Mexico's vibrant capital city hosts many cultural events and festivals throughout the year. Visitors looking to have some experiences that go beyond the usual tourist attractions may want to schedule their visit to coincide with one of these happenings when city residents as well as tourists come out en masse to celebrate. These are the top annual events in Mexico City that are worth checking out.
The Festival of the Historic Center is one of the most important cultural celebrations in Mexico City. It’s been running yearly since 1985, when it sprang up as an effort to breathe new life into a neglected city center. Since that time, the cultural scene in Mexico City has flourished, and this festival is now a celebration of the vibrant historical center that includes presentations by performers and artists from Mexico and around the world in the area’s lovely courtyards, plazas, palaces, cloisters, temples and theaters. Tickets must be purchased in advance for many of the main shows, but there are over 100 free events. Even if you don’t plan for it, if you happen to be in the "City of Palaces" during this festival, you’re bound to come across a concert or performance while roaming the historical district.
With over 180 galleries from Mexico and around the world represented, Zona Maco is lauded as the most important contemporary art fair in Latin America. Gallery owners, collectors, and art lovers gather at this yearly event held in February at the Centro Citibanamex convention center to share their love of art and learn about new trends in the art scene. The fair showcases an array of emerging and established artists, as well as offering a program of conferences with international speakers, a section with specialized publications, and a wide program of exhibits at local galleries and museums taking place concurrently. General admission is 275 pesos and tickets can be purchased online at Boletify or in person at the Centro Citibanamex box office.
Visitors to the great Teotihuacan archaeological site just outside of Mexico City can witness a special celebration on the day of the spring equinox. Thousands of visitors come to receive the sun’s special energy on the date when the night and day are of equal length and to mark the beginning of the new cycle the day represents. There is a popular belief that the indigenous cultures performed special rituals on the spring equinox, and it was traditionally the day of the first planting. The custom now is to visit Teotihuacan dressed all in white with the exception of one red garment, such as a belt or scarf. Many people dance, burn incense, and sing, but the ultimate ritual is to stand on the top of the Pyramid of the Sun, with arms stretched out to receive the sun's rays and vitality that is accessible on this date.
An international festival of performing arts put together by the Mexico City government, Escénica is held annually during the summer and includes theater, dance, puppet, and circus shows in over 20 venues in the city. The festival program includes a complete schedule of workshops, conferences, and master classes in which artists, dancers, and students interested in theater and dance may participate. Consult the Mexico City culture website for the schedule of events, all of which are free to attend.
On the night of Sept. 15, thousands of people gather in the Mexico City Zócalo, as the president steps out on the balcony of the National Palace to wave the Mexican flag and lead the crowd in a special cheer to commemorate the beginning of Mexico’s independence movement. This event is known as El Grito, and it is followed by fireworks, throwing confetti, and spraying of foam. The next day there is a large parade through the city streets in which both military and civic organizations participate.
Parade of Monumental Alebrijes
A parade of giant, colorful papier-mache creatures is a sight to behold as it makes its way through the streets of Mexico City, departing from the Plaza de la Constitución or Zócalo, and making its way to the Paseo de la Reforma all the way to the Angel of Independence. The parade of monumental alebrijes is organized by the Popular Arts Museum (MAP), and is usually scheduled on a Saturday in mid-October, a week or so before Day of the Dead events kick off. If you miss the parade, the alebrijes remain on display around the Angel of Independence roundabout for a few weeks.
There are several events that take place around the Day of the Dead in Mexico City, including a giant Day of the Dead altar in the Zocalo, several parades, as well as theatrical performances in Xochimilco and Chapultepec park. The biggest event, inspired by the opening scene of the James Bond movie "Spectre," is a massive Day of the Dead parade and includes floats, marching bands, and people dressed up as skeletons.
Every Dec. 11 at midnight, Mexicans congregate at churches and neighborhood altars throughout the country to sing Las Mañanitas to Our Lady of Guadalupe. Millions of people converge on Mexico City’s Basilica of Guadalupe to commemorate the apparitions of the Virgin Mary to the Nahuatl-speaking, indigenous man, Juan Diego, that, according to tradition, occurred in 1531. Believers make pilgrimages to Mexico City on foot, on their knees, by bicycle, car, and bus, to pay their respects to the Virgin and see her original image that is on display at the Basilica.