Welcome to my article on the Day of the Dead in Mexico City. My name is Juna – I’m 23 and from the Netherlands. I grew up in a warm family together with my older brother. My passion for traveling was inherited from my parents, as they have traveled a lot throughout their lives.
So the first time I got on a plane, I was only a few months old. When I was two years old my parents, brother and I moved to Brazil (Fortaleza). We lived here for about one year and after that we traveled through South America by car for one year. After this my passion for traveling didn’t stop.
I studied hospitality and for my internship I moved to Australia for eight months back in 2017. When I got back I met my partner, who I am currently still dating. And both him and I have a big love for traveling. Together we made a lot of small city trips throughout Europe and in 2019 we went to Sri Lanka. This was our first far away trip together and from that point forward, we decided that we wanted to take a massive world trip together.
After working for one and a half years and saving our asses off, we both quit our jobs and bought a car. In May of 2021, we left on a road trip for four months through the Balkans. And when we got back to the Netherlands, we decided to book a one-way ticket to Mexico. Nine weeks later we are still here and about to move onto our next destination – Guatemala.
When it comes to content, I have always loved to capture moments – especially with photography. This is partly due to my Dad as he has this passion also, and is pretty good at it. My whole life is on film and photos.
When Lars (my partner) and I left on a world trip, my Dad bought me my first camera and I decided that I wanted to go more professional. So I started @juna_jetlagadventures and began to share my experiences – everything from beautiful photos to unique destinations to travel tips.
10 Weeks Traveling in the Beautiful Mexico
Lately, I heard so many people talking about Mexico and how beautiful it is. So I did some research, and right away fell in love. That is the main reason why I convinced Lars to go here, and I would not regret it for a moment.
We left at the end of September and started our journey in Cancun. However, we only spent one night here, as Cancun is a very touristy “American” city if you know what I mean. From here we continued our trip through Yucatan and Quintana Roo. We visited Isla Mujeres, Playa del Carmen, Tulum, Bacalar, Merida, Valladolid and Isla Holbox over four weeks.
After this we took a plane from Cancun to Mexico City to celebrate the Day of the Dead. After Mexico City, we continued our trip to Puebla, Oaxaca, Puerto Escondido, San Cristobal and we are now at our final destination in Palenque before heading to Guatemala. The last part of our trip took us about six weeks, so we spent 10 weeks in total in beautiful Mexico.
Celebrating Day of the Dead in Mexico City
We celebrated the Day of the Dead holiday in the capital, Mexico City. There are about 22 million people who live here and as you can imagine it was a very unique experience. Dia de los Muertos happens every year and is celebrated on the 1st & 2nd of November. However, the festivities around the Day of the Dead festival begin from the 30th of October.
I loved the atmosphere during the festivities: everyone is out on the streets, dressed up with masks or face paint, and everyone is happy. It’s a beautiful celebration and it’s very important for the Mexican people/culture.
The whole city is transformed and everywhere you can find ofrendas (small tables where people honor their dead family members) and colored skull heads and of course the famous orange flowers. Even though there are so many people out on the streets, you don’t feel unsafe for a moment. Because it really feels like one big community where you get taken into.
Good Times Getting Dressed up for the Festival
I loved getting dressed up and getting my face painted for the Day of the Dead. I’m probably only going to celebrate this day once in my life, so why not go all out?! I had my face painted at the hostel (where I was staying) by a professional makeup artist. However, there are many opportunities to get your face painted on the streets. Besides the face paint, you can buy flower crowns everywhere – which in my opinion completes the look.
Because Dia de los Muertos is all about honoring your loved ones who have passed, some choose to dress up as the skeletons of their lost loved ones – basing their look around his or her style. Over the years, this tradition became more of a fun thing. Most people now just dress up for fun.
Day of the Dead History in Mexico City
The Day of the Dead holiday is a very old festival that originally was celebrated by the Aztecs in what now is central Mexico. 1000’s of years before these celebrations emerged, the Aztec people already used skulls to honor the dead. Therefore, the skull remains a key symbol in the tradition of honoring loved ones that have passed over six centuries now.
In the 16th century, the Spanish conquered the Aztec empire and brought Catholicism. They continued celebrating to honor the dead throughout the year to the Catholic dates commemorating All Saints Day and All Souls Day on November 1st & 2nd, making it Dia de los Muertos on November 2nd.
Nowadays, the main activities around the festival still take place on November 1st and 2nd, with the focus on spending the day of the 2nd with family to honor lost loved ones. The whole week around those dates has festive activities. On the 2nd of November families go to cemeteries to honor their lost loved ones, light candles and put flowers on the graves.
Funnily enough, in Mexico City, the Day of the Dead wasn’t celebrated in a big way until the James Bond Spectre movie. For this movie, the city organized a parade in the Dia de los Muertos theme. From that point, the holiday has been celebrated in a big and festive way every year.
Things To Do on the Day of the Dead Festival in Mexico City
For Mexico City, the main parade occurs on October 31st. Here you can see the incredible carriage decorated with flowers, skulls and spirit animals. Music is all over the place and you find a lot of dancing men and women dressed up as skulls in the parade. The parade takes about five hours in total and covers 8.7 km in total. It starts at 12pm, but make sure to be there at 10am or earlier to get yourself a front row spot.
Another fun thing to do is to go to the Zocalo (central square) where you can find lots of art works from big colorful skulls to bright spirit animals. In the zocalo, you can find different ofrendas every year. This year the theme of the ofrendas was loved ones who were taken by the COVID-19 virus. You can come here and pay your respects and take photos of the ofrendas.
You can also go to the Xochimilco Neighborhood. Normally you will visit this neighborhood for its famous canals which are part of the UNESCO World Heritage list. But on Dia de los Muertos, this neighborhood feels particularly atmospheric. The main activities take place around the plaza, where you can see dances, colorful sawdust carpets and special ofrendas.
You can also book a night boat trip on the canals of Xochimilco during Day of the Dead, called La Llorona en Xochimilco. During this event, the canals are transformed into a network of waterways to tell the legend about La Llorona. This is a story about a woman who drowned her children whilst in a fit of rage and now spends eternity crying searching for her children.
When you arrive at the river, you will stock up your beers and snacks and go onboard on one of the wooden boats. Over a 30 minute ride, you will go through the canals to a big lake where you will watch a big light and sound show with a live performance. This is really a fun thing to do because it’s partly a light show, theater and dance show, and partly a special boat ride.
If you are into ofrendas, the most impressive one is at the Frida Kahlo Museum. Frida Kahlo was the most famous Mexican female artist. Every year there is a big ofrenda to honor her. The ofrenda honors Frida every year but has a different theme each time. The theme of 2021 was doctors.
Another unique thing to do is to visit one of the cemeteries. Mexican families will gather in cemeteries to honor their lost loved ones. It’s a unique experience to go to the cemeteries and see the decorated graves. At the cemeteries you won’t only find ofrendas and graves.
You will also find people drinking and eating together to celebrate life and death. The whole graveyard is lit up with candles and it’s really a unique experience. The most famous cemetery in Mexico city is Mixquic Cemetery.
Best Memories from Attending this Holiday
I don’t have one specific favorite memory, I just loved everything. I loved getting my face painted and seeing the parade. And I love the tradition itself – it’s very beautiful that Mexican people honor their lost loved ones.
In the West, death or grieving is a bit of a taboo, and here they have two whole days honoring the dead. It’s a magical experience and the overall atmosphere is very nice. What I also really loved is that throughout the whole city you can find artworks of skulls, flowers, sand carpets and spirit animals. The entire city just feels so festive with all of the bright colors.
Tips for Experiencing Mexico’s Day of the Dead
First of all, be respectful to the traditions of the Mexican people and the Day of the Dead. If you want to celebrate this holiday, you should book your accommodation way in advance. People start booking in January already, so if you want to be in a nice hotel in the city center, book in advance.
You can celebrate Dia de los Muertos in Mexico City and in other places like Oaxaca, Merida, Patzcuaro and Janitzio. At most of the hotels or hostels, they organize something so that you can get your face painted (or ask for it, that is what we did) but you can also get your face painted on the streets.
You aren’t allowed to drink on the streets at many places, so ensure to check beforehand. You can book organized Day of the Dead tours via many websites, such as Airbnb and TripAdvisor. So if you don’t know what to do or what to see, you can always book a trip in advance which will take you to ofrendas and cemeteries. Most of all: enjoy! Take it all in. You are probably never going to experience this again, so make the most of it!