Destinations USA

Mexico’s Liveliest Festival – the Day of the Dead

Australians can experience Mexico’s vibrant ‘Day of the Dead’ festival – the setting of Disney’s new film ‘Coco’ – on a 19-day itinerary offered by Contours Travel, the longest-running Latin American tour operator in Australia.

On November 1 and 2 each year, it is believed that the border between the underworld and the world of the living is at its thinnest and so the departed can come back and visit. Families often decorate tombstones with marigold flowers to help guide the dead to their world, and offerings to ancestors including their favourite food and drink are erected in homes. Dating back several thousand years, the festival is a blend of indigenous and Hispanic traditions and, unlike Halloween, is a lively and joyful celebration of colour, joy and love.

The festival’s vibrancy makes it an excellent setting for the silver screen, and the 2017 children’s film ‘Coco’ tells the story of a 12-year-old boy who is accidentally transported to the land of the dead during the festival, learning about the importance of family along the way. Film has also influenced the festival itself – a fictional Day of the Dead street parade, portrayed in the 2015 James Bond film ‘Spectre’, led to the creation of huge street parades in Mexico City in the past two years.

Contours Travel offers independent travellers a 19-day ‘Discover Mexico’ sample itinerary which showcases Mexico’s fine cuisine, colonial cities, traditional handcrafts, Maya ruins, majestic canyons and snowcapped volcanoes. Beginning in Mexico City, the itinerary can be tailored to suit travellers’ tastes, timeframe and budget and can be booked to coincide with the Day of the Dead festivities. Because of the popularity of the festival, Contours Travel recommends booking as early as possible.

Contours Travel recommends Oaxaca, a city in Southwest Mexico, where guests stay on the sixth, seventh and eighth nights of the sample itinerary, as the ideal place to experience the iconic event. Featuring both colonial architecture as well as ancient archaeological sites, the city will be abuzz with markets, bright tapestries, hundreds of altars, music, dancing and fireworks at the time of the festival. Oaxaca is known for its cuisine, and traditional festival foods can be sampled, such as a sweet bread decorated with bones and skulls, sugar skulls and traditional hot beverages. Locals will have their faces painted to resemble skulls, donning suits and fancy dresses. A more sombre element of the festival is when families gather to spend the night beside tombstones, reminiscing about their loved ones by candlelight.

Other experiences on the Discover Mexico itinerary include traditional cooking classes, a boat ride along the Grijalva River, a swim by the Agua Azul waterfalls, and tours of ancient Maya and Aztec ruins. Australians can easily customise the itinerary to meet their needs, with the help of the Contours Travel team. Including accommodation, sightseeing and internal transfers, the 19-day holiday itinerary is available for independent travellers any time and is priced from A$4499 per person, twin-share. Flights from Australia are extra.

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