit: Members of Morelos folkloric dance school dressed for Day of the Dead parade, Cuernavaca, Mexico by © Agcuesta | Dreamstime.com


In Cuernavaca, the capital city of Morelos, it’s believed that the spirits of the dead rise each morning and evening and walk through the streets, visiting places they frequented when they were alive. The streets will be lined with stalls that sell sugar skulls, flowers, candles, pumpkins, and all sorts of other items meant to greet the dead. In Parque Tlaltenango, an open-air theater, actors put on special performances while the locals and visitors gather to watch ghost stories and legends that are re-enacted. There will be lots of music and dancing, along with large-scale skeleton figurines. While you’re here, don’t miss the Morelos State Museum, which is housed in a 16th-century palace and decorated with Diego Rivera murals. Cuernavaca is also renowned for its spas, many of which are set within 15th-century colonial residences if you’re in the mood for pampering.

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