If you ever needed an excuse to indulge in too many tacos and margaritas (btw, there’s no such thing), Cinco de Mayo is it.
If you’re thinking about cycling through grapevines in Sonoma Valley, discovering Portland’s sea-swept scenery or eating your way through Oaxaca's markets this May, why not combine your Intrepid trip with Cinco de Mayo. Cinco de Mayo marks Mexico’s victory over the French army in 1862, and has evolved into a vibrant celebration of Mexican heritage and culture – both in Mexico and in the United States. From tucking into mouthwatering food and swinging your hips to mariachi, to experiencing a grito (shouting) contest and watching dancers perform the Mexican hat dance, Cinco de Mayo could be the perfect addition to your Intrepid tour.
What is Cinco de Mayo?
Cinco de Mayo (meaning “fifth of May” in Spanish) is an annual festival celebrated on 5 May. Not to be confused with Mexican Independence Day on 16 September, Cinco de Mayo marks the day when an army of 4,000 Mexican soldiers, led by General Ignacio Zaragoza, defeated the French Empire in the Battle of Puebla in Puebla, Mexico. It changed the course of the Mexico-Franco war, and was also a really great morale boost for the Mexicans who were a much smaller and less equipped army than the French.
You might assume Mexico is where you'll find the biggest and boldest Cinco de Mayo celebrations. While Puebla observes it as a national holiday with colourful parades, it's also a huge deal in the United States with street festivals and parties and parades galore. So, why is Cinco de Mayo so big in the States? As well as commemorating the soldiers who fought in the Battle of Puebla, Mexican Americans started observing Cinco de Mayo in California in the 1860s to commemorate the acts of resistance and the resilience of Mexican people in the Mexican-American War. Over the years, it has become an all-encompassing celebration of Mexican culture.
How is Cinco de Mayo celebrated?
Expect vibrant parades, delicious smells of sizzling tacos and quesadillas wafting through the streets and plenty of tequila-inspired cocktails to quench your thirst. You might also get to watch traditional sport and entertainment like lucha libre (Mexican wrestling) or a grito contest where people take turns to shout loudly for as long as they can to honour the shouting that was said to have started the Mexican Revolution in 1810. The streets come alive with colourful decor, mariachi music and dancers swathed in full length, rippled skirts that twirl into the air as their partner spins them around. It's safe to say the energy on Cinco de Mayo is addictive.
Where to celebrate Cinco de Mayo 2022
The best place to celebrate Cinco de Mayo is in Puebla, Mexico where the historic battle took place. You'll get to experience an intense reenactment of the Battle of Puebla, followed by a lively parade featuring floats, mariachi bands and dancers, and street parties brimming with delicious food, dancing and more music (it never stops, really!).
If you're staying in the United States, you'll find the best fiestas near the Mexican border in places like San Francisco and San Diego, or cities that have big Mexican and Mexican-American populations like Chicago, Denver, Portland and St. Paul. If you want to go all out, get yourself down to Los Angeles for Fiesta Broadway, the biggest Cinco de Mayo celebration in the world.
Highlights of Cinco de Mayo
Eat delicious Mexican food
One of the best ways to experience Cinco de Mayo is through your tastebuds. Allow the smell of freshly cooked tortillas and sizzling meat to guide you to local food vendors cooking up a storm of Mexican street food. Tuck into crowd-pleasing favourites like fish tacos loaded with crunchy slaw or barbequed corn slathered with grated cheese and sour cream. Or feast on traditional Cinco de Mayo dishes like tamales (corn-based dough stuffed with meat, beans and cheese) or molé poblano (a thick savoury sauce made with chocolate, chilli and spices which is poured over chicken or pork).
Dance to mariachi
Forget walking—a mariachi band will have you shimmying and shaking your hips down a street parade in no time. Donning traditional three-piece charro suits with embroidered bowties, sombreros and boots, a mariachi band consists of a guitar, violin, vihuela, trumpet, guitarron and vocalist. They play traditional Mexican folk songs about love, heartbreak, death, heroes and politics, and even if you don't understand the Spanish lyrics, you'll be captivated by the melodic sounds and electrifying energy of the band. When the sun goes down, swap the mariachi for meringue, salsa and Latin.
What lucha libre fighters battle it out
Lucha libre is a traditional style of Mexican wrestling, but let's just say it's not your average wrestling game. It follows a storyline – usually the goodies vs the baddies – and each luchadore (wrestler) takes on a different persona. The luchadores bounce into the ring wearing máscaras (masks) and skin-tight sequined outfits, and they'll get you cheering and heckling at the opposition in no time. To win a match, a wrestler performs a range of dramatic moves to get their opponent disqualified, knock them out of the ring for twenty, force submission or pin them down for a count of three. Expect it to be a rowdy affair!
Watch traditional folklórico performers
Dressed in cowboy suits and brightly coloured costumes that twirl and swoosh into the air with every twist and turn, it's hard to miss the dancers at a Cinco de Mayo parade. Watch and listen as they perform different types of traditional ballet folklórico (folk dance of the people) and stomp their heels onto the ground. Some of the most popular dances you might see include Jarabe Tapatio (the Mexican hat dance), Son Jarocho and the Concheros. After getting in the party spirit, you may even fancy joining in and learning how to do a folk dance!
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Most Cinco de Mayo parties are all-day events (that usually roll well into the night), so wear a comfy pair of shoes that you can walk (and dance) in. Many US states are warm in May with average daytime highs ranging between 65 and 80°F (18-27°C) depending on where you are in the state, so a pair of jeans or shorts, a dress, a shirt or t-shirt should be fine. You'll also need a sweater or fleece for the evening when the temperature drops.
In Mexico, daily temperatures hover between 74-79°F (23-26°C) with mild evenings that rarely dip below 50°F (10°C). Bring light layers for the day and a warm jumper to pop on if you get chilly in the evening.
Intrepid is committed to making travel widely accessible, regardless of ability or disability. That’s why we do our best to help as many people see the world as possible, regardless of any physical or mental limitations they might have. We’re always happy to talk to travellers with disabilities and see if we can help guide them towards the most suitable itinerary for their needs and where possible, make reasonable adjustments to our itineraries.