As Day of the Dead approaches, Mexico City livens up with festivities to celebrate those who have passed. Yes, the dead. The holiday known in Mexico as Dia de Los Muertos occurs for three days from October 31-November 2. However, the days leading up to the holiday can be just as fun.

Throughout regions in the country, people begin to prepare their altars to the dead in their homes. Sometimes they will build altars (ofrendas)in their businesses as well. Aside from being memorials to ancestors and others who have died, often, these altars are beautiful works of art. Some shrines are small. While others get very large.

No matter the scale, most altars have several items in common. Flowers, candles, and papel picado (colorful paper streamers) adorn the altars. The aroma of marigolds and incense permeate the air.

Photos of the dead sit amongst everything. Surrounded by the things the spirits had loved. You’ll find fruits, favorites meals, cigarettes and often a mezcal. What you enjoyed in your life will be there.

Throughout the city you see colorful papel picado adorning the streets. The markets start to fill with sugar skulls. Of course, pan de muerto (bread of the dead) is ever present. The closer it gets to the holiday, you’ll begin to see women dressed as the catrina – an elegant and beautiful skeleton. In the streets, faces transform into jeweled skulls and other iterations of the dead.

There are many festivities to enjoy, so take a look here for upcoming events. Here you’ll find information on parades, altars, and much more.

Parade of Alebrijes in Mexico City
Parade of Alebrijes in Mexico City

Before Day of the Dead, Enjoy the Parade of Alebrijes and Pan de Muerto

Parade of Alebrijes

Saturday, October 20, 2018
12 pm – 3 pm
Reforma Blvd. (ends near the Angel of Independence)

In Oaxaca, alebrijes are fantastical creatures made of wood. They are usually small, but there are some large ones too. Each is intricately painted with original patterns and designs. However, in Mexico City, alebrijes are giant versions of these imagined monsters made of paper mache.

Each year groups of artisans gather on Reforma to display their bizarre and wondrous creations in a parade down the boulevard. Here you will see large sculptures, elaborate costumes, traditional dancing and a lot of music. The “Desfile de Alebrijes” occurs in October before Dia de Los Muertos.

Click here for more information on the Parade of Alebrijes.

Festival del Pan de Muerto Banner
Festival del Pan de Muerto y la Calaverita

Festival of Pan de Muerto (Bread of the Dead)

October 25 – 28
11 am – 7 pm
Huerto Roma Verde, Jalapa 234, Roma Norte

One of the most symbolic foods of Day of the Dead is bread. Not just any bread, but the seasonal pan de muerto – or bread of the dead. This bread is a round, light loaf often decorated with crossbones or teardrops, then sprinkled with sugar. The flavor often has hints of orange and anise and pairs well with hot chocolate or coffee. Sometimes it’s even filled with cajeta or nata.

However, it’s not only for eating. It’s also for decorating the altars and making an offering to your loved ones. This event is several days and located in the beautiful Huerto Roma Verde in Roma Norte. For more information, click here.

Dancers at the Parade of Alebrijes
Dancers at the Parade of Alebrijes in Mexico City

Free Things-To-Do for Day of the Dead in Mexico City

Many of the things-to-do for Day of the Dead are free, open to the public and family friendly. One of the many great things about Mexico City is the plethora of activities around the city. Usually, you’ll just stumble across something entirely unexpected. But, there are many pre-arranged events and displays to enjoy. Here are a few things worth discovering:

Day of the Dead Skull
Day of the Dead skull painted by a Mexican artist in CDMX
Beaded Skull for Day of the Dead
Intricately beaded skull for Day of the Dead
Beading Detail on Skull
Beading detail on skull

See Skull Art on Reforma

Ongoing through Nov 2.

Check out the selection of eclectic giant skulls along Reforma. Walk near the Angel of Independence landmark on Paseo de la Reforma. Along the sidewalks on both sides of the avenue, you will find an array of skulls painted by local Mexican artists.

The display consists of many styles. The skulls vary from contemporary art to more traditional interpretations. One of the most impressive is an intricate design accomplished with a mosaic of incredibly tiny beads. This art represents the traditional work of the Huichol and was created by Menchaca Studio.

Day of the Dead altar at a hotel in Mexico City
Day of the Dead altar at a hotel in Mexico City

Visit Incredible Day of the Dead Ofrendas (Altars)

Ongoing through Nov 2.

Building an altar is one of the core traditions of Day of the Dead. Private homes house many of the displays. However, you will see them everywhere in the city. Many local business, museums, restaurants, and hotels erect altars. You can find elaborate ofrendas as they are called here throughout the city. Visit two of the most impressive in Coyoacan and the Zocalo.

Woman dressed for Day of the Dead as a beautiful Catrina in Mexico City
A woman dressed for Day of the Dead as a beautiful Catrina in Mexico City

Mega-Procession of Catrinas

Sunday, October 21, 2018
6:30 pm
From Paseo la Reforma to Palacio de Bellas Artes

Catrinas galore this holiday! Be sure to check out either the Mega-Procession of Catrinas, the Dia de Los Muertos Parade or Night Biking with the Dead (see info below). You’ll get the full experience of these elaborate costumes. For more information on the Mega-Procession, click here.

Dia de Los Muertos Parade / La Catrina Fest MX

Saturday, October 27, 2018
11 am
Parade on Reforma, near the Angel of Independence

The Day of the Dead parade in Mexico City is relatively a new event. It was basically invented by Hollywood for a James Bond film, and Mexico City has morphed it into a new tradition. The good thing about it is that they do not allow Halloween costumes, only traditional representations get to pass through the streets. There will be much to see, but one of the most common portrayals will be that of La Catrina.

You’ll see hundreds of women (and sometimes men) dressed to the nines as La Catrina or Catrin. This costume has been popularized over the years and has become a modern icon of Day of the Dead. You can even apply to dress-up and participate in the parade.

For more information or to sign up to participate as a Catrina, visit this link.

Cemetery in Oaxaca on Day of the Dead
Cemetery in Oaxaca on Day of the Dead

Celebrate in a Cemetery

Oct 31 – Nov 2
Visit after dark for the full experience
San Andres Mixquic Cemetery

One of the most enchanting things you can do for Day of the Dead is to visit a cemetery. It is one of the most wondrous experiences of a lifetime. I have been fortunate to guide people through the cemeteries in Oaxaca.

The cemeteries come alive for these few days each year. Each grave is cleaned and decorated by family members. Candles light the night as incense swirls through the air. Food and flowers are abundant. Pictures of loved ones are placed on the graves. Families gather around singing, eating and talking as they wait for the spirits to return from beyond.

Fiestas and Workshops in Coyoacan

Oct 31 – Nov 2
Daily Events and Activities – See Full Schedule
Coyoacan Center (Parks, Museums and more)

Make your way through the cobblestone streets of Coyoacan. The neighborhood is rich in history and culture. Here you can visit Casa Azul – the home of Frida Kahlo – and see an incredible altar. Many more offerings will be on display at the Museum of Popular Culture and the Watercolor Museum among others.

Expect many decorations, events, and activities in the park plazas. There will be a contest of Catrinas one afternoon. There will be workshops as well in papel picado, paper lamp making and other crafts. And of course, there will be legends. Expect the legends to come alive with music and storytelling throughout the neighborhood.

For a full list of the holiday’s events in Coyoacan, click here.

Night Bike with the Dead

Saturday, Nov 3.
7 pm – 11:30 pm
Bosque de Chapultepec – Paseo de la Reforma – Monumento a la Revolución

Put on your helmet and best skull make-up. Now’s your chance go on a night ride on a bicycle through Mexico City with… well, the dead. Hundreds of people put on costumes and face painting to bike together at night. They gather and start in Chapultepec Park, down Reforma to the Monument of the Revolution.

This is a great time to hop on a Mobike and explore the city at night on a bike. However, if you stand along the route, you’ll have the chance to take some incredible photos. If you want more information on this night bicycle event, click here.