Mexico’s San Miguel de Allende is beloved by the likes of Martha Stewart, Ryan Seacrest (who’ve also sipped on the town’s superluxe Casa Dragones tequila) and Elizabeth Banks and Eva Longoria year round, but ironically enough there’s no time it comes more alive than around Day of the Dead. Dia de los Muertos is the countrywide tradition that occurs Nov. 1 and 2 and honors those who have passed away with elaborate offerings, parades, dinner parties and other visually rich festivities. Its most iconic symbol is La Calavera Catrina, the skeleton bedecked in opulent European period garb that was first etched by Mexican printmaker José Guadalupe Posada in the early 1900s as a satirical portrait. (It’s a tradition so appealing that Spectre opened with a Catrinas parade, and Disney’s new movie, Coco, centers around Day of the Dead.)
The face of Dia de los Muertos now is seen everywhere during the period leading up to the holiday, and is the popular way for thousands to dress during the lively celebrations, which happen all around the city, from the square in front of the pink fairytale castle of a church (the Parroquia) to venues like La Casa Dragones (where there’s an invite-only paired dinner for 25 to inaugurate the annual La Calaca Festival and afterparty) and Rosewood San Miguel de Allende, which hosts a yearly dinner on its stunning rooftop complete with a local fashion show, mezcal, ofrendas and the best al pastor for miles.
One can’t really experience Day of the Dead without having a local decorate your face like a Catrina, and from firsthand experience I can say it’s now something I want to do it every single year. (Indeed, many people come annually for the fun, and spend the whole year readying their ensembles.) The makeup artists hired by Rosewood are the best, and create evocative looks that will turn the heads of many of your fellow dead.
On Nov. 1, the town becomes alive with activity to honor their dead. It may sound morbid, but many gather at the cemetery first thing — I can tell who’s headed there because it’s a family affair, and all members of the clan are loaded down with bundles of flowers (most popular are the vibrant marigolds in season), water pails, food, toys, candles and alfiñiques, which are figures molded from sugar paste (most popular are the ubiquitous skulls and lambs) with which to decorate their loved ones’ graves. Mariachis stroll around serenading the families, some carefully repaint tombs, and others meticulously place flowers and petals alongside the person’s favorite foods (booze in some cases) and toys (for children) on the sites. Certain scenes bring tears to the eyes, but here it’s not sad, it’s a time when the spirits or souls return to Earth to be with them (technically from midnight on the 1st to midnight on the 2nd).
By night it’s even more intense, as everyone dresses up in their finest face paint and curated costumes to parade through the streets, led by mariachis, and then party the night away. Being in the middle of it is intoxicating, and along with the excuse to spend time in endlessly charming San Miguel, it’s an experience to add to the bucket list.