By: Jennifer Barger | From: National Geographic
Marigold-strewn altars to deceased loved ones, revelers dressed as skeletons, and colorful parades make Día de los Muertos (Day of the Dead) a big spectacle in Mexico and U.S. border states. The somber-meets-celebratory holiday November 1 and 2 honors the dead with a fusion of Catholic and pre-Columbian traditions. It sees locals decorating family graves at cemeteries and travelers joining public celebrations from Mexico City to California.
“The elements of Day of the Dead are uniquely Mexican, but the idea of honoring your ancestors is universal,” says Jim Mendiola, artistic director of the Muertos Festival in San Antonio, Texas, which features nearly one hundred ofrendas (memorial altars decked with flowers, food, and photos) built by locals.
The Day of the Dead is big business, too: In 2022, Mexico’s secretary of tourism estimated the holiday generated $1.8 billion and 2.1 million hotel room bookings. Hotels get in on the festivities, erecting ofrendas and serving traditional dishes such as pan de muerto (bread of the dead) at their restaurants.
Here are 11 of the best places to stay in five cities that know how to celebrate the holiday.
San Antonio, Texas
This south Texas city was once a part of Mexico, a heritage that surfaces both in the south-of-the-border-inspired River Walk and in its vibrant Day of the Dead celebrations. In downtown’s Hemisphere Park, the Muertos Festival features memorial altars, art vendors, plus cumbia, conjuncto, and mariachi bands. The Day of the Dead San Antonio festival brings a parade of illuminated boat floats to the River Walk the evening of October 27th and a display of oversized alebrijes to La Villita, a restored 18th-century neighborhood on the south bank of the San Antonio River.
For parade views, reserve a room with a waterside balcony at La Mansion del Rio, a Spanish colonial-style hotel in a limestone building that once held a Catholic boys school. On the River Walk’s northern reach, the stylish Hotel Emma has rooms, restaurants, and a boutique carved out of an 1894 brewery. Each October 27 through November 3, it erects an altar memorializing its namesake female brewer. “Many guests don’t know about Day of the Dead, but the altar tells the beautiful story behind the celebration,” says Beth Smith, chief marketing officer for the hotel.