This Mexican City Is An Incredible Place To Celebrate Dia De Los Muertos

Whether you call it Halloween, Samhain, or All Hallow's Eve, this time of year is often marked by watching scary movies, dressing up in daring costumes, and eating your weight in candy. However, in Mexico, Día de los Muertos (Day of the Dead) takes on an entirely different meaning and importance. For Mexicans, this is far from a spooky festivity — it's the time of year that the souls of loved ones are believed to return home. Beckoned back to the world of the living by altars spread with their favorite foods and beverages and beautiful decorations, these souls return to spend time with family and friends.

For travelers looking to experience this incredible celebration of life and death, there is no better place than Oaxaca in the South of Mexico. The area has been home to people for thousands of years, pre-dating European colonization. Today, every color of the rainbow is put on display to usher back loved ones with open arms. Tissue paper cutouts are hung, colorful murals of sand are painstakingly crafted on the streets, and artful skeletons, skulls, and untold bunches of orange marigolds – called cempasúchil in Aztec — decorate windows, doorways, and altars. It doesn't stop there, though. There is so much more to experience during Día de los Muertos in Oaxaca. 

Oaxaca's best activities before Día de los Muertos

Día de los Muertos takes place on November 1 and 2. However, the festivities really begin days beforehand as preparations are made to welcome the souls at midnight on October 31, which is technically November 1. We recommend arriving a few days early to really take in all the festivities that Oaxaca has to offer.

If you have the time, make your way to the marigold fields in Zimatlán. This is a great way to kick off your Día de los Muertos experience since it's believed the scent of marigolds is what leads souls back to the world of the living. Cultivos el Viejo is one of the most popular to visit. Pay a fee to pose for some memorable photos among the sea of orange, magenta, and golden marigolds, or buy your own flowers to make a garland. Plan your visit a few days prior since the flowers are harvested on the 25th of October, according to Mexico Insider.

Another must-do activity before Dia de los Muertos really kicks off in Oaxaca is altar viewing. Many families in Oaxaca will set up altars (ofrendas) at home, but they also display them in their shops and even in public spaces. Simply wander around one of the many walking streets or plazas in Oaxaca, and you're bound to see many beautiful ofrendas. You can also head to Panteón General Oaxaca, a cemetery in the center of Oaxaca known for its lively atmosphere during Día de los Muertos.

Celebrate Día de los Muertos in style

Normally, we're all for self-guided explorations of a destination so you can soak in the many wonders of a place on your own terms and your own schedule. However, there are times when a group tour might be beneficial for travelers who are interested in a more authentic experience.

Oaxaca (especially during Día de los Muertos) is just the location where a culturally sensitive tour would be both fun and massively educational. Some tours, like those offered by Coyote Aventuras, offer the opportunity to tour a host family's home to see authentic ofrendas, share traditional foods, and meet locals who are happy to share their culture with you.

You can also book a day tour to San Agustin de Etla, a town about 30 minutes away from Oaxaca by car that is well-known for its over-the-top comparsas (parades). Here, you'll experience Dia de los Muertos like a local, and you can see the San Agustin cemetery, one of the more beautiful cemeteries in the Oaxaca region. Drink some Mezcal here, make friends with other Oaxacans, and be merry! Booking a tour is recommended if you don't want to stay the night since taxis might be a bit sparse later in the evening.