The Nobel Prize-winning Mexican writer Octavio Paz said, ‘The art of the fiesta has been debased almost everywhere else, but not in Mexico.’
Though witnessing the commercialism now associated with some of the country’s best-known festivals might cause Mr Paz to turn in his grave, it’s still undeniable that nowhere throws a party quite like Mexico. Here are 10 of the most spectacular fiestas and festivals held in the country each year.
Fiesta de la Candelaria
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 music festival, a three-day romp showcasing traditional Veracruz-style music. Slap that donkey jawbone!
Festival de México
Much like everything else in sprawling Mexico City, the scale of the Festival de México is huge. Some 50 venues are scattered throughout the capital, staging top-notch national and international acts, including dance, music, theater and opera. Held in March or April, most of the action for the two-week event unfolds in the downtown Historic Center.
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 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.
Día de Muertos (Day of the Dead)
Each year on November 1 and 2, Mexico turns its thoughts to the departed during the Día de Muertos (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 get started on the Pacific coast in Mazatlán. Take your pick: you can shake your hips to salsa music in Veracruz or get down to the brass band sounds of Mazatlán.
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.
As part of the festivities of La Morisma, usually held in late August, an all-out war erupts on the streets of colonial Zacatecas. OK, well, it's actually a mock battle with well over 2000 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; much to the delight of the hundreds of raucous spectators.
This article was originally published in September 2011 and updated in May 2019.