Top 10 festivals and fiestas in Mexico

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The Nobel Prize-winning Mexican writer Octavio Paz said, ‘The art of the fiesta has been debased almost everywhere else, but not in Mexico.’

Here are 10 events that would have made him proud:

Son Jarocho Music Festival

Thousands of people flock to the colonial riverside town of Tlacotalpan in early February to celebrate Candelaria (Candlemas), a religious celebration featuring a glorious image of the Virgin being floated down the river. For many people, however, the real highlight is a simultaneous son jarocho festival, a three-day romp showcasing traditional Veracruz-style music. Slap that donkey jawbone!

Festival de México

Much like everything else in the sprawling capital, the operative word for the Festival de México is huge. Some 50 venues scattered throughout the city stage top-notch national and international acts, including dance, music, theater and opera. Held in mid-March, most of the action for the two-week event unfolds in the downtown Historic Center.

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Festival Internacional Cervantino

Guanajuato ranks among the crème-de-la-crème of Mexican colonial cities and the Cervantino festival in October takes it to another level. Once a relatively small festival dedicated to the works of Spanish novelist Miguel Cervantes of Don Quijote fame, the Cervantino has morphed into one of Latin America's foremost arts extravaganzas. Book a room well in advance or you'll find yourself sleeping with the pigeons.

Morelia International Film Festival

The Morelia film fest really brings this colonial city to life come mid-October. Created as a platform for documentaries and first- and second-time fiction works, the programming offers an up-close look at Mexican society as seen through the eyes of a new generation of filmmakers. Funky bars and sidewalk cafes are buzzing with activity around the main square, where crowds gather nightly for open-air screenings and other cultural events.

Day of the Dead

Each year on November 1 and 2, Mexico turns its thoughts to the departed during the Day of the Dead festivities, a colorful tradition deeply rooted in indigenous culture. For Mexicans, death is more a cause for celebration than mourning, and that spirit has been kept very much alive in Pátzcuaro, the Día de Muertos mecca. Prepare yourself to battle large crowds of the living.

Carnaval in Veracruz & Mazatlán

Mexico hosts numerous carnaval celebrations every year featuring flamboyant parades, dance performances, live music and of course, big-time partying. The nine-day event in Veracruz, Mexico's biggest carnaval, usually kicks off in March, right around the same time that festivities gets started on the Pacific coast in Mazatlán. Take your pick: you can shake your booty to salsa music in Veracruz or the brass band sounds of Mazatlán.

Guelaguetza Festival

A Zapotec word meaning offering, the Guelaguetza Festival in Oaxaca City showcases regional folkloric dance and music, keeping alive a tradition that has been handed down for centuries. Held in July, most of the events take place at a large amphitheater perched atop a hill. For a more intimate experience, many surrounding towns host smaller versions of the festival.

Fiestas de Octubre

Odds are that if you've heard anything about Guadalajara, it probably has something to do with mariachis, tequila or Mexican cowboy culture. You'll be happy to know that the city also has a non-traditional contemporary side. Known for a vibrant independent music and arts scene, Guadalajara lets it all hang out in October at the month-long Fiestas de Octubre, which programs modern art shows and alternative rock gigs.

Fiesta de Santa Cecilia

On November 22, a very special gathering takes place in Mexico City's famed mariachi square to pay homage to St. Cecilia, the patron saint of musicians. Mariachis, along with regional musicians from northern Mexico and the Gulf Coast state of Veracruz, descend on Plaza Garibaldi for a tribute concert and an open-air party that usually involves dance, drink and song.

La Morisma

An all-out war erupts on the streets of colonial Zacatecas, usually around late August. OK, well, it's actually a mock battle with well over 2,000 participants re-enacting battles between the Christians and Moors in old Spain. The faux soldiers attack one another while accompanied on the streets by bands of musicians.