Celebrating Day of the Dead in Patzcuaro, Mexico
Updated: Apr 28, 2022
We started planning this “Dia de los Muertos” trip a few years ago, but it had to be postponed twice during COVID.
After a lot of research, we decided to spend the celebration in Patzcuaro, one of the best areas for this event. We had planned to fly to Morelia airport, rent a car from there and drive the 60 miles to Patzcuaro. We had a very early flight with American Airlines, which was cancelled just two hours before we woke up. After spending a long time on the phone with the airline, we were finally re-routed to Mexico City. We had to spend our first night there, rent another car and drive the 225 miles to Patzcuaro.
On our way we stopped in Morelia, a colonial city known for its cathedral and for its Day of the Dead celebrations. Morelia is one of Mexico’s UNESCO World Heritage sites. It has a lot of charm and we will definitely go back there. It is supposed to be wonderful at Christmas time.
We arrived in Patzcuaro later that day (Halloween), the eve of the Day of the Dead, which takes place on November 1st. We booked our stay at the Casa Colorada, a boutique hotel owned and managed by a wonderful local family. They even have their living quarters within the premises. It really feels like you are in a mansion, not in a hotel. The hotel was decorated beautifully for the event, and they had a traditional shrine with photos of their parted family members. They allowed us to add our beloved parted parents photos that we had brought with us.
We went to the center of town that evening and had a wonderful meal at Al Forno Ristorante. The owner and the chef were both Italian and we enjoyed talking with them and tasting their fresh pastas and Chianti wine.
We did not plan a specific itinerary for the Day of the Dead’s evening activities and at the last moment we decided to join the owners of the hotel who organized a great detailed tour for their family and some guests. It started early in the afternoon when a traditional face painter came to the hotel to paint our faces. There was a traditional regional dinner banquet served that evening in the courtyard of the hotel. We were also entertained by local traditional dancers and musicians in costumes during our meal. A little bit after 10:00 pm we all boarded on private vans to start our tour. We stopped first at the local cemetery and then went to the shore of Lake Patzcuaro where we embarked on small boats, which took us to two different islands, which were the center of the Day of the Dead celebrations. It was almost midnight by then and the experience was unbelievable. It was a clear night and luckily, the temperature was not too cold for the season. In each island we walked up to the cemeteries and watched the celebrations. It was very authentic, with only a handful of tourists...most of the people were locals. We made a last stop at the Tzintzuntzan’s cemetery, a town located on the north side of the lake. It was almost 2:00 am by then and they drove us back to the hotel.
The next day we took our car and started in the same city we left a few hours ago, Tzintzuntzan. We stopped by the cemetery and walked along the graves where families were spending time together talking and sharing memories about their loved one. It was very moving. A band was even playing traditional Mexican music around one of the tombs and to some degree, it felt like a very big party. The only time it was a bit hard was when you came across a new, small grave, where a child was buried, and their parents grief was still present on their face.
Our next stop was in Capula, the artistic center for Dia de los Muertos. The city is known for is shops and Catrina festival, and it was very crowded. A Catrina doll is a female skeleton dressed up in fancy attire. We bought a few Catrinas before driving back to Patzcuaro where we spent our last night in the old town.
We had hoped to fly back from Morelia airport, but we were unable to, as AVIS rental car does not have an office there. We had to drive back the 225 miles to Mexico City and spend another night there. The only good thing about it was that the Formula 1 Mexican Grand Prix was taking place that weekend and some drivers and engineers were staying at our hotel which we got to meet.
It was one of those trips that were never thought would happen but we made it and had a fabulous time. I would not recommend it for non-seasoned travelers, but it was definitely a bucket list experience.