Dia de los Muertos– the Day of the Dead is a traditional celebration meant to honor deceased family and friends. Taking place every year between October 31st and November 2nd, Here are some things to know and consider when going to Cancun to experience these sacred traditions.
Important dates to know
October 31st: Noche de Halloween, Día de las Brujas (witches’ day) also known as, Halloween. Just like North America, this day is dedicated to dressing up, face paint and an evening of trick-or-treating.
November 1st: Dia de los Inocentes – ‘All Saints Day’ is a full day of dedicated remembrance to infants and children whom have died.
November 2nd: ‘All Souls Day’ is a day of remembrance dedicated to adults whom have died.
Being in Mexico during Day of the Dead celebrations is quite the extra special experience to have on your tropical vacation. Communities adorn the streets with colorful flowers, decorations and altars to welcome home and honor the souls of their departed loved ones. There are parades, food, costumes and days worth of celebration. Besides experiencing the celebrations, visiting Cancun this time of year also has the bonus of being outside typical Caribbean hurricane season as well as the amounts of seaweed on the beaches as significantly decreased.
- Marigold Flowers: You will see truckloads and pathways of marigolds scattered everywhere during day of the dead celebrations. The Aztecs believed that the fragrance of marigolds could in fact awaken the souls of the dead, which would help guide them back to earth for celebration. Marigolds also represent life, joy, celebration and when they’re used in large amounts or heavily concentrated ways – their scent has potent purifying properties.
- Pan de Muerto: Pan de Muerto is a key element on a ‘Day of the Dead’ altar. This sweet anise and orange-scented egg bread is strategically shaped into a skull and crossbones and is typically found in most bakeries and markets starting mid-October in preps for celebration. Or you can find a traditional recipe for it here.
- Monarch butterflies: Monarch butterflies play a big role in Día de los Muertos because they are believed to hold the spirits of the departed. This beautiful belief stems from the yearly arrival of the first monarchs in Mexico which coincidentally happens on November 1st right in time for celebration.
- Traditional foods: In addition to Pan de Muerto here are a couple other popular Dia de los Muertos food items that you can enjoy. Many of which you will find on altars within the home as well as presented at ancestral gravesites. Chachacuas (savoury tamales), Cacao (Hot chocolate), atole, a hot corn and masa drink, Hanal Pixán sweets, sugar skull candies and many more.
*Note: There is a whole Hanal Pixán aka “foods of the soul celebration” – an ancient tradition from the Ancient Maya Indigenous people of the Yucatan.
- Visit a cemetery: A week or so prior to celebrations beginning, families clean up and prepare the gravesites. It is quite the sight to see when the cemetery is decorated with hundreds of marigolds and other flowers, candles, sugar skull candies, photos of the deceased etc. They prep the land so beautifully to welcome home the souls of their loved ones and ancestors for celebration. Here is one of the top spots in Playa del Carmen to celebrate Day of the dead and witness the magic they create in their cemetery’s.
- Dress up/ Face paint: Okay so, the face painting itself is not an ancient tradition. However, the symbolism behind the sugar skull face paint and dress up is where traditions and beliefs come into play. Way back in the year of el Caldo, the Aztecs believed that life here on earth was a bit of an illusion and that death was a positive step forward towards a more elevated level of consciousness – so skulls became a symbol of not only death, but also rebirth. So know that there is deep rooted meaning behind all the elegant figures of female skeletons that are decorated ever so beautifully.
Things you’ll see on altars
- Photo of the deceased
- Marigolds and other gorgeous traditional flowers
- Items of the deceased like jewelry, their favorite toy etc
- Offerings of food and drink, from traditional Pan de Muerto to things like skull candies, fruit and even full bottles of their favorite alcohol
- Clothing and other mementos
- and much more
*Note: Please do not photograph someone’s altar. And if you must, please ask permission first as this is a sacred part of ceremony and can be considered culturally disrespectful.
Best hotels in Cancun and the Riviera Maya
Rated by previous traveleres, here are 4 of the best hotels in Cancun and the Riviera Maya to experience Dia de los Muertos to its fullest.
- Hotel Xcaret Arte in Playa del Carmen
- Grand Fiesta Americana Coral Beach Cancun
- Hyatt Zilara Cancun – All-Inclusive, Adults-only
- Andaz Mayakoba Resort Riviera Maya
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