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Sacred Mexico: Celebrate the Day of the Dead
Visit the Island of the Dolls, take part in gastronomic rituals to honour the dead and join the carnival processions in Oaxaca
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9 day trip from -
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About your trip
Mexican culture is endlessly rich, perhaps most famously exemplified in its Day of the Dead celebrations.
Offering a unique take on ancient traditions, the Dia de los Muertos (as it’s called in Spanish) sees Mexicans gather to pay respects to the deceased. But there’s nothing sombre about this occasion. What follows is a vibrant chaos of colour, calaveras and marigolds; beautifully-decorated altars and intricately-painted faces; music, dancing and a celebration of life.
With only one departure running a year, this is your chance to experience Mexico on a truly special occasion, alongside all the classic cultural experiences.
- Local transport
- Most meals included
- Max 14 travellers per group
- Atol protected
Remember, flights aren't included. We're happy to help you find the best ones for you.
Day 01 Hola, Mexico
Welcome to Mexico City, the most populous city in North America and the largest Spanish-speaking city in the world. Check into your hotel, where you’ll meet your fellow travellers and guide, before heading out together to the La Catrina parade in downtown Mexico City. Catrina, the Lady of Death, is the most well-known figure of the Dia de los Muertos; an elegant skeleton dressed in refined clothing, brought to life in the early 1900s by Mexican artist Jose Guadalupe Posada. Today, she has become symbolic of the festival.
Day 02 Altars and ofrendas in Zocalo Square
Today will see you head down to Zocalo Square. Every year, the square is lined with vibrant altars and ofrendas as offerings to the dead. A traditional ofrenda consists of a photograph of a loved one, laden with marigolds, calaveras and small dishes with their favourite food. Your guide will talk you through the traditions surrounding this sacred practice, with the chance to taste pan de muerto – a sweet bread recipe made especially for this occasion – and traditional Mexican chocolate. You’ll have the option to channel La Catrina and have your face painted in the traditional calavera style.
Day 03 Visit the Island of the Dolls
This morning, head down to the canals of Xochimilco, where you’ll take a boat over to the Isla de las Muñecas – the Island of the Dolls. Shrouded in local folklore, the island is widely believed to be haunted by the ghost of a drowned girl. True to its name, you’ll find a plethora of creepy dolls hanging from the trees of this deserted island, some without heads or limbs. Your guide will talk you through the sad backstory of the island, before taking you back to the city centre for an afternoon at leisure.
Day 04 Ofrendas in Puebla
Today, you’re heading three hours east to Puebla, a historical city in the heart of the country. Upon arrival, the city will be preparing for its own celebration, with colourful ofrendas, altars and calaveras laid out in the streets. Take an afternoon walking tour through this heritage-filled city, weaving between the vibrant festivities and colonial landmarks. Sweet tooth? Pay a visit to the Calle de los Dulces (the Street of Sweets) where you’ll find rows of stores selling traditional Mexican treats. Dinner tonight will be enjoyed at a traditional restaurant, with dishes served in Poblano pottery.
Day 05 Onwards to Oaxaca
This morning, head four hours south to Oaxaca – the culinary capital of Mexico. Set amid the mountains, you’ll find the main square brimming with street vendors, decorations and skull parades. If you’re looking for souvenirs, the stalls are filled with incense, traditional handcrafted gifts and local food. Spend the afternoon soaking up the city’s vibrant atmosphere, before picking one of Oaxaca’s many fine restaurants to dine for the evening.
Day 06 Hike the Sierra Norte
Today’s agenda: hiking the Sierra Norte mountains around Oaxaca. Spend the morning exploring this rolling mountainscape of dense woodland and rocky peaks, with epic views of the valleys below. If the weather is clear, you may catch a glimpse of the volcanic Pico de Orizaba or Citlaltepetl, the highest mountain in Mexico. Lunch will be traditional affair, consisting of local dishes and enjoyed alongside the community of Benito Juarez. Back in Oaxaca, the rest of the day is then yours to join in the town’s La Catrina parades and evening festivities.
Day 07 Oaxaca festivities
Today will see you head to a Día de los Muertos ceremony at San Miguel Pantheon cemetery. During the event, you’ll see altars decorated with illuminated nichos (handmade boxes containing objects and images that recall loved ones), with live band performances. You’ll then head to the graves, which are lit up with hundreds of candles mounted onto the surrounding walls. Later, make your way to José El Mogote and San Agustín where you’ll find people dressed as death and the devil, dancing through the streets and visiting altars. With music and crowds of celebrating locals, this is an experience to savour.
Day 08 Swim near a petrified waterfall
Today, you’re off to Hierve el Agua (‘the water boils’), the world’s only petrified waterfall. Unfamiliar with the concept? A petrified waterfall forms when water cascading over the limestone cliff calcifies over thousands of years, creating an ethereal frozen-in-time effect. This also happens to be a fantastic spot for wild swimming, with natural thermal pools forming at the source of this frozen cascade. Take the opportunity to swim alongside the only petrified waterfall in the world, before heading onto Mitla, an archaeological site that was an important cornerstone of Zapotec culture. Then you’ll continue onto a family-run distillery, where you’ll witness the art of mezcal in the making. Return to Oaxaca in the evening, savouring your final taste of Mexico’s culinary capital.
Day 09 Hasta luego, Mexico
Your Day of the Dead adventure in Mexico has come to an end. It’s over to you to make your own way onwards, and your guide will be on hand to help you arrange a transfer. If you’re interested in experiencing another side of Mexico, we recommend browsing our trip to the Yucatán Peninsula.
Our Favourite Hotels
Browse a selection of our favourite hotels, for a flavour of where you may stay on this trip.
Zócalo Central, Mexico City
Elegant hotel overlooking Zócalo Plaza
A 19th-century townhouse recalling the Mexico City of the past, located next door to the National Cathedral on Zócalo Plaza in the city’s downtown district.
Why we stay here
The rooftop terrace comes with sweeping views of the plaza, and on most evenings, you’ll find live jazz or bossa nova music here. The complimentary fruit baskets are a nice touch, and you can hire bikes to pedal across the city.
Hotel Palacio San Leonardo, Puebla
Hotel housed in an 18th-century palace
An elegant hotel experience, and it’s located at a stone’s throw from the city’s best sights.
Why we stay here
Boasting spacious rooms, stylish interiors and a banquet hall, you’ll feel like you’ve stepped back in time to 18th-century Mexico.
Fly into Mexico City International Airport (MEX) and fly out of Oaxaca International Airport (OAX).
Please try to arrive before 4pm, although we will arrange a transfer for you at whichever time you arrive. Feel free to depart at your own leisure on day 9.
Please be aware that the itinerary, activities and hotels are subject to change. These changes can happen with little notice due to availability, poor weather, seasonal changes, or other circumstances beyond our control – but we’ll always do our best to ensure it has little impact on your experience. From time to time, we may also make changes to your itinerary to try out new ideas and keep things fresh and exciting.
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