Day of the Dead
Oaxaca is one of the best places in Mexico to experience the sights, smells and sounds of the Day of the Dead festivities.Learn More
The Spanish colonial city Oaxaca (pronounced wa-ha-ca), was founded in 1529, near an Indian settlement called Huaxyacac. Its location is ideal, with a superb mountain climate that means it never gets too hot or cold. The city has a strong indigenous influence and a thriving artistic community, as well as some beautiful Spanish colonial architecture and fine museums, giving itself an unexpectedly cosmopolitan atmosphere.
The state of Oaxaca maintains a strong indigenous identity expressed in local life, monuments, and crafts. Oaxaca's markets offer a fascinating insight into these, with papier- mache, wood-carvings, textiles and black pottery. In addition, you can visit the Centro Cultural and the Baroque Cathedral and experience the many outdoor Festivals including the month-long Gualaguezta Festival at Easter.
Everyone will have heard of the Day of the Dead and associate it with both Halloween and Mexico. But how much do you really know about the significance of the holiday? And did you know that you can experience for yourself the sights, sounds and smells of one of the great festivals celebrated anywhere in the world? Find out more with our beginners guide to the Day of the Dead.
What is it all about?
The Day of the Dead is actually a multi-day holiday in Mexico, the main purpose of which is to get together with friends and family to remember and pray for loved ones that have passed away. The gates of heaven are said to open, first to allow the souls of young children back out, and then the adults the next day. It is a mixture of the sombre and the surreal, private memorials and public parades.
Where do the celebrations originate from?
The origins of the Day of the Dead are found in the Catholic beliefs of the country. The day serves to offer prayers for the souls of the deceased, seeking to ease their passage into heaven from the state of purgatory some may find themselves in. Going further back in Mexican history, the Aztec civilisation actually dedicated an entire month to the departed.
When does the festival take place?
The Day of the Dead festival is actually three days, beginning with Halloween on October 31st, followed by El Dia de los Inocentes on November 1st, a day dedicated to children and ending on November 2nd with El Dia de los Muertos itself. Preparations can often take place throughout the year though, and shrines built in homes can be maintained beyond the holiday period.
Where is it celebrated?
The festival is celebrated throughout the towns and cities of Mexico and to a lesser extent in other Latin American countries such as Guatemala, Ecuador and Brazil. The growing Mexican population in the United States has given rise to ever more prominent celebrations north of the border.
What happens during the festivities?
The Day of the Dead has gained worldwide fame for the vivid La Catrina skeleton costumes and spectacular parades that bring the celebrations to life and attract increasing numbers of tourists.
The skull is the symbol of the celebrations, it is traced back thousands of years when skulls were kept as mementos and featured heavily in rituals and celebrations. Today, sugar skulls are intricately painted in bright colours as part of the festivities and feature on many masks, whilst women often paint half their face in a skull, symbolising the transition between life and death.
Another important facet of the holiday is the Pan de Muerto - a large sugary loaf of bread made with citrus fruits, often moulded into different shapes on top.
Beyond the razzmatazz of the celebrations and costumes though, the holiday has a sobre, serious and deeply moving tone. In the run up to the day loved ones will attend to and decorate the graves of the deceased and prepare ofrendas (offerings).
Families often gather in homes to remember departed relatives, creating elaborate altars, in which candles are ceremoniously lit, decorating them with flowers, photos and mementos of the dead, as well as the offerings of lovingly baked food, fresh fruit or favourite items of clothing. Toys are given for young children or sometimes cigarettes and alcohol for adults. The purpose of this is to attract the attention of the souls of the deceased and open their ears to the prayers of their family. Amusing anecdotes are shared to lighten the mood and often short poems are written in homage.
How can you experience it?
Some of the most authentic places to experience the Day of the Dead for yourself are the wonderful colonial era town of San Miguelle de Allende, which has a four day cultural festival and a fabulous market as part of the celebrations, Mérida on the Yucatán peninsula and Oaxaca, with its night-time processions and graveyard fun fairs. Thanks to James Bond and the epic fictional parade through the centre of the city in the recent Spectre film, you can now attend a Day of the Dead parade in Mexico City - so spectacular was it that the city decided to put on one for real in 2016.
Given the number of visitors which are attracted to the celebrations, it is never too early to plan your trip. Veloso Tours can find you the perfect hotel from which to base yourself and create an authentic and carefully-planned itinerary to help you experience the best of Mexico during this time of celebration.
14 Nights from £3,414 €3,196 $3,438
A land steeped in ancient history, colonial past and scattered with Mayan and Aztec pyramids. We include the stunning Chiapas region with villages nestled in mountains.
14 Nights from £3,414 €3,196 $3,438Full Itinerary Contact Specialist
Day 1 - Departure from UK
Day 2 - Anthropological Museum & Pyramids of Teotihuacan
Day 3 - Mexico City at leisure
Day 4 - Puebla
Day 5 - Monte Albán
Day 6 - Oaxaca at leisure
Day 7 - Sumidero Canyon
Day 8 - San Juan Chamula and Zinacantan
Day 9 - San Cristobal at leisure
Day 10 - Transfer to Palenque
Day 11 - Tour of Palenque site
Day 12 - Tour of Merida
Day 13 - Uxmal excursion
Day 14 - Chichén Itzá
Day 15 - Return home
7 Nights from £1,126 €451 $463
Travelling south we combine modern, cosmolitan Mexico City to explore the city, colonial heritage, markets and magnificent pre-Aztec pyramids.
Day 1 -3 Visiting huge pre-Aztec pyramids
Day 4 - Enjoy the views of the volconoes
Day 5 - Oaxaca's colonial heritage
Day 6 - See Tule's giant tree
Day 7 - Excursion to the artisan town of Arrazola
Day 8 - Stay at a beach resort on the Pacific coast
21 Nights from £4,384 €4,360 $4,699
Mighty Aztec and Mayan civilisations built sprawling cities with fabulous pyramids. Visit the markets, admire the weaving, witness the colonial influences and enjoy modern lif…
21 Nights from £4,384 €4,360 $4,699Full Itinerary Contact Specialist
Day 1 - Flight to Mexico City
Day 2 - Visit Archaeological Museum and Teotihuacan
Day 3 - Day at leisure in Mexico
Day 4 - Fly to Oaxaca
Day 5 - Visit Zapotec archaeological sites
Day 6 - Fly to Merida
Day 7 - Day at leisure in Merida
Day 8 - Visit Uxmal
Day 9 - Depart for Chichén Itzá
Day 10 - Visit Chichen Itza and Playa del Carmen
Day 11 - Explore Tulum. Return via Xel-Ha Laguna
Day 12 - Transport to Belize continue to Lamanai Lodge
Day 13-14 - Visit Mayan Ruins and explore the forest
Day 15 - Tranfer to Belize Airport and flight to Flores, Guatemala
Day 16 - Tikal Mayan ruins
Day 17 - At leisure in Tikal, fly to Guetemala city
Day 18 - Sunday Market
Day 19 - Santiago Atitlán
Days 20 - 21- Antigua
15 Nights from £2,483 €2,079 $2,227
Journey overland to admire the myriad of landscapes and cultures along the route. Peeling back layers to discover ancient Mayan and Aztec pyramids, combined with the colonial…
15 Nights from £2,483 €2,079 $2,227Full Itinerary Contact Specialist
Day 1 - Flight to Mexico City
Day 2 - Mexico City at leisure
Day 3 - City Tour of Mexico City
Day 4 - Pyramids of Teotihuacan & Guadalupe
Day 5 - Puebla & Travel to Oaxaca
Day 6 - Oaxaca tour & ruins of Monte Alban
Day 7 - Site of Mitla and Teotlitan & Tule villages
Day 8 - Travel to Tehuantepec
Day 9 - Sumidero Canyon Boat Trip
Day 10 - City tour San Cristobal
Day 11 - Misol-Ha & travel to Palenque
Day 12 - Visit Palenque archaeological site
Day 13 - Visit Uxmal ruins & travel to Merida
Day 14 - Explore Chichén Itzá
Day 15 - Playa del Carmen at leisure
Day 16 - Return flight
Day 17 - Arrive home
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