Latin America is home to a number of incredibly special, sacred, and stunning holiday celebrations. However, there are very few holidays besides Día de los Muertos that are as epic, as popular, or as exceptional to experience first hand.
A holiday born thousands of years ago from a unique combination of indegenous and Catholic traditions, Día de los Muertos, or “Day of the Dead ” in English, calls families throughout Latin America to celebrate the deceased.
As mourning the dead was considered disrespectful by the Aztecs and other Nahua people, Día de los Muertos brings those who have passed on back to life for one night so they may be reunited with their living loved ones. The holiday that lasts between November 1st – November 2nd is an opportunity for families to demonstrate the love and respect that they continue to have for their ancestors.
Here is our list for the best places around the world to celebrate Día de los Muertos!
Día de los Muertos in Mexico
As the birthplace of the holiday, Mexico is one of the ideal places to enjoy authentic Día de los Muertos celebrations. Therefore, we’ve included a number of recommendations for different cities throughout the country.
Here you can expect an almost wedding-like atmosphere that feels like one big, incredible party. You’ll enjoy plenty of foods traditionally eaten during Día de los Muertos, such as Chile Rellenos and Pan de Muerto.
This is the best city in Mexico for admiring ofrendas, or altars, that families decorate with sugar skulls, candles, flowers, food, and photos of their loved ones. A tour through the larger cemeteries may just be the most colorful experience of your life!
If you’re looking for a purely pre-Hispanic cultural experience, you can find the Festival de la Luz y la Vida in Chignahuapan in the beautiful state of Puebla. Here they demonstrate the beliefs of indegenous tribes in an epic performance held on the lake, which includes a lantern ceremony, firework show, glowing pyramid floats, and nearly 100 dancers.
For the largest and grandest collection of skeleton themed displays complete with thousands of people in sugar skull makeup taking over the streets, head to Aguascalientes for the Festival de Calaveras and Legends of Mexico parade.
In Santiago Sacatepéquez, Guatemala, you’ll find the Festival de Barriletes Gigantes. Countless giant colorful kites that are made from paper and bamboo are flown in the belief that they help guide the deceased back to their families on earth.
Los Angeles, USA
For over 20 years, the LatinX community of Los Angeles has transformed the grounds of the Hollywood Forever Cemetery into an epic Día de los Muertos festival. Here you’ll find incredible live music concerts, delicious food, art installations, folklorico dance performances, and a collection of arguably the most beautiful ofrendas in the United States. Attendees dress for the occasion, which makes it all extra fun!
One of the most endearing and exciting celebrations around the world can be found at the San Diego Cemetery in Ecuador where Día de los Muertos is actually known as “Day of the Ancestors”. Hundreds of local families all gather for a picnic, where colada morada and guagas de pan are traditionally served. Ecuadorians use this day as an opportunity to share family history with their children. Children are invited to participate in the making and decoration of guaguas de pan, or bread dolls.
To enjoy one of the most family-friendly and culturally accurate Día de los Muertos celebrations from the Mexican diaspora, head to San Antonio, Texas. All along the River Walk, the La Villita Historic Arts Village hosts an incredible two-day festival. The event includes live performances, cultural workshops, an ofrenda competition, and of course lots of amazing Mexican food.
Another great destination for experiencing awesome culinary traditions around this holiday is Peru. In Peru, Day of the Dead is known as Día de los Difuntos. Here families will prepare a special meal consisting of the deceased person’s favorite dishes. They’ll serve the largest plate on the ofrenda along with alcohol and the traditional Andean Tanta W’awa, or baby bread.
If you haven’t had enough Día de los Muertos celebrations after November 2nd, head to Bolivia for Día de las Ñatitas which begins November 8th. This festival of the indigenous Aymara people involves the unearthing of human skulls from communal plots. It is believed that these skulls that are then cleaned, decorated, and proudly displayed keep local inhabitants safe and offer them a connection back to the spiritual world. Some skulls even have a place on the local police force and have been credited with solving criminal investigations.