Though timing a trip in the fall during Día de los Muertes is highly recommended, these picturesque towns offer a vibrant art and music scene that’s well worth experiencing any time of year.

Here’s a brief insider’s guide to visiting this exciting region:

Where to Eat

La Posadita in San Miguel de Allende has rooftop tables and views of the parroquia (central church). The menu features traditional dishes, made-to-order guacamole, and a variety of margaritas (try the one with tamarind). On weekends, the kitchen prepares posole,a Mexican stew made with chicken, pork, hominy, and red chilies.

In Querétaro, the family-owned María y su Bici serves Oaxacan food, including a dozen different mole dishes. At the bar, the mescal-based cocktails are topped with crunchy grasshoppers.

Where to Stay

La Casa de la Marquesa in Querétaro offers vaulted ceilings, a winding marble staircase, and live classical music in the lounge that evokes a 19th-century, colonial feel (from $140).

In San Miguel de Allende, Casa de la Cuesta sits above town with views of the imposing cathedral and the arid landscape in the distance. Colorful guest rooms feature local folk art. Along with tours of the area, the inn will arrange for classes in ceramics or Mexican cooking (from $165, including breakfast).

Inside the mummy museum in Guanajuato (Photograph by Kevin Hutchinson, Flickr)

Inside the mummy museum in Guanajuato (Photograph by Kevin Hutchinson, Flickr)

If You Visit During Día de los Muertos

Think about planning your trip for the first week in November, when the locals celebrate the Day of the Dead, evoking the memories of the deceased at cemeteries with stories, music, and perhaps a swig of tequila. As they do at Halloween, kids dress as skeletons and collect candy–skulls made of sugar.

San Miguel de Allende boasts a four-day festival with a public art installation of large skulls along the streets and throughout the graveyards, as well as cemetery tours.

Guanajuato comes to life with street performers and giant sawdust and sand murals decorating worn cobblestoned streets. For the morbidly curious, the town also features a museum with more than a hundred naturally mummified bodies in climate-controlled plastic cases. All were exhumed between 1865 and 1989 following a government-required grave tax. (If the deceased had no family to pay, the body was not reburied.)

What to Read

  • Like Water for Chocolate, by Laura Esquivel, is a recipe-filled love story set during the Mexican Revolution
  • Mummies of Guanajuato was written by science fiction writer Ray Bradbury after his chilling visit to the mummy catacombs

Fun Facts

  • In Dolores Hidalgo, shaved ice comes in fun flavors like cactus leaf, tequila, and avocado
  • Mexico has 68 indigenous languages. Only about six percent of the population can speak any of them
  • Families build elaborate Day of the Dead altars in their homes and adorn them with chocolate coffins, papier-mâché skeletons, and photos of the deceased

This piece was written and reported by Traveler Associate Editor, Amy Alipio, and Peter McBride to accompany a feature story McBride wrote about visiting the Mexico of his ancestors for the magazine’s November 2013 issue.