The Best City in Mexico Has a Day of the Dead Party That Sells Out Every Year — and the Photos Will Show You Why
“The colors make you happy,” said Angelica Juárez, a lifelong resident of San Miguel de Allende and our tour guide, smiling at our reactions to the bright, colonial buildings that stopped us in our tracks right in the middle of the cobblestone street.
The colors of the Mexican city did make us happy — especially the yellow and red marigolds pouring out of vendors’ tents along the blocks leading to the cemetery, making it clear we were in for an uplifting new perspective on life and death.
San Miguel de Allende, a UNESCO World Heritage Site three and a half hours north of Mexico City, was voted World’s Best City by Travel + Leisure readers in both 2017 and 2018 — and the week-long Festival la Calaca (Festival of Skulls) leading up to Dia de los Muertos (Day of the Dead) is, according to every local we met, the best time to visit.
A mariachi band dressed in hot pink started to play over a grave decorated with candy and toy skulls as Juárez explained how the Mexican tradition started with the Aztecs and how it finally found a resurgence in San Miguel after Americans had started moving in and Halloween had taken over.
As she continued to explain the Mexican relationship with death, we grew more and more relieved that Halloween, with its creepy ghosts and zombie horror films, didn’t win out. When a child dies, instead of crying, their family might set off fireworks, she said. “We believe they automatically become angels, so we celebrate them.”
The young souls come to the cemeteries first to visit with the living, according to tradition, on Nov. 1; the older souls arrive on the 2nd. The elaborate makeup that has made the holiday famous all over the world doesn’t represent either — instead, the Catrina look is a satire of a rich society woman, meant to remind us that even the wealthy can’t escape death.
The streets were filled with Catrinas and Catrines (their male counterparts) throughout the week, but especially on Friday night for the big event, the Catrina Parade, which starts from the Rosewood San Miguel de Allende. The luxury hotel also brings in makeup artists before the parade to get guests into the spirit and hosts a lively gala, dinner, and costume contest afterward. Just a few years ago, the Rosewood was struggling to fill its stunning rooftop tapas bar, Luna, for the event. Now, it’s moved to an enormous tent on its lawn overlooking downtown and the city’s beloved, pink La Parroquia church — the same venue that hosts ultra-glamorous, 1,000-person weddings. Tickets sold out in March.
T+L was there to capture the action and the amazing looks. Click through for photos, and plan your trip as soon as you can, before rooms and event tickets for 2020 sell out.
Rosewood San Miguel provided support for the reporting of this story.