Mike James’ Gringo Guide to Dia de Muertos – The End

by on November 4, 2022 · 2 comments

in Ocean Beach, World News

Mike with locals in a field of Mexican Marigolds outside of Atlixco. Dominating the horizon is the volcano Popocatépetl (Smoking Mountain).

By Mike James

This was my third year experiencing Dia de Muertos in Mexico. In 2019 I visited Tlaquepaque and Tequila in the state of Jalisco and last year in Mexico City.

This year, on the days approaching Dia de Muertos, I was once again exhausted by the enormity of all things Mexico City.

The city has invested in capitalizing on the growing popularity of the Dia de Muertos. Yet it has become a victim of its own success.

Case in point, the once fictional parade has evolved into something where only the few with front row viewing can truly enjoy. The other millions of spectators unfortunately only catch glimpses of the parade as it passes by.

I would definitely recommend visiting Mexico City… any other time of the year.

For the actual days of holiday, I was based in the Pueblos Mágicos town of Cholula in the nearby state of Puebla.

Humans began settling in Cholula around 500 BCE, making it the oldest continuously inhabited town in the Americas.

The author at the Great Pyramid of Cholula

The town’s main attraction is the Great Pyramid of Cholula in the center of town. Walking around the grounds you get a sense of its extraordinary history.

Cholula is a charming place and the people are genuinely friendly. I really enjoyed my time there.

I was lucky to have booked a tour with Carlos Rivero from the nearby city of Puebla. A former engineer, it was his love of history that led him to become a full time tour guide.

My Dia de Muertos tour was to the pueblos of Atlixco and Huaquechula.

I was joined by Henry and his wife Yolie from San Dimas, California as well as Paula, a recent Puebla expat from Indianapolis and her Poblano (anything from Puebla) boyfriend Sergio. Enhancing the adventure was our shared goal of hopefully experiencing a more authentic Dia de Muertos.

Our first stop was a field of Mexican Marigolds outside of Atlixco. Dominating the horizon was the volcano Popocatépetl (Smoking Mountain).

Popocatépetl “El Popo” in action.

Known locally as El Popo, it is Mexico’s most active volcano and North America’s second-highest volcano at 17,700 ft.

I remember first seeing El Popo in the distance a few years ago on an unusually clear day in Mexico City.

I was thrilled and awed to finally see it upclose and was mesmerized as smoke billowed from its crater.

cemetery just outside of Huaquechul

Our next stop was a cemetery just outside of Huaquechula. This being the second day of Dia de Muertos, it is a tradition for families to come to the cemetery to pay tribute and to feel the presence of the deceased.

Each gravesite was spruced up and decorated with flowers, mainly Marigolds. Incense and candles were burned to purify the air. A mariachi band took requests of songs that reminded the families of times once shared.

Places like Huaquechula and Mexico City across Mexico are vying for the Dia de Muertos tourist dollars. In order to compete, many of these destinations try to distinguish themselves.

An example is this year, the resort city of Puerto Vallarta built the Guinness World record tallest La Catrina in an attempt to entice tourists.

In the case of Huaquechula, they pride themselves with their traditional ofrendas. One of the highlights is a giant ofrenda at an ancient 16th century convent in the center of town. They also provide maps of the homes in town with ofrendas that anybody can visit.

The giant ofrenda at the 16th century convent in Huaquechula

In the first home we were met by the granddaughter of a baker who passed earlier this year. On entering the home we witnessed a beautiful ofrenda dedicated to the baker. There was a plate to leave a donation as these ofrendas can cost the families thousands of dollars.

ofrenda dedicated to the baker

Everyone who entered was offered a special chocolate drink and bread. We were able to explore part of the bakery that was located in the home. In the backyard, a dozen family members were preparing for a fiesta for the many baker’s descendants.

A beautiful mural of the deceased had been created near the entrance of the home.

mural of the deceased baker

After viewing the giant ofrenda at the convent we visited three other home ofrendas as well.

While I did feel somewhat uncomfortable entering the homes, the families seemed genuinely pleased at our presence. It was the ultimate example of “mi casa, su casa”.

Families decorating gravesites in Huaquechula

Also being that Huaquechula is mainly an agricultural town and the infusion of tourism cash supplements much needed community services and helps pay for the expensive ofrendas.

I finally felt I was experiencing the true nature of Dia de Muertos in Huaquechula. To honor those loved ones that have passed and to appreciate the living.

Mike James is an Ocean Beach resident and community activist. When not in Ocean Beach he can most likely be found South of the border. You can view more stories and images of his travels on his Gringo in Paradise Facebook group or Instagram profile.

{ 2 comments… read them below or add one }

Tessa November 5, 2022 at 8:20 am

Mike, do you ever take others along? I’m not a fan of driving down the Baja, but would enjoy going along sometime!


Mike James November 6, 2022 at 3:30 am

Currently I am just taking people to Tijuana once a month. I have tours planned for this month and December.

If I get enough interest I would like to do a Dia de Muertos tour next year to Morelia and Pátzcuero Michoacán next year.




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