Day of the Dead recommendation?
Replies: 17 - Last Post: Mar 1, 2013 7:55 AM Last Post By: stepjana
Feb 23, 2013 8:54 AM
Day of the Dead recommendation?Does anybody have a suggestion for a smaller city with an awesome Day of the Dead celebration? I've never been in Mexico over this holiday. Mexico City is my starting point and I will be going south and east from there, possibly as far as into Chiapas. Are my impressions of Pátzcuaro area for Day of the Dead correct?--I think of it as attracting gazillions of guided tour people. Thanks for any advice!
Feb 23, 2013 9:21 AM
1Not necessary guided, just people... and yes a lot of them, especially in Janitzio (the island in the middle of the lake) which is basically the epicenter. Really any town or village with a strong indigenous population, especially in Oaxaca, will have some form of it. I had an awesome time up in the Huasteca region where the holiday even has a different name (Xantolo), I was the only foreigner and just loved being a part of it – that's the opposite direction from your trip, though. Others have also given great reviews to the celebration in Chiapas, including HeyDuke who lives down there in SanCris with his family.
I'd suggest you to do a search since we had some fantastic info about DotD throughout the country on here, but the BBC has deleted all those because somebody said "the something word" somewhere. It's a shame nobody was archiving that stuff...
Feb 23, 2013 9:23 AM
2...BTW, if you're in Oaxaca, you'll be spoilt for choice – my recommendation tho would be to get out of the city where a lot of tourists are looking around for a DotD experience (and often being disappointed when it's not what they expected), and sticking to tiny places with strong DotD traditions like Xoxocotlan, Atzompa, etc. The key IMO is getting there a day or a few days before to meet some people and get some context, instead of just showing up for the day of festivities.
Feb 23, 2013 10:56 AM
3#2 When was the last time you were in Xoxocotlan for DOD? There are now bumper to bumper tour buses. Even in Atzompa (where I've been the only foreigner) there are now a row of taxis and van bringing gawkers in and out.
There are pueblos, however, where you can get away from the crowds. Good idea to get to the city early...3 or 4 days BEFORE Oct. 31. That's when festivities in the city ramp up. The farther you go from the city, of course, the fewer visitors. Best bet is to plan to spend the whole night....that's what the Mexicans do.
However, some visitors find that there is plenty of DOD activities in the city and in El Panteon, the main cemetery. This would be especially true for foreigners who have never experienced DOD before.
Feb 23, 2013 11:36 AM
4Good point, those are not tiny places and I haven't passed DoD in either, still can't imagine they'd be on a smaller scale than Patz and with less debauchery. If OP is really looking for a small town experience the best thing to do would just be to spend a few weeks poking around towns, for example in the Pueblos Mancomunados, or places in the Mixteca like San Juan (where I've been invited and told was great but have never gone), though they're fairly isolated and require some planning. Basing out in Tlaxiaco or Huajuapan and finding a village... one that comes to mind is... San Simon Zihuatlan... could be a great experience.
Feb 23, 2013 4:45 PM
5If you might come to Chiapas then any of the towns outside San Cristobal is pure DOD the way it was done in Pre Colombian times. The two closest ones are Zinacantan and Chamula. Zinacantan takes place on top of a mountain with 1000's of flowers. Chamula is more down to earth. Taking place in the cemetery next to the old church built back in the 1600's. Each town is different. The most exciting is the Chamulan town of Romerello with 100s of 50' ft crossed and doors on the graves so the family's can talk to the dead. Any indigenous town will be a experience.
Feb 24, 2013 7:04 AM
6If you want a true, Dia de Mjuertos experience, you need to go to Lake Patzcuaro. The big Day of Dead crafts market in Patzcuaro is enough of a reason. Yes, there are tours, but stay away from Janitizo Island and you will be fine. Besides, there are other islands to visit.
What makes the Lake Patzcuaro experience so different is their celebration of Night of the Dead, Noche de Muertos. That's when you visit graveyards and see the marigold enshrouded tombs, illuminated by candles.
You will never forget your trip to Lake Patzcuaro for Dia de Muertos.
Feb 25, 2013 6:16 AM
7Skip Patzcuaro, Oaxaca and Mixquic in the D.F. (site of the largest public observances in the nation). They're all way too commercial to appreciate the importance of the day in the culture of much of the nation. If you're starting your trip in Mexico City, then the destination which comes to mind quickly is Tlaxcala (1.5 hours east of the D.F.). Not only is it the time of year for Dia de los Muertos, but the highly-regarded state fair is held then as well. Dia de los Muertos isn't a "celebration" or big party as many unfamiliar with the tradition may assume, but, rather, a time to remember those who've passed before us and who return to be with us on these days.
Feb 25, 2013 7:07 AM
8If you want a true, Dia de Mjuertos experience, you need to go to Lake Patzcuaro
As #7 said this is definitely not the case (unless you believe the Michoacan advertising board). It's fairly absurd to state that this is the only place in Mexico with a "true" experience as DotD is as varied as the country itself. Not only is Patzcuaro far more commercial, but it's going to be extremely crowded even off Janitzio and prices will be hugely inflated.
OTOH as has been debated recently, DotD actually CAN be a "celebration" depending on the place; one region's somber, delicate ceremony is another one's chance for the whole family to get rip-roared and dance till dawn. Other spots also have days of traditional dance which occur on the 2nd, 3rd, 4th. I think that from what OP described, something in Chiapas is the best bet, similar to the town #5 mentioned! (where there is definitely some celebrating going on...)
Feb 26, 2013 5:35 AM
Feb 26, 2013 7:01 AM
10Wellll, you said you "need" to go to Patzcuaro for a "true" Dia de los Muertos experience, but that's not the case and just comes off like marketing (and yes, Patzcuaro heavily markets this aspect of their tourism sector). "Best" is relative, to one person "best" would be an intimate setting in a remote area far away from a single gringo soul, for others it is in a crush of foreigners and other visitors at Patz/Janitzio. It's all good!
When it comes down to it though, many traditionalists will state that what goes on there actually isn't very 'true' at all and has evolved into something more for show for tourists – not that there's anything really wrong with that, but it's a heck of a lot different than being immersed in an experience which is not being put on for your or anyone else's benefit. Better to just say "Patzcuaro is a fantastic place to experience distinctive DotD celebrations in Mexico," because nobody can deny that!
Feb 26, 2013 7:36 AM
Feb 26, 2013 7:49 AM
12Interesting from a "if a tree falls..." perspective, but in reality there's no reason why gringos cannot be completely enveloped and immersed in cultural activities without another countryman (or even non-indigenous Mexican) in sight, without affecting the 'authenticity' of the event at all. I think it comes down more to the amount of them in a certain place and the way the behave/dress which is what can break the 'spell' – at least for me. Just me and maybe one or two others, low-key? Fine. A hundred in bermuda shorts with cameras around their neck gawking? Mmm...
Having spent some of these holidays in smaller locations like the Huasteca this year, the only gringo for miles, and for me it sure felt like "the best."
(on a side note, it's interesting that DotD seems to inspire quite strong opinions in folks...)
Feb 26, 2013 9:41 AM
13The Indigenous villages I go to are the real thing and not for tourist. I have been invited to set with familys ( I always buy a couple of 6 packs) and some don't mind if I take photos. Its not a big party but for the family's. If a few tourist show up then they tolerate them as uneducated people to their culture. I really think they look at us barbarians who don't know how to behave.
Edited by: heyduke
Feb 26, 2013 9:53 AM
14I really think they look at us barbarians who don't know how to behave.
Huuuuuuuuhhhhhhhh???????? In Cancun, maybe, but I doubt that the Chamulans (or indigenous in general) look at foreign visitors and judge them as barbarians, especially considering the cultured types who tend to make it out to those places. Misbehaved occasionally, sure, horrendous dressers, absolutely, and a great source of income no doubt... but I've encountered mostly the opposite, where folks assume that most foreigners are educated and wealthy.
Then again I make it a point to learn some words of any village I visit and find it makes a big difference as they are usually delighted when outsiders take a genuine interest, obviously a tour group gawking and snapping and disrupting is a whole other animal.
(as a side note I'd say I've visited over 100 indigenous towns/villages in Mex and without a single exception all of them were generally happy to see a visitor, even when they were in the midst of a civil war ie. San Juan Copala... though then again I did see some German tourists trying to tell a Chamulan guy he was 'basura' for not allowing photos in the church, that was an isolated thing).
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