Wondering the best place to go in Mexico for Dia de los Muertos? A great option is Mixquic in Mexico City. It is an amazing place to witness the traditions and customs that take place on November 1st and 2nd.
Dia de los Muertos is a Mexican tradition that I find completely fascinating and beautiful. My first encounter with this holiday was in Oaxaca when I was trying to get away from Halloween in my college days 09. When I finally got to witness the Dia de los Muertos celebration, I was completely captivated by the colors of the flowers and how everyone united to honor their loved ones who had passed. Now, I count down the days until this beautiful holiday arrives and look forward to being able to experience it and appreciate all that it is about.
This year, I had the chance to visit Mixquic (pronounced Mis-KEEY-k). I had never heard of this small town until I picked up a Mexico Desconocido “21 Barrios Magicos of Mexico City” magazine, which was modeled after the Magic Towns program. The magazine presented the 21 must-visit areas in Mexico City and Mixquic was one of them. It is located in the far, far south-east part of the city, right near the border to Mexico State. The magazine pinpointed a tourist-friendly route and also emphasized what this town was recognized for –the way they celebrated and preserved Dia de los Muertos. I knew I couldn’t miss the opportunity to see this.
Eddy and I were unsure whether we should visit on November 1st or 2nd. We attempted to go on November 1st, but after a series of unfortunate events, we couldn’t make it. I think it was fate, because apparently the 2nd is the best day to go. We drove down to Mixquic which took a total of about 2.5 hours from the city center. I HIGHLY recommend driving, or buying a tour there — not pubic transportation. We arrived late and missed the church bells that ring mid-day, calling for a procession to the cemetery where family members would begin their graveside mourning. It was dark by the time we got there and the first thing we saw was the swarms of people heading into the bright Catarina sign that lit up the festival.
Expecting just to visit the cemetery, we found ourselves amist a true Mexican festival. Vendors of handicrafts and cotton candy, “micheladas bien muertas”, chapulines, entertainment displays, and all your typical Mexican fair-food. It was very crowded and to be honest, a little annoying to actually make way through the path. A handful of people were dressed up in their Halloween costumes and there were some women beautifully dressed as catrinas that were very elaborate and a marvel to stare at.
We made our way to the town museum where they hosted a show with the history and legends of Mixquic. The video they played was quite interesting, showing old women creating their homemade altars, sprinkling petals to the door to guide the spirit, just crying out in remembrance. Not going to lie, the video was pretty moving and I had to hold back my tears –their stories were so personal and I could feel what they felt in remembering their loved ones. The video gave insight to how Halloween is influencing Dia de los Muertos and how the children in the town are beginning to “Trick-or-Treat”. To not forget their roots, in order for the children to receive candy they must enter the homes of those whom they beg, say a prayer at their altar and then they can finally receive their “treat” (bread or fruit). This made me happy as they are teaching the future generations to not forget the meaning and traditions of Dia de los Muertos without completely rejecting the idea of other holiday influences.
Making our way past all the vendors (okay, so we stopped for a Michelada) we finally arrived to the church and the cemetery gates. At first glance, we couldn’t believe what we saw. It was a total contrast to the fiesta on the other side of the gates. The entire graveyard was glowing with the light of thousands of candles (which help the souls in find their way back to their world) and emitted the scent of incense and freshly picked flowers. There was no sign of ground anywhere, just light and flowers.
The graves were a work of art, emitting vibrant oranges and purples of the cempasuchil flower and candles flickering in the most dramatic way. It was truly captivating and neither of us had ever seen anything like it.. not even in Oaxaca.
We shuffled our way to the church, Parroquia de San Andres Apóstol (next to the Templo y Ex Convento) which was adorned with gold ceilings making it a perfect backdrop to the colorful tapetes and altar. According to Mexico Desconocido, this was the first cathedral built in all of Mexico City, placed in hopes to evanglize the community. People were in the church praying while others were just admiring the beauty. Upon leaving the church, we were directed toward the traffic heading deep into the large cemetery (the church is in the smack middle of the cemetery) and with only one entrance and more graves than it has room for, it was really hard to get around.
I couldn’t help but feel a little awkward as we all gawked at the beautiful creations, all while the family remained seated at the grave, some weeping and some saying prayers. However, the silence and serenity, even despite the lines of people “touring” was magical and moving.
Exiting the cemetery, there were exhibits and museums of art, altars, and skeltons. They also had on-going theater with Dia de los Muertos related shows. We visited them all, indulged in some tlayudas, elotes, and pozole, and then headed out. Apparently, the mourners at the grave stay until dawn breaks and the cemetary lights go out at 3am making it truly a spectacle to watch, but we couldn’t stay that long. Mixquic was one of the few places in Mexico to never be under Spanish rule. It used to be an island in Lake Chalco where fishing was the main activity and like in Xochimilco, they used Chinampas to get around. Leaving the town, you could see their decorated chinampas set on the water but tonight they were decorated extra special while candles and torches lit up the waters
Either way, it was one of the most amazing experiences I have yet to have in Mexico. No words, no picture can do justice to describe the beauty, the tradition, the feeling that this cemetary gave off. If you are in the city and looking for somewhere to learn about Dia de los Muertos, Mixquic vale la pena.