Ever since I found out I was going to move to Mexico I was ecstatic that I would finally get to experience Día de Muertos (Day of the Dead) the Mexican holiday in which Mexicans remember and honor their deceased loved ones. Many in the USA believe that Day of the Dead is an extension of Halloween and this misconception couldn’t be more wrong. Día de Muertos is not a gloomy or morbid occasion, but a festive and colorful celebration of the lives of those who have passed. It is traditional for Mexicans to visit cemeteries, decorate their graves and spend times in the presence of their deceased family and friends.
So naturally, I had planned on visiting a few places during this short celebration. We decided to visit the beautiful state of Michoacán for the festivities, despite the bad rap that it often gets.
Day 1 – October 30th
We started our trip to San Luis Potosí and drove 4 hrs to Morelia. We had decided to stay in Morelia instead of Pátzcuaro because I had heard that the places not only book up quick but that it also gets super crowded. The drive from SLP to Morelia was truly gorgeous.
Once we arrived in Morelia we went to eat dinner at Onyx right down the street and had a traditional Michoacán meal with 2 wine pairings.
We then walked around the city for a bit to see some of the Day of the Dead decorations and the town all lit up. We decided to have an early night so we could get up early and drive to Pátzcuaro.
Day 2 – October 31st
We woke up early and went into town to grab some breakfast before embarking on the 1.5 hr drive to Pátzcuaro. On our walk into town, we got distracted by all the tapetes and decorations that had miraculously appeared overnight.
The drive was easy, beautiful, and safe. Once we arrived in Pátzcuaro we struggled to find a parking spot and spent a good 30 minutes driving around.
Conveniently we ended up right by the Marigold Market (south side of the Basílica on Calle Serrato) where everyone buys their cempasúchitls (Mexican marigolds) and the maroon colored Mota de Obispo (cockscomb) to decorate their ofrendas. Cempasúchitls or marigolds are used because the strong aroma of the flowers attract the spirits who are believed to return to visit their families at this time, helping them to find their way.
After the flower market, we decided to head down to the famous Día de Muertos artisan mercado stopping to admire the ofrendas in all the shops along the way.
The artisan market is located at the Plaza Grande in the center of Pátzcuaro and usually begins the Saturday before Muertos. At the artisan market, they sell all types of handicrafts from all over Mexico. You could easily spend the day walking through the market and drooling over all the artwork.
Pátzcuaro is a beautiful little town with lots of cute little cafés and art shops. We stumbled into a little art shop that sells coffee, does tattoos and has many rooms of art on display. While walking around we spotted a small kitten stretched out on a couch. One of the artists came over to tell us how he was a street kitty that had come in last night and they were trying to find a home for him by the end of the night.
When he mentioned that he needed a home Hannah and I exchanged glances that meant we were definitely taking him home with us, what home that was we were not sure yet. So began the story of Morelia the street kitty.
Even Christina loves him. Look at the way Morelia looks at her. Magical.
So we stuck Morelia in Hannah’s bag and found a little pet shop that sold cat food.
After we are spent all of our energy from the day we decided to head back before it was to get dark – (one of my rules from driving guidelines in Mexico – not driving at night).
Feeling like passing out like this little girl. Can I crawl in there and take a nap too?
Day 3 – November 1st
The next morning we headed back towards to Pátzcuaro and decided to drive completely around the lake so we could stop at all the small towns that dot the circumference of Lake Pátzcuaro.
My favorite town on our little lakeside road trip was Tzintzuntzan. Tzintzuntzan comes from the Purépecha language, meaning “place of the hummingbirds”.
Day of the Dead festivities are important in Tzintzuntzan and more commonly known as Noche de Los Muertos since the festivities begin the night of the 1st of November and continue into the morning of the 2nd with a candlelight vigil.
Besides the festivities happening at the cemetery, Tzintzuntzan also has an impressive park that hosts the Monastery of San Francisco as well as a pre-Columbian Purépecha archaeological site.
We spent some time visiting the cemetery and viewing the altars at the grave sites decorated beautifully for Day of the Dead with food, beverages, and other objects that were dearest to those that have passed. When we got there midday it was already packed as people (mostly tourists) prepared for the festivities that would come that night.
After visiting the cemeteries we left and visited the Tzintzuntzan ruins. These ruins were left by the Purépechans who didn’t leave as much monumental architecture compared to the Aztecs and the Mayans. The site is mostly considered a ceremonial site and sits on a platform overlooking Lake Pátzcuaro. The site contains a large plaza and several buildings, but the main attractions if the five yácatas or semi-circular pyramids that face out over the lake. Excavations of the site didn’t even start until the 1930s.
After visiting the pyramids we headed back over to Pátzcuaro in search of the pier that we would need to take a boat to Janitzio island. The ride cost around 60 pesos and they operate all day leaving every 30 minutes.
Janitzio Island is located in the middle of Lake Pátzcuaro and is the site of one of Mexico’s most celebrated Night of the Dead observances. It is said that the veil between the darkness and the light is the thinnest around the island.
When we first arrived at the island it was pretty quiet and there were not many people there. If you do decide to go to Janitzio island for Day of the Dead I would recommend going to the statue of José Maria Morelos that is located at the islands highest point before it gets dark and watch the sunset from the top of the island.
If you wait until after dark you will find yourself walking up the narrow streets uncomfortably with a few hundred other people. Once you get to the top of the hill you have to pay an entrance fee (50 pesos) to go see the statue of José Maria Morelos. We were quite surprised to see that it had a weird college party vibe up there, with many young people walking around with their gigantic Micheladas.
You can also climb up inside the statue and look out over the island through the giant raised fists of Morelos. When we went we were disappointed to see that it was full of people drinking and selling kitschy souvenirs.
After realizing how quickly the island had become crowded we decided to head back to Pátzcuaro. While boarding our boat we watched as a steady line of boats arrived at the island full of tipsy travelers. It was going to be a party on Janitzio. It took us awhile to get out off Pátzcuaro which had become a maze of bumper to bumper traffic and barricaded streets
We arrived back to Morelia around 9:30 p.m. and were excited to see that we could continue the Day of the Dead Festivities here. Tapetes de arena and altars had popped up all over the town while we had been gone and we were excited to explore the town under this magical light.
Day 4 – November 2nd
The morning of the 2nd I woke up early in the morning to go see all of the Day of the Dead altars and tapetes de arena in the daylight. They were everywhere and being carefully watched over by some guards who were there to shoo away the occasional eager dove.
After my little solo escapade in Morelia, we left our Airbnb in Morelia and headed towards Guanajuato since it is close to being a halfway mark between Morelia and San Luis Potosí.
It wasn’t any surprise that Guanajuato was also incredibly packed for the Day of the Dead Festivities. We did some day exploring and left the next morning for SLP.