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The Special Holidays Blog from MirandasBeach is about those unusual, luxury and special holidays that so many of us are searching for. That family holiday with a twist of adventure, the railway journey of a lifetime or a romantic couple of weeks up a treehouse in Kenya.

Wednesday, March 13, 2013

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Monday, February 25, 2013

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Monday, February 18, 2013

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Saturday, February 09, 2013

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Saturday, January 21, 2012

2012 Special Holidays Start Here !!

Happy New Year!! 2012 will see the Chinese Rabbit move over for the Chinese Dragon on January 23rd but forget all that, it's time to start thinking about the most important leisure activity of your year - your holidays. Mirandasbeach is here to help - and the assistance that sites like ours can give is often invaluable, with independent ideas, brimming with variety and so simple and easy to browse.
So whatever your 2012 holiday aspirations - adventure, luxury, family self catering, camping, indoor pool, beach or something completely different, have a good look round and hopefully you will find something that you cannot resist!
And if double dip doom and gloom are getting you and your pocket down then rest assured there is plenty here at Mirandasbeach that has been chosen for it competetive pricing - we are all feeling the pinch except the super rich - and in my business plan I do not have the super rich down as my key target audience - perhaps I'm doing something wrong!!?


Sunday, May 02, 2010

Ice Hotels

Funny time to post up a piece on Ice Hotels ?? - well, the season may be over (runs from around mid-December to mid-April, but the key thing is BOOK EARLY !! The coverage over the last couple of years means popularity has grown and there are plenty of disappointed punters who leave it too late.

So where are these amazing lodges constructed of frozen water known as Ice Hotels? - well there is one in Sweden, re-built each year and has plenty of trips built around stays at that one, with Dog Sled Rides, Snowmobiles, the Northern Lights and Reindeer involved in the different trip options available once you are there.

Also, Canada is an option, Quebec to be precise, where there is an impressive ice hotel, inspired by the Swedish ICEHOTEL. Named Ice Hotel Quebec-Canada in Sainte-Catherine-de-la-Jacques-Cartier it lies about 30 minutes outside of Quebec City. Again, there is plenty of snowmobiling, dog sledding, cross-country skiing, ice-fishing and ice skating.

So, the message is, start thinking and acting NOW !! there are not that many Ice Hotel rooms in the world, and if you want to be surrounded by ice, with carved ice furniture and ice sculptures in your ice room, some of it in massive blocks that make up the walls, the ceiling and even the floor, and lit by fibre optic lighting, then you need to book ASAP.

Remember, your room is -5 to -8 degrees Celsius, obviously it has to be below freezing to remain icy. You spend the night in a specially designed mummy bag, lying on a slab of ice. So if you worried about the cold or are naturally cold blooded and feel chilly in the English summer, then maybe it is not for you !!

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Thursday, October 29, 2009

Africa Train Holidays

Table Mountain seen from the Blue Train, South Africa, CapetownYou may be a bit put off, emulating the upper class Brits by travelling in luxurious style around the African colonies. But nowadays you can feel better about putting some much needed cash into the coffers of some of the world's poorest nations while taking in some breathtaking scenery and maybe just having the ride of your life. Most African countries have pretty comprehensive railway systems but the services vary greatly. Southern Africa and Eastern Africa have the best rail network coverage. If you are travelling in West and Central Africa then the service will inevtably be more sporadic, but some of the train trips are definitely worth the wait. including one from Dakar in Senegal to Bamako in Mali is currently running every 8 or 9 days, to no set schedule. Dakar station can advise you of the next departure a few days beforehand.

Travelling around Morocco on the train is also easy and most trains offer berths, 1st and 2nd class - the same applies to Egypt. South Africa boasts some of the most luxurious train services including the famous Blue Train and you'll see when you click the links below that a lot of the luxury train travel in Africa is focused on Southern Africa where the heritage is deep and some of the rides just fantastic.

Go2 Africa - Luxury Train Travel

Vantage World Travel - African Rail Adventures
Book In Africa - Train Tours

And then of course there is Mike Smith's great Seat61 which has invaluable worldwide train information.

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Sunday, May 17, 2009

Australia Camel Treks

Need something to do that is truly special - well how about crossing Australian deserts on a camel - have a look at the 32 year old Outback Camel Company and see what they offer, or the more recently set up Australian Desert Expeditions (2007) that has a strong Ecology focus with experts to help you understand the landscape you are crossing. Camels in Australia - it makes sense !!

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Saturday, January 03, 2009

Red Spokes Cycle Adventures

If you feel like cycling somewhere remote and beautiful then have a look at Red Spokes. Red Spokes Adventure Tours specialise in taking small groups of cyclists to the more remote and spectacular regions in the world. These include the grand Himalayas, the Andes, the Karakoram Highway, the precious jungles of South East Asia, the broad steppes of Central Asia and the green glens of Scotland and Ireland. This could be the special holiday adventure you were looking for !

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Tuesday, October 21, 2008

Special Holidays

As we enter the winter months, who can blame us for thinking about special holidays that can transport us away from the mundane existence we sometimes feel we lead. A truly special holidays are different for every one of us, but they have one thing in common, they will provide you with memories of wonderful times, when you were living life to the full, in the moment, experiencing a great time. So if you want ideas to help you realise your dream plans, then have a good look round this site where there are all sorts of Special Holiday suggestions that you might just never have found if you had not stumbled across Special Holidays Around the World - created for you by people like you - people who want Special Holidays themselves !


Wednesday, March 12, 2008

What About a Special Holiday in Mauritius !

Clear blue water - Mauritius
Mauritius is is more than the crystal clear aqua blue water, more than the sunshine, sand, coral and flying fish ! it is also famous for it's cultural diversity - English, French, Creole, Hindi, Urdu, Hakka and Bhojpuri living together in peaceful harmony.

It is tropical and Winter is May to November and is warm and dry; summer is November to May and is hot and humid. July to September is a good time to go for your special holiday on Mauritius because the heat is less intense. If you visit January to April you will get a tropical drenching at some point guaranteed, which is not necessarily a bad thing !

To find out more about the place about which Mark Twain said "God first made Mauritius and from it, He created Paradise." and was once home to the poor old Dodo (extinct by 1681) then go to the Mirandasbeach Holidays in Mauritius page

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Monday, January 21, 2008

Kitsch bohemian caravans at La Rosa, Whitby

Caravan at La Rosa, Whitby, Yorkshire

La Rosa
is a 20 acre site in an area of outstanding beauty in The North Yorkshire Moors National Park . There are lots of oil lamps and fairy lights, an amazing compost loo in a pre-war shepherd's hut with a fortune-teller sign outside, and themed kitsch and bohemian joie de vie in the beautiful classic and vintage caravans. There are eight of them along with a converted truck and a tipi. There is no electricity and there are surprises all over the camp. This is a special place for that special break and well worth considering if you want to spark up some adventure up North. Just the place for that special UK holiday in 2008 !

La Rosa Camping, Whitby, Yorkshire

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Wednesday, October 10, 2007

Poppy Travel - Falklands Trip

Poppy TravelPoppy Travel have been organising Pilgrimages and Tours to War Graves and Memorials for 80 years. They are the only specialists in visits to war cemeteries, and through their Battlefield Tours bring the past to life: they focus on the serviceman’s experience, from Tunisia to Tanzania, Sicily to Singapore, taking remembrance around the world, and also providing the opportunity to explore countries often far from the tourist trail and untouched by the modern world.

In the 25th Anniversary of the Falklands Conflict they are offering the special opportunity to visit the Islands over the Remembrancetide period. From the 8th to 19th of November they revisit the main battlefield sites of the Conflict as well as explore the Islands vast nature reserves, array of wild life and fauna, unique to this part of the world.

Prices start at £2988, and for those entitled to a financial travel grant, Poppy Travel is willing to discuss arrangements with the necessary parties. Tour bookings can be made through:

While the focal part of our Tours and Pilgrimages is remembrance and commemoration, they will make sure that you have the chance to experience each nation’s culture and environment: Their guides vast experience and insight provides a context and history to the places they visit, painting every landscape with a story. If you would like to make a visit of remembrance, learn more about a battle or campaign, or just explore a different part of the world then don’t hesitate to get in touch.

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Sunday, September 09, 2007

Round the World Flights

If you are thinking of taking the plunge and becoming a globe trotter extraordinaire, then you will find it useful to know the types of round the world tickets there are on offer nowadays. All the top sites for round the world tickets are included in our Round the World Flights section. There are a confusing number of different airline alliances supplying round the world tickets – but the main tickets are:

The World Discovery ticket:

British Airways - Cathay Pacific - Air Pacific - Qantas

Good for trips to Australia and New Zealand with one or two stops on the way or if you need internal flights in Australia.

The Global Explorer:

British Airways - Air Pacific - Cathay Pacific - American Airlines - Iberia - Gulf Air - Lan Chile - Qantas and even more

Good for Round The World trips with South America, Africa and Asia in the mix.

The OneWorld:

British Airways - Cathay Pacific - American Airlines - Lan Chile - Lan Peru - Iberia - Finnair – Qauntas and even more

Good for Round the World trips where you want to stop a lot or maybe take a path off the beaten track. The ticket is not based on mileage, but is instead based on zones. Ofetn recommended for trips that include South America.

The Escapade:

Singapore Airlines - Virgin - Silk Air - Air New Zealand

Good for Round the World tickets where you want to stop a lot in SE Asia, Australia or the Pacific.

The Star Alliance

Singapore Airlines - United Airlines - Thai Airways - Varig - Lufthansa - Air Canada - All Nippon - Mexicana - Austrian Airlines - Scandinavian Airlines - Air New Zealand and even more

A great Round The World all rounder, suitable for most routes. You can fit almost any round the world route in this ticket.

The World Navigator

KLM - Air New Zealand - South Africa Airways - Emirates - NorthWest - Air UK - Kenyan Airlines and even more

Good for Round The World trips that have lots of stops in the Pacific and also those that link Africa and the Indian Sub Continent

The World Journey

Continental - Northwest - Air Pacific - KLM - COPA - Emirates - Malaysian - South African - Jet Airways - Braathens - Alaskan Airlines

Worth a look for non Australian World tours. Good links between Africa and Asia. Also has an Africa to South America link. Also recommended for Central America and the India Sub Continent.

Deciding which ticket to get may seem daunting, but you can get loads more advice and information before booking by looking at the links in our Round The World Flights section.


Wednesday, July 25, 2007

Atacama - driest desert in the world

In the wonderful oasis of San Pedro de Atacama right up in the north of Chile, explorers of all hues will find comfort and joy from the top quality amenities at the beautiful explora Hotel de Larache. Costructed in the local style with old adobe and open aired stone patios, the explora atacama lodge is modern in the right way, with all mod cons, gourmet food and the luxuries that can soothe tired muscles after taking in the surrounding desert. Take it easy and wind down into oasis life in one of the seven beautiful pools set among quince and pear trees and swaying pampas grass.

The Atacama oases are in the centre of the driest desert in the world and are also at 2,500 meters above sea level which puts Atacama as also the highest desert on earth. So, year-round climate is nice and pleasant and the the wild vistas of volcanoes, salt flats and high altitude wetlands, has an never ending appeal.

Here are the links to find out more ! its worth it !

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Thursday, June 28, 2007

Gap Year For Grown Ups

It's the 50th anniversary of Kerouac's On The Road this year. To do your own road trip - without the hassles of map reading or indeed driving - join Gap Year For Grown Ups' small group trip across six US states and 11 national parks. · £1,210 for 28 days including, accommodation, admission to all parks, but not flights. Departs San Francisco. 01892 701881,

Sunday, May 20, 2007

Inter Rail for All Ages

Inter Rail - a great way to travel around Europe
Back twenty or more years ago, if you asked any long or short haired student what they were going to do in their summer holidays then “InterRail around Europe" was the standard reply even from the skint ones. Not much could better the joy of owning that railpass that was going to give you unlimited train travel all over Europe. It was cheap and run jointly by all the national railways. It was started in 1973 and was the “cosmic pass” that opened the doors of Europe to young people eager to make the grand European tour by train, with the freedom to go where they liked and exactly when they wanted. Of course InterRail soon became a cult of huge proportions and young adults were InterRailing all over the continent creating there own adventures as the mood took them North to Scandinavia or through Germany down to the beaches of the Mediterranean.

Budget airlines have cast a shadow over InterRail in recent years, but now that the carbon footprint of air travel is a consideration and environmental awareness is increasing all over, it’s an interesting time for InterRail to offer a completely new range of passes on sale from April 1 this year, and it looks like InterRail is positioned for a powerful return to prominence. The new ticket range offers loads of options and good value, but importantly for anyone over 26 years old InterRail is no longer just for backpacker youth either. There are passes for those of us over 26 and our kids, in both first and second class.Inter Rail - now train travel all over Europe for the over 26's as wellGone is the annoying zone system introduced in the 1990s, and once again all InterRail global passes now give unlimited train travel across the whole of Europe, from Portugal in the West to Poland in the East, Helsinki in the North to Istanbul in the South. There are two options for those not expecting to travel all the time, either five days unlimited travel in any 10-day period or 10 days unlimited travel in any 22-day period (what days you travel is up to you at the time). There are also two continuous options for those expecting to zip here and there most of the time and they are either 22 days or one month.

The 10 days in 22 days pass allows you to go there and back by train for £175 (under 26) or £263 (over 26). It gives plenty of time for stopovers in Paris, Vienna, Budapest, Bucharest or even Transylvania, and of course you can go out on one route and come back on another.

Travel on comfortable (some of the time !) daytime trains or make good use of the overnight sleepers to save on hotel bills and cover big distances. You can get into the thrill and pace of the long train journey – something I enjoy so much more than air travel. It’s not all about getting there as quick as possible, it’s about the journey, the scenery, the people you can meet and the freedom you can feel. And it is that freedom that InterRail gives you that you don't get with the strict itinerary of pre-booked non-changeable air fares. If the mood takes you, you can stay longer; if you are not keen to stay, you can move on to somewhere new. With InterRail and the European train network, you can really go where the fancy takes you.
· For more information on InterRail passes, see, or

Saturday, March 31, 2007

Archaeological tours in Turkey

The Agora at Perge - in Southern Turkey
Peter Sommer Travels.
If you want are interested in archaeological tours, escorted tours or luxury gulet cruises then Peter Sommer may have the perfect trip for you. Peter Sommer is an expert in this field and in 1994, he walked “2,000 miles across Turkey, retracing the route of Alexander the Great, and in the process fell in love with the country, its ancient civilizations, and the Turkish people. A British archaeologist, filmmaker, and highly experienced tour guide, Peter created Peter Sommer Travels in 1996, offering unique escorted tours and cruises in Turkey.” It is a UK-based specialist travel operator that provides a select number of holidays and vacations with a professional and above all personal touch. The great majority of the archaeology tours are personally led by Peter.

They offer small group tours: “We take only small groups (max 16 on land, 14 by sea) of like-minded people, travelling in an easy-going, friendly, and informal style. Our expertise stems from an especially intimate knowledge of Turkey – its geography, history, people, and much more”.

And also escorted tours: “Over the past ten years we have created a rich and varied collection of escorted cultural tours - archaeology tours and cruises with a difference. Our Turkey tours bring to life the rich heritage of the country from profoundly ancient times to the modern era. Come sailing, cruising, or exploring with us, and see some of the very finest temples and tombs, baths and aqueducts, theatres and castles. Discover a Turkish archaeological paradise full of Greek, Roman, Byzantine, and Ottoman treasures!”
Peter Sommer Travels also offer crewed yacht charters for private groups.

Sunday, March 04, 2007

Porto da Barra, Salvador, Brazil.

Porto da Barra is in a stunning location, at the entrance of the magnificent Bahia de Todos los Santos, with a whitewashed church sitting up on a hill at one end and a small, white colonial fort at the other. There is always something for the eye to see: small fishing boats unloading their catch, beach volleyball, football and tennis, teenage boys eyeing up the girls, young lads diving into the sea off the old stone harbour walls.
As the beach is in a bay the water is calm and also incredibly clean and clear (which is surprising given that it is right in the heart of Brazil's third-largest city), so it's perfect for swimming.
And the Porto is one of the few west facing beaches in a country with over 7,000km of east-facing coastline, so you can watch some stunning sunsets. Where to stay: Pousada Estrela do Mar

Saturday, February 24, 2007

Special Turkey and More !

Cephalonia - a special place to get away to for a relaxing holiday
Looking for a really luxurious boutique hotel or a beautiful private villa with a pool in hidden Turkey or Cephalonia ? Go to Exclusive Escapes and browse some special holiday ideas - includes loads of great 360 degrees panoramic images which really help you to get an idea of what a property is like.

And more Special Turkish Holidays ideas can be found in this article in the Observer from June 2006 - on unknown Turkey, focusing on four regions that deserve a closer look away from the tourist centers: The Lycian Hinterland, the Bozburun Peninsula, the Datca Peninsula and the sailing resort of Gocek and the nearby Taurus Mountains

Club Perili - Dacta - Turkey - a special holiday for the family And talking of Dacta in Turkey, if you have a family and are looking for something different but relaxing have a look at Club Perili - its on the very unspoilt edge of Datça’s shimmering bay and offers the ultimate escape with the perfect balance between all out action and complete relaxation.

Meanwhile - in Greece: Hotel Keti is located in a dramatic privileged position, high on the edge of the largest volcanic caldera in the world. From your balcony you can gaze in awe at the fabulous sweeping views and watch the activity around the beautiful cruise ships at anchor below. Sip wine or ouzo while enjoying unforgettable sunsets.

And then there is always Italy:
If you are looking for a holiday immersed in the sounds, the colours, the perfume of an uncontaminated countryside…..If you like going for long walks, looking for mushrooms, horseback trekking, birdwatchingAnd just listening to the sounds of nature or simply eating good, genuine and tasty traditional farm food prepared in our distinctive way from our own produce…….Then what are you waiting for ….. come to see us at “Li Licci”

When in Rome ... take in a blast of culture. Why now? For a blast of culture. The Museo di Villa Torlonia with a collection of modern Roman art and the Museo Barracco, showcasing Egyptian, Greek and Roman sculpture, are the latest additions to a mind-boggling array. Pick up a Roma Pass for €20 ( for free entry and travel.
Getting there The usual low-cost suspects.
Where to stay Buonanotte Garibaldi ( is a new artist-owned B&B in Trastevere, from €220 a night. A more economical option is to book an apartment (
Where to eat Enoteca Antica (Via delle Croce). There's a restaurant at the back but the best spot is at the bar with a glass of prosecco and a plate of antipasti.

Make your holiday a special holiday with the help of:

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Wednesday, January 10, 2007

Get on your bike - for a holiday of a lifetime !

Why not try cycling and other activity holidays in Spain and around the world
Saddle Skedaddle offer cycling holidays in the UK, Europe and Worldwide.

Whatever your level, beginner or expert, they have a wide range of off-road biking holidays you can choose from. For those in search of steep trails and wild off-road routes, their mountain bike holidays in France, the Alps, Spain, Sardinia, Greece, Portugal, Croatia and UK off-road breaks provide a range of exciting rides.

Morocco - Atlas to Desert – 2007

The Atlas to Desert trip has been listed by the Guardian Travel Section as one of the world's best 5 cycle rides.

The trip takes in Marrakesh, the High Atlas and the wonderful Draa Valley and has something to please all levels of biking. It's a trip suitable for those who have a good level of fitness and who have done some mountain biking before. Needless to say, there are some wonderful descents for those looking for a blast!!!

For those who want something a bit more relaxing how about this for something really special:

A Turkish family lighthouse
Family friendly lighthouse hotel by the harbour town of Kas, it took five years to build has 360o views, infinity pools, shaded hammocks, waterside suites, Turkish baths and spa treatments. It also has a games room and child’s pool.

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Friday, November 17, 2006

Praga in East Warsaw is where its at !

The Fabryka Trzciny club in Praga, East Warsaw, PolandThe Fabryka Trzciny Venue in Praga, East Warsaw, PolandApparently Praga (Poland) - an suburb in East Warsaw, is the new edgy, arty clubbing paradise of Europe. From tattoed bartenders, restaurants offering modern Polish (MoPo) cuisine( unheard of under communism), factories-turned-art-galleries-turned-clubbing-spaces liberally sprinkled with post-post-modern irony. It was long considered off limits for Western Tourists and its now enjoying a bit of a revival. Its definitely not Old Town and there is considerable poverty, tower blocks and an edge, but thats what make it different. Here are a couple of pictures and a link to the great Praga club and venue Fabryka Trzciny

You’ve heard so much about skiing but have never tried it yourself. Don’t miss out - this could be the time to start!
Here are some of the best resort for beginners:
Avoriaz, France - Lots of beginners lifts and plenty of and plenty of confidence boosting green runs.
Geilo, Norway – Geilo is beginners heaven,with lots of easy slopes and uncrowded pistes.
Soldeu, Angorra – Has lots of British and English speaking instructors and plenty of terrain for beginners.
Soll, Austria- Sol has an abundance of pistes perfectly suited for beginners and great for building confidence.
Tremblant, Canada-Tremblant has an abundance of easy slopes and lots of ‘magic carpet’ lifts.

Lots more Skiing links at

The Red Sea
Another tempting option this winter is a stay on the Red Sea coast. Aquaba is perfectly situated for excursions to Petra, Wadi Rum and the Dead Sea. It’s shoreline is laced with hundreds of species of beautiful coral and tropical fish and is perfect for snorkeling in the warm, shallow water. This is a holiday perfect for all the family or a romantic break for two.

For offers worldwide see:,,768347,00.html

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Thursday, October 26, 2006

Day of The Dead in Mexico

special holiday - go when it is the day of the dead in MexicoHer face is unforgettable and she goes by many names: La Catrina, la Flaca, la Huesuda, la Pelona--Fancy Lady, Skinny, Bony, Baldy. A fixture in Mexican society, she's not some trendy fashion model, but La Muerte--Death.
Renowned writer Octavio Paz observes that, undaunted by death, the Mexican has no qualms about getting up close and personal with death, noting that he "...chases after it, mocks it, courts it, hugs it, sleeps with it; it is his favorite plaything and his most lasting love."
November 1, All Saints Day, and November 2, All Souls Day are marked throughout Mexico by a plethora of intriguing customs that vary widely according to the ethnic roots of each region. Common to all, however, are colorful adornments and lively reunions at family burial plots, the preparation of special foods, offerings laid out for the departed on commemorative altars and religious rites that are likely to include noisy fireworks.
In most localities November 1 is set aside for remembrance of deceased infants and children, often referred to as angelitos (little angels). Those who have died as adults are honored November 2.
From mid-October through the first week of November, markets and shops all over Mexico are replete with the special accouterments for the Dia de Muertos (Day of the Dead). These include all manner of skeletons and other macabre toys; intricate tissue paper cut-outs called papel picado; elaborate wreaths and crosses decorated with paper or silk flowers; candles and votive lights; and fresh seasonal flowers, particularly cempazuchiles (marigolds) and barro de obispo (cockscomb). Among the edible goodies offered are skulls, coffins and the like made from sugar, chocolate or amaranth seeds and special baked goods, notably sugary sweet rolls called pan de muerto that come in various sizes invariably topped with bits of dough shaped like bones and, in some regions, unadorned dark breads molded into humanoid figures called animas (souls). All of these goods are destined for the buyer's ofrenda de muertos (offering to the dead).
At home members of the family might use the purchases to elaborate an altar in honor of deceased relatives, decorating it with papel picado, candles, flowers, photographs of the departed, candy skulls inscribed with the name of the deceased, and a selection of his or her favorite foods and beverages. The latter often include bottles of beer or tequila, cups of atole (corn gruel) or coffee, and fresh water, as well as platters of rice, beans, chicken or meat in mole sauce, candied pumpkin or sweet potatoes and the aforementioned breads.
The spirits of the dead are expected to pay a holiday visit home and should be provided with an enticing repast and adequate sustenance for the journey. Frequently a wash basin and clean hand towel are provided so that visiting souls can freshen up before the feast. The offering may also include a pack of cigarettes for the after-dinner enjoyment of former smokers, or a selection of toys and extra sweets for deceased children.
In setting up the altar, a designated area of the home is cleared of its normal furnishings. The arrangement often consists of a table and several overturned wooden crates placed in tiers and covered with clean linens. The offerings are then laid out in an artistic and fairly symmetrical fashion. The smell of burning copal (incense) and the light of numerous candles are intended to help the departed find their way.
Meanwhile, at the family burial plot in the local cemetery, relatives spruce up each gravesite. In rural villages this may entail cutting down weeds that have sprouted up during the rainy season, as well as giving tombs a fresh coat of paint after making any needed structural repairs. The graves are then decorated according to local custom. The tomb may be simply adorned by a cross formed of marigold petals or elaborately embellished with colorful coronas (wreaths) and fresh or artificial floral arrangements. In many areas children's graves are festooned with brightly colored paper streamers or other festive adornments.
On November 2 family members gather at the cemetery for gravesite reunions more festive than somber. Some bring along picnic baskets, bottles of tequila for toasting the departed or even a mariachi band to lead a heartfelt sing-along. Local merchants set up provisional stands outside the cemetery gates to sell food and drinks. The booming reports of pyrontechnic rockets may announce the commencement of an open-air memorial mass, the ocassion's most solemn interlude.
While death is a topic largely avoided in the USA, the remembrance of deceased ancestors and loved ones is traditional among diverse cultures around the globe, often marked by lighting candles or lamps and laying out offerings of food and drink. Such celebrations can be traced back as far as the glory days of ancient Egypt when departed souls were honored during the great festival of Osiris.
In Mexico the Day of the Dead is a holiday that tends to be a subject of fascination for visitors from abroad. With its rare mix of pre-Hispanic and Roman Catholic rituals, it is also a perfect illustration of the synthesis of pre-Hispanic and Spanish cultures that has come to define the country and its people.
Death held a significant place in the pantheons and rituals of Mexico's ancient civilizations. Among the Aztecs, for example, it was considered a blessing to die in childbirth, battle or human sacrifice, for these assured the victim a desirable destination in the afterlife. The success of the Spaniard's spiritual conquest in Mexico is due in part to their willingness to incorporate certain pre-Hispanic customs into Christian practices.
Not surprisingly, as Mexican society has modernized, long-held customs have begun to fall by the wayside, particularly among urbanites. But the rapid encroachment of U.S. culture, intensified since the enactment of North American Free Trade Agreement, seems to have spurred many citizens to actively pursue the preservation of Mexican traditions. While each October the country's supermarket shelves are now crammed with plastic pumpkins, witches' hats and rubber masks, government and private institutions have recently increased promotion of commemorative altars displayed in museums, educational centers and other public venues.
Most Mexico guidebooks make special mention of Day of the Dead customs, focusing on the celebrated all-night candlelight vigils in cemeteries at Janitzio Island and Mixquic, to the extent that either may draw nearly as many awed observers as celebrants.
Mixquic, once a farming island of the Aztec empire, is now a district of Mexico City that has retained something of a rural village ambiance and its ancient indigenous roots. The area takes on a busy and festive air in the final days of October as merchants set up street stands to hawk their wares for the Day of the Dead. In the cemetery, all family burial plots are elaborately embellished with an array of earthly delights in the hope of luring departed spirits. At 2 p.m. November 1, relatives gather at each tomb to mourn the loss of loved ones with la llorada--the weeping. Later, when dark would normally envelop the graveyard, the glow of thousands of votive candles illuminates the way for the departed. At Midnight they are called home with the mournful tolling of bells. Then each soul is lovingly remembered with recitations of the Rosary.
Day of the Dead festivities in villages throughout the state of Michoacan have a distinctive flavor reflecting the culture of the area's Purepecha Indians. Having successfully resisted conquest in the pre-Hispanic era, this ethnic group remained immune to outside influences until the arrival of the Spanish Conquistadors. As in other parts of Mexico, floral tributes, regional repast and candlelight vigils in each local cemetery are integral to the November 1 and 2 celebrations, but among the Purepechas (or Tarascans, as the Spanish named them) these activities are relegated to women and children. Meanwhile, the male population commemorates the season with other rituals related to the fall harvest. Throngs of visitors annually trek to the Island of Janitzio to witness the graveyard vigil there, although equally colorful celebrations may be observed more serenely in most other Michoacan villages.
These Day of the Dead rituals are echoed in cities and villages throughout Mexico. As each locality offers distinctive traditions and a unique flavor bound to fascinate the curious traveler, a visit to any Mexican cemetery would be a worthwhile addition to the itinerary of anyone touring the country this time of year.
For things to do around the Guadalajara - Lake Chapala are during the Day of the Dead period, read Dale's Day of the Dead Supplemental.(Well connected after more than two decades in Mexico, Dale Hoyt Palfrey is a writer, translator and public relations consultant. She lives in Ajijic, Jalisco.