Things to know before travelling to Mexico for Day of the Dead

Tuesday, October 24, 2017

Day of the Dead also known as Dia de los Muertos, is a unique cultural Mexican holiday like no other. A holiday that I made sure I wouldn't miss during my time in Mexico. Towards the end of a 5 week exploration of Mexico we made our way to the famed Day of the Dead location that is Oaxaca City to experience the Festival of the Dead.

As mentioned we had spent some time in Mexico before travelling to Oaxaca city for Day of the Dead and you can read about that part of our journey to Oaxaca City here - Along with lots more information on how best to participate in the Day of the Dead festival as a tourist in Mexico.

Blue skies in Oaxaca 
Travelling to Mexico for Day of the Dead is possibly one of those bucket list experiences that you don't know you have until you do it. Outside of Mexico Day of the Dead isn't exactly a famous or renowned holiday and up until my arrival in Mexico I mistakenly confused the celebration with Halloween, which I later found out is a commonly made mistake.

Day of the Dead for Mexicans and many Latin Americans is a rite of passage, a spiritual and cultural event that flows through each family and bonds them to their passed loved ones. Day of the Dead is comparable to absolutely nothing in Europe or British Culture, making my time in Mexico during this period of celebration thought provoking and completely eye opening as a traveller and lover of unique cultural experiences. 

The streets of Oaxaca City ready to celebrate Day of the Dead 

Here are all the things you need to know before travelling to Mexico for Day of the Dead

Don't mistake Day of the Dead - Dia de los Muertos with Halloween - they are not the same but Day of the Dead does include All Saints Eve aka. Halloween!

Although Day of the Dead does incorporate Halloween on the 31st October 'All Saints Eve,' Dia de los Muertos is not a Halloween based festival. The Mexican festival is celebrated in many locations throughout Latin America. Families join together to pay tribute to their dead loved ones, Day of the Dead also has many religious origins as families use this time to pray and connect with their religious beliefs. Death for Mexicans is a rite of passage and people come together in support of their loved ones spiritual journey into the afterlife. This festival is not about scary costumes and trick or treats it is something far more rousing. 

Part of the parades - Locals during the Day of the Dead celebrations in Oaxaca City

Remember that the Day of the Dead festival lasts for 3 days October 31st - November 2nd! 

The three day festival begins at the end of October in Oaxaca City and celebrations and decorations can be seen for almost a week before the main Day of the Dead event 'All Souls Day'. Which is on the 2nd November and officially the final day of the three day celebration. 

Setting up ready for some celebrations during the Day of the Dead festival - Something else to know before travelling to day of the dead is that often decorations are planned far in advance

Each day of Dia de los Muertos in Mexico has a different purpose - All Saints Eve, All Saints Day, All Souls Day - Keep this in mind!

Each day of the multi-day festival in Mexico has a different purpose/meaning, it's not unlikely that you'll notice one day is dedicated to children and occasionally even pets. Remember All Saints Eve is often celebrated in the famous Oaxaca City cemetery San Miguel Cemetery. This is something to know before travelling to Mexico for Day of the Dead, as we found out very last minute but fortunately still made it to the famed cemetery. 

Parades and street parties line the cobbles of Oaxaca City as the adults enjoy Day of the Dead 

Taking photos to commemorate your Day of the Dead experience is fine, but be discreet and always ask permission from locals before doing so!

Taking photos in 'dark places' is traditionally frowned upon in the world of travel, but Day of the Dead is not a 'dark' festival, it's a celebration of a spiritual journey deeply entwined in the Mexican culture and heritage. During your time in San Miguel Cemetery photos are welcomed to document the festivities surrounding Day of the Dead. Before travelling to Mexico for Day of the Dead always bare in mind to ask permission when taking photos of the local community, especially of children. 

Traditional Mexican Day of the Dead decorations - with traditional orange marigolds which are the official Day of the Dead flower

Day of the Dead for Mexicans is a fun filled celebration where Mexicans celebrate death as a rite of passage, although Day of the Dead may initially sound like a somber event it is quite the opposite!

Day of the Dead is a celebration and Dia de los Muertos should be enjoyed and celebrated. Whether you're watching a fire show and dancers or listening to live music in a cemetery, Day of the Dead should be enjoyed by all and this is highly important to know before travelling to Mexico for Day of the Dead. The Festival of the Dead in Mexico is a unique opportunity to engage and indulge in the deeply fascinating and inspiring culture of Latin America. Take this chance to meet and speak to locals and get to know what life is truly like as a Mexican celebrating Dia de los Muertos. 

Packed streets - Everyone in Oaxaca City joining in the Day of the Dead fun

Expect fully booked hostels/hotels, packed restaurants, busy bars and lots of pop up markets and crafts fairs

One thing you should really know before travelling to Mexico to celebrate Day of the Dead is that almost everyone else on a Latin America travel route is also travelling to Mexico for this purpose too. If possible book your accommodation in advance, dorms fill up quickly and many of the cheaper budget accommodations in Oaxaca City were booked up. Other than that, expect busy streets, lively bars and packed restaurants. Oaxaca City will also be filled with Dia de los Muertos themed tours, markets and crafts all available to tourists and locals. 

Enjoying Oaxaca City and all the festivities Day of the Dead brings to the city

Click here for more Day of the Dead

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  1. These celebrations have gotten very popular here in the UK but people just use it as an excuse to use face paint. It's nice to read a bit more about the real festival and its meanings


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