Why are Mexican cemeteries so colorful? Rainbow tombstones, Day of the Dead rituals & skeleton art in Yucatan!

day of the dead group tour mexico trip

It’s hard to feel “grave” in this Mexican graveyard… Even my skull shirt is smiling!

Let’s welcome 2020 with more Day of the Dead stories from Mexico.

Last November, I joined a trip led by Borderline Projects x Morbid Anatomy (you can already get on the email list for next year’s tour). We traveled through the Yucatan, and learned how this joyful ritual celebrates departed friends and family.

cheerful cemeteries mexico yucatan graveyard colors

On the first evening, I celebrated Dia de los Muertos with a Lost Souls parade in a Merida cemetery (see this story).

On day 2, Borderline Projects took us to colorful graveyards in Hoctun and Izamal, where we witnessed families cleaning the rainbow tombs and making loving offerings.

sugar skull tshirt goth top shirts

Even though it was November 1st, the Yucatan was still very hot and humid. (Hello, global warming…)

I’m wearing oversized designer sunglasses by Balenciaga, and a sugar skull screenprinted t-shirt by Chaser Brand.

I’m hiding from UV rays under four types of mineral sunscreen, a Goth skull umbrella by Raven Goods, and a wide-brimmed hat by Lack of Color. More from these designers below:

rainbow pastel tombstones hoctun gravestones

Borderline’s “Death in Mexico” tour arranged all our hotels and transportation for four days. Our group of about 40 people drove 45 km east from Mérida, and soon arrived in Hoctun — one of over 100 municipalities in the Yucatan.

While many Mexican burial grounds are colorful, Cemetario Hoctun stands out as one of the most eccentric and vivid. Talented artists in the community painted flowers and religious images on the house-like tombs.

mexico Dia de Muertos graveyard rituals

Day of the Dead actually spreads out over several days, and each region of Mexico has its own cultural twist on the tradition.

In the Yucatan, November 1st is “U Hanal Nucuch Uinicoob,” or dedicated to the adults who have left this world. They are remembered with offerings of food, alcohol, cigarettes and other favorites placed on their graves, and/or in altars set up in homes.

sugar skull umbrella mexican goth

I loved strolling through Hoctun Cemetery, and seeing the wide, creative variety of tombs. Families painted these resting places with the favorite color of the deceased, and added artistic or sculptural flourishes that represented them.

painted colored tombs mexican cemetery art statues

We tend to think of graveyards as “spooky, gloomy, haunted” places — but that’s not the case in Mexico. I can’t imagine a zombie or vampire living in one of these pastel rainbow tombs!

rainbow graveyard, brightly colored tombs

The brightly colored mausoleums convey the Day of the Dead attitude to the end of life. There’s no real separation between the living and dead, and we should celebrate them with glee.

mexican grave decorations paintings

Hoctun’s graves are well-tended and decorated. Family members keep the colors vivid with fresh coats of paint, especially around this time of year.

morbid anatomy borderline projects tour mexico culture

Most bear the typical markers of Christianity (crosses, angels) — but others are unique expressions of Mayan culture.

Some of the graves look like traditional houses, with circular forms.  Others are painted with marigold flowers, or huipil embroidered clothing patterns. On my right, you can see a roof shaped like an ancient Maya pyramid!

Kinich Kakmó, Izamal stone pyramid

In addition to Dia de Muertos-related activities, Borderline Projects’ tour lets you dig deep into the local culture, architecture, crafts and food. 

Our bus continued to Izamal, and stopped at the foot of Kinich Kakmó. This partly-restored Mayan pyramid is the third largest in the Yucatán, rising 34 meter high. 

(I’m wearing a Gothic parasol by Raven Goods, a skeleton shirt by Chaser, and a sun hat by Lack of Color.)

yucatan merida mayan pyramids ruins

Made out of limestone, this Mayan pyramid is dedicated to the deity Kinich Kakmó, or “the fire macaw with the sun face.” Fittingly for this sunny region, he is a solar god.

climbing ancient pyramid mexico merida izamal

First, you have to climb up these stone steps to reach the grassy plain where the pyramid stands. From there, you can choose to scramble up the steep incline.

weird mayan aliens bizarre ruins archaeology

Mayan civilization was remarkably advanced, and full of mysteries that we’ve yet to understand.

Why is there a ring near the foot of Kinich Kakmo? A crop circle of the apocalypse… or a portal into an alternate universe? 

Kinich Kakmó temple Izamal mexico

In ancient times, people would present sacrificial offerings to Kinich Kakmó under the scorching sun that he represented. Some say the deity would take on the form of a fiery macaw, and fly down to grab the sacrifices. 

mexico obscure ruins maya pyramids

The pyramid dates back to the Mayan classic era, or 400-600 ACE. The immensity of the stones reminded me of the pyramids of Giza, Egypt.

yucatan merida stone pyramid

The Yucatan and Riviera Maya have plenty of famous pyramids, such as Coba and Chichen Itza (see my guide to these ruins).

Personally, I prefer exploring the lesser-known but just-as-impressive structures like this one. Entry is free, and you can avoid seeing tourists everywhere.

colorful mexican signs food vendors

Borderline’s Mexico cultural tour included plenty of free time, which is great for travellers (especially seasoned ones) who prefer a less structured experience.

Photographer Julie Hunter and I wandered around the small town of Izamal, which is as multicolored as the graveyard. These men are hanging out by a Paleteria for popsicles and frozen ice cream treats.

mexico churros stands carniva

This churros almost had my name on it! (I skipped the street food, just to be careful. Read on to see where I feasted.)

colorful mexican amusement park merry go round

At home with the kitsch of a Mexican carnival. The merry-go-round had a Roadrunner and Pikachu, in addition to horses.

izamal yellow town mexico architecture yucatan

I had never heard of Izamal before this tour. Most tourists stick to Mexican resorts, so I’m glad I got to see off-the-beaten-path places like this.

Known as the “yellow city,” Izamal is one of Mexico’s “17 Magical Towns” (Pueblos Mágicos) thanks to its charming architecture, and mystical background.

 Monastery San Antonio de Padua, Izamal mexico

Izamal was once a Mayan spiritual center with multiple pyramids. After the Spanish came, locals were forced to tear down the main pyramid and build this monastery and church on top. The conquistadors believed this would dissuade residents from “devil worship.”

big crucifix cross mexico

However, miracles of healing began to occur. The Mayans had previously dedicated their pyramid to Itzam Na, a god of healing… perhaps the “devil” prevailed after all? (Even though this red crucifix isn’t upside-down!)

day of the dead food offerings ancestors

One of my goals in visiting the Yucatán was to try as many local dishes as possible. Here, Day of the Dead is known as Hanal Pixan, or Food of the Souls.

This restaurant shows the type of altar that people set up in the homes. Photos of deceased ancestors are lovingly displayed next to marigold flowers, fruits, drinks, and food offerings.

Pre-Columbian stucco head mayan face

Our group had lunch at Kinich, known as the best restaurant in Izamal.

I discovered my new favorite drink — chaya. It’s a refreshing vegetable juice made from tree spinach, a shrub native to the Yucatan. Full of nutrients, this green drink is especially tasty as a margarita with tequila and a salted rim. (I simply had to offer this Mayan big-head a sip!)

Kinich Izamal restaurant food menu

Julie and I shared a sampling at Kinich. These are handmade tortillas in different styles (salbutes and panuchos), with roast chicken and avocado, cochinita pibil (marinated pulled pork shoulder), and relleno negro (more on that below).

On another day, I tried mucbil pollo, or “chicken that has been buried” — it’s the special dish eaten for Day of the Dead in the Yucatan. Mucbipollo is similar to a tamale, but larger and crunchier. Usually filled with chicken and pork, it’s wrapped in banana leaves and slow-cooked underground. Hearty and multi-faceted — we loved it.

yucatan mexican ingredients cooking school

In Kinich’s restaurant garden, you can smell and touch some of the regional ingredients used in the dishes. Our guide Claudia is showing us achiote, an orange-red tree seed that adds a nutty, peppery flavor. 

black goth mexican dish mole kinich izamal

Achiote is one of the many ingredients in relleno negro, a Yucatecan dish with a rather Gothic look! It consists of chicken and a hard boiled egg in a savory black sauce: the dark result of mixing various chili peppers and seasonings.

Centro Cultural y Artesanal Izamal museum

Before leaving Izamal, we popped into the Centro Cultural y Artesanal. This small art and cultural center holds an inspiring collection of Mexican folk art, made from all types of media.

Entrance costs 25 pesos (just over $1 US), and it’s worth it to see the many happy skeletons inside. A tall La Catrina towers over one room, with a snake draped around her neck. (Is she signing opera? And how fabulous are her nails?)

mexican skeleton sculpture folk art statue

Special delivery from a devil, skeleton and angel… Bread of the Dead, carried on the head! (Did you notice they are biking on top of colored skulls?)

devils skeletons mexican artwork crafts

On the right, these cute skeletons are dancing the Mexican maypole / ribbon dance, El Baile de las Cintas.

On the left, the fight between good and evil never ends… (Will the devil flip over the angel, and turn the cross upside down?)

mexican jaguars cute kawaii

I enjoyed discovering Mexican artists like Gabriel Pérez Rajón. The jaguar is an important symbol for the Mayans, and he gives the fierce felines a modern, cute interpretation.

Art Museum and Cultural Centre of Izamal

My eyes were drawn to this ceramic funeral procession by Alfonso Soteno. Lots of sugar skulls, jaguars and warriors joined the happy parade.

day of dead skeletons catrinas parade

Izamal’s artisan museum lets you see lively works from communities all around the country. You can also purchase home goods or fashion items to support these rural creators (I was tempted by an embroidered skull tote bag.)

Izamal municipal cemetery

As the sun was setting, our tour arrived at Izamal municipal cemetery. Just like in Hoctun, this Cementerio Municipal is a colorful resting ground filled with personality.

mexicans cleaning graves tombs

How wonderful to see people bringing food and flowers for their loved ones to enjoy.

cemetario municipal Izamal

Hanal Pixan’s rituals keeps the connection strong between the living and the dead.

yucatan colored gravestones tombs

Many families come here together to place ofrenda, and remember the dead through stories.

why mexican cemeteries happy colorful rainbow colored

Izamal’s cemetery is arranged a tad haphazardly, but that adds to the quirky, individual feeling of the grave markers.

mexican woman cleaning grave

Many of the “houses” had a vivid fresh coat of paint. This lady is opening up the door to put flowers inside.

pink mexican tombstone offerings

This photo made me think of a quote: “From my rotting body, flowers shall grow, and I am in them, and that is eternity.” — Edvard Munch

Mayan Rebirth Day of the Dead Yucatan tour

It was a joy to explore Yucatan’s cemeteries, with a group of intelligent and darkly-inclined travellers.

goth fashion photoshoot graveyard cemetery

A Gothic gown is perfect for walking through the aisles of the dead.

one foot in grave, fall open dug grave cemetery

Never forget, we all have one foot in the grave… Might as well have fun while we’re still on this Earth.

mexico osario graveyards

Coming up, I’ll show you the ossuaries and poignant “brushing of the bones” ritual that we witnessed on Day 3.

Cathedral of Mérida, Yucatán at night

Isn’t it remarkable how much we did in a single day? And the night’s not over yet…. Borderline Projects suggested that we visit Cathedral of Mérida at night, for a special sporting event.

mayan musicians skeleton facepaint skull makeup

I was thrilled to see a demonstration of Pok-A-Tok, the ancient Mayan ball game! I took this photo of the fierce drummer and dancer, who look like living skeletons.

Ancient Mayan dance ritual bird

The musicians and dancers set the stage with a performance inspired by Mayan legends. A man dressed as an owl leapt and flapped his wings, referencing the owls that invited brothers Hun-Hunahpú and Vucub Hunahpú to play the deadly ball game.

Pok-A-Tok ancient mayan ball game

The ball players, with their faces and bodies painted like skeletons, paced and genuflected in unison. An elder in a headdress held up a smoking goblet to their outstretched arms… it was like a scene from the Apocalypto movie. 

pok a tok mayan sport players ball

Let the games begin. To play Pok Ta Pok, the two teams try to pass the ball through a small ring in the center, without using their hands, feet or heads.

Some records indicate that in ancient times, the victorious team was honored… by being sacrificed. Or, perhaps only the winning captain was decapitated. (We didn’t stick around for the full match to find out!)

skeleton cat statue

Merida’s boutiques were open late, so we did a bit of browsing and souvenir shopping. Skulls and bones, everywhere… even a cat skeleton.

cute mexican skeletons smiling crafts kawaii

Merida is known for its elaborate silver filigree jewelry, and embroidered garments (huipils). I couldn’t resist getting one of these squiggly-mouthed skeletons as a memento.

boo nintendo ghost shirt t-shirt

I came across a group of Nuestra Señora de la Santa Muerte, or the Lady of Death.  

But I took home this Boo~ t-shirt… How could I resist the bizarre cracked-egg ghost design? (It reminds me of the shy Nintendo character as well.)

merida hidden speakeasy Malahat

Time to wrap up with a drink at Malahat, a hidden speakeasy bar. I’m not exaggerating when I say hidden… the entrance was extremely well concealed. It took us quite a few tries before figuring out how to get inside. (Hint, look for a secret entrance in an alley-like area in the back, by the parking lot).

merida hip secret cocktail bar

Loved the craft cocktails and hip atmosphere at Malahat. The bar carries a wide variety of liquors from Mexico and abroad. I highly recommend the “Mayahuel” cocktail, which contained green chartreuse and a spring of burning rosemary.

merida mexico bars nightlife malahat

We enjoyed the live electronic sounds of a DJ, and admire the winning pumpkins from that evening’s Jack-o-lantern carving contest.

(For more Merida travel tips, see my first story about the Paranormal Museum, elegant mansions, and Day of the Dead cemetery parade).

day of the dead tour guide tours mexico

Thank you to Salvador Olguin and everyone at Borderline Projects / Morbid Anatomy for inviting me on this eye-opening journey.

Wouldn’t you like to join Borderline Projects’ 2020 Mexico tour? Each year, the dates coincide with Day of the Dead but feature a different region, so it’s never exactly the same.

mexican haunted spooky cemetery

You can find out more on Borderline’s website, and sign up for their newsletter. This way, you’ll be the first to know next year’s trip details and registration.

Perhaps I’ll be back as well… so we can travel together, and experience Day of the Dead in Mexico!

2019 Travel & Culture blog year in review! Best of moments, looking back at favorite destinations & what’s ahead.

very long purple hair, healthy long dyed hair color

Can’t believe it is already time to say farewell to 2019!

I didn’t get to try space travel or meet aliens this year… but still, a lot of good things have come about (My hair grew like a weed too…)

white shearling coat winter outfit fashion blogger vancouver bc

Let’s kiss the year goodbye, with a look back at some of this year’s best blogging moments and travel destinations.

Did you miss out on some of my stories, such as from New Orleans, Salem, and Cairo? If so, they’re all here — along with a selection of favorite outfits of 2019.

fashion blogger designer purses goth gothic skull bags

Here’s a holiday party coordinate to wrap up the end of the year. I’m wearing a bat sweater by Jawbreaker Clothing, barrette by Sylvain Le Hen Hairdesignaccess, skirt by Erbert Chong, necklaces Stephen Einhorn. And I’m carrying my new favorite bag…

luxury goth purse alexander mcqueen silver skull mini shoulder bags

I was too naughty for Santa this year… but Satan’s got my back! I’ve drooled over Alexander McQueen’s Goth couture for decades, but never owned one of his skull purses until now.

alexander mcqueen leather skull crosbody bag, silver skull purse

This new season Alexander McQueen mini-bag is space goth perfection — feel so lucky to be blessed by Satan/Santa! Love the silver crocodile leather, silver crossbody chain, and skull clasp with glimmering crystal eyes.

goth christmas stree outfit, holiday outfits xmas gothic

Here’s a look at the full Xmas party outfit. Goth-ing around the Christmas tree… (Snakeskin platform high heel ankle boots by Acne Studios).

alexander mcqueen silver croc mini bag, skull clutch purse

Details of the silver croc leather and skulls design, and fold-over flap with magnetic closure. The small rectangular shoulder bag is compact, yet large enough to hold essentials.

Peep at this Gothic designer purse below, along with more Alexander McQueen creations.

jeremy scott polka dot leather mini skirt, alien purse bag

My friends Melissa and Eric also got me a holographic alien backpack– it’s my favorite emoji, along with the purple devil. Perfect for carrying around my blaster gun.

My leather polka-dot mini skirt is by Jeremy Scott. It happens to match my head scarf from Lola Ramona.

instagrammable vancouver spots walls, murals instagram vancouver accounts style

Alright. Time to reflect on the year gone by. As a travel writer, I’m not a “country counter” — meaning that I don’t go out of my way to visit as many countries as possible, for the sake of numbers.

However, I came across an online checklist and was curious about how many places I’ve visited… To my surprise, I’ve hit 70 countries on 6 continents! (Haven’t made it to Antarctica yet.)

paris famous fountain, fashion bloggers traveling poses

This year, I went to places old and new, with a focus on culture — both ancient and modern. (Click the city names to see all my stories from each destination.)

I made it back to Paris, France at the start of the year, and covered the spookiest, most Gothic attractions in the city. The Catacombs filled with skulls, classic absinthe bar Cantada II, and Pere Lachaise cemetery lit up my dark heart.

great pyramids viewpoint egypt cairo 3 giza pyramid view

I returned to Africa for the third time — for glorious Egypt, land of Cleopatra and mummies! Who better to explore the pyramids with than Yukiro?

great sphinx travel blogger girl instagram traveling cairo

Travel Talk Tours took us all around Egypt, including to Cairo, Giza (the Sphinx!), Luxor, Aswan, Dahab, and on the River Nile. We floated up above the desert in a hot air balloon, and sailed on the waters in a felucca.

egypt millennial young travelers group tour ramses statues

As travelers who adore mysterious ancient cultures, Egypt was everything and more. The art and culture are out of this world, and it was a privilege to be standing on the sand where human civilization began.

smallville beirut hotel, hipster lebanon fashion style lgbt drag queen

We also hopped over to Beirut, Lebanon  — and you can tell we had a blast in this creative, party city. Yukiro and I were enthralled by the hip art studios, Lebanese restaurants, and inclusive LGBT+ clubs and hangouts. I want to go back soon to see more.

parksville grotto spa pool, wellness travel blogger victoria bc review hotel pools

I did some traveling in Canada as well. Mermaid vibes at Grotto Spa in Parksville on Vancouver Island, where I had a much-needed beach and wellness getaway.

frontenac hotel quebec city architecture towers hotel

In the spring / summer, I said bonjour to Quebec City— one of my favorite eating destinations of 2019. Still thinking about those fresh French cheeses, scones and more at the Chez Muffy buffet…

montreal hip modern fine dining restaurant

I also ate like a queen in Montreal, and dived into the city’s progressive art and nightlife. These adventures included a rave in a pyramid, and virtual reality exhibition.

purge tv show trailer reddit netflix season 2 series

A few new and unexpected opportunities arose in 2019. Blumhouse Productions and USA Network sent me to New Orleans to report on The Purge TV show — and appear in the horror series’ finale! I had a bit too much fun being a “scream queen” and trying on the crazy Purge masks.

boston goth gothic edgar allan poe statue

Then, I teleported to Boston where I stayed in a robot hotel, and hung out with skull gravestones and Edgar Allan Poe. My Goth guide to Boston, MA is live if you missed it.

salem witch museum goth halloween haunted happenings

Witch biaattccch! How could I resist going to Salem, Massachusetts right before Halloween? My Goth guide to the town’s witch trials history and haunted happenings was one of the most popular blogs I wrote this year.

winter fashion blogger outfit ideas canadian style instagram banff

Quite a different atmosphere from the winter wonderland of Banff, Alberta — where I stayed in the haunted Fairmont Hotel.

day of the dead spooky goth makeup costumes

In October, it was a dark dream come true to be in Mexico for Day of the Dead, with Morbid Anatomy /  Borderline Projects. I wore sugar skull makeup and posed in front of the “devil house” in Merida, MX.

day of the dead parade lost souls merida yucatan mexico

Dazzled by the Dia de los Muertos rituals I witnessed during my cultural journey in the Yucatan. I still have so much to share from this trip, so you can look forward to wild stories in the new year.

mexico city giant huge sugar skull display statue

I also visited Mexico City for the first time. So. Many. Skulls! Can’t wait to show you more from CDMX, a metropolis full of alternative culture (including a witch market).

girls in handcuffs kawaii

So, what’s next for 2020? In the first week of January, I’m escaping somewhere warm… Palm Springs and Los Angeles, California!

Excited to see my long-time friends, and visit Joshua Tree and Palm Springs for the first time. If you have Cali tips for me, I’m all ears.

at home in canada magazine, travel writer article clips scans

I’m heading to NYC in February, and then I have an extremely exciting journey in spring 2020… it’s once again in partnership with Travel Talk Tours, who sent me to Egypt. Details to come — let’s just say the photos will be fab.

In addition to these travel blog projects, I did a fair bit of journalism and project managing in 2019. I’ve been writing for various publications, such as Home in Canada (above – national print magazine). I also was a project manager for Google’s Touring Bird, where I managed hundreds of travel writers, and wrote over 666 insider travel tips. Looking forward to more of this in 2020.

holographic alien purse, long dark purple hair asian

And that’s all she wrote for 2019. See you in the future… perhaps the aliens will finally come to take me away…

How was your past year in travel and growth? (Hair or otherwise!)


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