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15 Things You NEED To Know About Day of the Dead in Oaxaca

15 Things You NEED To Know About Day of the Dead in Oaxaca

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Oaxaca is one of the most vibrant and interesting cities in Mexico, and visiting during the Day of the Dead truly is a bucket list experience. This city is widely considered the best place to celebrate the holiday and after experiencing it for ourselves, we have to agree. 

The Day of the Dead may sound solemn or even scary, but it’s actually a huge festival. Celebrations go on for up to a week in Oaxaca, and the city becomes even livelier than usual! So if you’re wondering where to spend the Day of the Dead, we think Oaxaca should be your top choice.

We had such a blast staying in Oaxaca for this celebration – and it was actually one of our favorite experiences in Mexico.

This truly is a celebration like no other, so there are definitely some things you need to know before you go. It’s important to respect this tradition and engage with the local customs and rituals. To help you out, we’ve written this guide containing everything you need to know about the Day of the Dead in Oaxaca.

Don’t have time to read the full article? Celebrating the Day of the Dead in Oaxaca is an incredible experience! On a guided tour, you’ll learn more about the history and traditions and you can’t go wrong with booking this private walking tour.

Table Of Contents
  1. 1. About the Day of the Dead in Oaxaca
  2. 2. When is the Day of the Dead in Oaxaca?
  3. 3. The important days during the Day of the Dead
  4. 4. Are the Day of the Dead and Halloween the same?
  5. 5. Tips for celebrating the Day of the Dead in Oaxaca
  6. 6. Where is the Day of the Dead celebrated in Oaxaca?
  7. 7. What is a good Day of the Dead Oaxaca itinerary?
  8. 8. Where to stay in Oaxaca for the Day of the Dead
  9. 9. What are the best Day of the Dead tours in Oaxaca?
  10. 10. Do you need a tour to celebrate the Day of the Dead?
  11. 11. Is it safe to celebrate the Day of the Dead in Oaxaca?
  12. 12. How much does it cost to get your face painted during the Day of the Dead in Oaxaca?
  13. 13. What are the most common traditions during the Day of the Dead in Oaxaca?
  14. 14. Is celebrating the Day of the Dead suitable for children?
  15. 15. Is traveling to Mexico for the Day of the Dead worth it?
  16. Other Activities to do While You're in Oaxaca
  17. Thanks for reading!
  18. Renting a Car in Mexico

1. About the Day of the Dead in Oaxaca

Bailey poses with two giant puppets during Día de los Muertos in Oaxaca
They are huge!
Two people dressed up dance in Oaxaca during Día de los Muertos
Locals dance in the square!

On the Day of the Dead, it’s believed that the spirits come back from the afterlife to visit their families. Children come first and then are followed later by adults, who are often guided by dogs. 

This is not a time to mourn but a time to celebrate! 

Although the Day of the Dead might sound sad, this holiday feels like the exact opposite. In pre-Hispanic Mexico, it was considered disrespectful to mourn death. Death was seen as merely a physical separation, and mourning was like saying that the dead were gone and were no longer part of the community. 

Therefore, the Day of the Dead, or “Dia de los Muertos,” is a huge celebration of the lives of departed loved ones. It’s a way to keep them alive and acknowledge the fact that death is simply a normal part of the life cycle. It’s not sad or scary, but a really positive celebration with an amazing atmosphere!

On the Day of the Dead, families visit the graves of their loved ones to invite them back home. Cemeteries are filled with lights, flowers, and decorations during this time. Trust me, it’s an amazing sight to see! 

Families also build and decorate beautiful altars to honor the dead. This is also meant to guide departed loved ones toward the right house. They add candles and photographs of their deceased relatives, as well as their favorite food and drinks. These offerings sustain their spirits as they make the journey from one world to another.

2. When is the Day of the Dead in Oaxaca?

A grave decorated in Marigold flowers during Day of the Dead in Oaxaca, Mexico
How beautiful!

The Day of the Dead in Mexico is on November 2. However, the festivities last three days, and you can expect the whole celebration to run from October 31 until November 2.

The Day of the Innocents begins just after midnight on November 1. However, Mexicans like to start the celebration early – so the first day of the Day of the Dead festival is October 31. Things start to dwindle down towards the end of the day on November 2 (when the spirits return to the land of the dead).

Related Read: For a cool destination just outside Oaxaca City, check out Hierve del Agua. This geological site looks like something straight out of a fairytale, with super unique rock formations.

3. The important days during the Day of the Dead

A kid dressed up in a costume for Day of the Dead in Oaxaca, Mexico
Kids love it!
Bailey gets her face painted during Día de los Muertos in Oaxaca, Mexico
Almost done!

All Saints Eve – October 31st

While the festival officially starts on November 1, things actually begin at midnight. You will likely see the preparation and festivities starting on the night of October 31. 

On this evening, you’ll see locals hanging up decorations, making their ofrendas (offerings), decorating gravestones, and lighting candles. This is when all the preparations begin – and watching it all really made us excited for the next few days!

Day of the Innocents – November 1st

The first official day starts on November 1 and is known as the Day of the Innocents (or the Day of the Little Angels). Starting from midnight, the gates to heaven open, and the spirits of passed infants and children return home to their families for the entire day. 

Day of the Dead – November 2nd

Also known as All Souls Day, this is the day the deceased adults return to the living.

The gates open for adults at midnight, but the festivities will continue all day. Toward the end of the day, you might see a lot of depictions of dogs. Once the spirits’ visit comes to a close, dogs are thought to lead them back toward the land of the dead. 

4. Are the Day of the Dead and Halloween the same?

A lady dressed up for Day of the Dead in Mexico
In Oaxaca, you get the full experience!

No, they are completely different celebrations.

Halloween is celebrated in a dark, scary, and spooky manner, while the Day of the Dead is the complete opposite. The Day of the Dead is celebrated with bright colors and a welcoming of spirits to the land of the living. 

Halloween finds its roots in the ancient Celtic festival of Samhain. It’s all about celebrating the harvest season while scaring away ghosts. However, the Day of the Dead is all about welcoming the spirits of passed loved ones and is deeply rooted in local traditions.

5. Tips for celebrating the Day of the Dead in Oaxaca

Two giant puppets in Oaxaca during Día de los Muertos
Daniel and Bailey with two huge puppets in the streets of Oaxaca during Día de los Muertos
Day of the Dead is way better than Halloween!

Book your hotel well in advance

Celebrating the Day of the Dead in Oaxaca is on lots of people’s bucket lists, and hotels book up months in advance. Plus, prices get crazy high right as the celebration draws nearer. Book your hotel as far in advance as you possibly can! 

You don’t need to book a tour in advance

There are loads of tours available once you arrive in Oaxaca. You’ll get better rates when booking in person, so we don’t recommend booking online. They’re all a ton of fun and visit pretty much the same places, so you don’t need to worry about missing out on anything. You’ll be guided by a local who knows exactly where to go and can teach you all about the celebrations. 

Bring cash

Cash is king in Mexico. Make sure to have some on hand to celebrate the Day of the Dead in Oaxaca (trust us, you’ll need it!). You’ll see lots of vendors selling fantastic souvenirs, costumes, and street food, but the vast majority won’t accept credit or debit cards. Bring plenty of cash so that you don’t miss out! 

Respect the traditions, especially at the cemeteries

The Day of the Dead is a lot of fun, but don’t get too carried away. Don’t forget that this is a very significant cultural tradition to honor people who have died, not a tourist activity. This is a celebration of the dead, so it’s important not to be disrespectful. 

Always ask before taking photos of graves. The locals will probably say yes, but it’s respectful to ask. 

It’s fine (and fun!) to get a La Catrina mask painted on your face. However, DO NOT visit a graveyard while wearing this makeup – it’s a very disrespectful thing to do. Since families tend to visit cemeteries late at night, it’s best to either wash your face paint off before you go or simply save that for another day. 

Buy a costume IN Mexico

Locals dress formally and modestly on the Day of the Dead. Women usually wear long dresses, and men wear suits. 

The American Day of the Dead costumes are often very skimpy and tend to trivialize this celebration. As such, we don’t recommend buying your costume outside the country. Instead, buy one when you’re actually in Mexico. 

You’ll easily find a great outfit once you arrive in Oaxaca. You’ll see loads of markets around the city with lots of costumes to choose from. You can be confident that they’re all appropriate to wear! Plus, it’s a great way to support local business owners. 

Don’t interfere with altars unless you have been asked

Altars are a private part of the Day of the Dead tradition, and they’re personal to each family. Therefore, you really shouldn’t try to get involved with decorating altars. You also shouldn’t take photos of them unless you’re specifically asked.

There are a ton of other activities you can get involved in. Don’t worry … you’re really not going to miss out on anything by refraining from interfering with their altars. Instead, we recommend checking out all the art installations on the streets (which you can take a photo of in exchange for a few pesos). 

It’s important to remember that the Day of the Dead is about families celebrating their loved ones. Tourists are welcome in Oaxaca, but the celebration is ultimately not for or about them. 

6. Where is the Day of the Dead celebrated in Oaxaca?

Two kids in Oaxaca during Día de los Muertos, Mexico
So cute!

The Day of the Dead is celebrated all around the city at the cemeteries. The Panteon de San Sebastian and the Panteon de Santa Maria are two of the best ones for tourists to visit, as foreigners are welcome to come in and pay their respects here.

Meanwhile, in terms of parades and festivities, the Day of the Dead is mainly celebrated in the Centro area of downtown Oaxaca.

This is the old part of the city where you’ll find lots of history and culture at any time of year. It’s where you’ll find the Templo de Santo Domingo de Guzmán and the Zócalo (also known as the Plaza de la Constitución). We also think that this is the best area to stay in Oaxaca City, so hopefully, your hotel will be close to here anyway! 

During the Day of the Dead, the Centro area really comes alive. There are lots of parades, decorations, music, and dancing. If you’re not sure where to start, we recommend heading to Calle Macedonia Alcala, aka the main walking street in Oaxaca. We saw lots of parades happening here, and they were really fun to watch! 

Calle Manuel Garcia Vigil runs parallel to Calle Macedonia Alcala and is also home to lots of vendors, parades, and festivities. You can easily wander from one street to the next over the course of your evening!

Related Read: For another super fun Mexican experience, take a Lucha Libre tour in Mexico City! You’ll likely get a souvenir mask, and your tour guide might even be an ex-luchador himself!

7. What is a good Day of the Dead Oaxaca itinerary?

Bailey lights a candel on a grave during Day fo the Dead in Oaxaca, Mexico
A Sand tapestries during day of the dead in Oaxaca

Day 1 (October 31st)

October 31st may be a huge deal in some countries, but Halloween and the Day of the Dead are NOT the same, and this day isn’t a big deal here. 

We recommend you take this day to just enjoy the city and observe all of the preparation that goes into the Day of the Dead. There’s still an air of excitement, and there will be some extra festivities going on, so just walk around, take photos, and enjoy yourself! You can also join a parade downtown in the evening. 

Day 2 (November 1st and Day of the Little Angels)

This is the day when the Innocents come home to their families (when the Day of the Dead really begins). You can use today or tomorrow to join a Day of the Dead tour. These tours give you a really good overview of the celebrations and take you to a cemetery. 

The tours generally start at night. So, you can either use tonight for your tour or to enjoy a parade in town. 

Day 3 (November 2nd and Day Of The Dead)

This is the official Day of the Dead and the biggest day of the festival. You can get your face painted and join the fun with the locals.

If you haven’t done a tour yet, you can always use today to do that! However, remember to wash your face paint off before you visit a graveyard! And if you’ve already done your tour, head downtown to join in with the parades. 

8. Where to stay in Oaxaca for the Day of the Dead

NaNa Vida Hotel Oaxaca  room
Photo credit: NaNa Vida Hotel Oaxaca
NaNa Vida Hotel Oaxaca courtyard
Photo credit: NaNa Vida Hotel Oaxaca

Choosing the best hotel in Oaxaca depends on what you’re doing. For the Day of the Dead, we definitely think you should stay in or near Centro, as this is where most of the action happens! However, hotels around here are the first to book up, so make sure to plan ahead. To help you out, we’ve highlighted our top choices for each budget below.

Luxury – $$$ 

If you’ve got a bigger budget, Nana Vida Hotel Oaxaca is an excellent 4-star hotel. It’s just 850 meters (0.5 miles) from the Zocalo and super comfortable. It’s inside a beautiful colonial building, but it feels modern on the inside. The rooms are spacious and feel quite fancy, and the bathrooms are brand new! Plus, the staff here just do everything they can to make sure you have an amazing time in Oaxaca. 

We also think that the on-site restaurant is incredible. Honestly, you should come and check it out whether or not you actually stay here! 

This hotel costs around $220 USD per night during the Day of the Dead. It books up fast, though! Luckily, they have a very generous cancellation policy when you reserve your stay on Booking.com. So even if you’re not 100% sure, you’re safe to reserve it way in advance. 

Mid-range – $$

Hotel con Corazón is both super cute and socially responsible. They invest their profits into social initiatives in Oaxaca, so you can feel good about staying here!

We really like the decor of this place. It has a bit of a boutique feel to it, but it’s still minimalist and comfortable. It’s also very clean, and the staff are really friendly and will help you to get acquainted with the city. Best of all, Hotel con Corazón has a great location! It’s a 10-minute walk to Calle Macedonio Alcala and 1 km (0.6 mi) away from the Zocalo so you’ll be super close to all of the celebrations. 

It costs around $160 USD per night to stay here during the Day of the Dead, although prices do vary according to room size. Just make sure to reserve your room well in advance!

Budget – $

We think that the Yabanhi Hostel is fantastic in its own right, but it’s especially great if you want to do the Day of the Dead on a budget. It’s in Centro, about 1 km (0.6 mi) away from the Zocalo, so you’ll be in the heart of all the action. It’s also about a 10-minute walk from Calle Macedonio Alcala, where the best parades happen. 

The hostel is family-run and feels more like a BnB than a hostel. However, it’s still great for meeting other travelers. They have comfy common areas and a nice terrace where you can get great views of the city. This is a good option if you’re in Oaxaca alone, but if you’re traveling as a couple or small group, they also have private double rooms and bungalows. 

During the Day of the Dead festivities, a private double room here costs about $57 USD. It’s spotlessly clean, super comfortable, and ideally located, so I think that this is a great option! If it suits your needs, you can check availability and book it right here!

9. What are the best Day of the Dead tours in Oaxaca?

People walk through a graveyard in Oaxaca during Day of the Dead
People walk through a cemetary in Oaxaca during the Day of the Dead

We found that most of the Day of the Dead tours in Oaxaca were pretty similar. They’re led by passionate and friendly locals and take you to all of the top spots, so they’re really fun, but there’s not one that particularly stands out. 

As we mentioned above, you can always book your tour in person once you get to Oaxaca. All of the hotels we listed above have really friendly and helpful staff, so you can always ask them for their recommendations. 

However, if you’re the type that loves to plan ahead, I totally get that! Sometimes it’s easier to have all the logistics arranged so you can just show up and enjoy your vacation. If this sounds like you, there are some great tour options in Oaxaca. For Day of the Dead specific tours, read our top recommendations below.

Day of the Dead Celebration in Oaxaca

This Day of the Dead Celebration Tour is the perfect way to join in the festivities in an authentic and respectful way. You’ll get a feel for how locals honor this holiday and have loads of fun! The guides take you to the best spots to try pan de muerto and see costumes, parades, and decorated alters.

It’s available on both October 31 and November 1, and the activities differ depending on which day you choose. Either way, you’ll meet at the Ethnobotanical Garden at 4:40 for this 5-hour experience.

On the October 31 tour, a comfy vehicle will transport you to several different cemeteries, and each one is special in its own right. You can hear local bands play and witness families decorating the graves and making offerings to deceased loved ones. But what I really love about this tour is you’ll head to a few locations outside downtown where you’ll make your own offerings of candles and flowers.

I was a bit hesitant to visit graves on my own since I wasn’t sure how to be respectful and didn’t want to commit a cultural faux pas. Luckily, our local guide showed us exactly how to go about things – and we’re so happy they did. It felt really special and uplifting to take part in these rituals.

The November 1 tour is more about costumes, music, and dancing. Your guides will show you the best lookout points for the parade and how to get involved. They also share interesting insights into the cultural traditions you’re seeing. You can get your face painted, too – just let them know you’d like this included when you book!

When the tour ends, you’ll be dropped back off at your hotel (no need to worry about catching a cab in all the chaos!). Transportation and your guide are included in the $96 USD price. Spaces are limited, so secure your spot online here!

Day of the Dead in Oaxaca with Tradition and Creativity

We love this 2-day tour because it’s a bit more interactive. You get to engage in an arts and crafts project with deep symbolism and take home a personalized souvenir! And since it requires some artistic prep, this is one tour you actually do need to book in advance.

Over the course of this two-day experience, you’ll be immersed in local festivities of all kinds. On October 31, you’ll be picked up around 4:50 at the Ethnobotanical Gardens. Then, you’ll be transported to a few cemeteries to see the beautifully decorated tombs and pay respect to the deceased. I loved seeing all the candles lighting the paths and tombstones at dusk – it’s truly magical.

It’s so convenient that transportation is included because you can visit cemeteries that are otherwise hard to get to. At the Panteón Mictlancíhuatl, we found it quite moving to observe families gathering to honor the spirits of their loved ones. We also enjoyed the Municipal Pantheon Atzompa because it brings together elements of both the colonial and pre-Hispanic traditions.

However, day 2 (November 1) is the real highlight of this tour! You’ll head to San Martin Tilcajete, where you’ll learn all about alebrijes, hand-carved and painted creatures with strong symbolism. Then, you’ll get your own wooden animal to paint! The instructors will explain how to paint and tell you the full meaning behind your personalized spirit animal.

Transportation, guides, the alebrije craft lesson, and your handmade souvenir are all included in the $189 USD price. However, they often have discounts, so you can snag this experience for less. Remember, this is a 2-day tour, so you’re really getting two tours in one. Each day’s tour lasts about 5 hours, and they’ll drop you off at your hotel at the end. To join this 2-part cultural experience, make sure to book by October 1!

Celebrating Day of the Dead Oaxaca Tour

If you prefer a private option, you can book this Day of the Dead walking tour. Since it is private, you get that personalized attention and can work on a flexible schedule. Plus, you can ask as many questions as you’d like!

This 2-hour tour begins at the Zocalo. From here, you’ll walk around the historic Centro and learn all about local sites as well as the Day of the Dead traditions. You’ll also visit the Panteon General, which is one of the oldest cemeteries in the area. Here, you’ll see the decorated graves and observe families making offerings.

Guides really bring this celebration to life – and make you feel much more connected to it all. You’ll learn all about the history behind the holiday as well as fascinating traditions and personal stories. I’d imagine having a private guide would only enhance the experience!

Tours are offered from October 31 through November 2nd, with start times between 10 am and 5 pm.

We do feel this private tour is a bit pricey. It ranges from $103-$414 USD depending on your group size (maximum 10 people). You’ll probably be able to find a private tour for cheaper in person. But again, if you like having everything booked in advance, we understand! You can book this private 2-hour walking tour online right here.

10. Do you need a tour to celebrate the Day of the Dead?

A grave decorated in Marigold flowers during Day of the Dead in Oaxaca, Mexico
A grave decorated in marigold flowers during the Day of the Dead in Oaxaca, Mexico

Overall, no, we wouldn’t say that you have to do a tour, but they do help! With a tour, you learn so much more and experience the holiday from a local’s perspective. However, if you prefer to explore independently, that’s fine, too. 

It is definitely a good idea to do a tour if you want to visit cemeteries because they’re outside of central Oaxaca. Your tour guide can take you to a cemetery where tourists are welcome and show you around so that you don’t miss anything. 

We also like the fact that tours take you to multiple places and give you a good overview of the celebrations. They’re great for understanding more about this famous festival. Plus, your guide can share personal stories and lots of interesting details that you might not otherwise learn about. 

11. Is it safe to celebrate the Day of the Dead in Oaxaca?

Cemetery graves in Oaxaca during Día de los Muertos
Cemetery graves in Oaxaca during Día de los Muertos

Yes, Oaxaca is one of the safest cities in Mexico. Therefore, it’s one of the safest places to celebrate the Day of the Dead!

We found that the locals here were super friendly and welcoming to tourists. The city expects lots of tourists at this time of year and puts extra security in place, so there are very few incidents. There’s a really positive and warm atmosphere around, and we felt completely safe.

Of course, at any major festival or celebration, you do need to be mindful that there will be pickpockets around. Big crowds are ideal targets for pickpockets, so do watch your belongings and don’t put your phone or wallet in your back pocket. However, this happens all over the world and is certainly not specific to Oaxaca or the Day of the Dead festival! 

Related Read: If you’re looking for other safe areas in Mexico, check out Puerto Vallarta or Playa Del Carmen. They’re both very tourist-friendly and right on the beach!

12. How much does it cost to get your face painted during the Day of the Dead in Oaxaca?

Daniel gets his face painted during Día de los Muertos in Oaxaca, Mexico
A parade during Día de los Muertos in oaxaca
A parade during Día de los Muertos in Oaxaca

It costs around 200 Mexican pesos ($12 USD) to get your face painted for the Day of the Dead! We found lots of face painters around Templo de Santo Domingo de Guzmán, which is a 10-minute walk from the Zocalo. 

Make sure you pack plenty of makeup remover, as it takes a lot to get it off at the end of the night! And remember, don’t wear face paint to a cemetery. 

13. What are the most common traditions during the Day of the Dead in Oaxaca?

A huge parade during Day of the Dead in Oaxaca
A huge parade during the Day of the Dead in Oaxaca

Visiting the cemeteries

One of the most prominent traditions during the Day of the Dead is visiting and decorating cemeteries. 

In the days leading up to it and on the actual day, families will visit the graves of their loved ones. They’ll clean the grave, decorate it with lanterns and marigolds, and just generally spend a lot of time there. 

Often families will bring their loved ones’ favorite food and drinks and celebrate their life, talking about memories and just having a good time. 

While a lot of the time, people are happy to let tourists embrace this tradition and part of their culture, it is important to be really respectful. Make sure to ask before taking photos, and remember that it is not a tourist attraction. 

Parades

While parades are somewhat of a newer tradition in Mexico for the Day of the Dead, they are not to be missed! 

Roads get blocked off, and the streets fill with music, costumes, and alebrijes. Alebrijes are brightly colored folk art structures, usually of an animal hybrid consisting of bat wings, dragon bodies, and wolf-like faces. But they can come in all different forms! These are thought to guide the spirits during their journey.

As a side note, if you want to make your own miniature alebrije to take home, check out this 2-day tour. We mentioned it earlier, but this tour celebrates the Day of the Dead by visiting cemeteries and having you paint your own alebrije. You’ll be assigned a spirit animal and learn all about its cultural significance, which we think is quite cool!  

Sugar offerings

a collection of colorful sugar skulls for sale in Mexico

Sugar skulls can often be seen as a symbol for the Day of the Dead as they appear in pop culture and can spill into Halloween celebrations.

Sugar skulls are molded from sugar to represent a passed loved one. The larger ones usually represent adults, and the medium ones represent children. The mini ones are used for more of a token decoration and can even be eaten during the celebrations. 

When a sugar skull represents a loved one, they are usually more extravagantly decorated with brightly colored frosting and ribbons. They also have the person’s name written across the forehead and placed either on a gravestone or ofrenda (offering) table. 

Some of the larger cities even have sugar skull competitions with a prize for the best decorated! 

Sand tapestries

Sand tapestries during Day of the Dead in Mexico
A Sand tapestries during day of the dead in Oaxaca

Floor tapestries made of sand are a common tradition for the Day of the Dead, specifically in Oaxaca. Being a city with such a large art scene, Oaxaca is one of the best places to visit if you want to see some beautiful sand tapestries.

These tapestries are traditionally made with brick dust, soil, sawdust, sand, and colored glass. They are commonly created not just during the Day of the Dead but during funerals as well. 

In Oaxacan communities, after death, the coffin will remain in the family’s home until it is ready to be moved to the cemetery. Once that coffin is moved, a sand tapestry will be made in the coffin’s spot and will remain in the house for nine days. This represents the nine months in which humans are in the womb. 

For the Day of the Dead, more detailed scenes are created in the sand, usually of skeletons, saints, and sugar skulls, all in bright colors and decorated with marigolds. 

Marigold flowers

A grave decorated in Marigold flowers during Day of the Dead in Oaxaca, Mexico
How beautiful!

During this period, you will see bright yellow and orange marigold flowers everywhere! 

Locals decorate the streets, their gardens, cemeteries, and their houses with these strong-smelling flowers. These are also known as Cempazúchitl Flowers and they have been a Day of the Dead tradition since its origins. 

These flowers originate and grow in Mexico and bloom around October and November, just in time for the Day of the Dead! Their strong odor is believed to guide the dead back to the living, which is why they are used to make pathways from cemeteries to houses and altars. 

Day of the Dead altars

Sand display and altar during Día de los Muertos in Mexico
The art is incredible!

Also known as “ofrendas,” these are an integral tradition of the Day of the Dead, and you will see them everywhere during your visit. 

The altars have an assortment of different items and decorations, including photos, candles, sugar skulls, marigolds, and papel picados. They also contain their loved one’s favorite foods and drinks ready for their arrival. 

If you have seen the Disney movie Coco, you will understand the traditions associated with this. If you haven’t, families with passed loved ones essentially set up these altars to welcome their loved ones back to the land of the living, complete with refreshments after their long journey. 

Huge puppets

Huge puppets, also called “mojigangas,” are commonly seen in Mexico and Mexican celebrations, but they actually weren’t a thing until the Spanish came over in the 1600s. 

They range anywhere from 6-18 feet (2-5.5 meters) tall and are used to represent life during the Day of the Dead. Families will have these puppets for generations and gradually add features to them over the years, making them distinct to the families within the community. 

You will likely see these on display all around Oaxaca, but especially in the Day of the Dead parades! 

14. Is celebrating the Day of the Dead suitable for children?

Crowded streets in Oaxaca during Día de los Muertos
Overall, everyone is super friendly and out for a good time!

Yes, the Day of the Dead is a family event. It’s never scary or gory, unlike Halloween. The atmosphere is warm, welcoming, and celebratory, rather than rowdy, so people of all ages can enjoy it! 

With that being said, there usually is quite a bit of drinking involved as the night goes on, so you may not want to stay out super late with kids. But you can certainly visit the cemeteries with them and enjoy the parades. 

15. Is traveling to Mexico for the Day of the Dead worth it?

A beauitful building in Oaxaca Mexico during Day of the Dead
Entire streets get decorated during Day of the Dead!

Yes! It truly is an amazing experience. It’s a fantastic way to experience Mexican culture and traditions, and the atmosphere is incredible. We loved it and would definitely do it again!

Related Read: To delve even deeper into Mexican culture, read about the best Mayan ruins in the country! We’ll give you an overview of each, plus how to visit them.

Other Activities to do While You’re in Oaxaca

Chocolate drink native to Oaxaca Mexico on a tour
The local hot chocolate here is so good!
Carpets in Teotitlan del Valle near Oaxaca, Mexico
Every rug is like a piece of art!

The Day of the Dead celebration is just one of the many fun things to do in Oaxaca. If you’re here for a bit longer, check out some of our favorite activities below.

  • Tour the historical center – Learn about Oaxaca’s rich history as well as the day-to-day lives of locals on a guided walking tour! If you’re on a budget, try this Free Walking tour, but if you can afford it, this guided tour is much more in-depth and very well-rated.
  • Visit the world’s widest tree – El Arbol del Tule is the world’s widest tree and one of its oldest! It’s located just outside Oaxaca City, so you can take a private car or this guided tour, which also visits historical towns and includes a mezcal tasting. If you prefer to exercise, visit the Tule tree on this bike tour.
  • Day trip to Teotitlan del Valle – This unique village near Oaxaca is famous for its weaving. Every step of the rug-making process is on display when you pop into the artisan weaving shops here. This 3-in-1 tour includes a stop in Teotitlan del Vale for weaving demos along with a visit to the stunning Hierve el Agua to see a petrified waterfall.
  • Explore the Botanical Gardens – If you need a break from all the action, visit the Botanical Gardens. They house a wide range of flora and fauna local to the city – and since Oaxaca is one of the most biodiverse regions in Mexico, you’re bound to see something that catches your eye. Plus, many Day of the Dead tours meet here, so it’s the perfect thing to do beforehand.

Renting a Car in Mexico

Bailey and Daniel take a selfie while driving around Mexico
A rental car means freedom to go to the beach whenever you want!

Undoubtedly, one of the best ways to get around Mexico is in a rental car. 

I struggled to get around by bus and taxi for the longest time. But after renting a car in Cancun in 2023, I never looked back. It allowed me to explore the country without worrying about tours or taxis. It was why I fell in love with Mexico and eventually decided to live here periodically. 

I refuse to use local services whenever I rent a car in Mexico. The truth is they sometimes can’t be trusted or come with hidden fees (or costly insurance that doesn’t make sense.) There are even rental car scams! So instead, I use Discover Cars, the company most experienced travelers or ex-pats in Mexico recommend. 

The rates on Discover Cars are cheap, too, with the average rental costing around $25 USD per day. Full coverage insurance can be added for an extra $10 USD a day too. 

Driving in Mexico also only requires a driver’s license using the Roman alphabet. If yours uses another like Japan and China, you simply need an international driving permit. 

Insurance is required, but if you book with Discover Cars and get the full coverage, that’s all you need! Oh, and being over 18 is required, and if you’re over 25, your rental will be much cheaper! 

Thanks for reading!

Exploring the ancient ruins of Mitla, Oaxaca
Thanks for reading!

If you’re visiting Oaxaca during the Day of the Dead festival, you’re in for an amazing time! This 3-day celebration is worth all the hype. From dancing in parades to seeing beautifully decorated cemeteries, it’s truly a unique experience. And if you’ve never been, we hope this guide has helped you understand this tradition and plan your trip accordingly.

If you found this information useful, check out our other blogs about Mexico. There’s so much to explore in this country, and we love sharing what we’ve learned. If you want to dive right in, click on one of the links below.

How to Spend 3 Days in Mexico City: An Ideal 3-Day Mexico City Itinerary

12 BEST Places to go Scuba Diving in Mexico

25 BEST Things to do in Guadalajara, Mexico