The Bunnies and Playmates have already donned their sexiest costumes at the annual Mansion Halloween party, but the tradition of dressing up and partying the night away around All Hallows’ Eve extends much later than the last decked-out trick-or-treater across our Southern border.
Born out of thousand-year-old rituals to celebrate the deaths of family members and older ancestors in Mexico, Día de los Muertos or Day of the Dead festivities can be traced back to precolonial times and eventually became celebrated on the first of November for children (known as Day of the Innocents) and second of November for adults (formally known as Day of the Dead). In popular culture, the image of La Calavera Catrina, an upper-class skeletal woman (above), serves as the inspiration for the majority of costumes and objects of offerings (ofrendas) to the ancestors.
7 PM - The Parade of Merida
While the customs and celebrations of Día de los Muertos vary from city to city and coast to coast, a good starting ground for your spooky Mexican vacation is in the city of Mérida, the capital of the state of Yucatán. Over the three days of festivities, the ensemble of skeleton figures, elaborate bull figures held by men covered in flames and fireworks and of course Death himself (on stilts no less) provides for an eerie combination that is best washed down with the local homemade specialty of spiced chicken tamales wrapped in roasted banana leaves that are offered to guests from food carts lining the main parade routes.
11 PM - The Street Parties of Oaxaca
Once you’ve digested the local faire in Mérida, catch a ride to the southern state of Oaxaca where the wildest Day of the Dead parties (known as camparasas) seem to congregate. To get the best experience, head into the deep valleys of the Etla district in the state’s hilly interior in search of the traditional villages that really show their true colors as they party the night away. Enjoy some of the local cerveza and mezcal (a cousin of tequila native to these parts) and prepare to traverse the village from one end to the other, stopping at specific households and central squares for dancing and music. If you’re driving in, beware of the roadside camparasas—you may get caught in the middle of one with no option but to get out and party as you go. Make sure you pack your costume!
4 AM - The Cemetery Shrines
After the camparasas start to wind down in the early hours of the morning, head for one of the local cemeteries to pay your respects to the dead, the living and the spirits of the afterlife which are honored on this holiday. In the months leading up to Día de los Muertos, the living relatives of the deceased will begin to gather items of significant sentimental value for the adults who have passed away as well as toys and sweets for the “innocents” in preparation for the three-day festivities where the gravesites are cleaned and tended, elaborately decorated, and gifts are left. While it may be a nightmare to some to enter a graveyard at this time of the year, these sacred spots become just as much a gathering ground as the parties you’ve just left. You can find plenty of cemeteries to explore across the country; in Oaxaca some Xoxocotlán cemeteries will even offer a guided tour of the flower and candle-bridled shines and the history of those below your feet.
7 PM - The Boat to the Afterlife
While not strictly the river Styx, a trip up the Pacific coast to the state of Michoacán and its Lake Pátzcuaro, believed to be the location where the barrier between the living and dead is thinnest, is a fitting final stop on your tour of Día de los Muertos. Your destination, Isla de Janitzio and the eponymous town upon its peak, is reached via candlelit butterfly-shaped rowboats (their wings are nets for fishing). With local offerings like traditional “pescado blanco” (white fish), fire games and more folk dancing on the island, this is one boat not to miss.