Day of the Dead is one of the most evocative times to visit Mexico. Despite its name, the festival’s activities span several days (October 31 to November 2). And in recent years, the celebration of deceased loved ones has begun to extend nearly an entire month.
If you are visiting Mexico City during October or November, you will be able to experience some of the vibrant, interesting and poignant traditions that surround Día de los Muertos. Here are our top tips to help you witness the wonders surrounding the colorful holiday in Mexico’s capital this year.
Colorful Altars in the City’s Central Plaza
Every year, the city’s central square (or Zócalo) has a festive display for Day of the Dead. The photo-worthy Mega Ofrenda (Great Altar) will open on October 25 and deserves a visit, especially at night when it’s illuminated by candlelight and filled with costumed revelers.
While in the historic center, pop into nearby chocolate shop Que Bo! to pick up some bright, skull-adorned pan de muerto (bread of the dead) treats, too.
Impressive Parades along Paseo de la Reforma
The main stretch of central Paseo de la Reforma comes alive during Day of the Dead with parades full of music, color and creative costumes.
If you arrive in Mexico City before the holiday, head to this main street on October 26 to see hundreds of Catrinas (the well-dressed skeletal female figure associated with Day of the Dead) flowing down the tree-lined avenue, all the way from the Angel of Independence statue to the Palace of Fine Arts. You also can get your face painted by any of the talented makeup artists out on the street and become a part of the parade yourself.
For the main event, known as Gran Desfile de Die de Muertos (the Grand Day of the Dead Parade), get down to Avenida Reforma on October 27. Oversized skeletons, deathly dancers and other larger-than-life surprises take over the street, starting around 4 p.m. The parade attracted more than 2 million spectators in 2018, so get down there early to snag a great spot.
To avoid the crowds but still see Gran Desfile in style, book a table on the terrace at Forbes Travel Guide Four-Star The St. Regis Mexico City for its Life and Death brunch. Enjoy a bountiful buffet complete with on-theme cocktails while watching the parade from above.
Elaborately Decorated Graves at Mixquic
To see more traditional Day of the Dead observances, take a trip east of Mexico City to the cemetery of San Andres Mixquic. Here, locals decorate the graves of their dearly departed to spectacular effect.
What were once just floral decorations and, perhaps, a few of the deceased’s favorite things have evolved through the years to become a display of ornate and creative gravesites.
Grab a cup of hot punch to keep warm and traverse the cemetery, taking it all in as the sun sets and candles light your path.
Elaborate Altars at the Monumental Casa de Emilio Fernández
The former home of Mexican director and actor Emilio “El Indio” Fernandez opens its doors during Day of the Dead, allowing you to enjoy the elaborate altars dedicated to late celebrities and Fernandez’s family members.
Getting to nose around this 20th-century film star’s house is a delight in itself, but the myriad cempasúchil (marigolds, which are the Day of the Dead’s signature flower) and array of skeletons participating in dinner parties, sitting in front of typewriters and in repose on the bed are a sight to behold.
The Legend of La Llorona on the Waterways of Xochimilco
Head out onto the canals in the south of the city on colorful trajinera boats to be regaled with tales of the supposedly haunted waterways. These nighttime rides that run from October 4 to November 17 see the legend of La Llorona (the Weeping Woman) played out on the banks as you watch on from the comfort of your boat. Make sure to keep an eye out for suspicious shadows in the waters.
Traditional Events at Dolores Olmedo Museum
Also on the city’s south side is the Dolores Olmedo Museum. Once home to the businesswoman and philanthropist the venue is named for, the huge estate is now a museum that is known for its excellent Día de los Muertos offerings. This year’s exhibitions and events promise to be extra special — the gallery is celebrating its 25th anniversary.
An Immersive Altar Experience
For a more epicurean-focused trip, consider signing up for tour company Devoured’s Ceremonial Dinner and Sundown Market Exploration on October 31.
Stop by Mercado de Jamaica, which will overflow with strong-scented cempasúchil, sugar skulls and everything else needed for decorating gravesides and altars, while sampling all sorts of snacks related to this time of year in Mexico.
The significance of every item on the altar will be explained as you help add the final touches. You will be invited to place a photo of a passed loved one on the altar, too, should you wish.
This meaningful experience will culminate in a mezcal tasting and a shared dinner with traditional Day of the Dead foods, courtesy of invited chefs.
Contemporary Celebrations in Chapultepec Park
Chapultepec Park is getting in on the action with a display called Celebrating Eternity (Celebrando la Eternidad). From October 15 to 19, projections that make the park appear to be full of cempasúchil fields and the lake seem to be a large, decorated graveyard will entertain onlookers.