Since a gigantic cruise ship--of proverbial nature--planted itself along most of the 80 miles or so of the Mexican Yucatan Penisula about 40 years ago, it has become one of the most popular places to get your blue seas-all-inclusive-spa-resort-impossibly-large-dance-club thing on. Fun, especially for those prone to sea sickness. But as it turns out, it's a pretty cool place to get your Day of the Dead on as well.
Will you find the same grandeur or drama of the variety that you'd see in Mexico City and its vicinity (where the holiday holds its strongest roots)? No, but Day of the Dead in the Riveria Maya breathes life into the local culture.
Sure, there's a healthy dose of touristy ephemera -- Xcaret theme park hosts a jam-packed, 3-night Day of the Dead festival and the village of Tres Reyes opens its doors to busloads of outsiders. But there's also an invitation to go a bit deeper -- just wander a cemetery or head to downtown Cancun. Or really. If for the locals Day of the Dead is a portal into the afterlife of their lost loved ones, and perhaps a bit of a show, for visitors, it's an opportunity to get a peak behind the veil of tourism in which the area is normally shrouded.
Believe it or not, Cancun has a downtown outside of the hotel district. It's very "behind the scenes," if you will—safe, kinda dusty and home to many of the people you see working in the tourism industry. Anyway, you should check it out if you're into authentic Yucatecan cuisine. Labna I was told, is a local favorite. Their Chicken Pibil—chicken wrapped in Banana leaves and roasted in a subterranean pit—was suiting for Day of the Dead. Here's the altar they had just completed.
Xcaret is normally a hybrid action-eco-archeological-adventure park about an hour south of Cancun, where you can both swim with dolphins and learn about the area's Mayan history. From October 31-November 2, it transforms into an all out Day of the Dead celebration.
Complimentary face painting stands are set up through the park.
An FYI—Day of the Dead is actually three days. October 31st focuses on kids events, November 1st for adults and November 2nd is the actual national holiday. The entire country gets the day off from work. Maybe enough time to wash the paint off your face? Not bad...
Strange, but true—Xcaret sets up a replica cemetery for you to walk though.
Somber-fun and kinda peculiar to stroll through a fabricated graveyard.
Also, shrines are set up within the park. None is complete without the orange Cempazuchitl flower.
Caution: Staff at Cancun's popular marine tour company, Aquaworld, set up a shrine to staff members who've died.
Stunning real estate for lost loved ones on Isla Mujeres. Actually, each plot is on loan for only 6 years due to lack of new space. After that time, there's a ceremony in which the family transplants the bones to a more modest home.
Wilma is happy to share the story of her brother Marco, who died at the age of 33 from, "drinking," as she dresses his tomb up with some paint.
Blanca is proud to have her photograph taken before the tomb of her mother, Leonore, who died in 1996 from cancer. She came to the grave yard on this day to give it a good washing.
Sun Palace is one of the few resorts in Cancun you can find Day of the Dead altars. The resort's departments, from food/beverage and cleaning to customer relations, create their own shrine. Guests are invited to vote for their favorite.
On November 2nd, the village of Tres Reyes lights up with intricate shines, altars, displays and performances honoring the dead. Here, young girls weep at makeshift graves.
The scent of copal permeates the atmosphere at every Day of the Dead festival, but none more so than in Tres Reyes.
Children weep at graves, possibly from the dusty air.
Conception stands by the alter she's made to her husband who died from, "complications," 3 years ago.
Day of the Dead culminates down in the town's cenote—a cave of sorts, where they believe spirits linger on. The town's shaman, who everyone refers to as Crisanto, blesses the area and offers individual prayers to the lost ones of those in attendance.
People from all over the world line up to receive a blessing from Crisanto.
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