Mexican festivals are a central part of the country’s cultural identity. Mexico boasts a unique blend of rich ancestral heritage ― Aztec and Maya civilizations ― and influences from Spanish colonialism. All this is reflected on the country’s large number of religious, artistic, patriotic and indigenous celebrations.
Either on Mexico’s most famous cities or in remote villages, odds are on your side to witness a Mexican celebration and enjoy traditional street parades, music, ritual dances, colorful costumes and local flavors.
With the word ‘fiesta’ as part of their DNA, Mexican festivals invite you to discover this country’s fascinating culture and get an insight on how Mexican’s live, think and feel.
Planning your next vacation? Take a look at our trips and explore our selection of best Mexican festivals:
Day of the Dead
When: between October 31st / November 2nd.
Known as ‘Día de Muertos’ in Spanish, this is a celebration to honor the loved ones that have passed away. It’s one of Mexico’s most deep-rooted traditions, that has even extended to other Latin American countries.
With an indigenous origin mixed with Catholic influences, the Day of the Dead is not a sad or grieving occasion but a joyful celebration of life. The belief is that the spirits of those who died return to the world in this time of the year.
To prepare for their visit, people build altars at home or visit the grave-sites of the relatives and friends they’ve lost, decorate them with candles, photos and colorful floral arrangements ―orange and yellow Marigold petals can be seen everywhere―. They also offer their favorite food and drinks, while they sing songs and tell stories to keep their memory alive.
Some traditional foods on these days include ‘pan de muerto’ (bread of the dead) ― a type of round sweet bread ― sugar skulls, generally used for decoration or as a gift, and ‘tamales’ ― a piece of stuffed cornmeal wrapped and cooked in banana leaves.
Parades, dancing and costumes are quite popular in every corner of the country on this dates. The most significant and universal Mexican icon during Day of Dead is ‘la Catrina’, a female skeleton dressed in elegant clothes, created by the Mexican artist José Guadalupe Posada.
Carnival in Veracruz
When: end of February, beginning of March (it ends the day before Ash Wednesday).
The most happy time of the year is widely celebrated in the streets of many Mexican cities, but Veracruz carnival has become the second biggest in Latin American, right after the world-famous Rio de Janeiro carnival.
A vibrant and colorful ‘fiesta’ is displayed for 9 days in this coastal city in the East of the country, overflowing with dances to the rhythm of Latin music, colorful parade floats with papier mâché figures and fireworks. The celebration begins with a traditional bonfire known as ‘burning of bad humor’. There’s also an election of the Queen of Carnival and the King of Joy.
On the opposite side of the country, overlooking the Pacific, you can find the second most important carnival in Mexico, with a more traditional and familiar flair: Mazatlán carnival.
Mexican independence day
When: during the evening of September 15th and the whole 16th.
This is a national public holiday in Mexico and one of the most important Mexican festivals of the year, filled with a deep patriotic feeling. It commemorates the day of 1810 in which the priest Miguel Hidalgo y Costilla ―considered the Father of the Mexican Nation― pronounced the famous ‘Cry of Dolores’ that led to the beginning of the independence war against the Spanish colonial government. However, the actual Mexican independence wasn’t declared until the end of the war, in 1821.
‘September 16th’ is celebrated on the streets with parades, music, flags, decorations with the patriotic colors (green, white and red), flowers and fireworks. There’s also a famous local dish called ‘Chiles en Nogada’ traditionally eaten on this date and decorated with the colors of Mexico.
The night before to Independence Day, a crowd gathers at Mexico City’s main square Plaza de la Constitución ―one of the largest squares in the world, informally known as ‘Zócalo’― and wait for the Mexican president to recreate the ‘Cry of Dolores’ (‘el Grito’), which ends up with an efusive ‘Viva Mexico!’.
When: the last two Mondays of July.
Every year, the city of Oaxaca (the capital of the Mexican state with the same name) celebrates the Guelaguetza, an indigenous cultural festival of diversity, cooperation ans social links among ethnic groups.
Also known as ‘los lunes del cerro’ (Mondays on the hill), ‘Guelaguetza’ lures travelers from all over the world with its beautiful and unique display of traditional clothing, cuisine, folkloric music and dances. The eight regions in Oaxaca and more than sixteen indigenous groups gather near the Fortin hill ―a famous historical landmark― to show their cultural patrimony and make a symbolic offer to the citizens of Oaxaca.
Since the 1970’s this festival takes place in the Guelaguetza Auditorium, that can holds up to 11,000 people in two daily functions. Tickets are sold two months in advance. But the celebration also continues down at the streets of Oaxaca, with public parades, exhibitions and even an international fair of mezcal, the traditional alcoholic drink from Mexico.
The origins of Guelaguetza are associated with pre-Hispanic religious rituals to honor Centéotl, the goddess of sweet corn, though later it received some colonial and Catholic influences. Every year, a young woman is chosen to represent Centéotl and preside the festival, based on her knowledge of the Oaxacan traditions.
Cervantino International Festival
When: from October 11th to October 29th.
The Cervantino International Festival is a celebration of art and culture, initially created to honor Miguel de Cervantes, the famous Spanish author of Don Quixote. Since 1972, it takes place every year in the colonial city of Guanajuato, and has become a major cultural event of international renown that extends for almost three weeks.
Theater, opera, circus arts, sculpture, plastic arts and literature: every artistic expression is represented and the streets of the city turn into a living museum of talent. Definitely a great time to be in Mexico!