Dia de los Muertos Altar at Mercado Hidalgo in Tijuana Mexico

Día de los Muertos (Day of the Dead) in Tijuana, Mexico is an exciting day trip for Southern Californians looking for an authentic experience. Taking place on November 1st (All Saints Day) and November 2nd (All Souls Day), Día de los Muertos is a beautiful Mexican Holiday celebrating the life the deceased. Families clean and adorn grave sites, decorate altars and prepare the deceased’s favorite indulgences in an intimate remembrance of life. Two places you are sure to see Day of the Dead festivities are Mercado Hidalgo and Panteon Numero Uno.

Mercado Hidalgo

Skull paper sculpture in front of Dia de los Muertos Altar in Tijuana Mexico

Mercado Hidalgo is a lively market with a footprint the size of half a city block.  In the middle you will find a parking lot so tightly packed you’ll wonder if you’ll ever be able to squeeze in your car. Parking attendants are vigilant to provide assistance through the chaotic maze of lanes to aid you in finding a spot. Visit the boldy decorated altar cascading in cempasuchil (marigold flowers), charismatic calacas (skeletons) and, vibrantly painted calaveras (skulls) located in a corner of the already overflowing parking lot. Surrounding the lot are shops brimming with candy skulls, piñatas, exotic foods and treats.  Fill-up on huge fruit cups and delicious coconut water for dirt cheap.  If you fancy a heavier meal, there are a handful of restaurants and taco stands throughout the market.
bins filled with Mexican spices and sauces at Mercado Hidalgo in Tijuana Mexico

Panteon Numero Uno

Panteon Numero Uno's entrance lined with vendors selling marigolds

15 minutes from Mercado Hidalgo, tucked in a neighborhood on a hill lays Panteon Numero Uno, Tijuana’s oldest cemetery. Vendors line the entrance selling marigolds and other colorful grave site decorations for families to purchase. While you walk up the sloped cobblestone pathway, you’ll see young children lugging buckets of water and brushes.  Families reward these children with a peso or two in exchange for a cleansed grave sites.  Make sure to look for the infamous grave of the cemetery’s unofficial patron saint, Juan Soldado. While you search for the gravesite of Juan Soldado, keep an eye out for some unexpected headstones towards the back of the cemetery covered in Japanese writing.
Children count their pesos on top of a grave site as they take a break from cleaning grave sites in Panteon Numero Uno
Decorated gravesite for Dia de os Muertos at Panteon Numero Uno in Tijuana Mexico
After your day of experiencing Day of the Dead, head back over the border.  Wait times coming back into the USA can sometimes be 4+ hours. If you think you’ll head back south of the border, look into getting the SENTRI card.

Tips for driving in Tijuana:

  • You must purchase Mexican car insurance for the day or for the year if you plan on bringing your car into Mexico
  • Download Maps.me, a map app that allows you to download a region's map.  You can use it for directions even if your phone is in airplane mode
  • Use google maps to map out where you want to visit prior to leaving. Print out directions as a backup
  • Make sure you have enough pesos to snag lunch and any trinkets at Mercado Hidalgo
  • Driving can be a bit nuts down there, pay attention to where you are going
  • Do not leave valuables in your car
  • As with visiting any unfamiliar places, be aware of your surroundings and don't flaunt money or valuables
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