This Day of the Dead travel guide will show how visiting Mexico during Day of the Dead and the month leading up to it is one of the most interesting and eye-opening cultural experiences. Even as an outsider you’re more than welcome to participate, observe, ask questions, and join in the celebration. As long as you do so respectfully.
If you’re interested in visiting Mexico during this time (and I highly recommend it), make sure to do it the right way.
When is Day of the Dead?
Day of the Dead takes place annually from October 31st to November 2nd.
Because of the timing, many people confuse Día de los Muertos with Halloween even though the two are completely different. Day of the Dead is a joyful time of remembrance, not a scary, candy-centric holiday.
What happens on Day of the Dead?
Day of the Dead is a holiday celebrated in Mexico and other Latin American countries and households that focuses on remembering and honoring loved ones who have passed.
During this 3-day period, family members set up ofrendas (altars) in their homes that are typically filled with flowers (marigolds), candles, photos of their loved ones, and some of their loved ones’ favorite food and drink items.
Family members will also visit the graves of their loved ones to clean them, decorate them, and tell their favorite stories.
This celebration often includes informal parades and dressing up in the likeness of the La Catrina. More on dressing up for Day of the Dead in my blog post at the bottom of this Day of the Dead travel guide.
Where to experience Day of the Dead in Mexico
Day of the Dead festivities take place all over Mexico but there are a few spots that are more popular with visitors.
Oaxaca, just a 6-hour bus ride from Mexico City, is a great Day of the Dead experience for first-timers. Its residents are considerably welcoming to visitors and it’ll be an experience you won’t forget.
Oaxaca is easy to get around and there will be lots to see while you’re there.
Even though Day of the Dead is mostly observed in the smaller towns, there’s still plenty to see, do, and take part in during Día de Muertos in Mexico City.
Parades, great food, incredible visual displays, and more await you in CDMX.
This smaller suburb of Mexico City is a great place to check out Day of the Dead if you don’t have time to travel further out of the city.
About 5 hours north of Mexico City is Aguascalientes. Their Festival de las Calaveras (Festival of Skulls) and related parade are the stars of their Día de Muertos celebrations.
Michoacan, and specifically the island of Janitzio in Lake Patzcuaro is 4.5 hours west of Mexico City. This gorgeous small town on an island is known for being the most beautiful setting for Día de los Muertos festivities.
Where to stay for Day of the Dead
When you decide where in Mexico you want to visit, I recommend reading hotel reviews on Tripadvisor, then booking your room through Booking.com (my favorite booking site).
In Oaxaca I had a lovely stay at Hotel Anua, right in the middle of the action.