Where to Celebrate Dia de los Muertos in Mexico

Painting masks at Fiesta Americana Condesa Cancun for Dia de los Muertos

With the summer travel season winding down, it’s time to set sights on the fall. Dia de los Muertos, or the Day of the Dead, is on the horizon. It celebrates the lives of the departed with food, drink, and elaborate altars. Skeleton and skull figures (Calaveras) appear in everything from sweets, masks, dolls and folk art to traditional baked goods, called pan de muerto. It’s one of the most colorful — and poignant — times to be in Mexico.

Combining strong indigenous beliefs with European Catholic influences, Day of the Dead lasts more than a day. It roughly coincides with All Saints Day and All Souls Day on November 1 and 2. In some locations, altars appear in public settings for extended periods. On November 2, families gather at cemeteries to clean and decorate graves, bring food, music and spend the day reminiscing about loved ones.

So significant is the Day of the Dead tradition that UNESCO inscribed it into its Representative List of the Intangible Cultural Heritage of Humanity.

If clients are in Mexico during the Day of the Dead period, they’re in for some special events. From large resorts to exclusive villas, there’s a big push to immerse visitors in the tradition.

One example is the programming lined up at Las Rosadas. The private resort is located between the acclaimed Costa Careyes and Las Alamandas resorts on the Pacific’s Costalegre. A 400-acre beachfront on Chamela Bay offers white sand beaches, myriad water activities (small islands dot the bay), plus mountain biking and hiking trails through an eco-reserve.

Las Rosadas Day of the Dead altar

A Las Rosadas Dia de los Muertos altar

Scheduled festivities commence on October 31with a Day of the Dead Dinner on the beach. Expect life-size Day of the Dead figures (called Katrinas); masks or face paint for guests; a musical trio; bonfire and piñata hunt. The resort’s Bar Mono will have a Day of the Dead Altar and a special tequila tasting is set for the “tequila cave.”

On the next day comes a Taco Tour. It begins in a local village, followed by seafood tacos at the famous La Viuda. Then, it’s back to Las Rosadas for gourmet fare. In the evening, guests can venture to the colonial hill town of Tomatlan. There, locals observe the Day of the Dead at the cemetery with candlelight, music and food.

“We wanted guests to have both a very authentic Day of the Dead experience at one of the local towns but also a great Dead of the Dead-inspired party on the beach. So, we decided to celebrate on two nights,” Maria Campos, Las Rosadas director of guest services, tells Travel Agent

In the state of Campeche, Day of the Dead brings together culture, cuisine, art and folklore. The eponymous capital city and its environs are known for some unique Day of the Dead traditions. They’re not for the squeamish.

On the culinary front, Day of the Dead in Campeche offers the chance to try pibipollo, or “buried chicken.” It’s an herbed chicken dish cooked in a bowl made of dough that’s wrapped in banana leaves. It’s traditionally cooked in an oven dug in the ground.

“Culture and nature combine here in Campeche in a way you won’t find in other places. We have Mexican history and Mayan history that gives us our own unique traditions and food,” Eric Herrera, undersecretary of tourism for the state of Campeche, tells Travel Agent.

Elsewhere in Mexico, properties are staging events, dinners and displays.

Viceroy Riviera Maya is planning a special Mexican dinner created by executive chef Carlos Zamora. The waiters will wear face paint to resemble Calaveras and an altar set up at the resort will include Mexican poems and traditional marigold flowers.  

The beach resorts of La Colección will be in the spirit, as well.

Dia de los Muertos at Live Aqua Beach Resort Cancun

Live Aqua Beach Resort Cancun will host their annual Día de los Muertos dinner and shrine competition. Guests can vote for the best altar built and decorated by hotel employees.

At Fiesta Americana Condesa Cancun, guests can try their hand at altar decorating, create a skeleton Catrina figure out of rice and enjoy a costumed parade. Grand Fiesta Americana Coral Beach Cancun will have traditional foods and an elaborate altar at the Viña del Mar restaurant. And Fiesta Americana Puerto Vallarta will feature an altar, grand dinner and poolside parade.

In Los Cabos, Grand Solmar Land’s End will offer activities around the pool that include a special buffet, Mariachi music, folk dancers and a traditional altar.

One interesting note about Los Cabos: The destination celebrates Halloween as a precursor to Day of the Dead. Children wear costumes and go trick-or-treating in downtown Cabo San Lucas. They shout, “queremos Halloween” (we want Halloween) and local merchants oblige.

Pop-up candy stands abound, to handle the rush. Many bars and restaurants provide buckets of candy for tourists to distribute. The children will go up to diners at sidewalk cafes and patios. If clients are traveling with kids on Halloween, encourage them to bring costumes and join the fun.

Colleen Renner, a Mexico specialist with Groupit Travel, says it’s a great experience.

“Halloween is the best time to go to Cabo. The little kids carry their bags around and they have a big parade. Everyone dresses up in fantastic costumes. The kids come up to you and say “Halloween.” They are so darn cute. It’s really special, and I’d definitely recommend it,” said Renner.

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