Only in Mexico

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And now for something completely different: skull-shaped candy, perhaps. Or a swim with dolphins not in a pool, but right in the ocean. You don’t have to travel too far to jump into very different customs or striking landscapes. Recommend an exotic journey just a little farther south.

welcoming back the deadIt may sound a bit morbid but is in fact anything but—it’s Mexico’s version of All Souls Day, a reminder of those who have passed and a rejoicing of their “coming back” for a time.

The way the Day of the Dead is celebrated is certainly unique in this country. Its origins go back to Mexico’s earlier civilizations, with rituals having been celebrated thousands of years back, but is also steeped in the country’s Catholic traditions.

The Day of the Dead is one of Mexico’s most colorful annual celebrations, commonly associated with papier mache skeletons, candy shaped like tiny skulls and pan de muerto or “bread of the dead” baked in various shapes. Patzcuaro, in Mexico’s Central Highlands, puts together one of the country’s showiest feasts so that people’s pilgrimage from the afterlife is worth the trip. It can be solemn but joyful, with offerings of food and presents to those who have departed (even bottles of tequila and mescal), decorations and flowers on graves. In some towns, the deceased’s relatives stay by their graves throughout the night, while others build small shrines with candles and religious artifacts in their own homes.

Journeys International has a 9-day Day of the Dead tour that begins as people are getting ready to “welcome back” relatives and friends. “This is not a typical Day of the Dead trip. We travel in Michoacan—from Morelia, into the highland Purepecha villages and then to Lake Patzcuaro—where the folk traditions are flourishing and the tourist influx is minimal,” says Journeys International’s director, Joan Weber. “In advance of the holiday, we observe the building of the home altars and the harvesting of the extensive marigold fields. On the holiday itself, we witness festive family rituals in the cemeteries from early morning until late into the night. Throughout the trip, we see artisans at work on pottery, wood-carvings and textiles.”

During the 3-night stay in Patzcuaro, clients will get a walking tour where they’ll visit the Basilica and other landmarks, and also get to jump right into a vast outdoor market for lots of shopping opportunities. This Day of the Dead trip is priced at $2,555 pp (land only) and departs Oct. 26.

baja-style safari Baja California Sur may share space with luxe Cabo, but the majority of it is quite more basic. That’s not to say that you have to rough it if you visit; many of us want to enjoy the Baja wilderness without having to sleep in tents. That’s one of the advantages to traveling with Baja Airventures, says the company’s president, Kevin Warren—they provide actual accommodations even in the remote areas they choose to explore.

Baja Airventures’ Best of Baja: Whales, Dolphins & Sea Lions Tour is one of the company’s most popular tours and takes place during the peak of the gray whale migration. Departing from San Diego on private aircraft owned and operated by Baja Airventures, clients fly to Laguna Ojo de Liebre and spend three days in an upscale B&B, going whale watching on four separate occasions for an optimum chance to get very, very close to these formidable mammals. They’ll also enjoy an aerial tour of the area where they will see more of the whales, especially mamas and babies, swimming about. Clients are then flown to Las Animas Wilderness Retreat—also owned by Baja Airventures—for further communing with nature. Las Animas features delightful beachside yurts, each with their own bathroom, covered deck and skylight roof, as well as common areas for dining and socializing. Here, visitors can snorkel with dolphins and sea lions in the wild, sail, as well as hike and explore their surroundings with the assistance of naturalist guides.

This particular trip is priced at $2,495, inclusive of r/t air transportation from San Diego, meals and accommodations, with various February and March departures. Being a “…firm believer in a small group size,” Warren limits groups to 10 people so everyone gets their fair share of excitement. As a result, booking early is highly recommended. The company also offers other eco-adventures year-round.

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