Planning a trip to Mexico City for Day of the Dead? Here’s a complete guide to celebrating “Día de Muertos” with everything you need to know, including the best things to do for Day of the Dead in Mexico City!
What is Day of the Dead?
Day of the Dead is a 3-day holiday celebrated in Mexico. In Spanish it’s called Día de Muertos. This unique festival is a time to remember and honor those who have passed away. Mexicans do not view it as a time of sadness, but as a time of celebration. It is believed that the deceased come closer to be with the living during this time.
To invite their departed loved ones to come back for a visit on Day of the Dead, families will build an altar (known as an ofrenda) and decorate it with colorful flowers, photos, and the deceased’s favorite foods. You can see them all over the city during Day of the Dead.
When Is Day of the Dead in Mexico City?
Day of the Dead is celebrated for 3 days between October 31st and November 2nd. If you want to experience Day of the Dead in Mexico City, definitely plan to be there for these three days.
During this time it feels like a 3-day fiesta in Mexico City, and each day has a specific meaning:
October 31 is Day of the Innocents, where the spirits of deceased children are reunited with their families for 24 hours.
November 1 is All Saints Day, where the adult spirits will come to visit.
November 2 is Day of the Dead, when families go to the cemetery to decorate the graves of their loved ones.
What are the Best Things To Do for Day of the Dead in Mexico City?
There are many different celebrations and activities going on all over Mexico City for Day of the Dead. If you’re planning a trip to Mexico City for Día de Muertos, keep reading below for a complete guide to the best things to do for Day of the Dead in Mexico City.
1. Watch the Day of the Dead Parade in Mexico City
One of the most exciting Día de Muertos events is the annual Day of the Dead Parade in Mexico City.
The parade is about 2 hours long and each segment represents a different Day of the Dead tradition.
You’ll see giant skeleton puppets, traditional dancers, spiritual cleansers, elaborate costumes, colorful ofrendas, beautiful catrinas (skull face paint) and more.
Tips for Attending the Day of the Dead Parade Mexico City 2020
Here’s how to make sure you get the best view!
The 2020 Day of the Dead Parade in Mexico City will most likely be held on Saturday, October 31, 2020. Although the official date and time has not been announced yet, in the past it has always been on the Saturday before November 2.
The Day of the Dead Parade in Mexico City starts at the Estela de Luz monument, continues on the Paseo de la Reforma street, and ends at the Zócalo plaza (the main square in Mexico City).
If you want a front row spot to watch the parade, plan to arrive 2 hours early to stake out your spot! We watched on Av. 5 de Mayo (near Zocalo) and there was a curb we could sit on while we waited.
2. Visit a Cemetery for Day of the Dead
One of the oldest and most important Day of the Dead traditions is to visit a cemetery. It’s a ritual dating back to the early 1800s. Families decorated their loved ones graves with colorful flowers, candles, pictures, the deceased’s favorite foods, sweets, and even their favorite music.
The brightly colored flowers and candles are believed to help guide them back to earth for one night to enjoyed everything prepared for them. The night of November 2 in Mexico City is a festive atmosphere with live music, eating, drinking, street food, remembering old times, and brightly colored costumes.
Visiting a cemetery is one of the best ways to experience Day of the Dead in Mexico City.
Tips for Visiting a Cemetery on Day of the Dead in Mexico City
If you want to visit a cemetery for Day of the Dead, here’s what you need to know:
November 2 is when graveyards are most festive for Day of the Dead in Mexico City. We recommend to go in the late afternoon.
Plan to be at the graveyard between 5 – 6 PM, at sunset. The later in the evening it gets, the more crowded the graveyard gets. By 9 PM it will be wall-to-wall people. You can barely move, much less look around and enjoy the graves. Also getting an Uber home will be more difficult and more expensive. Go early and plan to spend at least 2 hours at the cemetery.
The most beautifully decorated cemetery near Mexico City is the Mixquic cemetery. It’s rumored that Mixquic was the inspiration behind the cemetery in the Disney movie, Coco.
The Mixquic cemetery about 1.5 hour drive from downtown Mexico City. The best way to get there is by Uber.
The cemeteries are free to enter and enjoy the Day of the Dead festivities. An Uber from downtown Mexico City will cost around $20-25 one way.
All around the cemetery there are street vendors selling food, drinks, tacos, quesadillas, Mexican street corn, pan de muertos, chocolate dipped fruit, typical desserts and more! There are tables and chairs set up so you can plan to have dinner there. Be sure to have cash for the street vendors.
Even though the atmosphere in the graveyards are lively and festive, it’s important to remember to be respectful. Don’t touch any of the graves or displays, and don’t take pictures anyone without their permission.
3. Celebrate Day of the Dead in Coyoacán
One of the absolute best places to celebrate Day of the Dead in Mexico City is Coyoacán Centro. This artsy neighborhood goes all out for Día de Muertos.
There’s a 3-day fiesta with colorful altars, parades, costumes, live music, street vendors, carnival rides and more! There’s enough to keep you busy here all day.
Here are just a few of the things you can do in Coyoacán:
- Admire the dozens colorful public ofrendas (remembrance altars)
- Explore the huge artisans market with handcrafted souvenirs
- Have lunch at one of the many restaurants with beautiful outdoor terraces surrounding the main square
- People watch everyone in their Day of the Dead costumes and face paint
- Enjoy the fair with street food vendors, souvenirs, carnival games and more
Even the churches put up an ofrenda for Día de Muertos!
Be sure to visit the Parroquia San Juan Bautista church in Coyoacán to see their ofrenda. It’s extremely beautiful inside!
Tips for Celebrating Day of the Dead in Coyoacán
Here’s everything you need to know about how to get there and where to go!
Coyoacán will be most lively from Friday, October 30, 2020 to November 2, 2020.
Everything will be taking place around the two main squares in Coyoacán: Plaza Hildago and Jardin Centenario. The best way to get there is by Uber, but you’ll probably have to get out a few blocks early because the streets will be closed for pedestrians only for all the activities!
4. See Giant Ofrendas and Traditional Rituals in Zocalo
Another one of the best places to see Day of the Dead festivities in Mexico City is Zócalo, the main square and historic center.
In the main plaza you can walk around and see the massive ofrendas, whose theme changes every year.
Across from the plaza is the Mexico City Metropolitan Cathedral. Be sure to take a peek inside at the ofrenda inside the church.
Around the plaza and church, indigenous people perform traditional dance routines and spiritual cleansing rituals.
You can also see the ancient Aztec ruins of Templo Mayor that the historic center of Mexico City was built around.
Tips for Experiencing Day of the Day at Zócalo
Here’s where to see the giant ofrendas and traditional dances:
Zócalo will be most festive from October 30 to November 2, 2020, but the giant ofrendas may be on display for a bit longer.
Zócalo, the main historic square of Mexico City.
It’s free to visit the plaza and the church, but the indigenous dancers and spiritual cleansers perform for tips, so be sure to have some cash and small bills.
5. See the Ofrenda Contest in Plaza Santo Domingo
Just a 10-minute walk from Zocalo is Plaza de Santo Domingo. Every year for Day of the Dead in Mexico City the plaza filled with dozens of colorful ofrendas from students at UNAM University. You can even use your smartphone and the QR codes next to each ofrenda to vote for your favorite!
In 2019 the theme was dedicated to Emiliano Zapata, a leading figure in the Mexican Revolution for the 100 year anniversary of his death.
If you want to see some of the most beautiful and creative ofrendas for Dia de Muertos in Mexico City, this is definitely the place to go.
Tips for Seeing the Day of the Dead Ofrenda Contest:
Here’s what you need to know:
In 2020, the ofrendas will likely be on display (and voting open) from October 30 through November 1 (Fri, Sat, Sun)
Plaza de Santo Domingo, just a 10-minute walk from Zocalo.
It’s free to see the ofrendas and vote for your favorite! The students do not expect tips, and are more than happy to explain their ofrenda to you. Be sure to vote for your favorite!
6. Take a Gondola Ride on Aztec Canals in Xochimilco
One of the best things to do in Mexico City for Day of the Dead (or any time of year) is take a gondola ride through the ancient canals of Xochimilco (So-chi-mil-koh).
The Aztecs dug these canals in the 1300s and they were their main method of transportation throughout the region. There are over 100 miles of canals in Mexico! These historic canals are now a UNSECO World Heritage Site.
Taking a gondola ride is a very popular activity for locals on the weekends. The gondolas (called trajineras in Spanish) seat 20 people, and you can bring your own food and drinks on the boat.
The atmosphere is super festive with all the other boats floating by selling food, drinks, souvenirs, and playing music. You can even hire a mariachi band to come board your boat and play a song for you!
Tips for Taking a Gondola Ride in Xochimilco
There are a few things you need to know if you want to take a Trajineras Ride in Xochimilco for Day of the Dead:
Trajineras rides are available year round in Xochimilco. The boats are usually running from about 9 AM – 5 PM during the week, and stay open later on the weekends (Fri, Sat, Sun). Keep in mind that it’s much more crowded on the weekends, so if you want a quieter experience, try to go on a week day.
There are 11 official docks (embarcaderos) in Xochimilco. The best rated (and most popular with the locals) is Embarcadero Nuevo Nativitas Xochimilco. We recommend starting here.
Just a word of warning, there are many tour companies in Xochilmilco offering Trajineras rides. Guys on bicycles will stalk your taxi as soon as you get into town and try to convince your driver to take you to their dock. These other docks (and the canals they will take you on) are less festive and not as well-maintained. You won’t have the same experience. Just ignore the cyclists and insist your driver take you to Embarcadero Nuevo Nativitas.
You don’t have to worry about haggling or negotiating here. All the prices are fixed and posted on a board near the dock and on a brochure they will give you.
As of October 2019, the price is $500 pesos per hour for your entire trajinera (about $26 USD). The price is per hour, per boat, not per person.
All the prices for the food, drinks, and mariachi bands are fixed also, and listed in the brochure. The price for the mariachi band is $150 pesos per song (about $8 USD).
Be sure to have cash for everything as they do not take credit cards.
How To Get There:
The best way to get from Mexico City to Xochimilco is by Uber. Set your destination for Embarcadero Nuevo Nativitas. An Uber will cost around $15-20 USD, one way.
7. Experience the Legend of La Llorona during Day of the Dead
Only during Day of the Dead in Mexico City can you take a special night boat ride through the ancient Aztec canals in Xochimilco. The waterways take on a completely different, almost eerie feeling at night for a unique Día de Muertos experience.
After a 30 minute ride through the dark, candlelit canals, you’ll arrive at a lake where you can watch a colorful sound and light show with a live musical performance telling the legend of “La Llorona”.
La Llorona (Yuh-rona) is a well-known tale all throughout Latin America. It’s the legend of a woman who drowned her children in a fit of rage, and now spends eternity crying while searching for them.
This show on the canals has been a Day of the Dead tradition in Mexico City for 25 years. It’s like Broadway on the lake! The performance is about 2 hours long and the entire show is in Spanish.
During the performance other boats selling food, drinks, tacos, Mexican street corn, hot chocolate, and more will come up to your boat so you can snack during the show. You can also bring your own food and drinks on the boat. It’s the ultimate dinner and a show experience for Day of the Dead.
Tips for Taking La Llorona Night Boat Ride during Day of the Dead
Here’s what you need to know if you want to take the La Llorona Night Boat Ride for Day of the Dead:
This special night boat ride with the La Llorona show is usually available on weekend nights (Fri, Sat, Sun) from early October to mid-November.
Embarcadero Cuemanco Xochimilco. This is the only place where you can take a night boat ride on the canals to watch the La Llorona show. It’s best to take an Uber there. Tip: After the show, call you Uber to go back to the hotel when you’re almost back to the dock because prices start to surge like crazy as everyone gets off the boat!
In 2019, tickets were $387 pesos per person. This includes the boat ride and the show. Food and drink are not included, but you can bring your own on the boat, or you can buy it during the performance. We recommend to buy your tickets in advance on ticketmaster.mx as they might be sold out if you wait until the day of.
8. Get a Day of the Dead Skull (Catrina) Face Paint
A “Catrina” is that colorful cartoonish skeleton face, now known as the iconic symbol of Day of the Dead.
One of the most popular traditions in Mexico City is to get a Day of the Dead skull face painting. Kids, adults, men, women, locals and tourists alike all adorn a colorful catrina skull face painting for Day of the Dead!
During Day of the Dead, makeup artist street vendors pop up all over Mexico City. They usually have a book of designs to choose from, or you can bring in your own picture and show them on your phone.
Tips for Getting Day of the Dead Skull Face Paint in Mexico City:
Here’s where to get the best Day of the Dead Skull Catrina Face Paint in Mexico City!
People celebrating Day of the Dead in Mexico City will have their face painted anytime from October 31 – November 2.
Here are the best places to find Day of the Dead Skull face painters:
- Zocalo — around the plaza
- Coyoacan — in the 2 main plazas and in the market (both levels)
- Xochimilco — We saw someone doing glow-in-the-dark face paint at the Embarcadero Cuemanco dock before the La Llorona Night Boat Ride! So cool, wish I would’ve done this!
- Mixquic Cemetery — there were many face painters around the cemetery
Prices range between $50-200 pesos ($3-$11 USD) depending on the complexity of the design and how long it takes. Be sure to have cash. You may also want to tip, although it is not expected.
Go early to avoid waiting in a long line. Getting a Day of the Dead skull face painting is very popular during Day of the Dead in Mexico City, so many people will be waiting in line. The face painting can take 15-20 minutes per person, so even if just one or two people are in front of you, you could be standing in line awhile! Go first thing in the morning (10 AM) to avoid a long wait.
9. Eat Pan de Muertos for Day of the Dead in Mexico City
Pan de Muertos (Bread of the Dead) is a special sweet pastry that is sold only during Day of the Dead in Mexico City. You can find it at grocery stores, bakeries, maybe even your hotel will have it for breakfast. It’s traditional to leave Pan de Muertos on the ofrendas or graves for the dead.
The X on top of the bread symbolizes bones. The bread itself is light and fluffy, dipped in butter and rolled in sugar. It’s not too sweet. Some versions might have a filling, but usually not.
Tips for Eating Pan de Muertos during Day of the Dead in Mexico City
Here’s where to find the best Pan de Muertos for Day of the Dead:
Pan de Muertos starts showing up about one week before Day of the Dead.
Any bakery or grocery store will sell Pan de Muertos during Day of the Dead. You’ll also see street food vendors all over Mexico City in all the places mentioned in this post like Zocalo, Coyacan, Xochimilco, Mixquic.
If you’re looking for the best Pan de Muertos in Mexico City, here are the top 3 most recommended bakeries by the locals:
Around $10-$50 pesos ($0.50-$2.50 USD) depending on where you buy.
10. Give Out Candy for Day of the Dead in Mexico City
Children in Mexico City don’t go door-to-door trick or treating like we do here in the United States. But they are certainly dressed up in amazing costumes and have bags or buckets for collecting candy! At all the most popular Day of the Dead attractions listed in this post you’ll see children dressed up and asking for candy.
If you want to join in on the fun and put a smile on these cute little kids’ faces, consider keeping some Halloween-sized candy in you purse or bag to give out.
We really wanted to bring some candy from the United States (yes, you can bring Halloween candy on the plane!), but I just completely and totally forgot. I thought it would’ve been super fun to have some different types of candy that they might not be able to get in Mexico City. But even if you forget to bring it with you, all the grocery stores in Mexico City will have bags of “Day of the Dead” candy, just like we have assorted bags of Halloween candy in our grocery stores.
Tips for Giving Out Candy for Day of the Dead in Mexico City:
You’ll see children walking around in costume asking for candy between October 31 and November 2.
We saw the most children asking for candy at Zocalo, the parade, and Coyoacan.
Mexico City Hotels — Where to Stay for Day of the Dead
If you’re looking for an amazing place to stay in Mexico City, we highly recommend Pug Seal hotels. They have 4 properties conveniently located in the most popular neighborhoods of Mexico City.
There’s even a Pug Seal Hotel right in the heart of Coyoacan, one of the most festive neighborhoods during Day of the Dead in Mexico City. If it’s not already sold out, we highly recommend staying at the Pug Seal Coyoacan for Day of the Dead!
All of the Pug Seal hotels are a former historic mansion turned into a luxury B&B / boutique hotel. They are all located in popular neighborhoods surrounded by art galleries, high-end shops, and renowned restaurants.
Pug Seal has one of the best hotel breakfasts I have ever had. The menu offers traditional Mexican breakfast items like huevos rancheros, chilaquiles, a breakfast enchilada, and more. You can order from the menu or the chef will make you whatever you want. There was even Pan de Muertos available at breakfast! And best of all — breakfast is included in your stay!
Light snacks and soft drinks are also available all day. There are even decanters of tequila with shot glasses placed around the hotel so you can help yourself to a shot of tequila whenever you want!
If you’re looking for the best place to stay for Day of the Dead in Mexico City, we highly recommend recommend Pug Seal Hotels!
Questions About Experiencing Day of the Dead in Mexico City?
Do you have any questions about visiting Mexico City during Day of the Dead? Let me know in the comments! We’ll do our best to help.
Thanks for the great article! Can I ask if you actually made it to the cemetery at Mixquic and how was it? I’m in a dilemma if we should go, as it’s so far, and I’ve heard that it’s difficult to find an Uber back to CDMX from there.
Towards the top of your article, you have the parade listed as being on Saturday, November 1; but, this year, November 1 is a Sunday. Does that mean the parade would likely be Saturday, October 31? Or indeed, it will be Sunday, November 1? Thanks for the article, it is very informative! We can’t wait to go and experience it ourselves!
Youu’re right! It would be Saturday, October 31. However, that’s just a guess, there has been no official announcement yet. Have a great trip!! :)
Amanda, I always love your photos and your travel tours. Also, I love your re-design… it’s very fresh.