Most of us know about the Día de los Muertos festivities in Mexico. I will write a blog post on the history and story behind these celebrations. When done, I will let you know via this newsletter.
Just in case any readers are still in the sixties, this is not a celebration of the Grateful Dead.
The festivities start Sept. 28th and go to Nov. 2nd. Hotels at the well-known locations for observing them are pretty much filled up.
Those of you who, like me, are procrastinators and afraid of commitment didn’t take the well-known advice to make your reservations a year in advance in Pátzcuaro (close to Isla Janitzio), Oaxaca or any of the other uber-cool destinations. Fear not, you can still enjoy the ceremonies in the towns and visits to cemeteries. (Actually, I checked with Booking.com on 9/2/2018 and those destinations have a few rooms left too). So much for “well-known facts.”
A real fact is you can go to any town, village or city and some sort of celebration of the afterlife will be happening. Any cemetery, from the humblest to the most ornate with tombs to rival the Pharaohs will be decorated. Honoring those who have gone before is not limited to one place or to the rich. All do what they can.
Mexico City has plenty of hotel space available and a parade as well as celebrations in local cemeteries.
The Panteón Civil de Dolores (Cemetery of Dolores) is the largest cemetery in Mexico.
The cemetery is on Av. Constituyentes in the Miguel Hidalgo section of the city. It is bounded by Chapultepec Park, sections two and three. The GPS coordinates are: 19.40629, -99.20359
Rotonda de las Personas Ilustres (Rotunda of Illustrious Persons) is the part of the cemetery that honors men and women who were considered great contributors to Mexico through the ages.
The entire cemetery is 590 square acres with 700,000 official graves, but many of them are condos so the total interred is more than 1,000,000 souls.
Agustín Lara – Composer – 1900 - 1970
Juan O’Gorman – Muralist – 1906 - 1995
José Clemente Orozco – 1883 - 1949
Angela Peralta – Opera Singer – 1845 - 1883
Carlos Pellicer – Poet, modern art evangelist – 1899 – 1977
Dolores del Rio – Actress – 1905 – 1983
Diego Rivera – Muralist - 1886 – 1957
Juventino Rosas – Composer - 1868 – 1894
Francisco Sarábia – Aviator - 1900 -02939
David Alfaro Siqueiros – 1896 - 1974
Manuel Sandoval Vallarta – Physicist – 1899 - 1977
San Andrés Mixquic
is a completely different experience. It is more of a reverent and somber reflection of live and death. On Nov. 1, it starts with a procession through town with a coffin carrying a white cardboard skeleton borne by pallbearers. They stop at houses along the way, let down their burden, pray and eat pan de muerto. The coffin ends up at a cemetery and a funeral is performed.
On Nov. 2, at 4 PM, bells chime from the Augustinian Convent. That is the signal to begin a procession to the cemetery at the end of town. Citizens carrying gladiolas and cempasuchil (marigolds) and unlit candles troop to the cemetery. After sweeping and washing the graves, they cover them with the petals from the flowers. At midnight, the candles are lit and the only light comes from hundreds of candles. People softly pray and reflect on the life of the departed. Some sobbing takes place in hushed tones. In this one place, the mortal coil is the thinnest. Dead and living, it’s hard to tell the difference.
This suburb of CDMX is accessible by the Metro, from the Taxqueña station. After that, you exit and take a “micro” #RTP149 to the town. Or take a taxi.
Now that I have whetted your appetite for this event, I have to be a grinch and tell you that the church was damaged in the 2017 earthquake and I am not sure there will be a procession this year. Ask in Mexico City at your hotel or a tourism office.
gets all cleaned up and the boats are festooned in Dead attire. This can be appreciated during the daytime.
is just a little NE of Cuernavaca. There cemeteries have festivities between October 31st and the 2nd of November.
is THE place to be in Puebla state. About an hour drive from south from Puebla city, this little town goes big for DoD. Their ofrendas are as elaborate (and costly) as any in the Republic. I’ve never measured them, but some reputedly rise to ten feet tall. These high-rise altars are from the Huaquechula native heritage. Locals open their homes to visitors to respectfully admire their altars. As in other places where this is true, accept a small offering of food or drink to be polite. Ask first, though if it is alcoholic if you don’t want a surprise. Hot chocolate, hibiscus water are just as available as pulque and asking is fine. If you start your tour at the cultural center in early afternoon, they often have maps to homes that are open. Otherwise follow the marigold trail. See Atlixco below for accommodations.
at the foot of the volcano Popocatépetl is known as “The city of flowers” and is a Pueblo Magico. During DoD, floral carpets cover the main square.
This is in this list not because it has a lot going on, but because it is very close to Huaquechula, which DOES have a lot going on. It is a better place to stay especially if you are into warm springs and spas.
Should you stay here, the waters from the volcano are reputed to be medicinal and there are spas here. They also have voladores (flying pole dancers) similar but very different than the Totonacs in Veracruz state. Here the top flyer is a birdman with wings of quetzals. It is quite a colorful town even by Mexican standards. And of course, it has churches and a convent dating back to 1680.
Puebla city, Puebla
has street decorations and a parade on the night of Nov. 1, but is not a huge celebration.
Chignahuapan, Puebla, is one of my favorite towns because of the waterfalls and hot springs and spa. It has a Festival de la Luz y la Vida on Nov. 1. It is on the nearby lagoon. Downtown on the zócalo are other festivities.
A tour operator who can take you to most of these places in Puebla state is Carlos Rivero. http://www.riveros.com.mx/muertoseng.html
San Miguel de Allende, Guanajuato, has a four-day celebration called La Calaca.
goes all out. If rooms are not available, Coatepec and Xalapa are nearby. city is a good base for a visit to Xico.
Tamazunchale, San Luis Potosí & Hidalgo
(and the whole Huasteca Potosina area – which also includes Hidalgo state) celebrate the Nahuatl festival of Xantolo. There are dances, costume competitions, lots of cross-dressing and general dead hilarity in the town squares. The people are so open they even invited me to dance and take part in as much fun as I could stand. They are probably the most humble, authentic ceremonies you will see.
In the unlikely event Tamazunchale hotels are full, the nearest towns are Xilitla and Cd. Valles. Both of these are too far to drive from Tamazunchale at night on the winding highway, so if you can’t get a room, don’t even think about it.
Xilitla, San Luis Potosí
is a spooky place on the best of days. For Xantolo they go all out. There are parades (impromptu as well as somewhat organized), street dancing on the square and general hilarity. To me, this place is a real portal to the other world, so keep your eyes open and your spirit aware.
Cd, Valles, San Luis Potosí while I am not aware of any major events in this hub of the area, you should be able to find someone to take you to the small-town celebrations nearby, which are famous for their energy.
as home to the creator of La Katrina, José Guadalupe Posada, there is a Festival de las Calaveras (Festival of the Skulls). They folks here celebrate for a whole week – from October 27 to Nov. 5. There are two official parades with floats. This only became a big deal in 1994 but it is huge in the city. The National Dead Museum will also be open to visitors – with more than 2,000 macabre mementos collected by the renowned engraver Octavio Bajonero Gil.
Southern Mexico (Chiapas)
San Juan Chamula, Chiapas (near San Cristobal de las Casas) have an indigenous ceremony called Kin Anima.
Yucatan Peninsula (Yucatan, Quintana Roo)
Merida, Yucatan and Pac Chen, Quintana Roo go all out decorating their cemeteries.
I checked with Booking.com and found rooms available for the 28th through the 3rd. Naturally, I don’t guarantee that they will tomorrow, but there is a lot better chance than small town like Pátzcuaro. And, of course, you can always try Airbnb.As always, please go to my website, https://www.mexicomike.com and click on the Hotels.com link to get a good rate and pass on a few bucks to your humble servant, “Mexico” Mike.