Sugar skulls are used to decorate graves and altars during the holiday. // © 2015 iStock
Feature image (above): Sandos Caracol offers a traditional Day of the Dead celebration for guests. // © 2015 Sandos Caracol
In Mexico, Dia de los Muertos (Day of the Dead) is a day of remembrance for friends and family who have passed on, but it’s far from a somber affair. The holiday, which takes place on Nov. 1 and 2, ushers in a wide variety of colorful and fun festivals and celebrations throughout Mexico every year.
Below are three Mexican cities and their local festivities, as well as tips from local hoteliers in the area on how best to commemorate Dia de los Muertos so that clients will want to celebrate year after year.
In Patzcuaro, clients can attend an artisan market in the Plaza Grande, where craftspeople from all over the country sell their wares. Locals from Isla de Janitzio on Lake Patzcuaro sail their candle- and flower-laden boats across the lake in a truly beautiful display.
Victoria Ryan, owner and operator of Hotel Casa Encantada, highly recommends visitors come to the area during Dia de los Muertos.
“Day of the Dead is the day the indigenous believe the veil between the living and the departed is the thinnest,” Ryan said. “Imagine a cemetery full of graves and the millions of candles. It’s spectacular.”
Hotel Casa Encantada itself hosts an introductory lecture about the traditions of Dia de los Muertos in addition to a party with live music, dancing and food. The property can arrange for guests to tour the local cemeteries during the celebrations, as well.
Riviera Maya’s Festival of Life and Death Traditions in Xcaret Park allows clients to learn about the rituals of 50 different Mayan communities. During the festival, clients can try dishes such as “mucbipollo,” a pork and chicken tamale, and shop for handicrafts while enjoying theatrical performances of traditional Mayan stories and listening to live music.
For those wanting to make the most of the holiday, Sandos Caracol Eco Resort is a great choice for accommodations, as it hosts a traditional Fire Show, a Mayan ritual in which a shaman gives thanks to the Great Creator, and villagers dance and pray along to music. Employees at the hotel also create their own altars and share their own traditions from around the country.
“The Day of the Dead is a celebration like no other,” said Heidi Verschaeve, director of business development for Sandos Hotels & Resorts. “Remember that for Mexicans, this is not a sad day. On the contrary, it’s a celebration! Make sure to see it, and approach it as a festivity and partake in activities.”
In addition to enjoying the festival, Verschaeve also recommends that guests take part in the Catrina parade, in which participants dress up in elegant garb while also sporting skull face paint.
In Toluca, Feria del Alfenique is the big draw. The street festival features about 100 vendors selling traditional sugar skulls and candy, in addition to handicrafts for visitors to create their own offerings for the deceased. Clients can buy “calavaritas,” little skeleton figures depicting different occupations, or sample candied “nopales” (cactus leaves). The festival begins mid-October and lasts until Nov. 2, when residents begin making their graveyard visits.
Clients wanting to stay close to the action should choose Quinta del Rey Hotel.
“The Feria del Alfenique is great to visit,” said Jeannet Martinez Bastida, director of the hotel. “[The area is] full of people, and everything is so colorful.”
In addition to shopping for calavaritas and munching on candy, a visit to the local graveyards is a must, Bastida says, to witness the locals singing and praying in the candlelit cemeteries.