Day of the Dead Festival


The festival where death never felt so alive.

10 days £3,295 pp This is the per person group tour price, based on 2 sharing. The price is subject to change with exchange rate and flight cost fluctuations.
Intro, Dates & Prices



Where else but Mexico are the dearly departed invited back into the arms of the living for two sublime days of commemoration and celebration? In this fabulous festival - lauded for its sugar skulls, death bread and orange marigolds - be there as Mexico throws open the gates of the underworld to bring home the never-forgotten for an annual reunion of fond reminiscence and a big dollop of homemade cooking.

In a nation obsessed with the duality of life and death, the Day of the Dead festival is a vivid throwback to Aztec Mexico, where to mourn was to celebrate life wrapped in the forever embrace of death.

Come away with us on a quintessentially Mexican journey into that liminal space between the here and the hereafter. Turn your world upside-down over 10 days, uncovering the Aztec foundations on which the Americas' largest metropolis - Mexico City - thrums with the beat of the street. Then venture out to Cuernavaca to commence parts one and two of this three-part ceremony of the dead. On the Day of the Little Angels, observe ordinary Mexicans invoke the Spirits of the Children in altars down lovingly-laid floral paths at the cemetery of Ocotepec. After a whistle stop tour of silver towns, Spanish secular architecture and sun temples to Quetzcoatl, resume the extraordinary festivities at the tolling of the bells to invoke the Spirits of the Adults in a hauntingly beautiful atmosphere.

On the second and final day, be spirited away to Huaquechula to try the foods of the dead, like tamales and pozole, before revelling in the thrilling climax of the festival: Dia de Todos Los Muertos (day of all the dead). To the sound of marching Mariachi bands, let the spectacle of skeletal marionettes (known as Catrinas) dancing spookily on marigold beds stay with you until your dying day.


  • Hidden Aztec treasures under Mexico's thrumming metropolis
  • Teotihuacán, pre-Columbian America's first and greatest urban achievement
  • Frieda Kahlo's suburban visions of Mexico City
  • Metepec, where biblical creation myths are told through clay figurines.
  • Day of the Dead ceremonies seen in Cuernavaca
  • Focal point of silversmithing in Taxco
  • Wander the historic city of Puebla
  • Flowers festooning Atlixco on the Day of the Dead

Places Visited

Mexico City - Teotihuacán - Coyoacán - Toluca - Metepec - Malinalco - Cuernavaca - Xochicalco - Taxco - Puebla - Atlixco - Huaquechula

What's Included

Shared group arrival & departure transfers
Ground transport with driver
Accommodation (subject to change & availability)
Meals (refer to itinerary for meal plan)
English-speaking guides
Entrance fees to sites & parks

* Note: the hotel in Mexico City only has one queen bed in each room. If an additional bed is required, this would be a sofa bed.

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Itinerary & Map
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Day 1 : Arrival in Mexico City

Arrive in Mexico’s great capital, where your Travel the Unknown representative will be on hand to receive. Transfer to your city centre hotel to check-in and to relax for the rest of your day.

Overnight in Royal Reforma, Mexico City

Meal plan: n/a

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Day 2 : Mexico City

Get stuck into your tour with a guided excursion around old Mexico City’s most celebrated sights. Under the watchful gaze of Mexico City’s guardian volcanoes, Popacataptel and Iztaccíhuatl, take a stroll past the Americas’ grandest cathedral and the sprawling plaza of Zócalo. On a soulful sojourn through the heart of this vibrant capital of some 25 million people, discover a glittering pre-Columbian past at the Templo Mayor, one of the very few lasting reminders of the nation’s Aztec heritage. Contrast this with Spanish colonial elegance at the Plaza Santo Domingo.

Delve deep into Mexico’s reverence for death in elaborate funerary traditions with a visit to the Pantheon of San Fernando in the city’s foremost necropolis. End on a savoury note with dinner at Azulísimo. At Ricardo Muñoz Zurita’s renowned restaurant, tortillas never tasted so avant garde.

Overnight in Royal Reforma, Mexico City

Meal plan: Breakfast & dinner

When humans arrived in the Mexico valley in 30,000 BC, the valley floor was a chain of lakes. The water has been receding ever since and agriculture became an important way of life. The Aztecs arrived from northwest Mexico and settled in the Chapultepec region. The tribe were forced to flee however and in 1325 arrived on an island on the western shore and built their city there - Tenochtitlán. This was to rule over most of Mexico in the 15th and early 16th centuries before the Spanish conquest in 1519. Tenochtitlán was almost completely destroyed before being rebuilt on Spanish orders as the capital of Nueva España (New Spain), later becoming Mexico City. Today it is the third largest city in the World and the country’s main hub for the Arts. Since the Mesoamerican classical period, the inhabitants of the settlements around Lake Texcoco have been creating complex works of art. In the 20th Century, many artists immigrated to Mexico City from other regions of the country, resulting in the city becoming the home of the avant-garde movement of muralism.

The Museo del Templo Mayor opened in 1987. It owes its existence to the find, in 1978, of the 8-tonne stone disk with the image of the moon goddess Coyolxauhqui. The museum focuses on the cult of human sacrifices in Tenochtitlán, the cultivation of cereals and corn in the floating gardens, and the history of the old Aztec temple district. 

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Day 3 : Mexico City - Teotihuacán - Mexico City

No trip to the central valley of Mexico would be complete without a side-trip to the first true urban experiment the entire length and breadth of the Americas. Embark on a journey to Teotihuacán, an epic of archaeology and only a short hop from Mexico City. Explore the vast pyramid complex, a veritable Babylon of the New World, with a population reported to have once peaked at a quarter of a million people, an enormous number in that day and age.

Saunter down the grand "Avenue of the Dead" and witness ongoing excavations shedding light on this ancient civilization. On the return to the capital, make an essential stop-off at the Basilicas of the Virgin of Guadalupe, a fundamental figure of reverence in a nation where catholicism amalgamates with old, Mesoamerican belief systems in ways quintessentially Mexican. Conclude the day with a tequila tasting at a local cantina.

Return to the capital and to your hotel and enjoy the evening at leisure.

Overnight in Royal Reforma, Mexico City

Meal plan: Breakfast

The huge pyramid complex of Teotihuacán was the first city in the "New World". Built between 250 BC and 700 AD, at the peak of its civilisation the area boasted a population of some 125,000-250,000 people spread over 2,300 apartment complexes. Only walking the mighty "Avenue of the Dead" will you understand the dimensions of the site.  This fabulous archaeological zone of Teotihuacan lies in a mountain-ringed offshoot of the Valle de México. For centuries Teotihuacán was the capital of largest pre-Hispanic empire in Mexico. However, unable to sustain its burgeoning population, it fell in the 8th century. The earliest Mexican murals are found at Teotihuacán and depict what awaited those who were killed by Tláloc, the water god. The Teotihuacán buildings were simple but grand in scale. Teotihuacán is known for its two pyramids – the sun and moon pyramids. The Sun Pyramid was completed by 150 AD and the rest of the city between 250 and 600 AD. The Sun Pyramid (Pirámide del Sol) is the world’s third-largest pyramid whose base is 222m on each side and is 70m in height. The Moon Pyramid (Pirámide de la Luna), completed in 300 AD, is smaller but built on slightly higher ground. 

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Day 4 : Mexico City

Step into the magical realm of Mexico City’s bohemian art scene, past and present. Awaken your senses in the cobalt blue world of Frida Kahlo at her former residence on Calle Londres 247. Immerse yourself in the colourful life of this iconic artist, where joie-de-vivre and fear of death entwined her art, finding ultimate expression in Mexico’s enduring love for the Day of the Dead. Wander through the museum showcasing her personal treasures and vibrant garden.

Explore Coyoacán's serene streets, lined with colonial buildings, markets, and quaint cafes. Don't miss trying chapulines, grilled grasshoppers, a local delicacy. Visit Iglesia de Coyoacán, Fonoteca Nacional, and Jardín Centenario. Then, switch your attention to Xochimilco to witness the revival of the ancient chinampas (floating horticultural beds). Integral to the RITA project based in the indigenous research centre, this ecological heritage movement aims to foster not only a greener Mexico City, but also a return to Aztec farming methods. In conjunction with the chinampas, see the axolotl, the sacred salamander of the Aztecs.

Return later in the day to your hotel.

Overnight in Royal Reforma, Mexico City

Meal plan: Breakfast

Coyoacán is a southern suburb of Mexico City, literally meaning "place of coyotes". Settled for more than 3,000 years it was the place where the first known statue of the Fire God was found and the earliest indications of the Mesoamerican calendar systems. Its central feature is a circular pyramid with a diameter of 150m, from the top of which you can appreciate the full scale of the archaeological site.
Next to the historic and picturesque centre of Coyoacán, is the Museo Frida Kahlo at Casa Azul (the blue house), with its stunning testimony to the artist’s life and work. Nearby is a small house which served as the hiding place for Russian exile Leon Trotsky. 

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Day 5 : Mexico City - Toluca - Metepec - Toluca

Roughly an hour’s drive from the capital lies Toluca. Popularised by its lovely botanical gardens, the town also sports an impressive cathedral. In keeping with the overarching theme of the tour, Toluca is where Alfeñique paste is produced, from which the festival’s sugar skulls and Catrinas are made. Try your hand at making confectionery at the Alfeñique workshop.
Complement the day with an extension to nearby Metepec. In the home of Heriberto Ortega, see how this local craftsman excels in an age-old tradition on the Mexican Plateau of narrative clay sculpture. Assembled from individual clay figurines comes a tree of life, biblical parables of the story of creation told to generations of Mexicans.

Return to your hotel in Toluca. 

Overnight in DoubleTree by Hilton Toluca, Toluca

Meal plan: Breakfast

Toluca, Mexico, nestled in the Valley of Toluca, is a vibrant city known for its rich cultural heritage and economic significance. Surrounded by picturesque landscapes, including the stunning Nevado de Toluca volcano, it offers a blend of colonial architecture, bustling markets, and modern amenities. As the capital of the State of Mexico, it serves as a hub for commerce, industry, and education, with a diverse population contributing to its dynamic atmosphere and thriving economy. Lying at 2,660m above sea level, Toluca has that high altitude feel about it. 

Metepec, Mexico, a vibrant town renowned for its traditional pottery, sits nestled in the Toluca Valley. Its streets exude charm with colorful buildings adorned with intricate murals and sculptures. The town square, bustling with activity, hosts lively markets showcasing local crafts and delicacies. Metepec's rich cultural heritage is celebrated through festivals like the National Pottery Fair, drawing visitors to witness the craftsmanship of its artisans and immerse themselves in the warmth of Mexican hospitality. Locally renowned for the practice of relating biblical creation myths through clay pottery figurines. 

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Day 6 : Toluca - Malinalco - Cuernavaca

En route to where we join the Day of the Dead festival in Cuernavaca, a detour to Malinalco adds a touch of dramatic history to the tour. For lovers of Mexico’s martial civilisation, Malinalco contains a well-preserved fortress of two of the most feared warrior classes: the elite order of the Jaguar and Eagle. Feel the spirit of the Aztec special forces of their day in a rock-hewn complex later converted to an Augustinian monastery. 

In the town itself, continue the dualistic theme of mortality with visits to altars in the town containing ofrendas (offerings) to the deceased, as well as votive candles lighting the way back home from death’s great beyond. See how the wax is reformed into Easter candles, as if to underscore the infinite beauty of the cycle of life and death. 

Once in Cuernavaca, check in to your hotel, and enjoy the evening at leisure. Should you wish to experience the entirety of these 2-days celebrating the oneness of life and death, by all means let your guide know and they will stay up beyond midnight with you to hear the bells toll for the souls of children - the first of the three stages in the festival rites.

Overnight in Gamma Cuernavaca Puerta Paraíso, Cuernavaca

Meal plan: Breakfast

Malinalco is one of the finest sites of the Aztec civilisation, once serving as a fortress for the warriors of the elite Eagle and Jaguar Orders. Unique among the structures of Malinalco, the main temple - with its stairs, base and decorative statues - was carved directly from the rock. There are also some partially monolithic buildings and temples in Malinalco. The archaeological site overlooks the colonial town of the same name and is reached via hundreds of steps. 

Cuernavaca, Mexico, known as the "City of Eternal Spring," boasts a perpetual mild climate, lush vegetation, and vibrant cultural heritage. Nestled in the Morelos state, it captivates with its colonial charm, cobblestone streets, and well-preserved historic sites like the Palacio de Cortés. Its tranquil parks and gardens offer serene escapes, while bustling markets showcase local crafts and flavors. Cuernavaca's rich tapestry of art, history, and natural beauty beckons visitors to immerse themselves in its enchanting ambiance. A popular choice of place to witness Mexicos' annual Day of the Dead celebrations.

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Day 7 : Cuernavaca - Xochicalco - Taxco - Cuernavaca

A long and fulfilling day entailing multiple sites. First off, Ocotepec cemetery. See the fruits of preparation for the Day of the Dead in the form of funerary offerings up paths lined with marigolds. Next, a short drive from Cuernavaca lies Xochicalco. An ancient observatory, it was from there that Aztec priests decided upon the exact timing of the summer and winter solstice. A further 90-minutes by road sees us in the silver mining town of Taxco. Learn more of Mexico’s most precious of metals and its importance to colonial Spain. Recognise the telltale signs of late Spanish baroque at the ornamental Santa Prisca church.  

Back to our base in Cuernavaca, continue exploring the region’s architecture at the Spanish secular Palace of Cortéz. Beyond the towers, on a clear day the snowy summits of the great volcanoes are plain to see. 

On the first night of the Day of the Dead festival, the bells toll for the spirits of the adults. Partake of this strange and enchanting atmosphere up close.

Overnight in Gamma Cuernavaca Puerta Paraíso, Cuernavaca

Meal plan: Breakfast

The ruins of the temple town of Xochicalco lie about 34 km southwest of Cuernavaca, situated across several levels. Among the ruins is a sun observatory which the priests used to determine the summer and winter solstices. The highest level of the town is crowned by the pyramid of Quetzalcóatl with its impressive inscriptions and figures. 

Nestled in the mountains of Guerrero state, Taxco enchants with its colonial charm and silversmithing heritage. Cobblestone streets wind through white-washed buildings adorned with vibrant bougainvillea, leading to the iconic Santa Prisca Cathedral, a masterpiece of Spanish baroque architecture. Renowned for its silver mines, Taxco beckons artisans and visitors alike to explore its bustling markets brimming with intricate silver jewelry and crafts. Its rich cultural tapestry and breathtaking vistas make Taxco a timeless gem in Mexico's landscape.

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Day 8 : Cuernavaca - Huaquechula - Atlixco - Puebla

The climax of the festival occurs on this day. After breakfast, leave Cuernavaca for Atlixco on a longish drive, for it is there that the real spectacle will unfold. En route there, stop in Huaquechula to spy monumental altars on multi-storey pyramids. Nibble on hojaldra (bread of the dead), tamales, and pozole while paying respects to the many shrines. 

Atlixco is where the action happens. Its calaveras parade is a sight to be reckoned with. Processions of costumed revellers, marching Mariachis, and bedazzling marionettes (in the form of creepy catrinas) swaying in fields of Aztec marigolds  all contribute to making death not such a bad idea after all. 

If that’s not enough, we’ve still got a short journey to make to reach a living legend on the Mexican plateau: Puebla. 

Check-in to your hotel there, and rest of the day at leisure.

Overnight in NH Puebla Centro Histórico, Puebla

Meal plan: Breakfast

Atlixco, Mexico, found in the Puebla region, boasts vibrant colors, rich culture, and a blend of colonial and indigenous heritage. Known as the "City of Flowers," it captivates with its lush gardens and annual flower festival, attracting visitors worldwide. Its charming streets are lined with historic architecture, inviting plazas, and mouthwatering culinary delights. With a backdrop of majestic mountains, Atlixco offers a harmonious balance of tradition, natural beauty, and warm hospitality.

Huaquechula, Mexico, hidden in the state of Puebla, enchants with its rich cultural heritage and colonial charm. Its cobblestone streets wind past vibrant colonial-era buildings adorned with colorful murals and intricate facades. The town's centerpiece is the stunning San Martín Obispo Parish Church, a prime example of Mexican Baroque architecture. Huaquechula is renowned for its lively festivals, such as the Day of the Dead celebrations, where traditions blend with modern festivities, creating a unique cultural tapestry.

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Day 9 : Puebla

Chocolate-chili sauce drizzled over chicken rice isn’t something you eat every day. Join a cookery class and expand your culinary repertoire by learning the art of mole. Test your efforts by eating it for lunch. Afterwards, make your acquaintance with Puebla, one of Mexico’s great Colonial towns, to behold local talavera tiles adorn facades in and around one of Latin America’s most elegant plazas. Continue on to a titan among biblioteques. The Biblioteca Palafoxiana, founded in 1646, is such an important repository of original documents going back to the 15th century that UNESCO enshrined it. Stand amid the cedar shelves of its splendid 18th century library hall. 

End as you began the day: as a student of Mexico’s great exports. This time we attend a talavera ceramic factory to see for ourselves the craft behind the production of this cultural symbol. 

Return to your hotel to enjoy a final evening at leisure.

Overnight in NH Puebla Centro Histórico, Puebla

Meal plan: Breakfast & lunch

Nestled in the middle of Mexico, under the imposing view of the Popocatepetl and Iztaccihuatl volcanoes, Puebla opens its doors and boasts its official titles: It was named a “heroic” city for being the site where Mexican troops’ defeated the French army in 1862 (Battle of Puebla); and it was also named a World Heritage Site by UNESCO in 1987. Legend has it that the bell in its famous Our Lady of the Immaculate Conception Cathedral was placed there after engineers had neglected to figure out how to raise it up there. The city's design, also attributed to angels, goes back to 1532, making it one of the oldest Mexican cities. A pleasant climate and a strategic location soon made it the second most important city in Colonial Mexico. If there is a word that defines Puebla, then it is baroque. Complex flavors that seduce our palates, elaborated shapes that capture our sight, an irresistible mix of legends and stories, winding streets, fountains, gardens, craft markets, artistic alley - and a view studded with the churches’ domes. 

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Day 10 : Puebla - Mexico City - Departure

Transfer back to the capital for your onward flight. Equally, extend your stay in Mexico to discover many of its other sites.

Meal plan: Breakfast



All accommodation subject to availability. Final accommodation choices will be confirmed after booking.

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Royal Reforma

Mexico City (4 nights)

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DoubleTree by Hilton Toluca

Toluca (1 night)

10 minutes from downtown Toluca, this newly-opened Hilton is everything you'd expect from a legendary name among hotels. Within its colonnaded, white walls and elegant courtyards, Toluca's DoubleTree Hilton is ready to welcome you in secure comfort and understated luxury. 

Visit hotel's site
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Gamma Cuernavaca Puerta Paraíso

Cuernavaca (2 nights)

In the city of Eternal Spring, your stay at the Gate of Paradise is replete with all the quiet comfort, courtesy and enjoyment you'd come to expect from a high-end 3-star hotel. Under the shade of swaying palms, cool off in the hotel's gorgeous outdoor pool. Rooms are modernly furnished and the spacious beds equipped to ensure a good night's sleep.

Visit hotel's site
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NH Puebla Centro Histórico

Puebla (2 nights)

The NH Puebla Centro Histórico hotel, formerly known as NH Puebla, is in the city center, just 2 blocks away from the zocalo – the main square – and the cathedral. Plus the city’s main convention center is only 5 minutes away, so it’s the ideal base for both business travelers and tourists.
We have 180 rooms on 4 floors. Each one is stylish and comfortable, with contemporary furnishings, warm color schemes, and hardwood floors.

The hotel sports a range of room categories, including Standard, Superior, and Junior Suites. All rooms come with new mattresses, flatscreen TVs and free Wi-Fi
connecting rooms available. Relaxation is key at the NH Puebla, which has a swimming pool and a gym, both of which are free for guests to use. You’ll also find a restaurant and bar. Outstanding featiures include heated rooftop swimming pool, gym with cardio equipment and weights, as well as stylish restaurant serving international cuisine

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The hiking was amazing with spectacular scenery and knowledgeable guides. The luxurious but rustic wooden cabins were really welcoming after a long days hiking.

Caroline , Zapotecan Village Trek, Mexico

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Jeannie Saville , Flavours of Mexico, Mexico

Having travelled to Mexico on various trips over the years I was surprised to find Oaxaca was so different. Many traditions that have died out elsewhere are still alive and kicking in Oaxaca. And the food is sublime.

Bill Dodd , Flavours of Mexico, Mexico
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