Dia de los Muertos, or Day of the Dead (October 31–November 2), is a time when Mexican people honor their deceased loved ones in hopes that their spirits will return to their families during this two-day celebration each year. Traditionally, people build private altars and visit graves with gifts such as sugar skulls and marigolds. With colorful, Carnival-like traditions, delicious foods, and art-filled experiences, it’s no wonder why the Mexican holiday has fascinated people from all over the world.
Hotels and resorts in Mexico are beginning to capitalize on visitors coming for a visit during the festivities, and are doing all they can to provide authentic experiences to share the traditions and culture that are most commonly associated with the Day of the Dead. Below are five Mexican hotels and resorts that are offering unique opportunities to explore this rich and vibrant Mexican holiday.
Sandos Caracol, Riviera Maya
Taking great pride in the rich traditions of the Day of the Dead holiday, Sandos Caracol offers a series of demonstrative and interactive events for guests on November 1 and 2, in order to truly provide a cultural learning experience. The most important element during the festivities is the display of Day of the Dead altars, created by various teams at the resort and displayed throughout the property for guests to visit. A traditional Mexican cemetery is also created and customary music, food, and prayers are offered as candles are lit in a stunning display of Mexican tradition.
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Each evening of the celebration, a spread of traditional fare including tamales, mole sauce, holiday breads, and Mexican candies made of pumpkin, tamarind coconut and amaranth is offered. A candle tribute also takes place, during which guests can light and release candles to honor their own loved ones. In addition, there is a Sandos Catrina Parade each evening, as well as a fire show ceremony. Two performances highlighting two very important legends about culture and ancient beliefs also take place during the celebrations. The Day of the Dead celebration is part of the resort’s signature Xcalacoco Experience, a program designed to pay homage to the local heritage.
Hotel Matilda, San Miguel de Allende
This trend-setting contemporary boutique hotel, located in the heart of 500-year old San Miguel de Allende, will be continuing their tradition with the fourth annual Black Dinner, conjured up by renowned chef Martha Ortiz, who has been described as Mexico’s queen of epicurean theater and culinary mysticism. The 2015 dinner event has been themed “Painted in Black” and will evoke a continuous lifeline from the past to present. This year’s menu is inspired by the spirits of Ortiz’s ancestors, with dishes like marigolds with scrapings of sweet zapote fruit, spirographs of black-and-vanilla mole, blue-corn gorditas with purslane and roasted avocado, and habanero chile with ashes.
The Black Dinner will be held at Hotel Matilda on October 31, 2015 and will be a highlight of the many Day of the Dead celebrations in San Miguel de Allende, which include the La Calaca Festival, a free participatory art and cultural event which takes place over four days and promotes the traditions and themes of the Day of the Dead.
The three-day celebration at the Viceroy Zihuatanejo begins on October 31 with an art exhibit and reception that will provide guests with the opportunity to meet internationally known Mexican artist José Antonio Madrazo, who will exhibit a special collection. Additionally, a dinner buffet at La Villa Restaurant will be accompanied with a pre-Hispanic dance performance, live music, and dancing. The following days will also have special Day of the Dead–themed menus as well as special performances. Mixologists at the bars around the property will also be preparing a variety of “bloody” cocktails, and the kitchen will be baking homemade pan de muerto, a traditional bread served during the holiday period, and will be included as part of the complimentary morning in-room coffee service. A traditional Day of the Dead altar with photos, skulls, and other themed elements will also be on display, as well as a large sand sculpture that will be in front of La Marea, the hotel’s open-air beachfront restaurant.
Casa Colonial, Oaxaca
Located just south of the capital city, the state of Oaxaca is known for its festive Day of the Dead traditions and celebrations. Accordingly, Casa Colonial offers a Day of the Dead tour. What was a former hacienda is now a bed and breakfast, and the property is run by an expat who has been giving tours in the area since 1988. Tours are open to the public and can also be bundled up as a package deal with hotel stays. The intimate tour includes a midnight vigil, the making of a traditional Day of the Dead altar, visits to ancient ruins and folk art villages, shopping at indigenous markets, Oaxacan cuisine and visits to local museums and cathedrals.
Grand Velas, Riviera Maya
This five-star resort located on the Yucatán Peninsula is offering Day of the Dead packages (October 18–November 16) that include a variety of activities and services. As part of the experience at Grand Velas, guests will enjoy a Mexican cooking class led by the resort’s executive chef, Ricardo de la Vega, followed by a private dinner; tequila and mezcal tastings are also included. Additionally, tickets to the eco-archaeological part of Xcaret for the Festival of Life and Death are provided, and visitors will experience the Hanal Pixan ritual (food for the souls), as well as skull making, art exhibitions and artistic performances. A $50 spa credit is also included and guests can take advantage of some unique treatments such as the Bacal Massage, Coffee and Cocoa Experience, and the Mayan Jade Facial, which are part of the spa’s “Journey Through Ancient Mexico” menu.
David Duran is a Brooklyn-based luxury, hospitality, culinary and overall freelance travel writer who contributes to such publications as Jetsetter, The Huffington Post, Destination Weddings & Honeymoons, and Travel+Leisure among others. When not traveling for work, he is planning his personal travel.