Day of the Dead in Patzcuaro (2019)

It is very common for the fall colors to be orange and brown because of the colors of the trees that change with the season. But in Mexico in the months of October and November the streets are covered in yellow and it is not because of the leaves of the trees, but because of the marigold flowers that adorn the houses and important monuments, since in Mexico it is the official flower of the day of the dead (Día de Muertos), which is celebrated from November 1st to 2nd each year.

According to tradition, this is the date when the veil between the worlds is so thin that our ancestors spend a night in the world of the living and enjoy food and drinks (yes, because the Mexican returns from death to continue eating ). And each family in their home sets up altars for them to come and celebrate with us once again.

It is also common for the tomb of the deceased to be adorned and this practice is precisely the reason why the town of Pátzcuaro is so famous. A small and old cemetery is filled with flowers and candles on the night of November 1st, which makes it a perfect postcard of the season.
This year, due to the world situation, the place cannot receive any visitors as is customary. I was lucky to go last year and here I share my experience and advice.

Where to stay?

The celebration takes place on the small island of Janitzio (emphasis on small). So when looking for where to sleep, I recommend that you focus on Pátzcuaro and book in advance, since it is a small town and does not have enough spaces for all the tourism that arrives at this time.

If you are one of those who leave everything to the last minute (like me) you will not find space in any hotel and if you find one, the price will be stratospheric. So you can go for the camping option. There are houses with large back yards or gardens that let you rent a place to put your tent (which you must bring). The prices are very accessible and the places safe. I stayed at “Campamento Los Fresnos“, it is not very big, but it is comfortable, it has the basics and it is not far from the boat area.

When to go?

The date as I already mentioned is November 1st, it is when the cemetery in Janitzio is decorated and you can see the people paying their respects at the graves (which is the famous image). This day you will see the place shine in all its splendor, but you have to be prepared to face massive amounts of people who will not let you walk.

The truth is that the crowds scare me a bit, so I preferred to go on November 2nd, although the people are still crowding the place, is a little less than the day before. But you must be ready to see how in the altars the flowers begin to wither and few candles illuminate them. So you have to make a decision and choose what you prefer.

How to get to the Janitzio cemetery?

You must first get to the island. On the shore of Lake Pátzcuaro you can take the boat that will take you to Janitzio. The lines are long, both to buy tickets and to get on the boats, so be prepared with a hat or umbrella for the sun since it is not a covered place. Pay attention to which is the correct row, since you must first go through the tickets and then the boats, they are independent lines and you cannot go to one without the other.

With your ticket in hand, you can board the boats decorated for the season and with spaces for approximately 30-40 people, open from the sides to admire the view. If you get dizzy easily find a seat in the center, otherwise run to the seats in front. The walk lasts about 30 min, it is a small lake but they progress slowly.

Once you get to the island prepare for the climb, the surface is perhaps small but high. You will have to climb a lot of stairs and steep streets. To get to the top you have the fast option (only stairs) or the slow one that surrounds the island and you go up little by little. 

Look for the signs that take you to the cemetery. If you arrive early, you can start climbing after lunch to arrive when everything is dark (which is the best time).

The cemetery

It is a small place, as you can see in the photos, be careful where you step as there are flowers and candles everywhere. Prepare your camera and take your time, it will not be easy to take photos in such low light.

Is it worth going or not?

I think it is a place that must have looked beautiful in the past and it certainly represented a lot of the traditions of the locals, but now it is something more for tourists. The great masses of people hardly let you walk and, outside the cemetery, in the place you can only find food and too many drinks for something that is supposed to be familiar. It’s a nice experience, but a once-in-a-lifetime kind, I’m glad I had it, but it’s not a place I’ll visit again. You should not have your expectations so high, it is more the adventure of getting there than actually what you see at the end.

Have you already visited this place? What did you think? Leave your opinions in the comments


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