Michoacán Day of the Dead: Pátzcuaro, Janitzio, and Morelia

Do you want to experience Día de Muertos in Michoacán? Excellent choice.

I’ve lived in Mexico for six years and in my opinion, Pátzcuaro Day of the Dead is one of the most authentic Día de Muertos celebrations in the country.

It’s a bucket list experience that will leave a lasting impression on how you interpret life and death.

I created this Michoacán Day of the Dead guide so that you can experience these beautiful celebrations to the fullest.

I’ve included information about Janitzio Day of the Dead in Lago de Pátzcuaro, Día de Muertos in Morelia, and other small towns near Pátzcuaro. Day of the Dead tours are also available to book which help to take the stress out of planning and navigating transportation.

Let’s explore Day of the Dead in Michoacán and what makes it unique.

Flowers and candles decorate a gravesite for Dia De Muertos in Patzcuaro.

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How is Day of the Dead celebrated in Michoacán?

Day of the Dead in Michoacán is a vibrant and deeply rooted tradition. Families create beautiful altars, called ofrendas which are displayed in their homes and cemeteries.

The altars are adorned with marigold flowers, photos of the deceased and their favorite food and drink. They believe that these offerings help to guide the spirits back to the world of the living.

Día de Muertos in Michoacán is celebrated from Morelia to Uruapan and beyond. I’ve included events throughout the state of Michoacán, however I highly recommend experiencing Day of the Dead in Pátzcuaro.

Keep your eye out for other events wherever you are celebrating Día de Muertos en Michoacán as smaller events such as cultural dances change yearly. 

Editor’s Choice
A grave with flowers, candles, and food on the Dia de Muertos in Patzcuaro.

Prefer a small group tour with everything planned for you?

This 5-day Pátzcuaro Day of the Dead tour is a beautifully curated experience. Each day you’ll go on unique cultural adventures that you won’t find anywhere else. Hotels included.

October 30 – November 3, 2024

What happens in Patzcuaro during the Day of the Dead?

During Day of the Dead in Pátzcuaro and the island of Janitzio, families gather at cemeteries to spend the night with their departed loved ones.

This intimate connection between the living and the dead is the heart of Michoacán Day of the Dead celebrations.

As the center of the of Purépecha culture, the traditions in Pátzcuaro run deep. The area is also significant because the Purépechas believe Lake Pátzcuaro is the gateway to the underworld.

Entrance of a cemetery decorated entirely in yellow and some red flowers on the Day of the Dead in Michoacan.

If you can’t find a place stay in Patzcuaro (either because hotels are booked or too expensive), I’ve included some Patzcuaro Day of the Dead tours from Morelia below.

Did you know? The Purépechas in Michoacan were the only indigenous group in Mexico not conquered by the Aztecs, which you can read about in this BBC article.

It’s believed that one reason is because the Purépecha were skilled in smelting copper items which they still do in Santa Clara del Cobre Michoacan.

When is Day of the Dead in Michoacan?

Day of the Dead in Michoacan is November 1st and November 2nd when it is believed the souls of the departed come to visit.

At midnight on November 1st, the souls of children return to visit and on November 2nd, the souls of the adults. Thus the celebration begins on the night of October 31st, just like Day of the Dead in other parts of Mexico.

Did you know? The Purépechas believe that when the Monarch butterflies return to Mexico in November (around the dates of Day of the Dead), they are the spirits of their deceased loved ones coming to visit.

Candles lighted on a graveyard decorated with flowers on the Dia de Muertos in Patzcuaro.

Pátzcuaro Día de Muertos

The small towns around Lago de Pátzcuaro are some of the most authentic places to experience this celebration of life and death.

Whether you’re staying in town or visiting from Morelia for the night, here are some of my favorite places to visit during Day of the Dead in Patzcuaro.

Orange flowers decorating an entrance on Dia De Muertos in Patzcuaro.

Procession of Altars in Tzintzuntzan

Travel about 30 minutes north along Lago de Patzcuaro to see the procession of altars in Tzintzuntzan. I recommend visiting on the afternoon and evening of November 1st.

Residents build an altar to honor their deceased loved ones and invite their souls to visit in the night. The shape of the altars are wide ranging from traditional to more elaborate. But most importantly, they represent the person’s life, work, and hobbies.

A group of mostly women and children throwing flowers while celebrating the altar procession on the Day of the Dead in Patzcuaro.

They are decorated with lots of marigold flowers as well as the favorite items and a framed photograph of the deceased. The family parades the altars through the streets of Tzintzuntzan, dropping marigold petals and burning copal to help the spirits find their way to the cemetery.

How do you pronounce Tzintzuntzan? The name means “place of the hummingbirds,” and it helps to keep this in mind. Break the word into three parts, tzin-tzun-tzan. Place your tongue towards the front of your mouth and pronounce each part of the word like a hummingbird buzzing around quickly.

Night shot of a grave with yellow flowers, candles and food on Dia De Muertos in Patzcuaro

The procession continues to the gravesite inside the Tzintzuntzan cemetery where the family places the altar and lights candles. Throughout the night they share stories, play songs, eat and drink as they celebrate and visit together inside the cemetery.

When you first arrive to Tzintzuntzan, start by watching the blessing of the altars on the grounds of the Convento Franciscano De Santa Ana. The blessing happens in small groups of 3 or 4 families at a time.

Tip: There was a small but fabulous market of hand embroidered textiles from Tzintzuntzan on the side of the convent grounds. My friend purchased a beautiful piece that depicted a traditional dance of the region.

Día de Muertos en Janitzio (Lago de Pátzcuaro)

A person carrying yellow flowers on Dia De Muertos in Patzcuaro.

As the largest island in Lago de Pátzcuaro, Día de Muertos en Janitzio draws a large crowd of visitors each year.

If you visit Janitzio during Day of the Dead, you can expect a 2+ hour wait for a boat to get there and 4+ hours in line to wait for a boat to return.

For this reason, my friend and I decided to visit earlier in the evening. We arrived in the late afternoon and left around sunset in order to take one of the last boats back to Pátzcuaro.

Aerial view of the Janitzio cemetery with flying birds on the Day of the Dead with the Patzcuaro Lake in the background.

It meant we saw the beginning of the Janitzio Day of the Dead celebrations as residents began to decorate the graves of their loved ones with flowers and candles. In my opinion, it was worth it not to stand in line for hours waiting for the ferry.

Tip: Check the Janitzio ferry schedule for Day of the Dead when you arrive. I found that on some days, the boat times are limited.

Visit the Ofrendas in Santa Fe de la Laguna

During Día de Muertos in Michoacan, the earthy scent of copal permeates the air of Santa Fe de la Laguna. The streets are sprinkled with marigold flowers which serve as an invitation to visit the ofrenda inside a resident’s home.

We follow the paths of flower petals leading us inside where we find friendly faces that encourage us to view the ofrenda they created to welcome their deceased loved ones to visit.

Family altar decorated with yellow and red flowers and food on the Day of the Dead in Patzcuaro.

An intricate flower arch creates the framework for the ofrenda. The offerings are in the form of various fruits, bread, sweets, and the favorite foods and drinks of the deceased. In the center, a photo of the deceased loved one is placed in remembrance.

It’s incredibly personal to be welcomed into a stranger’s home during this family celebration. In each home we visited, we were warmly welcomed and sometimes proudly offered a plate of food.

A Day of the Dead altar at Santa Fe Laguna Michoacan with orange flowers and a lot of fruits and food offered in front.

Tip: When you visit the ofrendas in Santa Fe de la Laguna, you should bring fruits and/or candles for the ofrendas. You’ll also find many children asking for money or candy. I’m not sure when this tradition started but I recommend having either small peso coins or candy to give out.

Visit Mama Coco’s House in Santa Fe de la Laguna

One of the most popular ofrendas in Santa Fe de la Laguna to that of the house of Mama Coco.

While she has since passed away, Mama Coco was depicted in the Disney movie, Coco. For Día de Muertos in Pátzcuaro her house and ofrenda is available to visit.

I enjoyed visiting the Mama Coco’s house but I found the other ofrendas in Santa Fe la Laguna to be more intimate.

Flowers, candles and food being offered at the photo stand of Mama Coco on the Day of the Dead in Santa Fe Laguna.
Ofrenda at Mama Coco’s house in Santa Fe de la Laguna

Other Places to Visit: Patzcuaro Day of the Dead

If you’re like me and prefer to skip the crowds during Día de Muertos in Janitzio Island, there are other traditional cemeteries you can visit around Pátzcuaro Lake for Day of the Dead.

But some of them can be hard to get to, which is why I recommend booking this tour that visits both Arocutin and Cucuchucho cemeteries.

2 graves in Isla Pacanda Lake decorated by orange flowers on the Day of the Dead in Patzcuaro.
Cemetery in Isla Pacanda, Lago de Patzcuaro for Día de Muertos

Another island with a strong day of the dead tradition is Isla de Pacanda, although you may need to arrange a boat ahead of time or plan to stay in the cemetery the entire night.

When you are in Pátzcuaro, I recommend picking up a schedule of the Day of the Dead events from the tourist office (maps).

Some of the events were missing the time of day. Another event we went to wasn’t happening at all. But it was helpful as a general guideline for Day of the Dead in Patzcuaro and the surrounding area. 

One of my favorite experiences was watching Danza de los Pescadores from the Janitzio ferry dock.

You can also see the most typical dance of Michoacan, Danza de los Viejitos (Dance of the Old Men), in the main square. This dance is performed every Saturday and Sunday at 4 pm although there are more performances during Pátzcuaro Day of the Dead.

A colorful video is used for decorating a wall on the Day of the Dead in Patzcuaro showing candles, picture frames and more in a cartoonlike style.

Tip: One of the events for Day of the Dead in Patzcuaro is video mapping (see above image). I would describe it more as an interactive video. You could move the arms and legs of the characters in the single image projected on the building. I was expecting more of a story about Día de Muertos, so it was a little disappointing. But I imagine it could be fun for kids.

Pátzcuaro Day of the Dead Tours

If you’re unsure about navigating the area on your own, I highly recommend you book one of these Pátzcuaro Day of the Dead tours. I’ve highlighted my top two picks below.

The first is a multi day tour that includes accommodations. The second is a single day tour to Pátzcuaro from Morelia.

5-Day Michoacan Day of the Dead Tour

This Michoacan Day of the Dead tour takes you on a journey into the heart of the celebrations while learning the culture and traditions from local families and artisans. 

The highlight of this tour is the night spent in the cemetery on one of the islands in Lake Pátzcuaro, surrounded by thousands of candles and marigold flowers. It’s truly an unforgettable experience.

If you’re looking for a unique, behind-the-scenes experience, you should book this Day of the Dead tour in Michoacan from Oct 30th – Nov 3rd. Anastasia has designed an incredible tour that includes nearly all the events I’ve covered in this guide.

Graveyard with cross at the cemetery on the Dia de Muetos in Michoacan.

After meeting in the historic city of Morelia, here are a few of the activities that you’ll experience over the course of 5 days:

  • Day of the Dead Makeup and Photoshoot in the Flower Fields
  • Catrina Festival and Artist Workshop
  • Visit Mama Coco’s House 
  • Isla Janitzio Day of the Dead Celebration
  • Day Trip to the Avocado Capital of Mexico

Incredibly, this tour includes hotel bookings. So it’s a great option if you’re not sure where to stay in Pátzcuaro for Day of the Dead or are late in making a reservation.

Pátzcuaro Day of the Dead Tour from Morelia

This Day of the Dead tour from Morelia leaves at 5 pm on November 1st to experience Día de Muertos in Pátzcuaro Michoacan.

Yellow and red flowers being displayed on the Dia De Muertos in Patzcuaro.

After visiting the artisan market in the center of Patzcuaro, you’ll visit cemeteries in three incredible towns to see their Day of the Dead traditions. These three – Arocutín, Ihuatzio, and Cucuchucho – are special because they are not often visited by tourists.

Then you’ll return to your hotel in Morelia. This private tour is great for a small to large group since you can share the cost.

Morelia Day of the Dead

There are events leading up to Day of the Dead in Morelia which is why I recommend spending at least a few days there beforehand.

As Día de Muertos approaches, the city begins to decorate the main square with altars and flowers.

A white-clothed altar with different colorful cloths, lots of yellow flowers, pots, fruits, candles and a Day of the Dead statue.

There is also a competition of tapetes (rugs) using colored sawdust and other materials to create a design representative of Día de Muertos in Michoacan. These were one of my favorite parts of the decorations.

A sand paiting showing a girl in a Morelia butterfly dress with typical Dia de Muertos make-up in Michoacan.

Closer to Day of the Dead, Morelia hosts a parade in the streets where people dress up as Catrines and Catrinas.

However this is a relatively new tradition, similar to Day of the Dead in Mexico City. I think you’ll have a more meaningful experience if you go to Pátzcuaro for Day of the Dead.

Visit the Flower Fields Near Morelia for Día de Muertos

When I heard about the marigold flower fields located north of Morelia, it reminded me of visiting the flower fields during Día de Muertos in Oaxaca.

Yellow flowers on the flower fields on the Day of the Dead in Morelia, Michoacan.

My friend and I took a bus towards Copándaro and asked to get out at the flower fields (map) along the road.

It was fun to see fields of these Day of the Dead flowers up close with mountains in the background. And it would be a great place for a photoshoot, which is included when you book this Day of the Dead tour.

Tip: I heard about a flower festival in Tarímbaro and decided to take the bus there one afternoon. Unfortunately I either needed to go the day before or rent a car in Morelia so that I could stay longer into the night. Instead, I recommend traveling to one of the flower fields as described above.

Catrina Festival in Capula Michoacan

The town of Capula Michoacan is known for its pottery, both functional and decorative. The functional pottery is in the form of plates, bowls, and other items. 

The decorative pottery takes the form of intricately hand painted Catrina dolls which are prominently on display at the Catrina Festival in Capula Michoacan for Day of the Dead.

The festival includes more than 60 clay artisans exhibits and a food fair where you can try different foods from Mexico. The tlacoyos (corn pockets filled with beans and cheese) were my favorite.

The Capula Catrina Festival begins about 10 days before the Day of the Dead holiday and ends a few days after. Located between Morelia and Lago de Patzcuaro, this is an activity you can add to your itinerary no matter where you are celebrating Day of the Dead in Michoacan.

Visiting Michoacan? Read this guide to Lago de Camécuaro, a national park with gorgeous trees around a lake.

Uruapan Michoacan

Uruapan Michoacan also hosts a few Day of the Dead events on the weekend before the main celebration. The two that caught my eye are the Noche de Velas (candles) and the Festival of Cempasuchil (marigold flowers). 

If you’re planning to go there to visit the Uruapan National Park or to hike Paricutin Volcano, I recommend checking out their Muertos celebrations before Patzcuaro.

Where to Stay for Day of the Dead in Michoacan

If you can find an accommodation available, I highly recommend booking a hotel in Patzcuaro for Day of the Dead. And if you have the time, spend a few days before exploring Morelia as the city decorates for the festivities.

If you prefer, you can also book a hotel in Morelia for Day of the Dead and visit Lago de Patzcuaro from there. I’ve detailed some options below.

Where to Stay for Day of the Dead in Patzcuaro

If you looking for a place to stay for Day of the Dead in Patzcuaro, I highly recommend staying in the center of town since transportation can be hard to find during this time.

When I visited Patzcuaro for Día de Muertos, my friend and I stayed on the edge of town, about a 20 min walk to the center. Although it worked, it would have been convenient to stay closer to restaurants and the meeting point for the Day of the Dead tour.

But honestly, if you haven’t secured an accommodation already, you should search for an available hotel in Patzcuaro during Muertos and book what you can find.

Hotels with Availability for Patzcuaro Day of the Dead 2024

  • Mansion de los Sueños – Gorgeous hotel in a central location. Some suites feature a fireplace.
  • Casa Mayes – Spacious rooms featuring two Queen or one King bed with an interior balcony.
  • Casa Petirrojo – Simple rooms in a hotel located just outside of centro Patzcuaro.

Where to Stay in Morelia for Day of the Dead

Again, I recommend staying in the center of town when you book a hotel in Morelia for Day of the Dead.

The convenience to restaurants and other attractions is worth it, especially since you’ll likely be staying up late (or waking up early) to fit in all of the activities.

Hotels with Availability for Morelia Day of the Dead 2024

A mural of a girl with flowers on her head, typical Day of the Dead make-up and dogs beside her against a blue background in Patzcuaro, Michoacan.

Final Thoughts about Michoacán Día de Muertos

Day of the Dead in Michoacan is a profound cultural experience that I feel lucky to have experienced. This time to honor and remember loved ones will stick with you long after you return home.

The intricate altars and communal gatherings create an intimate atmosphere that may make you think about death in a new light. Whether in Morelia, Pátzcuaro, or the island of Janitzio, the traditions of Día de Muertos are continued with every candle lit.

For travelers seeking to understand and participate in this meaningful tradition, Michoacán Día de Muertos offers an incredible glimpse into Mexico’s deep connection between the living and the departed.