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An In-depth Guide to Celebrating the Day of the Dead in Oaxaca

Oaxaca’s Day of the Dead (dia de los muertos) is so much more than a festival. It’s a mix of ancient traditions meeting modern rituals, a cultural icon deeply rooted in Mexican life. This annual event, held from October 31st to November 2nd, immerses you in the region’s ancestral traditions and beliefs. Let’s explore the many ceremonies and events that come alive during this sacred festival.

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Since first arriving to Oaxaca in 2016, I’ve been to every Day of the Dead since! I’ve seen its evolution through the years, and have experienced the incredible celebrations, the humble and sacred traditions, the collective grief, and the communal joy felt in this time of year. It is by far one of my favorite traditions, and one I feel incredibly honored and grateful to be able to take part in.

I’ve included for you itineraries of events, local customs, the best Oaxaca Day of the Dead tours and events to attend, where to stay during your visit, and other insider tips to get the most out of your visit to Oaxaca during the Day of the Dead.

What is the day of the dead?

Candy skulls and flowers for Day of the Dead

Day of the Dead is an ancestral tradition in Mexico that blends indigenous rituals with elements introduced by the Spanish. Celebrated on November 1st and 2nd, it aligns with Catholic observances but is distinct in its festive, colorful heart, focusing on celebrating the lives of the departed. Families honor their loved ones through altars decorated with marigolds, candles, and offerings, creating a bridge for spirits to reconnect with the living. This celebration is a profound example of Mexico’s cultural diversity, showcasing a unique perspective on life, death, and the unbreakable bonds of family.

In Oaxaca, the Day of the Dead transforms into an exceptional cultural experience. The city’s streets buzz with the energy of musical parades, or ‘comparsas’, weaving through neighborhoods. Participants don skeleton-inspired costumes and masks, immersing in a dance of life that honors the dead. Oaxacan culinary specialties like ‘pan de muerto’ and ‘mole negro’ offer an exploration into the region’s rich flavors, deeply entwined with the celebration. Visitors engage in a rare opportunity to connect with ancient traditions, experiencing firsthand how Oaxaca’s interpretation of this festival uniquely honors the cycle of life and death.

What day is Day of the Dead?

The official days (or nights, rather) for the Day of the Dead are November 1st and November 2nd. Traditionally, November 1st honors deceased children, and November 2nd honors deceased adults. Arriving several days early, and staying several days later is strongly advised. Though the biggest celebrations happen between October 31 and November 2, there is so much more happening in the days before and after Day of the Dead in Oaxaca.

Where to stay in Oaxaca for Day of the Dead 2024

Enjoying Day of the Dead in Oaxaca is an engaging experience, bustling with activities and cultural connections. Staying in a central location is vital for easy access to events and a peaceful spot for rest. Consider areas near Santo Domingo Church and the Zocalo, or the neighborhoods of Jalatlaco, Xochimilco, and La Reforma. These ‘barrios’ are ideal for their centrality and connection to local culture.

It’s wise to book your accommodation VERY early for the Day of the Dead (6+ months in advance) due to the influx of visitors. Early booking often means access to a wider selection of hotels and more affordable rates. Our list of recommended hotels is tailored to ensure a comfortable and unforgettable stay.

For those arranging their visit closer to the date, Oaxaca still provides a variety of accommodations to meet different needs and budgets. Exploring options for your travel dates will help you find a suitable place, allowing you to fully immerse in the local culture and the event’s significant traditions.

Best Hotels for Day of the Dead in Oaxaca

Grand Fiesta Americana Oaxaca $$$$$ | The most modern high-end hotel in the centre of Oaxaca – elegance and convenience combined.
Quinta Real Oaxaca $$$$ | Located in the center of Oaxaca’s old city, this hotel is a mix of charm and class. Originally serving as a convent for the Santo Domingo Cathedral, it now seamlessly blends its historical roots with modern design.
City Centro Oaxaca | $$$ A modern Marriott hotel in Jalatlaco, one of Oaxaca’s most colorful neighborhoods, with a small rooftop pool and funky restaurant & bar.
Hotel Abu | $$ A modest and simple hotel, close to all the action for the Day of the Dead, in the heart of central Oaxaca. Hotel Abu is a great choice for visitors on a budget, without sacrificing convenience and comfort.

Day of the Dead cemeteries

Cemeteries, locally known as Pantheons, are the focus of Dia de los Muertos in Mexico. The essence of the Day of the Dead in Oaxaca is best experienced in its pantheons, especially the major ones like Pantheon General, Santa Cruz Xoxocotlán, and San Felipe Del Agua. These sacred spaces transform into luminous realms where families gather to honor and remember their departed. Thousands of candles and marigolds decorate these cemeteries, echoing with prayers and music, bridging the living and dead.

Oaxaca Day of the Dead cemeteries

In Oaxaca, every neighborhood, or ‘barrio,’ has its own graveyard or pantheon. Each pantheon embodies distinct regional Day of the Dead practices. These variations are not just geographical but also deeply influenced by the indigenous groups that populate the region. The practices in the villages surrounding Oaxaca City can differ significantly, reflecting the cultural influences in the area. These variations highlight the region’s deep respect for ancestry. Each culture has its ways in which the living connect with the spirits of their departed loved ones.

Visit the Pantheons during these inclusive and engaging Day of the Dead Events <- book here!

What days to visit Oaxaca’s Cemeteries during the Day of the Dead

The main cemeteries in Oaxaca City, each with its distinct observance dates, epitomize the varied essence of the festival:

  1. Xoxocotlan on October 31st: This cemetery comes alive on the eve of Dia de Muertos with families gathering to clean and decorate the graves. The atmosphere here is electric. There are two cemeteries a short walk from each other, making this one of the biggest Muertos events in Oaxaca.
  2. Pantheon General on November 1st: Located in the city’s center, this pantheon sees a more urban, yet equally heartfelt, observance. Families and friends gather, creating a colorful and festive atmosphere amidst candlelit tombs and ornately decorated ofrendas. This is one of the largest and oldest pantheons in Oaxaca.
  3. Pantheon San Felipe del Agua on November 2nd: This celebration is a serene and more intimate affair, reflecting the deep spiritual connections of the community. It’s a time for quiet reflection, prayer, and remembrance, as people pay homage to their ancestors in a setting surrounded by natural beauty.
Oaxaca's Cemeteries during the Day of the Dead

Each of these cemeteries highlights the diversity within the unifying theme of the Day of the Dead. Visitors are often struck by the profound sense of community, history, and spiritual depth these celebrations offer. They are not just about honoring those who have passed. They’re about remembering the bonds between the living and the dead, the old and the young, the past and the present.

Day of the Dead Altars: Honoring the Departed

Altars, or ‘ofrendas,’ are one of the most important elements of the Day of the Dead celebration. Mexican families create these elaborate structures in their homes or at gravesites as a tribute to their ancestors. Laden with favorite foods, photographs, mementos, and the fragrant Cempasuchil (marigold) flowers, these altars are a tribute and a welcoming gesture to the spirits visiting the earthly realm.

During the Day of the Dead in Oaxaca, altars become a central and deeply personal aspect of the celebration. These intricate altars are much more than just tributes; they are bridges of connection between the living and the deceased, carefully crafted with items that hold significant meaning.

Learn how to build your own altar during this special Day of the Dead event in Oaxaca!

Crafting the Ofrenda

In Oaxacan homes and cemeteries, families erect these altars to honor their ancestors and departed loved ones. Each altar is unique and tells a story about the person it honors. The thoughtful selection of items for the ofrenda is a way for families to express their love and remember the lives and preferences of those who have passed away.

Parts of the Altar

  1. Photographs and Personal Items: Central to the altar are photographs of the departed, serving as focal points of remembrance. Include personal belongings like clothing and tools, symbolizing the individual’s earthly life and interests.
  2. Marigolds (Cempasuchil): Bright orange ‘flores de muerto’ guide spirits with their vivid color and scent. Often, they form intricate pathways to the altar, acting as beacons for souls.
  3. Cacao Beans and Fruit: Fruits and cacao beans, symbolizing life’s cycle and nature’s gifts, represent the earth’s bounty as offerings.
  4. Favorite Foods: From traditional dishes like Mole to simple foods preferred by the deceased, these culinary offerings are a way to welcome spirits home, allowing them to savor the flavors they enjoyed in life.
  5. Mezcal: This traditional Oaxacan spirit is often included as a tribute to adult spirits. Mezcal is not only an offering but also a symbol of celebration and remembrance.
  6. Other Items: Additional items like pan de muerto (bread of the dead), salt (to purify the spirits), and water (to quench the thirst of the souls after their long journey) are commonly found on the altar. Candles are also crucial, each one representing a departed soul, illuminating their way back to the living world.
Day of the Dead Altars in Oaxaca

The ofrenda is a manifestation of love and memory, a collage of items that weave together the story of a life once lived. It reflects the belief that our departed loved ones, though gone, remain unforgotten and integral to our lives. In Oaxaca, these altars are not just personal expressions but also communal ones, where families share stories, recipes, and traditions, thus keeping the spirit of their ancestors alive.

Women in Day of the Dead Celebrations

In the Day of the Dead festivities in Oaxaca, women emerge as central figures, embodying the spirit of tradition and memory. Their involvement goes beyond mere participation. Women play a pivotal role in preserving and passing on ancestral customs.

Are you a solo female traveler coming to Oaxaca’s Day of the Dead?
Take part in this women-only day of the dead event, to gain a deeper appreciation and connection to the feminine energies of Dia de los Muertos in Mexico!

Women as Memory Keepers in Day of the Dead

Women in Oaxaca serve as the collective memory of their families and communities. They actively guard family stories, recipes, and traditions, bridging generations. Their ofrenda preparations imbue each element with significant, storied pasts.

Crafting the Ofrendas for Day of the Dead

Leading the creation of altars, it is often the women who select the photographs, heirlooms, and personal items that best represent their departed loved ones. This process transcends remembrance; it’s an opportunity to teach younger family members about life, ancestry, and the importance of keeping memories alive. Ofrendas serve as a canvas, actively sharing stories and history while keeping ancestral spirits ever-present.

Culinary Guardians of Day of the Dead Recipes

Women commonly oversee the Day of the Dead’s culinary traditions. They skillfully prepare historic, flavorful meals. In communal settings, these dishes celebrate culture and history, sharing knowledge and techniques across generations.

Educators and Cultural Transmitters for Day of the Dead

Women also play a crucial role as educators, imparting the significance of Day of the Dead rituals to the young. They ensure a deep understanding and appreciation of customs, not just their performance. In teaching the rituals, stories, and meanings behind this significant celebration, they instill a strong sense of cultural identity and belonging.

Traditional Day of the Dead Makeup

Women’s Contributions to Day of the Dead in Oaxaca

The contribution of women to the Day of the Dead is one of nurturing the present with the past. They ensure the traditions are profound and meaningful, connecting family members across generations. Oaxaca’s Day of the Dead honors women. Oaxaca honors and celebrates women as active preservers of family history and culture during the Day of the Dead. Their efforts ensure the continuation of a cultural legacy, enriching both their communities and the broader Mexican heritage.

Women in Oaxaca’s Day of the Dead are more than participants; they are the keepers of culture. Women ensure that the bonds of family, history, and tradition remain strong and resonant for generations to come.

“Todos somos calaveras” (we are all skeletons)

In the early 20th century, José Guadalupe Posada created an etching named Calavera Garbancera, critiquing the Mexican elite’s fascination with European sophistication. This image, symbolizing the universality of human experience under the facade of societal distinctions, evolved into La Catrina, a figure representing the resilience and cultural role of Mexican women. La Catrina’s emergence as a symbol in Day of the Dead celebrations highlights women’s crucial role in upholding and transmitting family and cultural traditions, embodying unity, the transcendent nature of cultural identity, and the essential role of women in the fabric of Mexican society.

Xoloitzcuintli Dogs: The Spiritual Guides of Day of the Dead

During the Day of the Dead, the Xoloitzcuintli (or Xolo for short), a native Mexican dog, guides spirits on their journey. According to legend, these dogs guide the souls through Mictlan, the Aztec underworld, ensuring their safe passage. Their depiction in art and figurines is a common sight during the festival.

Xoloitzcuintli Dogs - Day of the Dead dog

During pre-Hispanic periods, the Xolo, with its unique hairless look, was revered as a sacred guide. It was believed that these dogs escorted the souls of the departed through the afterlife, their distinct hairless appearance allowing them to serve as a conduit between the living world and the spiritual realm.

Though their appearance may be unusual due to their lack of hair, they are actually incredibly sweet and affectionate dogs! Don’t be afraid to ask some owners if you can pet them when you see them during the celebrations.

Mitla: The City of the Dead

A visit to Mitla, known as the ‘City of the Dead,’ provides a profound historical context to the festival. This archaeological site, with its unique geometric mosaics and connection to the Zapotec civilization’s beliefs about the afterlife, offers insights into the ancient roots of the Day of the Dead. Its significance dates back to the early post-classic period (around 700-900 CE), where it rose to prominence after the decline of Monte Albán, becoming an important center for the Zapotec people​.

Mitla, Oaxaca - The City of the Dead

The architecture of Mitla, marked by its intricate mosaic fretwork, demonstrates its profound connection to the afterlife. The unique design and the geometric relief carvings of structures like the Hall of the Columns hold spiritual and ritual significance. These designs were possibly inspired by textile patterns, though some argue the opposite (textiles inspired by architecture). They may represent specific family lineages or geographical places. Cruciform tombs under several buildings, adorned with similar geometric designs, further highlight Mitla’s role as a gateway to the afterlife.

Visit Mitla, the city of the dead, during the Day of the Dead in Oaxaca! Book here!

Visiting Mitla during the Day of the Dead provides an immersive experience of this deep cultural connection. The site was a significant religious center and believed to be a bridge between the living world and the world of the dead. The belief that Zapotec kings, priests, and great warriors were buried in a chamber under the city (though yet to be archaeologically proven) adds to the mystique of Mitla. The site’s history and architecture offer visitors an opportunity to explore the ancestry of the Day of the Dead traditions, understanding the region’s profound spiritual roots and its rituals that honor life after death.

Pan de Muerto – Day of the Dead Bread

Pan de Muerto - Day of the Dead Bread

Food is a significant element of the festival, with ‘Pan de Muerto’ (Bread of the Dead) being a centerpiece. Pan de Muerto, the traditional sweet bread, is an integral part of Mexico’s Day of the Dead celebrations. Rooted in Aztec traditions and blended with Spanish influences, Pan de Muerto embodies this fusion in its preparation and symbolism. Made from ingredients like flour, sugar, and eggs, and often flavored with anise seeds and orange blossom, the bread is typically shaped with dough decorations resembling bones, symbolizing the cycle of life and death. It’s a staple on ofrendas and a treat shared among families during the celebration.

In Mitla, the tradition of painting Pan de Muerto during Day of the Dead observances adds a unique layer to the celebration. This artistic activity, deeply connected to Mitla’s role as a historical and religious center, allows individuals to engage intimately with long-standing traditions. Decorating Pan de Muerto with intricate, locally-inspired designs is a creative endeavor. This practice offers a special way for participants to express their respect and remembrance during the Day of the Dead. In this context, the art of decorating Pan de Muerto becomes an immersive cultural experience, reflecting the distinctive character of Mitla and its celebration of life.

Decorate your own Day of the Dead bread during this Pan de Muerto workshop!

Cempasuchil Marigold Fields during the Day of the Dead

The marigold, or Cempasúchil, holds a deep and multifaceted significance in Mexico’s Day of the Dead celebrations. These flowers are often called “the flower of the dead” and symbolize various aspects related to life, death, and remembrance. The intense orange and yellow hues of the marigolds are seen as symbols of the sun and its life-giving warmth, considered essential for guiding the spirits of the deceased back to the world of the living. The bright colors and sweet, earthy fragrance of the marigolds are believed to attract the spirits to the ofrendas (altars) and comfort them during their visit.

Cempasuchil Marigold Fields during Day of the Dead in Oaxaca

Historically, the earliest mention of cempasúchil dates back to the 16th century in the Florentine Codex, a detailed account of Aztec culture by the Spanish Franciscan friar Bernardino de Sahagún. In this document, the marigolds were noted for their use in medicinal practices and celebrations, particularly on two Aztec feast days dedicated to commemorating the dead. The marigolds’ usage during these celebrations is believed to be tied to an Aztec myth about two lovers, Xóchitl and Huitzilin. As per the legend, upon Huitzilin’s death in battle, Xóchitl was transformed into a golden flower, the cempasúchil, by the Sun-God Tonatiuh to reunite her with her lover, who was reincarnated as a hummingbird. This story underlines the flower’s deep-rooted connection with themes of life, love, and an eternal bond beyond death.

In modern celebrations, marigolds are meticulously woven into garlands or used to create arches and flower arrangements for ofrendas. They also feature petal scattering to create pathways, guiding the spirits to their designated altars. These uses add visual beauty to the altars and also embody the connection between the living and the deceased, offering a sense of hope and remembrance amidst the Day of the Dead festivities.

Visit multiple Cempasuchil fields days before they’re harvested for the Day of the Dead. You’ll be accompanied by a professional photographer to capture your moments there. Reserve your spot on this immersive Day of the Dead Marigold fields tour!

Traditional Day of the Dead Makeup

The Catrina and Catrin makeup, iconic symbols of the Day of the Dead, originated from the early 20th-century satirical art of José Guadalupe Posada. Posada’s work, particularly his creation ‘La Calavera Catrina,‘ was a critique of Mexican upper-class fascination with European trends, during the divisive reign of dictator Porfirio Díaz. This artwork was later popularized by Diego Rivera and Frida Kahlo, transforming Catrina into a national emblem of Mexico.

The tradition of dressing as Catrina and Catrin, with elaborate skull makeup, evolved over time from a satirical statement to a widely embraced part of the Day of the Dead celebrations. Initially more popular among children, this custom has increasingly been adopted by adults in recent years, featured in costume parades, fashion shows, and publicized contests, celebrating both in Mexico and internationally​. While participating in this tradition, it’s important to do so respectfully, understanding its historical and cultural significance.

Day of the Dead makeup in Oaxaca

Get your own professional Catrina and Catrin makeup, done so respectfully, along with a professional photoshoot in this Day of the Dead Makeup & Photo Experience!

Day of the Dead Traditional Foods

The culinary landscape of Oaxaca during the Day of the Dead is a testament to the region’s diverse and complex flavors, each dish bearing a unique historical context. Among the standout traditional foods is Mole, a cornerstone of Oaxacan cuisine. With over a thousand variations, mole in Oaxaca embodies an array of complex flavors, with each version uniquely prepared by local cooks. The mole’s diversity, from the chocolate and dried chili-flavored mole negro to the yellow chilhuacle chili-infused mole amarillo, showcases Oaxaca’s culinary ingenuity and its strong connection to the local palate and produce.

Learn how to prepare your own traditional Oaxacan food in this specially curated Day of the Dead cooking class!

The dishes prepared during the Day of the Dead represent a blend of history, culture, and a deep appreciation for the region’s abundant natural resources. Each bite is a journey through Oaxaca’s culinary history, where traditional flavors are meticulously preserved and celebrated.

Muerteadas: Day of the Dead Parades

The streets of Oaxaca come alive with Muerteadas, motley parades where locals dressed in black & white costumes and skull makeup dance and celebrate life. The Muerteadas in San Agustín Etla are particularly famous, featuring large processions with music, dance, and elaborate costumes, encapsulating the celebratory aspect of the festival.

There are several large and organized Muerteadas you can witness during the Day of the Dead. Other parades of the dead happen sporadically throughout the city and surrounding villages on different nights during the lead-up to Dia de los Muertos in Oaxaca.

Oaxaca Day of the Dead parade - muerteadas de oaxaca

Schedule for Oaxaca’s Day of the Dead Muerteadas

October 29th – The “Mega” Muerteada of Oaxaca

In collaboration with the Oaxaca State Tourism Board, this is one of the largest organized Muerteadas, which is a showcase of many different regions of Oaxaca, along with elaborate traditional costumes and music. The parade starts around 6 pm and should finish in the plaza around 9 pm, where the dancing will continue.

November 1st – “Desfile de Chinas” of Oaxaca

A city-organized comparsa (parade) with hundreds, sometimes thousands, who dress in traditional (and untraditional) Day of the Dead costumes will parade from La Fuente de 8 Regiones, down past Parque El Llano, before making their way into the Plaza de la Danza. The parade starts around 6 pm and should finish in the plaza around 9 pm, where the dancing will continue, along with speeches and dance presentations. It is a sight to behold!

November 1st – “Comparsa del barrio” Muerteada of Jalatlaco

This parade takes place primarily around the neighborhood of Jalatlaco in central Oaxaca. Due to its location and being locally organized in the community, it tends to draw out massive crowds. Officially it starts around 8 pm, though it often sees a second resurgence around midnight, when November 2nd, dia de los muertos, officially starts.

November 1st – Muerteada of San Agustín Etla

Arguably the most famous Muerteada outside the city of Oaxaca, San Agustin Etla has a massive parade that often goes from close to midnight until the sun comes up, starting on the night of November 1st. This is a unique celebration, as there are distinct local costumes and traditions. The celebration draws in enormous crowds of both locals and foreigners who go to witness and take part in the festivities. It should be noted that transport is very, very difficult getting both to and from the event – as traffic can be more than 2-3 hours in each direction (even though Etla is only 30 minutes outside of Oaxaca).

November 12th – Final Muerteada of San Agustín Etla

A much more quieter, but equally as traditional and exciting event takes place 10 days after November 2nd’s Day of the Dead celebrations back in San Agustin Etla. You will find the same costumes and traditions as the earlier event but without the massive crowds or traffic jams. If you haven’t exhausted your Day of the Dead energy, or you have arrived in the city after the main events, this could be a perfect closure to your Day of the Dead experience.

Tips to Celebrate the Day of the Dead in Oaxaca

Plan your Day of the Dead as far in advance as possible!

To immerse yourself in Oaxaca’s Day of the Dead, advance planning is key, if not necessary. This beautiful and sacred celebration draws visitors keen to connect with Oaxaca’s ancestral traditions. Securing your travel and tour arrangements early ensures access to the best experiences and accommodations.

Yet, spontaneity has its place too. Even with shorter planning times, the essential thing is to participate in this remarkable tradition and book what you can in advance. Try to also leave room for a bit of flexibility as you will undoubtedly feel FOMO (fear of missing out), as there are always dozens of things happening simultaneously around the city.

Secure your spots on Oaxaca’s Best Day of the Dead tours in advance! They will sell out!

Be Respectful When Taking Photos

This should be practiced no matter where you are, though often is forgotten at the moment. Asking someone before you take their photo is not only good etiquette, it is expected in traditional (and somewhat conservative) cities such as Oaxaca – even, if not especially, during festivals such as Day of the Dead. We can’t forget that many people are mourning during this period, so being extra sensitive to this is important.

Oaxaca is incredibly photogenic, as are the people who live here. From the beautiful colored buildings to the mountains and scenery – it is a photographer’s dream. Mix that with the costumes, altars, flowers, and decorations throughout the city and cemeteries – it is paradise through the lens. However, many locals don’t like their photos being taken by strangers (in fact, it’s against the law in Mexico as a whole, without permission – and publication of photos, even on social media, without written consent is technically illegal).

Ask permission first – it can be as simple as pointing to your camera with a smile and getting either a nod yes, or a head-shake no. Please respect their wishes – there will be many other photo opportunities during your stay, with willing subjects.

Best Tours for Oaxaca’s Day of the Dead

Of course, I’m biased and know that the Where Sidewalks End team has put in the time and research to make some of the most profound tours in Oaxaca for the Day of the Dead. Though there are dozens (if not hundreds) of other tours happening, I can’t vouch for their commitment to honoring the sacred traditions or if they are just giving tourists what they think tourists want. Here is a list of Day of the Dead tours and their dates you can find during your time in Oaxaca to get the most out holiday and connect as deeply as possible with each activity and element of muertos as you can on this once-in-a-lifetime trip:

October 28

Oaxaca Day of the Dead Marigold and Professional Photoshoot Experience

One of the most iconic symbols of the Day of the Dead in Oaxaca is the Marigold flowers, which decorate all the altars around the city and cemeteries. This is the last day to visit the flower fields, right before they get harvested for the altar building. On this tour, we will visit two different flower fields an hour south of Oaxaca City Centro, and have a professional photographer join us to take photos in the flower fields (photos to be professionally edited and sent within the following 3-4 weeks to guests). Seeing the flower fields in all their glory is a sight to behold, and a wonderful introduction to the events kicking off in the city this week, along with gorgeous photos to capture the memories of their time here. 

Start time 9 am – end time approx 4 pm
Max group size is 18 guests
Regular tickets are $150 USD per person

October 29

Oaxaca Day of the Dead Mask-Making Experience

This specially designed tour will be focused on local artisans who build the giant marionette statues that are famously seen in parades in Oaxaca. The focus of this workshop will be painting your own Day of the Dead ‘diablos’ mask, which is seen with some of the indigenous groups and in many of the parades around the Day of the Dead. The workshop will focus on the history, mythology, and painting techniques of these masks. Of course, the guests can take their masks home with them, and use them in some of the parades in the following days, once dried. 

Start time 9 am – end time approx 1 pm
Max group size is 20 guests
Regular tickets are $150 USD per person

October 30

Oaxaca Day of the Dead Mitla and Pan de Muertos Experience

On this special tour, our group will visit the archeological site of the ruins in Mitla, the City of the Dead, about an hour outside of Oaxaca (transport included). We will first learn about the ancient ruins of the Zapotec indigenous group and their connection to the dead. From there, we will visit a local bakery to take part in a workshop that only happens in Mitla, in which Pan de Muertos (bread of the dead) is ornately decorated, to be both served with meals during this time, as well as to be placed on altars. This tour will feed the souls of both the visitors and the lost loved ones who are being honored. 

Start time 9 am – end time approx 3 pm
Max group size is 18 guests
Regular tickets are $150 USD per person

October 31

Oaxaca Day of the Dead Cooking Class and Market Visit Experience

In this curated experience, guests will get to visit the popular 20 de Noviembre market to learn the local ingredients used in the Day of the Dead food they will be making. From there, they will hike up to Muro, a cooking class co-op aimed at empowering locals of lower income, and children without active parental figures, to teach them culinary skills and give employment opportunities. Joined by master chef Eduardo Vera and his team, guests will learn to cook some traditional foods served during the Day of the Dead. 

Start time 9 am – end time approx 3 pm
Max group size is 18 guests
Regular tickets are $150 USD per person

October 31 & November 1

Oaxaca Day of the Dead professional makeup and photoshoot Experience 

The Catrine/Catrina makeup is world-famous for the Day of the Dead and has become iconic for this time of year in Mexico. In this experience, guests will be able to choose makeup from a catalog and have a team of professional makeup artists decorate the guests’ faces. No need to feel self-conscious walking the streets with facepaint either – half the people in the city will have it done. This gives guests the confidence that they will have it done professionally, and be able to take some of the best photos and memories around historic sites, and elaborately decorated shop-fronts and altars throughout the city.

A local professional photographer will also start their day off with a quick professional photoshoot in Jalatlaco, one of the most beautiful neighborhoods full of murals and cobblestone streets before any makeup is smudged. Photos will be professionally edited and sent to the guests within 3-4 weeks of the event. 

Start times are between 10 am and 4 pm – each session is between 1 – 1.5 hours (including makeup and photoshoot)

Max group size is 3 guests per time slot (9 timeslots per day) – select the appropriate number of people per time slot when booking
Regular tickets are $120 USD per person

October 31, November 1 & November 2

Oaxaca Day of the Dead Event (3 different events)

The Day of the Dead Experience in Oaxaca is a culturally immersive event that combines educational elements with a visit to local cemeteries, such as Xoxocotlan or the main pantheon in Oaxaca’s center. Each experience includes a comprehensive 3-hour workshop detailing the history of the celebration, accompanied by traditional Day of the Dead foods. Participants engage in heartfelt discussions with locals who have loved ones buried in these cemeteries and partake in building altars to honor their own lost loved ones. Visits to these significant cemeteries are strategically timed for dusk to ensure the attendees’ safety and convenience. They are the most immersive, respectful, and educational experiences around Oaxaca’s Day of the Dead you will find.

Start time 3 pm – end time approx 8 pm
Max group size is 40 guests
Regular tickets are $120 USD per person

November 1, 2024

Woman Only Event – Oaxaca Day of the Dead Event – Pantheon General

This is happening as well at the main pantheons in Oaxaca. Similarly, we will visit after a 3-hour in-depth history talk and workshop, accompanied by traditional Day of the Dead food, talks from people who have loved ones buried in the cemeteries we will visit, and an altar building to honor lost loved ones of the attendees.

The difference will be the focus on women and their roles during the Day of the Dead, hosted by a local woman host. The talks focus on femininity and death in Mexico, and how it is honored and practiced.  We visit the cemeteries early, at dusk, for clients’ safety and ease of getting to and from the event. Transport to centro not provided – though most guests are likely staying in centro. There will be guides to help guests find taxis after the event from the cemetery or back at the restaurant in centro. 

Start time 3 pm – end time approx 8 pm
Max group size is 40 guests
Regular tickets are $120 USD per person

Oaxaca’s Day of the Dead Travel Resources

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Final thoughts about Día de Muertos

The Day of the Dead in Oaxaca is a profound reminder of the thin veil between life and death and a celebration of the eternal bonds of family and community. It invites participants to embrace the cyclical nature of existence, honor the past, and cherish the present. This festival, rich in traditions and symbolism, offers a unique and deeply moving experience that resonates with people from all walks of life, inviting them to partake in a celebration that transcends time and culture.

Frequently Asked Questions about the Day of the Dead in Oaxaca

What is the Day of the Dead?

Day of the Dead, or “Día de los Muertos,” is a Mexican tradition observed on November 1st and 2nd, merging indigenous Aztec rituals with Catholic influences. It honors deceased loved ones, believed to return temporarily to the living world, through vibrant altars and symbolic representations.

Why is it called Day of the Dead (dia de los muertos)?

The term “Día de los Muertos,” or Day of the Dead, is derived from its primary focus on remembering and honoring those who have died. This nomenclature reflects the essence of the celebration — a period dedicated to the deceased, marked by traditional rituals and symbolic offerings.

When is Day of the Dead celebrated?

Day of the Dead is observed annually on November 1st and 2nd, aligning with the Catholic observances of All Saints’ Day and All Souls’ Day. These dates are significant in the Catholic tradition for honoring saints and praying for souls who have passed on.

Where does the Day of the Dead festivity originate from?

Day of the Dead originates from pre-Columbian traditions in Mesoamerica, particularly among the Aztec and other indigenous cultures. These ancient rituals honoring the deceased evolved and blended with Catholic practices introduced by Spanish colonizers, particularly All Saints’ Day and All Souls’ Day observances.

How old is Day of the Dead?

The Day of the Dead, observed in modern Mexico and by those of Mexican heritage globally, has origins dating back about 3,000 years to pre-Columbian Mesoamerica, where rituals dedicated to honoring the deceased were first established.

Who celebrates Day of the Dead?

Primarily a Mexican tradition, Día de los Muertos is also observed in other Catholic nations. For example, in the Philippines, the day is marked by visiting graves, placing flowers, and lighting candles to honor the deceased.

What is an ofrenda?

An ofrenda is a ceremonial altar in Day of the Dead traditions, created to honor and memorialize deceased individuals. It is typically decorated with their personal items, favorite foods, candles, and symbolic elements like marigolds.

Why is Day of the Dead so important to Mexican culture?

Día de los Muertos is characterized more by a sense of healing than grief. This observance confronts the reality of death but focuses on the positive aspect of reminiscing and celebrating the departed. The belief that spirits of the loved ones return during the holiday creates a time of meaningful connection and joyful memory.

How does Mexican culture view death?

Within modern Mexican culture, perspectives on death often blend deep religious beliefs with a more accepting attitude toward its inevitability. The importance of family amplifies the sense of loss, yet the Catholic doctrine of an afterlife provides a measure of consolation.

What are traditional costumes for the Day of the Dead?

Day of the Dead costumes, inspired by José Guadalupe Posada’s early 20th-century etching Calavera Garbancera, often feature skeleton motifs symbolizing universal human equality beyond life’s superficial distinctions. This embodiment of the phrase “Todos somos calaveras” (we are all skeletons) manifests in the iconic figure of La Catrina, highlighting cultural continuity and societal commentary in costume form.

Is Pixar’s “Coco” movie an accurate depiction of Day of the Dead?

The film “Coco” by Pixar, while not an exhaustive depiction, is generally regarded as an accurate representation of Day of the Dead traditions, backed by extensive research and consultation. However, given the diverse practices across Mexico, perceptions of its accuracy can vary among individuals.

What are the best tours for the Day of the Dead in Oaxaca?

The best tours for the Day of the Dead in Oaxaca are those offered by Where Sidewalks End, renowned for their comprehensive research, engagement with local communities, and respectful approach to cultural practices. These tours stand out for their depth of understanding, emphasis on authentic experiences, and sensitivity toward the traditions and people of Oaxaca.