After watching the new James Bond film, Spectre, we decided to make the trip to Mexico City for the Day of the Dead festivities.
The celebrations commence on All Hallows’ Eve (Halloween to us!) and continue for a further two days until 2nd November which is a bank holiday in Mexico.
Families honour and remember those who have died by decorating their graves with beautiful flowers and offerings of the deceased’s favourite foods including sugar skulls and pan de muertos (bread of the dead). The belief is that the souls of the dead return back to the living on the 2nd November. In the evening, candles and incense are lit to help guide the souls back to their families.
Mexico City itself was the centre stage for the Day of the Dead parade. Despite forming the opening scene of Spectre, 2016 was the first year this parade has ever taken place. The Mexican Tourist Board decided that due to the film, they needed to actually put on a parade as tourists would be visiting to see one! Despite doing as much research as we could, we could not find a date for the parade on the internet before we got to Mexico. Unfortunately it was held on the Saturday before the Day of the Dead and we arrived on the Sunday.
However, whilst we missed the parade the main square (the Zocalo) was beautifully decorated with shrines for the week which were lit up at night and seemed to be the hub of activity when the skies grew dark.
Whilst we were in Mexico City we got chatting to an English couple who had managed to see the parade from their hotel on the Zocalo. They said that there were tens of thousands of people for the parade so despite the size of the square, expect there to be a squeeze.
We spent the actual Day of the Dead in a traditional village in the South of Mexico City called San Andres Mixquic for an authentic Day of the Dead experience and it definitely didn’t disappoint. The church and graveyard are the centre of the village. All the streets heading towards the church were closed off to traffic and street stalls had been set up selling food and handicrafts. All the side streets had been decorated with papier mache skulls, flowers and even Day of the Dead themed graffiti.
Before we went to San Andres Mixquic we had spent the morning in Coyoacan – a small township that has been swallowed within the Mexico City conurbation. We would recommend a visit if you can as it is a really pretty part of the city and was covered in Day of the Dead decorations which included an old hearse being driven by papier mache skeletons!
When we arrived at San Andres Mixquic, we headed to the graveyard. All the locals were out and about decorating the graves. Some of the designs were fabulous and there wasn’t a single grave that wasn’t decorated.
After we had taken plenty of photographs, we hit the street stalls and wandered down the side streets to absorb as much as we could. Everyone was gathered with their families, eating, drinking and laughing. There was a marquee set up which was full of people watching the traditional dancers on stage and face painting stalls. (Yes, we did get our faces painted!)
Once we had eaten plenty of street food and soaked up the atmosphere, dusk had arrived so we headed back to the graveyard to see all the candles lit. At this point, it seemed that all the coach trips had arrived and the place was heaving. The candle light and the incense smoke made the whole place very eerie and it was lovely to see all the families sat round the graves sharing stories of their loved ones.
If you want to experience a traditional Day of the Dead, we totally recommend heading to San Andres Mixquic. We enjoyed every moment especially spending time with the locals.
To go to Coyoacan you would need to take Line 3 on the Metro. We would recommend staying on until the Miguel Angel de Quevedo stop and then walking down the cobbled street of Avenida Francisco Sosa to Plaza Hidalgo in the centre.
To get to San Andres Mixquic, we got an Uber from Coyoacan but might not necessarily recommend this approach. Uber uses Google Maps which takes you the quickest route – not necessarily the safest. We encountered a few Mexicans with machine guns and a manmade “toll” road. God knows what our taxi driver said to ensure safe passage!
Perhaps a safer approach would be to take Line 12 of the Metro to Tlahuac and pick up a bus from the terminal to San Andres Mixquic.
Get there early – The graves are just as pretty during the day and given the crowds in the evening, it could ruin the experience a bit. It is really nice to watch the locals decorating the graves and the amount of effort that they put it to the decorations is unbelievable.
Make sure you have a plan to get back – Getting a taxi back is impossible! It is so busy in the evening and with the streets being shut, taxi drivers struggle to find you. There are plenty of buses which you can flag down anywhere (beware, health and safety is not a strong point in Mexico!) which will take you back to the Metro stop. The last Metro back from Tlahuac is midnight.
Be respectful – Day of the Dead is a big deal in Mexico. Even if you don’t believe in the traditions, it is important to respect the graves. We saw plenty of people stepping on the graves and knocking vases of flowers over without picking them back up! The graves are very tightly packed so it does make it difficult to make your way through the graveyard but it is no excuse.