Mexico: Day of the Dead Celebrations in 2021

Over 500 woman gathered in Mexico City on November 1, 2014, to set a Guiness World Record for the largest gathering of women dressed as Catrina.
PHOTOGRAPH BY TOMAS BRAVO, REUTERS

We’ve all heard about the Day of the Dead or seen the classic sugar skull paintings—but what does this celebration really represent?

Day of the Dead (Dia De Los Muertos) is a two day holiday that reunites the living and dead. Families create ofrendas (Offerings) to honor their departed family members that have passed. These altars are decorated with bright yellow marigold flowers, photos of the departed, and the favorite foods and drinks of the one being honored. The offerings are believed to encourage visits from the land of the dead as the departed souls hear their prayers, smell their foods and join in the celebrations!

“Day of the Dead is a holiday to remember loved ones by sharing a meal with them as one would when they were alive.”

Day of the Dead originated several thousand years ago with the Aztec, Toltec, and other Nahua people, who considered mourning the dead disrespectful. For these pre-Hispanic cultures, death was a natural phase in life’s long continuum.

The dead were still members of the community, kept alive in memory and spirit—and during Día de los Muertos, they temporarily returned to Earth. Today’s Día de los Muertos celebration is a mash-up of pre-Hispanic religious rites and Christian feasts. It takes place on November 1 and 2—All Saints’ Day and All Souls’ Day on the Catholic calendar—around the time of the fall maize harvest.

Day of the Dead is an extremely social holiday that spills into streets and public squares at all hours of the day and night. Dressing up as skeletons is part of the fun. People of all ages have their faces artfully painted to resemble skulls, and, mimicking the calavera Catrina, they don suits and fancy dresses. Many revelers wear shells or other noisemakers to amp up the excitement—and also possibly to rouse the dead and keep them close during the fun.

Day of the Dead isn’t somber, it is a celebration: Instead of everything being dark and somber, as is commonly associated with mourning rituals, the holiday is bright and colorful, with decorations filling nearly every home and public space in the country.

It is common to have celebratory meals with family, as well as street parties with music and dancing. In many towns, there are celebratory processions involving masks, puppets, and colorful costume

CALAVERA SUGAR SKULL

There is probably no more iconic symbol for Day of the Dead than the skull, or “calavera”. The “calavera” is usually an ornately decorated representation of a skull, often featuring flowers, animals, and other decorations.

During the holiday, this imagery is seen everywhere, from Ofrendas, face-makeups, to paper crafts, and even to cartoons on newspapers. In a way, the Calavera has become an embodiment of the holiday itself.

One of the most popular makeup looks in the whole world is the Sugar Skull, the traditional makeup to the Day of the Dead. Below are pictures of a diamond sugar skull look. This is not classic, but very easy and impressive way to intersperse this makeup.

Make 2021 the year you experience the incredible Day of the Dead celebrations in Oaxaca, MEXICO. This one-of-a-kind festival is a vibrant fiesta of elaborate costumes, grand feasts, and vivid colors. But it’s also a time for quiet reflection and poignant moments to remember lost loved ones.

Below I have crafted a suggestive itinerary to let you experience Day of the Dead:

ITINERARY HIGHLIGHTS

Oaxaca – Explore the UNESCO World Heritage City of Oaxaca before the celebrations truly kick-off with a private guide showing you its highlights

Day of the Dead markets – Enter the hustle and bustle of the marketplace as Oaxaca readies itself for one of the biggest celebrations of the year

Day of the Dead parade – See the color, skulls, and skeletons with a visit to one of Oaxaca’s traditional Day of the Dead parades

Local home visit – Enjoy an authentic Day of the Dead experience as the special guest of a local family, visiting their home to see their traditional alters and offerings

Quinta Real Oaxaca – Stay at Quinta Real Oaxaca, a gorgeous hotel set in the grounds of the 16th century Santa Catalina nunnery

Suggested Day of Dead in Oaxaca Itinerary

Experience a Day of the Dead celebration like no other, traveling to Oaxaca for a fully immersive dive into the world’s most intriguing festival of life and death! Starting on October 28, enjoy seven days on a private tour, experiencing the full spectrum of the Dia de Muertos festivities.

From vibrant and colorful street parades to poignant and intimate displays in the family home, this unforgettable vacation – which is fully customizable to your preferences – is the ultimate way to experience everything Day of the Dead has to offer.

OAXACA

CULTURALLY RICH, GASTRONOMICALLY EXCITING AND WITH A VARIED AND EXTENSIVE LANDSCAPE, OAXACA KEEPS ITS ROOTS DEEPLY PLANTED IN ITS INDIGENOUS HISTORY.

For a completely authentic experience, Oaxaca is the place to be. The culture-rich city, in the state of the same name, blossoms over the Day of the Dead period as families build elaborate and colorful alters to their lost loved-ones.

The celebrations will take place across the city, but travelers looking for the “true” Day of the Dead experience should head to a cemetery to see the grave-side offerings – one of the most touching traditions that take place over the festival.

With its extensive and varied indigenous populations, Oaxaca offers rich cultural experiences and an opportunity to find unique handicrafts and woven crafts. A visit to its capital and the surrounds boasts enriching visits to Zapotec archeological sites and historic churches. The markets are packed with color and flavor and Oaxaca’s gastronomy is renowned throughout Mexico.

A pretty colonial center surrounded by mountains, Oaxaca City is as picturesque as it is interesting. Head out of the city to enjoy lush mountainous retreats or head to the beaches that boast some of the best surfing in Mexico.

ITINERARY:

Day 1: Arrival day to Oaxaca – Oct 28, 2021

Arrive in Oaxaca and enjoy luxury from the off with a private transfer to your hotel. Spend the rest of the day at leisure, relaxing at your accommodation or strolling the streets of Oaxaca.

For dinner, take the opportunity to explore Oaxaca’s world-famous culinary scene by taking an expertly guided food tour or heading to one of the city’s many fine gourmet restaurants.

Overnight: Hotel Quinta Real Oaxaca

Day 2-3: Explore Oaxaca – Oct 29-30, 2021

Spend two days getting to know the true Oaxaca, a city of infinite beauty, before the Day of the Dead celebrations get into full swing. With an expert guide taking the lead, visit the city’s highlights such as its plazas and architectural gems.

A further exploration of the food is a must. Sample local delicacies including Oaxacan cheese and grasshoppers and, perhaps, head to the traditional chocolate mills to see how they work and taste Oaxaca’s specialty chocolate.

You may also opt to explore Mexico’s much-loved spirit, mezcal, explore the archeological site of Mitla, or get creative with a private cooking class in Mexico’s culinary capital.

Overnight: Hotel Quinta Real Oaxaca

Day 4: Day of the Dead markets with local home visit – Oct 31, 2021

Begin your Day of the Dead experience in Oaxaca’s sprawling markets, watching the locals prepare for the festivities by purchasing fresh bread, candles, incense, sugar skulls, and more. This is a great chance to pick up a gift or two for your loved-ones back home.

You may also want to see how traditional Day of the Dead altars are created, while learning all about their significance and the role they play in the holiday.

A humbling experience comes when you’re invited, as a special guest, to the homes of local Oaxacans to see the alters they have created for their dead relatives. After, try traditional pan de muerto bread and the hot chocolate that goes with it.

Finally, when the night draws in, head to a cemetery for a twilight vigil and to see how the locals adorn graves with flowers and candles.

Overnight: Hotel Quinta Real Oaxaca

Day 5-6: Day of the Dead parade and cultural activities – Nov 1 – 2, 2021

As the Day of the Dead celebrations reach their peak, witness the famous Dia de Muertos parades in Oaxaca’s north valley, in which locals dress up in a variety of colorful skeleton-themed costumes and march through the streets.

You may also want to take the chance to visit Monte Alban archaeological site, one of the oldest cities in Mesoamerica, or venture to one of the nearby villages to discover Oaxaca’s rich traditions for producing artisanal, home-made products.

Overnight: Hotel Quinta Real Oaxaca

Day 7: Departure day – Nov 3, 2021

On your departure day, enjoy a private transfer from the hotel to the airport for your onward flight home.

Internationally renowned documentary photographer Antonio Olmos captures the Day of the Dead for the ‘Sony RX Celebrate the Streets’ series

ACCOMMODATION:

QUINTA REAL OAXACA

Set in the grounds of the 16th Century Santa Catalina nunnery, with inner courtyards and thick stone brickwork, the hotel has a tranquil, otherworldly feel. The staff, dressed as monks, who wander the halls at night lighting a candle outside each room and the constant scent of fresh flowers, only add to that feeling. The walls are dotted with original frescos and many of the early features such as the nuns’ washing fountains remain. Under the hotel are tunnels leading to the two of the main churches of Oaxaca.

The hotel’s location in the heart of central Oaxaca means that many of the important tourist spots, restaurants and shops are within easy walking distance. The rooms are grand, with slated wooden ceilings, dark-wooden furniture and tiled floors. Each room has distinctly Oaxaca touches with locally made lamps, throws and cushion covers. The external-facing rooms are double-glazed helping to reduce street noise.

There are two gardens as well as a large, heated swimming pool surrounded by grass; a great place for peaceful rest bite after sightseeing. Las Novicias bar is nestled in the corner by the pool, incase margaritas by the pool are in order, but be warned the piano at the bar has been known to play by itself…

Day of the Dead Movies You Need to See:

  • Coco
  • James Bond’s Spectre
  • The Book of Life
  • Macario

How to book:

You can book Day of the dead celebration itinerary using Experiential Travel Journeys Pvt. Ltd., based out of New Delhi, India. They are Boutique Travel Designers, specialising in off-beat, off-the-grid, exclusive experience based journeys, private and bespoke. They have long established connections in Mexico to offer you above once in a lifetime experience.

– Amit Kalsi, Private Travel Designer

Published by experientialtraveljourneys

A Private Travel Designer specialising in private, luxury, experiential, transformational, off-beat, off-the-grid, bespoke, tailor-made, bespoke, authentic, sustainable journeys to destinations worldwide.

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