29 Mexico Holidays & Festivals You Must Experience

29 Mexico Holidays & Festivals You Must Experience

red-dance-skirt-mexico

Mexico is more than just tequila and tacos.

Culture and ancient history permeate every facet of life here and you’ll realize it anytime you leave your resort. People are kind and hospitable, deeply spiritual and they know how to party! No matter what time of year you visit, there’s always a rip-roaring fiesta or celebration to enjoy. Learn where, when and how to celebrate the best festivals in Mexico with our month by month guide. Grab your sombrero, we’re about to get this fiesta started!

nativity-scene-figurines

Courtesy Ben White

January Events in Mexico

El Día de Reyes

If you’re in Mexico in January, you’re in for a special treat. Not only is it some of the coolest weather of the year (bring a jacket!), but January 6 is also the equivalent of Christmas morning for Mexican children. El Día de Reyes, also known as Three Kings Day or Epiphany, marks the twelfth day of Christmas and is when traditional Mexican families celebrate the magi bringing gifts to Jesus Christ.

Children write letters with their wish lists to the three wise men on the days leading up to the sixth, sometimes sending them into the sky with a balloon. The night of the fifth, children leave out their shoes filled with hay for the magi’s horses and in the morning, awake to the hay gone and gifts in its place.

Families gather and enjoy hot chocolate, atol (a traditional Mesoamerican hot drink made from corn) and Rosca de Reyes, a sweet pastry shaped like a crown or wreath and adorned with candied fruits to symbolize jewels on a crown. And this is where it gets fun—the pastry is baked with a small doll inside, representing hiding baby Jesus from King Herod, and whoever gets the piece with the doll must host a party for Día de la Candelaria on February 2.

Before you leave for your vacation, pack any children’s books and toys without batteries for donation on Three Kings Day. Drop the toys off with organizations like Pack for a Purpose or simply talk to your hotel to find a place to donate. If you’re in Mexico City for el Día de Reyes, be sure to eat a piece of the mile-long Rosca del Reyes in the main plaza!

February Events in Mexico

Candelaria & Son Jarocho Music Festival

Get the best of both worlds in Tlacotalpan, Veracruz the first week of February. Celebrate both Día de la Candelaria and Son Jarocho music with a non-stop music festival. Whoever found the doll figurine in the Rosca de Reyes hosts a party with atol and tamales, and the whole town watches the Virgin of Candelaria float down the Papaloapan River. Join in on a fandango, eat tamales and dance the days away to lively Veracruz-style tunes!

Festival Sayulita

During the first week of February the magical boho beach town of Sayulita hosts Festival Sayulita. Filmmakers from across the globe submit their films for viewing and compete for awards in five categories at this film/music/spirits/sports festival. You’ll taste local cuisine and spirits at food pairings, take yoga classes and paddle-boarding workshops, and enjoy movies on the beach, all culminating at the end of the festival with live music! If you’re a filmmaker yourself, submit your film and enjoy this whimsical event in one of Mexico’s most colorful surf towns!

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Carnival

If you’ve never heard of Carnival before, prepare yourself for the time of your life! Mexico and many other predominantly-Catholic countries in the world celebrate Carnival the week before Ash Wednesday to rage until the sun comes up and get all the partying out of their system before 40 days of abstinence during Lent.

Many parts of Mexico celebrate similarly to Mardi Gras in New Orleans, but some cities have wilder and more unique celebrations than others. No matter where you are, it’s likely you’ll see parades of costumed dancers, live music and, of course, fiestas! The great part about Carnival is it’s family-friendly in most places, so join in on the fun with the whole bunch.

If you really want to go all out for Carnival, celebrate in Veracruz, Cozumel or Mazatlan. These cities are famous for the most elaborate costumes, dancers and crowds. Some towns do more unique religious traditions, like running across flaming branches in San Juan Chamula. So clearly, no matter what you want to experience before Lent, Mexico offers it tenfold. Make your reservations six months in advance if you want to partake, it’s one of the busiest times of year and accommodations fill up fast.

thousands-monarch-butterflies-mexico

Courtesy of Alex Guillaume

March Events in Mexico

Festival Cultural de la Mariposa Monarca

November through March, hundreds of millions of Monarch butterflies escape the cold by migrating 3,000 miles to Mexico. See the weight of millions of butterflies visibly weigh down tree branches in the 200-square mile Monarch Butterfly Biosphere Reserve that spans Michoacan and Mexico State. The most popular spot for viewing this natural wonder is the Oyamel Fir trees in Michoacan, Mexico during peak season in January and February. The Festival Cultural de la Mariposa Monarca or Monarch Butterfly Cultural Festival is held the last week of February and brings together people from all over to educate on the Monarch butterflies and conservation efforts with artistic workshops, music and danceIf you want to stay overnight near the reserves, as opposed to taking a day trip from Mexico City, be sure to book in advance.

If this isn’t a scene straight out of a fairytale, then what is?

Festival de México

Join thousands for a two-week festival of arts and culture held in Mexico City’s historic district. Over 50 venues host art, music, dance and theatre acts from all over the world in the middle of March. Festival de México raises money for the restoration of Mexico City’s historic downtown area.

kulkukan-temple-chichen-itza-mexico

Spring Equinox

Day and night become equal on the day of the Spring Equinox—”equinox,” as in equal, because there are 12 hours of day and night. The specific date varies each year, but it always marks the beginning of spring and it’s celebrated in Mexico with parades, spring festivals or festivales de primavera and spiritual practices. The most popular place to celebrate the spring equinox is the Temple of Kukulkan at Chichén Itzá. The Mayans’ incredible knowledge and architecture lives on today in more than just the ruins—during the spring and autumn equinoxes the shadow cast when the pyramid aligns with the sun looks like a plumed serpent slithering along the temple.

If you happen to be in Mexico City on the spring equinox, wake up early and head to nearby Teotihuacán dressed in all white. Join thousands of others who climb the pyramid with arms outstretched to receive sacred energy.

bull-fight-matador-bull

Courtesy of Giovanni Calia

April Events in Mexico

San Marcos National Fair

Visit Aguascalientes, Mexico for this three—sometimes four—week national fair with more than 2,000 events including bullfights, rodeos, live music performances, markets, Mexico’s only walk-in casino, livestock exhibitions and more.

Cancún and Riviera Maya Food and Wine Festival

Every April, a masterpiece of gastronomy is presented at the Cancún and Riviera Maya Food & Wine Festival. Taste food and wine alongside world-renowned chefs and sommeliers in Cancún and surrounding areas at hotels like Zoetry Villa Rolandi and Azulik Tulum. ¡Muy delicioso!

Riviera Maya Film Fest

The Riviera Maya Film Festival takes places all across Quintana Roo in cities like Tulum, Cancún, Playa del Carmen and Isla Mujeres. This free film festival shows both unfinished and completed films by independent filmmakers from Mexico and across the planet, giving filmmakers a platform for recognition and viewers a chance to see spectacular works of art at no cost at screenings on the beach. While it’s usually held in April, dates vary each year so be sure to check in advance if you want to experience the magic!

May Events in Mexico

Cinco de Mayo

Believe it or not, Cinco de Mayo is not Mexico’s Independence Day. It commemorates the Mexican Army’s defeat of the French in the town of Puebla in 1862. The French had been undefeated for years and the Mexican Army was greatly outnumbered—making the victory an even greater cause for celebration.

Cinco de Mayo is really only celebrated in Puebla, not country wide. It’s not just an excuse to take tequila shots and eat tacos like in the US. If you’re in Puebla on May 5, expect to see colorful floats, piñatas and thousands of people take to the streets dressed as Mexican or French soldiers for live battle reenactments. Once the Mexican Army wins, the town celebrates with parties, food and dancing. You get two for one in Puebla—the Festival Internacional del Mole runs the few days leading up to Cinco de Mayo so be sure to indulge in some saucy Mole Poblano. Or, throw your own party—mole, tequila, tacos and all!

surfer-competition

Courtesy of Thomas Ashlock

June Events in Mexico

Los Cabos Open of Surf

Wave lovers should head to San Jose del Cabo for the Los Cabos Open of Surf at Zippers righthand pointbreak off Playa Costa Azul. Every June the World’s Surf League hosts men and women from across the planet to compete for titles alongside delicious food and music.

red-dance-skirt-mexico

Courtesy of Sydney Rae

July Events in Mexico

Guelaguetza Dance Festival

Head to Oaxaca in late July for a multifaceted glimpse at Mexican history and culture. Guelaguetza, also known as Los Lunes del Cerro, is one of Mexico’s most popular festivals held on the last two Mondays of July. It’s held in an 11,000-capacity amphitheater built inside its traditional celebration spot Fortin Hill, allowing everyone to partake in the festivities with a view of the city.

In the Zapotec Indian language, guelaguetza means “offering” or “gift.” Today, the festival is a blending of many traditions, most notably the honoring of Centeotl the corn goddess and Virgin of Carmen. Watch as the town comes alive with colorful costumes, folk dances, music and beautiful handicrafts representing each region. Buy tickets in advance if you’d like to sit in the front section of the amphitheater, otherwise enjoy free admission to the back sections. While Oaxaca is the original city, surrounding areas host smaller versions of the festival.

August Events in Mexico

La Morismas

Every August, the little town of Zacatecas holds festivities to honor Saint John the Baptist and a mock battle with more than 10,000 people reenacting battles between Christians and Moors in old Spain. Enjoy parades, faux battles and musicians playing on the streets in brightly-colored costumes.

chamber-music-instrument

Courtesy of Manuel Nageli

International Chamber Music Festival

Be enchanted in San Miguel de Allende at 6,000 feet above sea level every August with internationally-acclaimed chamber music. This UNESCO World Heritage Site town has hosted the festival since 1982. You’ll get lost strolling this walkable city’s cobblestone streets lined with architectural treasures and hear music playing across the city, not just in the venues. Concert proceeds sponsor Mexican student musicians to continue studying alongside professionals.

virgin-mary-figurines

Courtesy of Thom Masat

Assumption of Mary

August 15 marks the Virgin Mary’s assumption to heaven and is celebrated in many towns throughout Mexico with feasts, special masses, an abundance of flowers and processions with a statue of Mary.

In Huamantla, Tlaxcala, the festivities run for two weeks. Vibrant carpets of sawdust decorate the streets in designs of flowers in every color and parades and dancers fill the streets. The real excitement is the Saturday after the procession—the town celebrates its own version of running with the bulls called Huamantlada. Men from all over Mexico prepare themselves with bullfighter capes and courage for a true run for their lives!

Fiestas de la Vendimia (Wine Harvest Festival)

Individual wineries in Valle de Guadalupe and Ensenada, Mexico’s top wine regions host elegant galas, wine tastings and gatherings making a three-week long food and wine fest to celebrate their annual harvest. In 2018 the festival runs from July 26-August 19.

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Courtesy of Andrey Larin

September Events in Mexico

Independence Day

Celebrate Mexico’s independence from Spain every year on September 16. On September 15, shout “¡Viva México!” with the entire nation surrounded by green, red and white, and fireworks on all sides in town squares and watch the reenactment of the Cry of Dolores—Dolores being the town the war for independence began in. Party and partake in Mexico’s most patriotic holiday with parades and festivities running all day on September 16. Don’t forget to drink a Bandera Mexicana—a shot in the colors of the Mexican Flag or shots of tequila, lime juice and sangria.




guanajuato-mexico

October Events in Mexico

Festival Internacional Cervantino

El Cervantino runs every October in Guanajuato and what began in 1972 as a nod to the publicly performed plays by Miguel de Cervantes (author of Don Quijote) has grown into one of the most notable cultural events in Latin America and the entire world. Thousands of artists converge on colonial city Guanajuato for 19 days each October, participating in events—both indoor and outdoor—throughout the city. Guests of all ages enjoy everything from street performances and art exhibits to full shows by famous theater troupes and opera performances. As one of Mexico’s most important cultural events, it’s imperative you plan ahead and book your tickets in advance to guarantee accommodations. Be sure to see the Entremeses Cervantinos show to get a glimpse of how it all began.

camera-filming-street

Courtesy of Jakob Owens

Morelia International Film Festival

Venture to the UNESCO World Heritage Site city of Morelia in Michoacán, México for the best in regional filmmaking, open-air screenings and documentaries. The Morelia International Film Festival or FICM, draws the best up-and-coming talent from Mexico and internationally. This unique festival is almost entirely walkable making it fun and easy if you’re staying in town. Space is limited for each screening so it’s best to buy tickets in advance, but all exhibits and conferences are free. In 2017, Pixar’s movie about Mexico’s Day of the Dead celebrations Coco debuted at the film festival just in time for the holiday, causing many attendees to stay in Morelia and nearby Pátzcuaro to witness the festivities for themselves.

Feria Nacional del Mole

Sample mole alongside more than half a million people in San Pedro Atocpan every October. Mole is a sweet and spicy traditional sauce made with a multitude of ingredients, but frequently using chilies, chocolate and seeds. If you’ve heard of it, it was most likely as Mole Poblano, when the dark sauce is over roasted poblano peppers. Mole is officially from Puebla and Oaxaca, but it’s served all over Mexico and San Pedro Atocpan has capitalized on this Mexican favorite through selling mole in paste form—mole preparation normally takes hours and the paste makes it significantly easier. You’ll see stands selling mole paste, adobo paste and mole dishes prepared in a variety of ways.

Cancún Jazz Festival

Listen to top-notch tunes while vacationing on the world’s nicest beaches. Every October, Hard Rock Hotel Riviera Maya hosts world-famous jazz musicians for the annual Cancún Jazz Festival.

skull-face-paint-dia-de-los-muertos-mexico-city

Courtesy of Salvador Altamira

November Events in Mexico

Celebrate Day of the Dead in Mexico

Visit Mexico October 31 through November 2 to experience its most colorful and festive celebration. Día de Muertos or Day of the Dead—the dark yet oh-so-fun holiday that brings up images of everything from skeletons to parties—is a time when Mexican families remember and celebrate with their deceased loved ones. It may look spooky and ominous, but in some regions, this holiday is more important than Christmas. UNESCO named Día de Muertos in Mexico an Intangible Cultural Heritage of Humanity revealing it as a must-experience festival on any traveler’s list.

In Mexico, death is a cause for celebration—not the end of life, but the beginning of a new life. Across the country you’ll see streets decorated with marigold flowers or cempúchitl, children with faces painted like calaveras (sugar skulls), emulating La Calavera Catrina or the ancient Aztec goddess Mictecacihuatl, and families celebrating their loved ones and beckoning them to make the journey to our world for this two day period.

The first day of Día de Muertos is known as All Saints Day or Día de los Angelitos and celebrates deceased children. The second day is known as All Souls Day or Los Fieles Difuntos and celebrates deceased adults. Families make altars in their homes and in cemeteries with candles, marigolds and offerings of the deceased’s favorite food, drink, memorabilia and pan de muerto—sweet bread baked to look as if it has bones on it. Some families even sleep overnight at the grave, a mournful but celebratory time to be with their loved one.

While every town across Mexico has its own iteration of the celebration, Oaxaca, Pátzcuaro, Aguascalientes and San Andres Mixquic have some of the most over-the-top traditions and the most visitors. Tuxtepec, Oaxaca streets are colored by sawdust rugs carefully arranged, for later judging in a contest, and you’ll find both solemn vigils and parties alike. In Pátzcuaro, locals take to Pátzcuaro Lake with canoes lit by a single candle and travel to the Island of Janitzio to spend the night in the cemetary—witnessing this spectacle is a true treat. In Aguascalientes, the birthplace of José Guadalupe Posada (the artist famous for his depictions of calaveras), there’s a week-long Festival of Skulls or Festival de las Calaveras. And in San Andres Mixquic, you’ll find booths selling snacks and souvenirs, traditional dancing, a cemetery filled with loved ones and gifts for the departed and plenty of depictions of sugar skulls.

When you see children carrying mock coffins and pumpkin lanterns in the streets, drop in a few pesos, that’s what they expect!

Fiesta de Noviembre

Make your way to Puerto Escondido, Oaxaca in November for the ultimate beach party with surf, bikinis and mezcal. All different tournaments and festivals make up the November Festival, including Zicatela Beach’s International Surf Tournament, International Sailfish Tournament, a motocross tournament, Coastal Dance Festival, Mezcal Festival and more.

Revolution Day

Every third Monday of November, Mexico celebrates Revolution Day with parades, speeches, bazaars and ceremonies in Campo Marte military field in Mexico City. The holiday’s official date is November 20, commemorating the beginning of the Mexican Revolution in 1910 that was originally against president Porfirio Diaz and lasted 10 years.

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Courtesy of Ian Dooley

International Hot Air Balloon Festival

Imagine more than 200 hot air balloons decorating the blue sky over a lake in Mexico. That’s what you’ll add to your memory book in León, Guanajuato in November. Since 2002, internationally recognized balloonists from countries including Spain, Turkey, Russia and Australia fill the sky with their floating masterpieces. Grab a coat and enjoy the outdoors with live music, DJs and a well-populated sky.

December Events in Mexico

Feast of the Virgin of Guadalupe

December 12 marks the Feast of the Virgin Guadalupe, one of Mexico’s most important feast days. It commemorates when the Virgin Mary appeared to Juan Diego Cuauhtlatoatzin on Tepeyac Hill near Mexico City in 1531. You’ll see processions, street fairs, dancing, fireworks, special masses and children dressed up as Juan Diego with mustaches and red belts over white shawls. This brilliant display of the Mexican people’s faith and devotion can be seen across the country, but especially in Mexico City where more than two million people visit the Basilica of Guadalupe. If you want to go all out, climb to the monastery on top of Tepeyac Hill—the original image of Our Lady Guadalupe from Juan Diego himself resides there today.

music-festival-dancing-guys

Courtesy of Stephen Arnold

Tropico

Every December, Acapulco hosts the music festival your dreams are made of: Tropico.  This whimsical gathering on the beach keeps your toes in the sand, a mezcal in your hand and nothing but pure bliss filling the atmosphere. This is more than just a time to party like the Kennedys circa 1953—this thoughtfully planned out festival shows both established and up-and-coming artists with stunning ocean backdrops, authentic cuisine and beach-side hotel accommodations.

sparkler-in-hand

Courtesy of Stephanie McCabe

New Year’s Eve

Mexico celebrates the new year like most of the world—with fireworks, parties and traditions like burning a scarecrow that represents the old year, wearing red underwear and breaking dishes…we’ve all done that, right? The largest New Year’s Eve celebration is in Mexico City around the zócalo and this is where you’ll want to be. Most local families enjoy a late dinner and go out partying afterward. ¡Feliz año nuevo!

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