Day of the Dead Playa del Carmen

7 Ways to Celebrate Day of the Dead in Playa del Carmen Mexico in 2023

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Are you visiting Playa del Carmen or the Riviera Maya during Day of the Dead (Dia de Muertos) and wondering how to best experience the holiday? Look no further!

This traditional Mexican holiday, celebrated on November 1st and 2nd, honors those who have passed away. In Playa del Carmen, people join in traditional celebrations both in private homes and at public events.

As a travel blogger that lives in Playa del Carmen, I’ve been able to experience some of these beautiful celebrations that take place every year–it’s such a unique and memorable experience!

In this post, I’m sharing 7 unique ways to celebrate Day of the Dead in Playa del Carmen, Mexico, as well as what you need to know about the holiday.

Read on for my top picks for celebrating Dia de Muertos in the Riviera Maya!

About Day of the Dead in Playa del Carmen

If you’re unfamiliar with Day of the Dead, here’s what you need to know:

What is Day of the Dead?

Day of the Dead (“Dia de Muertos” in Spanish) is a traditional Mexican holiday celebrated throughout Mexico, which honors loved ones that have passed away.

Officially designated by UNESCO as an Intangible Cultural Heritage of Humanity, the holiday celebrates death as a natural part of life, rather than something to be feared or mourned.

During this time, family members build tiered altars (ofrendas) honoring the dead using sugar skulls, marigolds, and photos of the departed, and offer delicious foods and drinks like “pan de muerto”, tequila, and mezcal.

These “ofrendas” are thought to be an invitation for the deceased to return to their former homes for a visit.

During the holiday, families and friends gather at the altar in remembrance of their deceased relatives and friends, sharing stories and memories.

💀 Grab your tickets to the best Day of the Dead event in Playa del Carmen by clicking here!

Women dressed as a Catrina at Xcaret Festival of Life and Death Traditions
Performer wearing a crown at Xcaret Festival de Vidas y Muertos

When is Day of the Dead?

Day of the Dead takes place every year on November 1st and 2nd, coinciding with the Catholic holidays of All Saints’ Day and All Souls’ Day.

On November 1st, families honor deceased children (Dia de los Inocentes or Dia de los Angelitos) and on November 2nd, they honor adults (Dia de los Muertos).

However, you will begin to see preparations for Dia de Muertos, including altars and decorations, as early as the start of October.

Dia de los Muertos Ofrenda with candles and marigolds

Key Symbols of Day of the Dead and Their Meanings

Here are some of the key symbols associated with Dia de Muertos and their meanings:

  • Tiered Altars (Ofrendas): Typically split into three tiers, these altars honor the deceased, often with photos or other mementos, and offerings of food and drink. The top tier is usually an invitation to the altar with a photo of the deceased, the middle tier encourages them to be comfortable with their favorite foods and drinks, and the bottom tier includes candles and a wash basin to refresh themselves upon arriving at the altar.
  • Marigolds (Cempasúchil): Bright orange and yellow marigold flowers are believed to attract and guide the spirits of the deceased to their altars.
  • Shredded Paper (Papel Picado): Commonly used to decorate the altar, shredded paper or tissue paper cut into patterns represents the wind element and the holes in the paper are a way for the spirit to enter and leave the altar.
  • Sugar Skulls (Calaveras de Azucar): Sugar skull candies, often made of sugar or chocolate and decorated with colorful icing, are placed on altars as offerings or given as gifts
  • Pan de Muerto (Bread of the Dead): Only available during this time of year, this sweet bread is shaped like a round bun topped with four lines of dough, representing the limbs of the body. In the center is a round ball, which represents the skull.
  • La Catrina: “The Lady of the Dead,” Catrinas are skeleton figures dressed in elegant clothing and often represent the duality of life and death. Catrina makeup and costumes are a common sight during Day of the Dead celebrations.
Dia de Muertos Altar with skulls and marigolds

How to Celebrate Day of the Dead in Playa del Carmen

Now that you know some of the Day of the Dead facts, below are 7 unique ways to celebrate Dia de Muertos in Playa del Carmen or the Riviera Maya.

And even if you’re not visiting Mexico during this time, consider some of these Day of the Dead activities you can do at home.

1. Go to the Festival of Life and Death Traditions at Xcaret

Every year from October 30th-November 2nd, Xcaret Park puts on special “Day of the Dead” events known as the Festival of Life and Death Traditions.

This cultural event features live performances, workshops, musical presentations, dance shows, an altar exhibit, and much more!

Entrance to the Cemetery at the Festival of Life and Death Traditions at Xcaret Park

With colorful decorations and vibrant displays, the event is really well put together and gives a great overall experience of Day of the Dead Mexican traditions.

It’s a fun and colorful celebration and by far the most popular way to celebrate the Day of the Dead holiday in Playa del Carmen or the Riviera Maya for both tourists and locals.  

👉 Learn more and buy event tickets on the official website by clicking here!

People dressed as skeletons at the Festival of Life and Death Traditions at Xcaret Park
Performer in costume at the Festival of Life and Death Traditions at Xcaret Mexico
Performer at Festival of Life and Death Traditions at Xcaret Park
Catrina at Festival of Life and Death Traditions at Xcaret Park

2. Visit a local cemetery

The cemeteries in Playa del Carmen are a sight to see during Día de Muertos.

Families gather at the ornate graves of their loved ones and decorate them with colorful flowers, candles, photos, and other meaningful offerings.

You can visit the main cemetery in Playa del Carmen (📍Cementerio Municipal) located on the outskirts of the downtown area to have a look at the tradition.

Dia de Muertos Cemetery in Playa del Carmen

Just be sure to be respectful of the occasion and don’t disturb any of the altars or family gatherings.

While visiting the cemetery, you’ll also get to see some pretty cool street art painted on the walls outside of the entrance.

Dia de Muertos Cemetery Art in Playa del Carmen

3. Attend the Catrina Parade

Playa del Carmen usually hosts a Catrina Parade (inspired by the elegant skeleton figure from Mexican folk art) going down 5th Avenue.

The 2023 Catrina Parade in Playa del Carmen has not been announced yet but usually happens on October 29 or 30th. Check the Todas Somos Catrinas Facebook page for updates.

People lined up in the Catrina Parade in Playa de Carmen Mexico

It’s a fun and festive parade complete with lively music and colorful costumes. While it’s not quite as grand as other cities in Mexico, it’s definitely worth checking out!

One of the best places to watch the passing Day of the Dead parade in Playa del Carmen is at the Quinta Alegria shopping center on 5th Avenue.

Additionally, the Ayuntamiento de Solidaridad usually organizes another Playa del Carmen Dia de Muertos parade on November 1st. Be sure to check the Ayuntamiento de Solidaridad Facebook page for updates.

Catrina Statue for Day of the Dead on 5th Avenue in Playa del Carmen Mexico
Catrina Statue for Day of the Dead on 5th Avenue in Playa del Carmen Mexico

4. Walk down 5th Avenue on Halloween night

Playa del Carmen usually has a trick-or-treating event for kids on 5th Avenue on Halloween evening/night on October 31st.

If you’re feeling festive, you can wear an easy costume and pass out candy with the locals. Be prepared for kids to say “Queremos Halloween”, which is the Spanish equivalent of “Trick or treat”.

It’s also a great opportunity to see all the creative Día de Muertos and Halloween costumes on display.

Women with Catrina makeup for Day of the Dead

5. Try traditional “pan de muerto”

A sweet bread baked for the occasion, “pan de muerto” is a must-try during Día de Muertos!

Shaped like a round bun topped with four lines of dough representing the limbs of the body, and a round ball representing the skull, pan de muerto is often topped with sugar.

You can find this pastry treat in bakeries, coffee shops, and grocery stores in Playa del Carmen around this time of year. My personal favorite is from Ah Cacao coffee shop!

A tray of Pan de Muerto bread at Ah Cacao Coffee Shop in Playa del Carmen

6. Get your face painted like a “Catrina”

A popular and iconic symbol of Day of the Dead, getting your face painted as a “Catrina” is a fun way to participate in the festivities.

There are plenty of face painters on 5th Avenue during this time or you can visit a local salon for professional makeup.

Face painting is normally available at Quinta Alegria shopping center, where you can pay to get your face painted in a variety of designs. Be sure to get there early as there will likely be a long line!

Group of people getting their faces painted like a Catrina for Day of the Dead in Playa del Carmen
Women getting her face painted like a Catrina for Playa del Carmen Day of the Dead
Woman with Catrina Face Painting for Day of the Dead in Playa del Carmen

7. Go out to the bars in costume

Once you’ve gotten your face painted or put together a Day of the Dead costume, head out to the bars on 5th Avenue for a fun night out.

Many of the bars and nightclubs in Playa del Carmen have special Day of the Dead-themed events, including live music and drink specials.

It’s a great opportunity to mingle with locals and visitors alike while celebrating Dia de Muertos in Playa del Carmen!

Day of the Dead Performer Outside a Bar in Playa del Carmen
Day of the Dead Altar in Playa del Carmen Mexico

Playa del Carmen Day of the Dead: FAQs

Here are the answers to some of the most frequently asked questions about Day of the Dead in Playa del Carmen:

Does Playa del Carmen celebrate Day of the Dead?

Yes, Playa del Carmen and the Riviera Maya region of Mexico celebrate Día de Muertos.

The biggest celebration takes place at Xcaret Park, which hosts the annual Celebration of Life and Death event. In addition, other special events and parades take place in Playa del Carmen.

Where is the biggest Day of the Dead celebration in Mexico?

The biggest Day of the Dead festival in Mexico takes place in Mexico City.
Enormous must-see alters are set up at the Zócalo (main square), along with other cultural events, parades, and offerings around the city.

Additionally, Oaxaca City is also known for its extensive Día de Muertos celebrations.

Are Day of the Dead and Halloween the same thing?

No, Day of the Dead is a Mexican holiday with pre-Columbian origins that celebrates deceased loved ones.

Halloween, on the other hand, has roots in Celtic and Christian traditions and focuses more on dressing up in costumes and trick-or-treating.

However, in recent years, Halloween in Mexico has become more popular and some elements have been incorporated into Day of the Dead celebrations.

In Playa del Carmen, you will see a mix of both Halloween and Day of the Dead festivities during this time of year.

How long does Day of the Dead last?

Traditionally, Day of the Dead is celebrated from November 1st to November 2nd.
However, in Playa del Carmen, decorations and festivities often start in October and around Halloween.

Is Day of the Dead the same date every year?

Yes, Day of the Dead is celebrated annually on November 1st and 2nd.

Can visitors participate in Riviera Maya Day of the Dead events and traditions?

Absolutely! Visitors are welcome to participate in Day of the Dead events and traditions while visiting Playa del Carmen or the Riviera Maya.

However, it is important to remember that Day of the Dead is a celebration for honoring and remembering loved ones who have passed away, so be respectful and keep this in mind while participating in festivities.

Women in front of a cemetery at Xcaret Day of the Dead Festival

🦃 Related Reading: Does Mexico celebrate Thanksgiving?

Conclusion: Day of the Dead in Playa del Carmen

Are you ready to experience the vibrant and unique holiday celebration of Dia de Muertos in Playa del Carmen, Mexico?

Overall, there are many unique ways to experience and celebrate Day of the Dead whether you’re staying in Playa del Carmen, Cancun, Tulum, or the Riviera Maya.

Whether it’s attending the annual Xcaret Day of the Dead event, visiting local cemeteries, participating in the Catrina parade, or enjoying traditional treats and costumes, there’s something for everyone to enjoy during this unique holiday.

And even if you’re not visiting Mexico’s Yucatan peninsula during the holiday, it’s still worth learning more about Día de Muertos and its rich cultural traditions. It’s such a beautiful and special celebration in Mexico!

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