I don’t now if there’s anyone in the world who disliked Pixar’s emotional love poem to Mexico and the Day of the Dead (or Dia de Muertos in Spanish) tradition, but I’d be truly surprised if there were. As you must know, Coco has deservedly become an international phenomenon, grossing over $800 million worldwide and attracting countless travelers and adventurers who are dying to see the real Mexican towns and festivities that inspired the film’s magical and colorful world. The best part is you can actually find them, and they’re every bit as amazing as you were led to believe. In fact, due to Coco’s popularity, there are plans to open a tourist route that will take you through the most significant sites to experience a behind-the-scenes look into the fictional town of Santa Cecilia and the Land of the Dead.
Though the concrete locations that will end up constituting the route have not been revealed, it’s safe to say several of the following places will be included. Take a look at the 10 Mexican towns to visit if you wish to experience the real-life locations behind Pixar’s endearing fantasy, Coco.
San Andrés Mixquic
One of Mexico City’s southeastern neighborhoods holds a very special treat if you happen to visit around Dia de los Muertos. Its cemetery lights up with candles and bright marigolds and transforms into an almost exact twin of Coco’s very own colorful graveyard. It is an extraordinary experience for those looking to feel Day of the Dead to its full extent.
In the heart of Lake Pátzcuaro there sits a mesmerizing island called Janitzio, whose cemetery turns into a mystical ode to the afterlife during Day of the Dead. Atop the island’s hill, a town was raised and remains one of the main tourist attractions in the area, which is filled with elaborate altars and thousands of candles to guide and commemorate the dead.
Pátzcuaro is beautiful any time of the year, but it becomes truly special during the Dia de los Muertos celebrations. Cempasúchil flowers (Mexican Marigold) garnish the cobblestone streets as scores of Mexico’s traditional “pecked paper” hang high above, creating colorful archways that lead you ceremoniously towards the festivities. Starting on October 31, Pátzcuaro turns into a place of fantasy that’ll show you the very core and essence of Mexican folklore.
Home to beautiful architecture and a fascinating pre-Hispanic archeological site, Tzintzuntzan is a cultural center rich with the heritage of the Purépechan people. Many wonderful festivals and celebrations take place here throughout the year, and Day of the Dead is no exception. Also, within it stands the Monastery of San Francisco, which, together with Parangaricutiro’s ruins and Santa Fe de la Laguna, served as the inspiration for the film’s iconic church.
Arocutín’s special role as a basis behind Coco lies in two endearing features of the town’s traditions: its elaborate artisan embroideries and the Day of the Dead celebration centering around the town’s cemetery. Filled with all the landmark details involved in the film’s depiction of the festivity, the latter will truly make you feel like one of its characters.
Do you like Coco’s iconic white guitar? If so, you’ll find much to love in Paracho, the land of these stunning instruments. Pixar based their design on the town’s emblematic guitar styles, which are painstakingly handcrafted created by the internationally sought-after Purépechan artisans. If you’re interested, you can always place an order for a personalized guitar to have your own Coco memorabilia.
San Juan Parangaricutiro
A modern Mexican Pompeii, the original town of San Juan Parangaricutiro was buried after the 1943 eruption of Mount Paricutín, forcing the residents to start over and build a new settlement nearby. Partially peeking its head above the zone’s dried lava you’ll find the ruins of the town’s house of worship, another main source of inspiration for Coco’s Santa Cecilia Church.
When Miguel is transported to the Land of the Dead during the movie, he arrives to a place very much in the spirit of Guanajuato, a beautiful historical city. Especially of note is Plaza del Ropero, in which there stands a monument you’ll find familiar if you’ve seen Pixar’s film. The statue that commemorates Jorge Negrete, the Mexican musical legend, bears a striking resemblance to Coco’s monument for fictional singer Ernesto de la Cruz. It’s little surprising, considering Jorge Negrete was one of the main inspirations for the character.
Santa Fe de la Laguna
For all the importance the previous locations had in helping breathe life into the film, Santa Fe de la Laguna is the key inspiration for Coco’s fictional village. If you’re looking to be completely transported into Pixar’s enchanting world, this is the place to visit: the whole town, its layout and atmosphere are almost exactly what you can see in the movie and it truly is nothing short of magical.
San Miguel de Allende
As one of the most emblematic and beautiful towns in the whole of Mexico, San Miguel de Allende is a famous tourist destination already. It holds all the charms of Mexican rural life, and since you’re going to be around Guanajuato anyway, it’s definitely worth a look. Particularly stunning among the municipality’s several landmarks, the neo-Gothic church Parroquia de San Miguel Arcángel, in the center of town, is a unique sight you cannot miss.
And, lastly, a bonus location. Though not actually a town, the ancient City of Teotihuacán, just outside Mexico City, is home to the famous ruins of several pre-Hispanic pyramids whose like features in the film’s Land of the Dead. If you’re at all interested in exploring the vestiges of civilizations past, this is a site you can’t miss.
Conveniently, many of these locations are relatively close to each other, for the most part. So, you have little excuse not to follow your own route to visit most of them. You can rest assured that it will be a trip you won’t regret!
Other articles you might enjoy:
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