Dia de Muertos, or the Day of the Dead, is a fantastic holiday in Mexico, for prayer and remembrance of those that have died. The celebration of Day of the Dead Mexico 2021 is best celebrated in Mexico City, where you will find the largest celebration by far. If you are thinking about visiting Mexico City, traveling during the Day of the Dead festival is an absolutely amazing time to learn about the culture, the holiday, and partake in the celebrations!
Make sure you check out our top 5 tips on how to celebrate Day of the Dead Mexico 2021 at the end of this post!
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What is Day of the Dead?
Perhaps it is first best to clarify what Day of the Dead, or Dia de Muertos is not. It is not Halloween, or the Mexican version of Halloween, but is its own unique celebration where the souls of the departed celebrate together with their families. While that may seem unusual to some cultures, in Mexico death is viewed as a natural part of the human life cycle and is not something to be feared.
The primary day of celebration is November 2nd however there are various celebrations that occur on the days leading up to that day, and many remain for the days after. October 31st is the eve of Dia de Muertos, and is also known as the Night of the Witches. November 1st is the Day of the Innocents, which commemorates deceased children, and finally November 2nd is the actual Day of the Dead.
Families build private altars, called ofrendas, to honor the deceased, using skulls, photographs, marigold flowers, and the favorite foods and drinks of the deceased. The bright color and strong scent of the marigolds are used to attract the souls of the dead and guide them from the cemetery to their family homes.
There generally are many ofrenda all over the city, primarily in the many public squares of Mexico City, but also in private homes, museums, and even shopping malls. The biggest by far was in Zocalo Square.
The Day of the Dead Parade in Mexico City
In Mexico City, there is typically a parade held with many large floats, decorations, music, and people dressed up to celebrate the Day of the Dead. Do your research well before you book your flights though, as the Day of the Dead parade may not be scheduled on the actual Day of the Dead and can vary by up to a week as it will generally be scheduled on the Saturday before November 2nd.
The official announcement from the Mexico City Ministry of Culture for Day of the Dead Mexico 2021 has not yet happened, but the parade (if it happens) and the main festivities are expected to take place on Saturday, October 30, 2021. Due to COVID-19, there will likely not be the same large-scale gathering of people for the parade, but perhaps a virtual parade or other altered celebration will occur this year.
Fun fact: the parade is not actually part of the historical tradition of the holiday, and was instead instituted by Mexico City a year after the fictional portrayal of a Day of the Dead parade in the opening sequence of the James Bond film, Spectre. The film was so popular that the city decided to start a parade, which has been immensely popular ever since.
How to Participate in Day of the Dead Mexico 2021
Attending the large parade is the primary way to experience Day of the Dead Mexico 2021 as a tourist. However, you will not be alone as the event draws a couple hundred thousand visitors to the city each year! The parade route in 2019 was primarily along Reforma Avenue from Chapultepec Park, before turning to go by the Palacio de Bellas Artes and finish at Zocalo Square.
Before you watch the parade though, be sure to have your face painted with some Dia de Muertos makeup! The most popular calavera, or skull, is La Calavera Catrina, which has become an icon of Dia de Muertos. The face painting of Dia de Muertos is not intended to be scary, but respectful.
We found countless face painting artists on Avenida Francisco I Madero on the morning of the parade. Be sure to go early though as we waited 1.5 hours at around 10:30AM to have ours painted. The wait was absolutely worth it as we loved our painting! We paid around $10 USD for both of us. Due to COVID-19, having your face painted here might not be safe as it could spread viruses. However, you could easily buy face colors and come up with your own creation.
Once your face is painted, find a spot on the parade route to watch!
There is really no set agenda of festivities and events for Dia de Muertos, and it is all about the overall experience. Visit local markets, cemeteries, public performances and more to get the full experience. Take them all in, and most importantly, be respectful. Changes related to COVID-19 for Day of the Dead Mexico 2021 have not yet been officially announced, so stay tuned for how to best celebrate in 2021.
Where to Stay in Mexico City
Mexico City is huge, which results in many hotels, spread all across the city. The simplest and easiest place to stay is in the historic center. This will allow you to walk to most of the main sights in the city, or easily take the metro. Other nearby neighborhoods such as Zona Rosa or La Condesa are also great places to stay, depending on what your top interests are.
We have put together a list of some of our favorite AirBnBs located in great Mexico City neighborhoods for every price point!
Places to Eat in Mexico City
Since you’re in Mexico City for Dia de Muertos you should definitely be trying Pan de Muerto! This is the ‘Bread of the Dead’ baked specifically for Dia de Muertos, and is a soft sweet bread, usually with cross bones shaped on top. It is light and delicious, and you can also get it filled with chocolate, cream, or other toppings. We recommend getting your fill at Pasteleria Madrid which is a huge bakery right in the Centro Historico district. While you are there, have your fill of all of the other delicious breads, sweets, and pastries!
Tacos. We really don’t have to say much here other than you absolutely must try some! Search out somewhere abuzz with locals to get the most authentic experience. Make sure you also try one of the most popular drinks in Mexico with your tacos: a Michelada. It's a beer-based cocktail, made with tomato juice or clamato, lime, and salt. This combination might sound very interesting on paper but trust us - it is absolutely delicious!
While by no means did we try tacos everywhere, we can definitely recommend a few places:
- If you’re on the go in Centro Historico, try Tacos de Canasta El Flaco (there was no menu and we had no idea what we ordered or what we ate, but they were delicious!).
- If you are looking for somewhere super casual to sit down and try a bunch of Mexican dishes near Palacio de Bella Artes, try El Rincón Tapatío Bar.
- If you are hanging out in Polanco among the rich and famous, try Taquería El Turix for some incredible and cheap tacos and panuchos. We also had Tacos Don Juan highly recommend to us, but unfortunately didn’t get a chance to try it!
Other Places to Visit in Mexico City
While you’re in Mexico City for Day of the Dead Mexico 2021, you might as well take in a few other sites of the city that are not related to the famous holiday. Our best suggestion is to put on your best pair of walking shoes and hit the streets!
We put together a map of our favorite spots around the city to help you plan your trip!
Admire Palacio de Bella Artes
The Palacio de Bella Artes is one of our favorite buildings in Mexico City due to its stunning beauty! If you want an even more impressive view, walk across the street to the Sears building and head on up to their eighth-floor café for an unobstructed view.
Location: Palacio de Bella Artes
Visit the Mexican National Museum of Anthropology
The Mexican National Museum of Anthropology is the largest and most visited museum in Mexico. The museum is big and has an impressive collection. If you want to learn about the extensive history of Mexico prior to the arrival of Europeans, you could easily spend a couple hours here.
Location: Mexican National Museum of Anthropology
Relax at Chapultepec Park
Right next to the museum is the Chapultepec Park, which can be a great place to get back in touch with nature or visit a castle! You can easily spend a few hours here exploring the park, strolling along the Chapultepec Lake, grabbing a snack, and getting away from the hustle and bustle of the city for an afternoon. They even have a Canadian totem pole, which of course we had to snap a photo of!
Location: Chapultepec Park
Explore La Condesa
Possibly our favorite neighborhood of Mexico City is La Condesa. This cute part of the city has an incredibly European feel and is buzzing with life, full of hip cafes, independent boutiques, and casual taquerias on every corner. Spend half a day wandering the tree-lined streets, having coffee, and browsing the latest trends.
Location: La Condesa
Go Back in History at The Blue House Frida Kahlo Museum
One of the places you cannot miss out on while you're in Mexico City is visiting the former home of Frida Kahlo. It was turned into a museum in 1958, four years after her death, and is now also known as The Blue House. The Blue House is not just a standard gallery or museum, it also showcases private keepsakes of Frida Kahlo and gives you a glimpse into her universe. If you are looking to also see some of her favorite pieces, The Blue House features Long Live Life (1954), Frida and the Caesarian Operation (1931), and Portrait of My Father Wilhelm Kahlo (1952).
Location: The Blue House Frida Kahlo Museum
If you have more time in Mexico City, there are plenty of day-trips available to Puebla, Cholula, Teotihuacan, Xochimilco, Taxco, and more!
Is Mexico City Safe?
Yes. But like any large city, you have to be careful. We found walking around Mexico City no different than walking around Paris, Kuala Lumpur, or Chicago. That being said, we did some research beforehand on what areas to avoid, and practiced common sense such as not wearing flashy jewelry, keeping our wallet and phones in a secure pocket, and not wandering off the beaten path after dark. We spent most of our time in the districts of Centro Historico, Chapultepec, Polanco, La Condesa, and Zona Rosa, all of which felt safe and we had no problem walking all around and between them.
The Next Trip Top 5 Tips for Celebrating Day of the Dead Mexico 2021
1) Learn the History
Dia de Muertos is a beautiful holiday of celebration and honor of deceased friends and family. Make sure that you are well aware of the meaning of the holiday and respectful to everyone! It was recommended to us to watch the Disney movie Coco prior to going to Mexico City and we can’t recommend it enough! Besides being an entertaining movie, it does an excellent job of accurately explaining and portraying the holiday. Watching this movie prior to attending Dia de Muertos is an absolute must!
2) Get Some Dia de Muertos Face Paint
Get your face painted mid-morning on parade day before the long lines start. Also, it pays to do some online research beforehand if you want to have a specific look! Take a screenshot of your favorite look and show it to your face paint artist. Finally, a pro tip is to either bring or purchase some disposal makeup remover wipes for when you are ready to take the face paint off! It is a lot of color and would most definitely ruin your hotel or AirBnB towels.
It may seem a bit cliché to eat a bunch of tacos in Mexico City, but you absolutely should, and you should also forget about how you think a taco should taste. Tacos in Mexico are some of the best examples of a simple meal with simple ingredients, but prepared to perfection. We listed our favorite places above, but our best suggestion is to try the street food and small vendors, or anywhere you see the locals eating. Steer well clear of any tourist-oriented taco stand and try to find the authentic stuff!
4) Visit Local Markets
The local markets can be a fantastic way to lose yourself in a labyrinth of passageways, haggle for a good deal, or just pass the time. La Ciudadela is great spot for any souvenirs you desire.
5) Stay Safe
I know, I know, we just said that it was safe up above. However, that doesn’t mean that you couldn’t end up in danger. Mexico City can be incredibly safe or incredibly dangerous, depending on where you are, what you are doing, and what time of the day it is. Uber is a great way to get to and from the airport and around the city safely, and easy and cheap to use. Use your common sense and do some research beforehand, and have a fabulous time in Mexico City celebrating Day of the Dead Mexico 2021!
Are You Planning to Celebrate the Day of the Dead Mexico 2021?
Are you planning to celebrate the Day of the Dead in Mexico this year? We would love to hear from you and hear about your experience! Let us know if you have any questions or need help planning your trip!
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