Though it’s not as blatantly obvious as, say, Valentine’s Day, there’s a strong argument to be made for Dia de los Muertos, aka Day of the Dead, as an ultra romantic, couple-y occasion. And you definitely don’t need have gothic tendencies to feel that way. The holiday that is celebrated widely in Mexico on November 1 and 2 is a time to be with loved ones—as in your beau or bride—and celebrate and honor those who have passed on, as well as dress up as a couple of sexy skeletons, aka Catrinas.
The exciting energy of hundreds of people painting their faces like the iconic Catrina—they of the blacked-out and bejeweled eyes, flower crowns and bust-boosting corsets—is felt nowhere more palpably than San Miguel de Allende, one of the most beautiful, charming towns in all of Mexico. The colonial-era UNESCO site is known locally as the heart of Mexico, perhaps another reason it seems to be such a natural draw for lovers (it’s also a year-round wedding destination gaining popularity of late). It truly seduces with its charms and also traditions.
The ultimate fall couple’s getaway is to this sunny city, where in late October the cobblestone streets become alive with early hints of the much-anticipated Dia de los Muertos. You’ll stroll close, arm-in-arm with your honey, up and down narrow sidewalks past facades lined in vivid orange cempazuchitl (Mexican marigolds) with decorated sugar skulls in window sills. Catrina are everywhere. Crowns and headbands of fresh blooms become ubiquitous, and there’s an excitement building everywhere you go.
On Halloween, the intimate Rosewood San Miguel de Allende begins transforming its entryway fountain into a giant flower sculpture, and the same happens throughout the city in private homes and businesses, as locals prepare to honor their deceased loved ones in the most vibrant way possible. By nightfall it’s time to don a costume or road-test your Catrina makeup for the next day. Trick-or-treating happens here, but even without a costume it’s an environment primed for candlelit adventures and romance. Snag the Rosewood’s sought-after Frida Kahlo–themed wine cellar for your own low-lit, flower-adorned private dinner if you’re not busy watching traditional dance performances and mariachi musicians bring the square in front of the landmark pink Parroquia church to life. Another dinner option is chef Paul Bentley’s just-opened Bovine, just off the square, with the kind of seductively savory food you’ll want to eat again and again.
The main event—the day-long climax—is really November 1. Dia de los Muertos has its own aura, and the feeling that it’s a special day begins with a special breakfast treat, made specifically for the holiday. Pan de Muerto is an orange-flavored pastry almost like a sugar-coated donut, with phalanges-shaped bones draped over the top. It’s a tradition you’ll find throughout Mexico, and they’re especially tasty at the Rosewood, paired with hot chocolate for a decadent little touch. Afterward a trip to the cemetery is in order if you’re interested in the true Day of the Dead experience. Any expectation of what a cemetery should look like goes out the window once you see the parade of families carrying bundles of flowers, toys, food, candles, and a shovel and water pail into the surprisingly colorful area. They bring these supplies to lovingly create offerings, called ofrendas, for their family members who’ve passed away, as mariachi bands add music and sweet songs to the atmosphere thick with the scent of fresh blooms and soil. It’s enough to make American cemeteries look, well, dead. (Families create elaborate ofrendas around the main square and in their homes, too, if you’re not a fan of cemeteries.)
As the sun prepares to set—and the sunset-viewing spot in San Miguel is Luna, on the Rosewood’s rooftop, with a few mezcal-laced cucumber cocktails dusted with subtly spicy tajin—things really heat up. Normal couples have been transformed into Calaca Catrinas, with elaborate ensembles—usually a bustier, full skirt, elbow-length gloves and veiled hat or flowers for women, and coordinating suit or skeleton-emblazoned tuxedo for the men—that are are so glamorous you’ll forget you ever found a skull gruesome. With the makeup creating a masquerade feeling of anonymity, you can weave through town and in and out of parties, dinners and parades (featuring live music and some 600 Catrinas) as whomever you want to be. After parading through the streets, passing out candy to local kids en route if you wish, it’s all about one the town’s hottest tickets: Luna’s annual rooftop dinner party. With the best freshly made tortillas and al pastor tacos in San Miguel it’s the best place to rest your weary bones—and dance, too—along with plenty of mezcal and a Catrina costume contest, which a well-coordinated couple is quite prone to win.
The festivities are just one more reminder of how great Mexico is. It turns out that honoring death is a reminder of all the great things we love about life.