Day of the Dead is a huge Mexican celebration drawing a million visitors, many from the United States, who contribute $208 million in tourist revenue. Known locally as Día de los Muertos, this annual tradition remembers and honors deceased family members. Families build altars or shrines at home or at cemeteries, offering goods like toys for children and favorite treats for adults.

The celebration is famous. There are parades and parties — with elaborate make up and costumes — as well as songs, dances and poems to show love and respect for lost loved ones. National Geographic’s Top 10 Things to Know about Day of the Dead blog provides a detailed overview of Day of the Dead traditions, including food, drink and paper crafts.

With the high numbers of travelers headed to Mexico for Day of the Dead activities, traveler safety is an important planning consideration. Read on to learn how to enjoy the celebration in these four locations and minimize travel risks.

Mexico City’s Day of the Dead

Most cities and towns offer celebrations and Day of the Dead activities. Mexico City is a fantastic place to celebrate Day of the Dead, as the city puts on an elaborate parade, decorates the Zocalo (main square) and the popular Reforma Avenue. A calendar is hard to find, but Mexico City Streets blog by a writer and translator based in Mexico City is updating one as information surfaces. Visit Mexico’s Facebook page also offers some information.

Mixquic Day of the Dead Traditions

Mixquic, a small town located south of Mexico City, is known for its elaborate Day of the Dead celebration. The graveyard of San Andres Mixquic, which also used to be a convent, is cleaned and decorated by community members. Impressive altars are placed along the tombs, then lit up by candles. Thousands of people bring their own candles as they walk around the tombs to “show the way for the dead” so they can come back for the night. Some information can be found on Dia De Muertos – Mixquic 2019.

Aguascalientes Day of the Dead Activities

Aguascalientes is located about five hours north of Mexico City. It is the birthplace of engraver Jose Guadalupe Posada, the artist credited with the creation of La Calavera Catrina (the skeleton wearing the elegant dress and exotic hat). Their Festival de las Calaveras (Festival of Skulls) lasts nearly a week and people dress up as Catrinas to enjoy dance and music, theater plays, gastronomic events and a large parade at the end of the festival.

Oaxaca Day of the Dead Traditions

It’s Oaxacan mortuary custom after a person’s death and burial to make a sand tapestry in their home with colored sand, rice, seeds, dried beans and flowers. Sand tapestries are also part of Oaxaca Day of the Dead traditions. You’ll find unique and colorful tapestries — detailed scenes of skeletons, saints and more — on public streets, in shops and in public places like the Museo del Palacio, with competitions for the best design.

Travel and Safety Tips

Day of the Dead traditions differ by region, but all welcome visitors. Despite the high numbers of travelers to Mexico, the country still merits a Level 2 travel advisory (Exercise Increased Caution) from the State Department and a high degree of caution from the Government of Canada’s Travel Advice and Advisories.

If you’re planning on participating in Mexico’s Day of the Dead activities, Global Rescue experts suggest the following:

  • Exercise situational awareness in large crowds, as opportunistic crime like pickpocketing is common.
  • Respect the local culture and customs, as Day of the Dead is a religious holiday.
  • Know how to protect yourself from tainted alcohol.
  • Double check ground transportation and routes with your hotel or tour provider. Some Day of the Dead events may require travel through higher risk regions.
  • If staying in Mexico City, choose a safe, well-lit, central neighborhood in the Centro, Roma or Condesa districts.

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