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Celebrating Día de los Muertos and Halloween in Puerto Aventuras

Celebrating Día de los Muertos and Halloween in Puerto Aventuras [Updated for 2023]

It’s already October, and while we are all suffering through “low season”, this is the perfect time to investigate the special events being planned for the upcoming Halloween and Day of the Dead festivities on the Riviera Maya.

dia de los muertos altar 3

Halloween falls on October 31st and Día de los Muertos or Day of the Dead, is actually a 2-day celebration on November 1st and 2nd. Since the Riviera Maya attracts people from all over Mexico as well as all over the world, we get to celebrate both!

If you are planning to be in Puerto Aventuras at the end of October, you will have several straight days of parties, celebrations, and cultural events to enjoy!

What is Día de los Muertos?

Day of the Dead or Día de los Muertos is a 2-day celebration recognized annually on November 1st and 2nd. The holiday is an interesting mix of pre-Hispanic practices and Roman Catholicism.

November 1st is commonly known as All Saints Day and the focus of the remembrances is on babies or children who have moved on to the next realm. This day, understandably, takes on a more somber tone than All Souls Day.

November 2nd is All Souls Day and puts the focus of the festivities on adults…loved ones…who have passed. This is a special time set aside every year to recognize, remember and celebrate the lives of ancestors and recently departed friends and family.

This is a time to applaud and appreciate their accomplishments and contributions during their time on earth but also to good-naturedly poke fun at certain character flaws and shortcomings. This is the perfect time to share stories and funny anecdotes about the deceased and in this way, keep their memory alive with those they have left behind.

In stark contrast with the fear of death and ghosts that many of us have been raised to adopt, death is not so scary here. Mexicans are quite comfortable with the idea of the afterlife and welcome the spirits of the dead to return to our earthly realm, one night a year, to cavort among the living.

While this time of reflection is unique to each family and may vary regionally, there are certain elements of the festivities that are common throughout Mexico.

Many families erect a multi-level altar in their home, decorated with pictures of the deceased, flowers, religious and/or pagan elements, and seasonal symbols of the harvest such as candied pumpkin and sweet potato. Fanciful sugar skulls marked with the name of the deceased and special treats like “pan muerto” are often placed upon the altar.

dia de los muertos altar

Family members will then contribute special offerings to their dearly departed, generally in the form of their favorite foods, alcohol and even tobacco. Gifts placed on the altars are meant to entice the spirits to join in the festivities.

When possible, families will gather together at the graves of their relatives, creating a fiesta-like atmosphere. Rather than the somber memorials we may be accustomed to, these gatherings are meant to be quite lively, often involving music and noisy fireworks to attract the attention of the spirits and guide them back to convene with their families in the living realm.

Surviving friends and family members may gather together, leave special gifts or “ofrendas” on the gravesite and then stay to share the favorite food and drink of the departed with the spirits who have crossed back over to join them!

All manner of devices are employed to capture their interest and direct them to the correct meeting place, whether it is in the home or at the gravesite.

Elaborate “alfombras” (rugs) made of orange marigolds called “cempasuchil”, ubiquitous to all Day of the Dead festivities, are thoughtfully designed and carefully laid out with votive candles creating a bright, colorful path for the spirits to follow.

dia de los muertos cemetery

“Copal”, the hardened resin of the Buresa, a medicinal tree treasured by the Maya of southern Mexico, is burned, the smoke and lingering scent intended to guide them on their journey.

Objects thought to make the returning visitors feel more comfortable, such as “calaveras” (skulls) and “calacas” (skeletons), are presented in many forms including papier-mâché masks, clay figurines, intricately cut paper designs (papel picado) and even body and face painting.

It is, perhaps, this imagery and aspect of the celebration that naturally causes us to draw correlations between Día de los Muertos and our more modern Halloween traditions.

Where is the best place to celebrate Day of the Dead on the Riviera Maya?

Inarguably, Xcaret hosts the biggest and best Day of the Dead celebration on the Riviera Maya, The Festival of Life and Death Traditions. If you find yourself in Puerto Aventuras from October 30 through November 2, (dates vary annually) you must set aside one afternoon/evening to experience this amazing annual event.

I can (and do) go on and on about how much I enjoy this event. The creative team, the organizers and the Xcaret staff really do go above and beyond making this festival bigger and better every year.

Celebrating Day of the Dead at Xcaret

If you are making plans to attend the Festival de Vida y Muerte, make sure you go with a plan. The schedule of performances changes daily. If there is a particular exhibition or presentation you want to see, make sure you have tickets for the right day and get to the location of the show early to be sure you can get in and get a seat.

If you are coming with your kids, the children’s pavilion is the place to stop first. The children move from station to station, enjoying “cuenta cuentos” (storytelling) about the ancient Maya, decorating their own clay “calacas” (skulls) and having their faces painted with ancient Maya symbols or as spooky “calaveras” (skeletons). All the stations are manned with cheerful Xcaret staff members, happy to explain the various exhibits and point visitors in the right direction.

dia de los muertos xcaret 2

Awash with colored light streaming through clouds of copal, the park is literally transformed during these four evenings. The sights, sounds and smells are almost overwhelming as you make your way through the park, lit with torches and candles to guide you from one exhibit to the next.

A favorite attraction during this festival is the cemetery. Visitors can wind their way up and through a colorful recreation of hundreds of graves, each one as unique as the character they entomb. The path is lit with candles, the graves bathed in colored lights making the whole experience “otherworldly”.

Scattered throughout the park are a variety of special art and photo expositions. Each year, a different state in Mexico takes center stage and representatives from that state come to present the authentic elements and performances typical of their particular Day of the Dead traditions. The food stations are a favorite stop, offering visitors a chance to taste regional cuisines from all over Mexico.

2023 marks the 17th anniversary of the Festival de Vida y Muerte at Xcaret. This year the state of Queretaro will be the featured guest. The cultural fusion will be integrated with tastings of the Querétaro´s famous wine and cheese as well as more traditional cuisine unique to that state. There will also be parades led by Grupo Aztlán and the students from the Autonomous University of Querétaro (UAQ), as well as musical performances by Grupo Xaha, Grupo Bohemio, Trío Queretanas and Trío Gallardía Huasteca. 

UNESCO has listed the Día de los Muertos celebrations at Xcaret as an Intangible Cultural Heritage, a remarkable distinction and a reliable indicator that this event is not to be missed.

dia de los muertos xcaret 1

This year, the event will have secondary performance venues with presentations at Hotel Xcaret Arte and the Theatre of Playa del Carmen. Visit the official Xcaret Festival de Tradiciones de Vida y Muerte website for more details as the event approaches.

What is the difference between Dia de los Muertos and Halloween?

Appearances aside, Día de los Muertos and Halloween are very different holidays. The festival of Halloween was actually introduced to North America by Irish and Scottish immigrants as the pagan Celtic festival “Samhain”, (a Gaelic word pronounced ‘SAH-win’). This festival was quite different from the holiday as we celebrate it today.

Samhain was celebrated from October 31st through November 1st. At this time of year, it was believed that the invisible veil between the world of the living and the world of the dead was lifted, allowing the souls of the departed to travel freely into our realm. In stark contrast to the Día de los Muertos activities, designed specifically to attract the spirits back to our realm, Samhain was designed to scare away evil spirits and keep them at bay.

Believing that tortured souls would return to exact their revenge on the living, costumes and masks were worn to (at best) appease or (even better) ward off hostile visitors from the afterlife and protect their crops and livestock from the wrath of these unruly souls. Carved turnips filled with glowing embers were strung up to frighten off the spirits, a precursor to the ubiquitous jack-o-lanterns still featured in modern Halloween decorations.

As with most pagan celebrations, the festival of Samhain was eventually incorporated into the Christian calendar as All Saints Day (All Hallows Day) recognized on November 1st followed by All Souls Day on November 2nd. Halloween is actually the “eve” of All Hallows Day and the tradition of dressing up in costume to ward off evil spirits survives today.

While some of the symbolism is nearly identical, the significance of Día de los Muertos and Halloween is quite different.

How is Halloween celebrated in Mexico?

This is one of those questions that seem to always stir up a heated debate about whether it’s right or wrong that we (Americans and Canadians mainly) have “forced” our commercialized holidays on the local inhabitants of the places we have immigrated to.

I am fairly certain that if you travel into the mountains of Chiapas on October 31st you will not find children trick-or-treating. Nor will you see these families putting up Christmas trees in their homes and hanging stockings for Santa. However, here on the Riviera Maya, Halloween is highly anticipated and happily celebrated by all children, Mexican and foreign-born alike.

The multi-cultural demographic of the Riviera Maya happily accommodates festivals and traditions from all over the world and Halloween has easily slipped in to complement the more traditional Día de los Muertos activities.

Do children Trick or Treat in Mexico?

On Halloween night in Playa del Carmen, hundreds of little ghosts and goblins, princesses and, superheroes take to the streets to collect candy from tourists, residents, and local business owners who look forward to their arrival every year. This is perhaps the best night to dine out on 5th Avenue in Playa…preferably in costume… so you can get a front-row seat and hand out candy to the kids.

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Within the gated neighborhoods like Playacar and Paamul, there is plenty of trick-or-treating and roving bands of costumed children will likely knock on your door if you put up some lights and spooky decorations.

Halloween on the Riviera Maya is one of the most fun nights of the year for grown-ups we well! It’s not hard to find a Halloween party or costume contest, especially in Playa del Carmen where the numbers of ex-pats have proliferated over the past two decades. The most popular, annual Halloween parties for adults are hosted by Bar Ranita in Playa del Carmen, La Buena Vida in Akumal and, Latitude 20+/- in Puerto Aventuras.

Celebrating Halloween in Puerto Aventuras

Halloween is a very festive holiday here on the Riviera Maya. The multicultural demographic of the region has cemented this pagan holiday as a favorite for children of all ages. Over the past 10 years, Halloween in Puerto Aventuras has grown into one of the most highly anticipated holidays of the year!

Puerto Aventuras Halloween Golf Cart Parade

Every year, Puerto Aventuras parents organize a fantastic Halloween Golf Cart Parade for all the children. The caravan sets off from Hoyo 19 and all the children, and adults are welcome to participate. This event has been going on for nine years organized by brave mothers with help from community businesses.

halloween golf cart parade

The parade of carts, each one decorated by the children and their parents, makes stops at stations that are set up along the parade route and prepared with enough candy to satisfy the hundreds of little ghosts and goblins who look forward to this event every year. The stations are decorated with fun themes such as Harry Potter, Zombie Hospital, The House of the Witches, Pirates of the Caribbean, Dracula´s Castle and more!!

Check out our photos from the 2022 Halloween Golf Cart Parade

halloween golf carts parade puerto aventuras

If you are out and about in Puerto Aventuras on the evening of the Halloween Golf Cart Parade, make sure your pockets are stocked with candy and treats!

halloween cart parade puerto aventuras

The Halloween Golf Cart parade will be followed by a fantastic party at Hoyo 19 with a DJ, dancing, shows, and fun for all ages!

Check out our photos from the 2022 Halloween Golf Cart Parade

Halloween Party & haunted House at Colegio Puerto Aventuras

Every year, Colegio Puerto Aventuras hosts a Halloween Costume Party for the whole community! They set up a super spooky haunted house and have Halloween games of all kinds and for all ages. Local restaurants participate, setting up food booths filled with delicious treats for all. Admission to the event is just 50 pesos or you can bring one some non-perishable food items (canned goods, rice, beans, etc.) which are used to fill food baskets that are distributed to needy people in the community at Christmas.

Latitude 20° Halloween Party & Costume Contest

Of course, Halloween is not just for kids…it’s for kids at heart as well! If you have spent any time in Puerto Aventuras during the Fall, you know that the “Boos and Booze” Halloween party and Costume Contest at Latitude 20 +/- is one of the most anticipated events of the year and the unofficial kick-off to high season.

halloween latitude20 2

There is a live band and dancing and prizes are given for the best and most original costumes. It’s a party that everyone looks forward to. People come from Akumal, Playa and, Paamul to join the fun. Many snowbirds make their travel plans in order to attend. If you are planning to be in Puerto Aventuras for Halloween, this is THE place to be.

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Puerto Aventuras Halloween Pet Parade and Costume Contest

Halloween in Puerto Aventuras isn´t just for the kids! Our four-legged friends get their time to celebrate as well! The Rotary Club of Playa del Carmen Seaside presents a fun Halloween event called the “Yappy Hour” Pet Parade and Costume Contest. The event is held in the Central Park Plaza and all the local businesses get involved, donating prizes for the winners. There are prizes for the “Most Handsome”. “Most Talented”, “Best Dressed” dog and many more.

Puerto Aventuras Halloween Dog Costume Contest

All the proceeds from this event go to support Seaside Rotary´s community projects such as “Kicks4Kids” and their feeding program. Everyone is invited to participate or just come and cheer on their favorite pooch and handler.

Where can I experience an authentic Día de los Muertos celebration?

This is probably one of the trickiest questions to answer and opinions run strong on this theme. I can find countless forums and social media threads with people looking for “authentic” Day of the Dead experiences and just as many comments screaming about “cultural appropriation” and “American entitlement”. I’m sure you have seen them too. If you are staying in Puerto Aventuras or on the Riviera Maya, can you find and enjoy authentic Día de los Muertos festivities without offending anyone? Yes, you can.

If you are willing to travel a few hours into the Yucatan and stay a few days in a lovely colonial town like Valladolid or Espita (among many others) the festivities and celebrations you see there, even those in public spaces, are authentic. Visit the zocalo. Wander the streets where people live. Visit the markets. You will find what you are looking for. Whatever festival is being presented, is being presented for the benefit of the people who live there and in the surrounding villages.

It’s a controversial opinion, but I think…as long as you are properly attired, extremely quiet, and respectful….it’s ok to visit a local cemetery and observe from a distance, perhaps just from the entrance.

I have visited many cemeteries during my travels through Mexico. I find them beautiful and I can spend hours looking at the inscriptions on the graves and admiring the offerings left on them. Not once have I ever felt unwelcome.

However, this is not a blanket statement and in some places, I would not recommend you intrude. On an evening where you can expect a good deal of alcohol may be consumed, it could also be unsafe.

Whether or not to visit a local cemetery on Día de los Muertos is a judgment call that only you can make and I recommend you ask for advice from locals before you go.

Now, if The Festival of Life and Death at Xcaret is too commercialized for you and you want to experience Día de los Muertos in a way that feels more authentic, the Hanal Pixán experience offered by Alltournaive is probably your best bet.

What is Hanal Pixán?

Hanal Pixán (pronounced ‘hah-NAHL pee-SHAHN’) is the name given to the Day of the Dead celebrations of the Maya people of southern Mexico and more specifically the Yucatan Peninsula. The name translates to “food of souls” in Maya.

Just like Día de los Muertos, Hanal Pixán is a way of honoring deceased family members and friends. In these celebrations, food takes center stage in the festivities as traditional dishes are prepared for the spirits who are believed to return on this day to visit their families.

While many of the traditions surrounding Hanal Pixán are similar to Día de los Muertos celebrations in other parts of Mexico, this holiday stretches out over three days.

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Families set up altars outside of their homes and decorate graves in the cemeteries beginning on October 31st. The spirits of children and babies who have departed are invited to return on this night, and a special offering is prepared to welcome them.

On November 1st, the spirits of adult ancestors and recently departed friends and relatives pass over, enticed by the different items placed for them on the altar. On the third day of Hanal Pixán, All Saints Day, a special mass called “hanal pixanoob” is said for all the dearly departed.

hanal pixan graves

The Hanal Pixán altars appear quite different from those for Day of the Dead. These altars are generally arranged inside or under a rustic structure made of sticks and covered with a palapa roof thatched with palms. It can be open on the sides or a fully enclosed hut. Some families will set up a simple altar beneath the trees in their yard.

The altar will consist of a long table covered with a white tablecloth with decorative embroidery. Photographs of the deceased are displayed and the table is decorated with vibrant orange marigolds known to the Maya as “x’pujuc”, wax candles, and a ceremonial cross.

Hard bowls made from gourds called “jicaras” are set out or hung up at the door of the hut; one containing water and the other salt. These are thought to purify the space and ward off any “evil winds” that might pass by.

hanal pixan altar

The most important elements of the Hanal Pixán altar are the food and beverage items placed there to entice the spirits of the departed to return and visit with the living. Some of the very traditional offerings unique to Hanal Pixaán festivities are “mukbil pollo” or “pibil pollo”, a special kind of tamal made especially for these celebrations, and “xe’ek” a jicama salad with orange, mandarin, and powdered chili.

Other offerings on the altar may include traditional candies, sweet tamales, and other pastries. Traditional beverages included in the display will include “atole” made from toasted corn boiled with cinnamon and piloncillo and “balché” a fermented alcoholic drink made with the bark of the balché tree.

A child’s alter will be much more cheerful to look at with a bright table covering, colorful candles and toys, and trinkets. The altar will always include favorite candies and sweets set out to make the spirit of the departed child happy and at ease.

The Yucatan Maya are very proud of their Hanal Pixán traditions and you can find public celebrations in the larger colonial cities as well as smaller towns and villages. If you make plans to visit Merida or Valladolid at this time, you will find the main square (zocalo) in each city lined with alters which have been carefully erected and decorated by families from the city and the outlying villages. Often there is a competition and prizes are awarded for the “best” altar.

hanal pixan tres reyes

On the Riviera Maya, the best way to experience Hanal Pixán is by participating in a special tour experience offered by Alltournative.

Every year at this time, Alltournative brings a limited number of people to the Maya village of Tres Reyes to experience some of the traditional Hanal Pixán festivities with the members of that community. The excursion has evolved and changed since I was first invited to attend in 2012 but I maintain that this is one of the best commercial “tours” offered at any time of year.

The Hanal Pixán experience includes round-trip transportation, a visit to the actual cemetery of Tres Reyes, an altar-making workshop, a candlelit Maya ceremony led by Maya shamans inside a spectacular cenote, and a meal featuring authentic dishes that would be typically served at this festival.

hanal pixan chaman blessing

This tour is generally offered from November 1st thru November 4th and departs from a central meeting place in Playa del Carmen. If you’ve yet to experience a traditional Maya Day of the Dead celebration, this is a must-do!

If you have never spent time in Puerto Aventuras or the Riviera Maya during the Día de los Muertos-Halloween-Hanal Pixán celebrations, you may want to put that on your Mexico bucket list. As you can see, there will be plenty of activities and new experiences to encounter, all easily accessible and definitely worth the trip.


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2 thoughts on “Celebrating Día de los Muertos and Halloween in Puerto Aventuras”

  1. It’s always exciting to witness the unique cultural celebrations around the world, and Día de los Muertos and Halloween in Puerto Aventuras is no exception. The blend of Latin American and North American traditions make this time of year particularly special in this beautiful Mexican paradise. The vibrant colors, joyful music, and delicious food all contribute to a welcoming atmosphere that brings the community together to honor and remember loved ones no longer with us. Anyone visiting Puerto Aventuras in 2023 should definitely add this celebration to their itinerary!


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