For the past 9 years, as the Day of the Dead approaches, the Mexican Riviera Maya prepares itself for the Festival of Life and Death Traditions in Xcaret ecological park. This wonderful event takes place year after year and is an excellent reason to plan a visit to Cancun and the Riviera Maya at this time of the year.
This year from October 30th through November 2nd we were able to enjoy the plentiful program offered which included live concerts, traditional food tasting, theatrical performances, live music and colorful decorations. Each year a different Mexican state is invited to share their traditions, this year it was the state of Michoacan, so not only were we able to experience the Day of the Dead traditions of the state of Quintana Roo but also those from Michoacan including Patzcuaro, Janitzio y Tzintzuntzan.
Every traveler is different so here at Unlimited Vacation Club we wanted to give you different visions of this traditional event. We invited 5 different people to visit the festival and share their experiences; one story is from someone visiting all the way from England who attended the event with her daughter and attended as an English-Speaking Life and Death festival newbie; another version is that of someone who has visited the festival almost every year since it started so her vision is that of a festival “expert”; we also invited a young Mexican couple who were visiting the festival for the first time; a family from Cancun visiting the festival for the first time with their two young children and finally a Mexican family who visit the festival each year with their young son.
Here are their stories…
Attending the festival with her Mum visiting from England.
Visit Date: Saturday November 1st – 5:30pm
It was the first time that I had the chance to take my mum to experience the magic of the Festival of Life and Death Traditions and her excitement was contagious so it felt like my first time all over again. We set off reasonably early as I knew, from past experience, that Saturday tends to be the busiest night to attend. The first, and biggest inconvenience, of the night was the traffic. It took us hours to make our way through the line of cars on the highway and then through Xcaret itself until we arrived to the area where we were sent to park which was, in no uncertain terms, in the middle of the jungle. We were then shuttled to the park entrance by large Xcaret buses! Exchanging our tickets for bracelets and entering the park was a smooth and trouble free experience assisted by the always smiling staff members of Xcaret.
From the moment you enter the park you feel as if you are transported to a different world, the smell of copal welcomes you and the bright decorations and fresh flowers stretch as far as the eye can see. It was an incredible experience to see how my mum’s face changed as we entered, it was clear that she was overwhelmed by the beauty and atmosphere of the festival. We decided to make our way away from the crowds and head towards the area of the altars. An observation we made from the start was the lack of explanation and signs in English, this didn’t take away from the event itself however it would have been nice to have a little more understanding about the different aspects of the event. Another observation we made was the lack of access for those people in wheelchairs, it is possible to maneuver around the event however the crowds of people combined with the cobblestone paths and large steps would make for an extremely frustrating time.
During the festival we had the chance to see one of the live folkloric dance shows in the open theatre which was absolutely amazing. The movements and the colourful outfits were incredible and it was definitely one of the highlights of our night! Unfortunately we did pick one of the busiest nights to attend the event so we didn’t have a chance to visit the cementary as the lines were huge but it didn’t take away from our experience. The marketplace featuring local craftsmen is also definitely worth a visit, they had everything from handcrafted mini guitars to hand embroidered belts. It was a real treat to be able to see the pride of the people selling the goods as they explained exactly how they were made!
Due to the lack of organization at the beginning and end of the night with the car parking I’m not sure I would recommend that people take a car if they will be visiting, I know that I personally plan on spending a little bit extra in the future in order to take a taxi that will drop me right at the front gate and pick me up at the end. Despite the bumpy start and finish to the night, I was glad that my mum had the chance to experience the event for the first time as it is an important part of the Mexican heritage and culture which most people outside of Mexico don’t really get the chance to appreciate.
Thank you Xcaret for another wonderful experience and we look forward to attending the festival again next year!
Cancun Family visiting the festival for the first time.
Visit Date: Saturday November 1st – 4pm
The Life & Death Festival in Xcaret is an event that is worth revisiting year after year. The events start at 4pm and it is recommendable to arrive early and avoid the lines for parking and at the entrance. If you’re travelling with young children and plan on taking your own car, there are shuttle buses available to take you from the parking to the main entrance of the park.
One inside the park, all of the walkways are lit up with torches and there was plenty of signs around to indicate which way to go. There are various restaurants and stands where you can find food and drink for sale; you can find popcorn and nachos, typical food from the Yucatan region as well as from the featured state of Michoacan as well as hamburgers and other fast food snacks.
With so much to see and enjoy it is recommendable to wear comfortable shoes and clothes, for the mothers I would recommend a hands free bag as well as a diaper bag with a change of clothes for your kids as the pathways are dusty and it doesn’t take much for the little ones to get dirty. I would also recommend taking a sweater as the temperature can get cooler in the evenings as well as diapers, wet towels, milk bottles and/or pots of food for the younger ones and most importantly a stroller as the event is in the evening so the children will more than likely fall asleep. Family friendly insect repellent is a must as it is rainy season and there will always be mosquitos around although Xcaret had Citronela torches burning which kept the mosquitos at bay during the event.
When travelling with children, the stroller can be your best friend or your worst enemy. It is an essential item however making your way around the park with it through the crowds of people is extremely complicated. In order to enter the children’s activities, visit the cementary or even to see the live shows there are no ramps available or places to leave the strollers parked; there are stairs or stone grades all around the park however it all comes down to how you deal with it! If you organize yourself with your partner you can take turns to enjoy the shows and events without letting your belongings out of your sight.
It was fun watching the craftsmen, dressed in outfits typical to their region, selling necklaces, embroidered clothes as well as hand crafted souvenirs. The articles varied greatly depending on which Mexican state the craftsmen were visiting from; we enjoyed the walkways decorated with photos and artwork from Mexican artists, also the stands where you could paint your face like a “Catrina” and the live Mexican Music.
This experience wouldn’t have been complete without the food tasting from the state of Yucatan as well as from Michoacan, the invited state and inspiration of this year’s festival. The smell of wood burning, the hand made tortillas, tamales, atole, tacos and of course Cochinita Pibil.. It was all delicious! The simple smell made you feel like you had gone back in time to the prehispanic era.
The organization, the cleanliness and the friendly treatment were definitely positive aspects and Xcaret staff members were more than happy to provide information and help at all times. All of this left a lasting impression and we can definitely say that we will be visiting again in the future.
Young couple visiting the festival for the first time.
Visit Date: Saturday November 1st – 4.30pm
This was my first visit to the Festival in Xcaret and I thought it was incredible the way it represented our traditions of the Day of the Dead. The event itself I found to be very emotional, I loved how the park was decorated and the theme, to me, was incredibly romantic as even the entrance itself was decorated; the costumes of the staff were really incredible, the colors, the smells, everything impressed me.
Family who have visited the festival on previous occasion.
Visit Date: Sunday November 2nd – 4pm
As this was not our first time at the Festival of Life & Death Traditions at Xcaret we knew what to expect and as in the previous years, the organization of the event deserves a special mention. Our route began at “El Cementerio”, where we saw the colorful altars and graves, as we knew that it tends to be one of the most popular attractions within the park. Once we had finished there we made our way to one of the walkways where we lit candles before we made our way to the “Aldea Maya” where they had set up a market and the festival visitors were able to purchase handicrafts from the state of Michoacan.
During our visit we were pleasantly surprised by the number of tourists with the faces painted and joining in on the traditional celebrations alongside the national visitors. This time we were able to see a traditional dance show from the state of Michoacan where the youngest dancers had the starring rolls.
Once we had finished our tour of the festival we made our way to the Hacienda where there were workshops for children (and also adults) where you could learn all about the traditions and rituals of the festival.
I have to mention the festive atmosphere of the park which is made up of the brightly colored decorations, the fresh marigolds and the smell of copal. This year the decoration was greatly influenced by the guest state, Michoacan, in comparison to previous years where the decoration is normally based around the Mayan traditions of Hanal Pixan.
As this was our first visit with the stroller we did come across some obstacles as there were areas where it was impossible to enter with the stroller and even though the staff at Xcaret are always on hand to help there are times when you can’t leave the stroller behind (in case the child is asleep or you have all your belongings in the stroller).
Obviously we couldn’t miss out on the food section of the festival and my personal recommendation is the “Torta de Cochinita”. Even though it is not a dish that is only served at the festival it is something that everybody should try as it is as traditional as the festival itself!
My recommendation would be to go to the festival as early as possible, the event itself starts at 4pm but you can enter the park a little before and if you are planning on attending the shows then make your way to the corresponding area as early as possible as all of the shows do have a maximum capacity and generally they always fill up.
Lastly, a recommendation for Xcaret, the logistic of the arrival and parking is lacking in comparison to the festival itself. It’s not only a problem with the arrival and the alternate parking areas but also the departure as by the time the bus takes you back to the parking area you find youself in the middle of a full parking lot in the dark, surrounded by jungle and with no lights. The problem is not finding the car itself more so the security issues of being in a dark and once in the car attempting to find the exit out of the park itself and back onto the highway.
Festival “Expert”Visit Date: Friday October 31st – 5pm
As in previous years, Xcaret park anxiously awaited the visitors ready to enjoy the 9th Festival of Life & Death Traditions; this year Michoacan was the invited state.
As in previous years the organization on behalf of Xcaret was excellent, as we arrived the park staff guided us to the area where they gave us the bracelets, as we entered the park the staff warmly welcomed us and presented us with a festival guide. From the moment you enter you’re greeted by the traditional smells of burning copal and fresh marigold flowers; In the atmosphere you can feel the mysticism of the Mexican Day of the Dead traditions. It is customary to paint your face as either a “Catrina” or as a skeleton and inside the event there were stands with huge mirrors where you could bring out your creative side and paint your own face or there were special stands, for the first time ever, where trained make up artists from Ultrafemme would decorate your face for you at no additional charge.
The flaming torches, candles and incense showed us the way, the spooky park decorations set the atmosphere for all the attendees, there were skulls and skeletons everywhere accompanied by live music which entertained the visitors as they passed by. This highly attractive event is by far the best way to celebrate such a traditional occasion.
This year, one of the changes that was made was in the presentation of the Altars. There were many, beautifull decorated altars which representated different areas of Michoacan as well as the other sections of Grupo Xcaret, such as Xplor and Xel-Ha. Each and every one was colourful and aromatic but most of all they were incredibly creative, not only could you see the standard altars which included offerings such as food and drink but you also had the chance to see an altar with an ‘Under The Sea’ theme.
The food was as delicious as always and we couldn’t wait to sample the traditional “Pibipollo” which was just as tasty as we had hoped it would be. That wasn’t the only dish available, there were Yucatan offerings as well as dishes originally from the state of Michoacan and even though we were full we couldn’t say no to the delicious “Corundas” from Michoacan.
In previous years the souvenirs available during the event were limited to the normal t-shirts and keyrings however this year there were also craftsmen from Michoacan who were offering a selection of handicrafts such as Paracho guitars, gold plated jewellery and hand molded copper as well as hand blown glass, wood carvings, rings and even hand made wooden kitchen utensils.
Without a doubt the festival is still as successful as always, apart from the shows and performances which are expectacular you can also find ,usicals, story telling, and puppet shows. This year I had the chance to see a performance of “Adios Carlota” with puppets and I have to admit that besides being beautiful and moving, it was definitely a sample of true Mexican talent for music composition as it was accompanied by a live pianist, and voiced by a girl who gave him a mournful tone however the harmonious and beautiful moments of the play and the development of both the actors, who despite being covered completely in black you could feel every gesture and emotion they wanted to convey with each stage movement.
It’s worth mentioning that besides the traditional shows and performances that take place during the festival, Xcaret also offered much larger performances by recognized artists such as “Entre Tumbas, Vivos y Muertos” by Ignacio Lopez and the concert “¿En qué nos quedamos pelona?” by Fernando de la Mora.
All that’s left to say is Thank You Xcaret for giving us this chance to experience such a wonderful occasion and I hope to have the chance to experience it again for many years to come!
Si quieres leer esta historia en español, visita unlimitedvc.com.mx