House altars are homecoming gifts for the deceased… and love-filled works of art, and an altar is nothing without food. We travel between old-time Zapotec villages, meeting families, visiting their altar rooms, learning to make tlayudas and sipping chocolate. Our adventure begins in a graveyard, perhaps the most fascinating, topsy turvy graveyard in Oaxaca. Then down a rural road to the village of San Marcos to meet a traditional family and soak in the serenity of their ancestor altar, aromatic with flowers, candles and incense. We’ll enjoy a home-cooked lunch with the family and have a stab at making tlyaudas, uniquely Zapotec, extra large size tortillas. Oh, and this is a family of potters, going back 100 generations, so we’ll almost certainly get to see how they work with clay. Then to the village of Mitla, whose Aztec name means Place of the Dead. How apropos! Here we will meet two more families, visit two more altars, seeing that altars are not the same village to village, nor house to house. We’ll learn about the symbolic meanings of the altars and soak in their sweet, solemn beauty. We’ll wind up our day sitting before grandma Lucia’s altar, sipping hot chocolate that she has made the old way and sharing stories.
Artisans inspired by spirits, skeletons and Mexico’s fascination with death mixed with a visit to a graveyard where the villagers create floral works of art on the tombs of their deceased. This is a day immersed in creativity and culture in the valley of Ocotlan. We visit the workshops of three master artisans in three towns today. A family of woodcarvers who show their work internationally, and two award winning potters who do very distinctive kinds of sculpture. One works with the black clay traditions of Coyotepec, often depicting legends of death and ghosts, the other does painted clay sculptures, often in the beautifully gruesome skeletal “catrina” tradition. And we’ll finish our journey into beauty and death at a graveyard where villagers compete to see who can create the most beautiful decorations of live flowers and petals on the graves of their ancestors. May we all be so elegantly remembered when we go.
Hallows and ghouls, beware! Just a few days before Day of the Dead in Oaxaca, and we’re in the middle of preparations. We’ll be working alongside one of the land’s most talented paper maché sculptors to create our own Dia de los Muertos mask. Then off to the village of ancient Zapotec royalty, to visit their tombs of past and marvel at today’s traditions. We’ll admire local muralists, an altar showcase, and join in the festivities, while indulging in local treats in the village food market.
The spirits of the dead arrive in the village of Teotitlan at 3PM today. Our job is to help build an altar of food and flowers before they arrive! Our day is spent in a traditional Zapotec village, beginning with a visit to the workshop of a ceremonial beeswax candle maker (candles like you’ve never seen before). Then, in the cool altar room of a village house we work side by side with a family to build the altar. But we’ll also help make tamales, which are so much a part of the ceremonies today. At 3PM the village bells begin to chime, incense will be lit and the spirits have arrived. We will be ready to greet them. We wind up our day with a late afternoon visit to the village cemetary where the tombs will be coming to life with color. This is a gracious day in a traditional community, well removed from the urban Day of the Dead circus, and deeply immersed in sweet old ways of doing things.
Shhhh!! We aren’t naming the sweet little Zapotec village where we’ll be after sunset, when the flowers and candles come out to warm the night. But this we can promise, it won’t be crowded and crazy like the graveyards around Oaxaca city, and it will be authentic, traditional and sublime. This is what Day of the Dead is like in traditional villages throughout Oaxaca, a gathering of villagers, heartfelt words and so much beauty in so many ways. But before we arrive at the graveyard, with our village host we’ll see how home cooked mole is made, cooking fire, clay pots, stone pestles and local ingredients. Food as authentic as the celebration we’ll witness. We’ll also stop by a village workshop where the aprons worn by village chefs throughout Oaxaca are made, and even before that, we’ll stop in for a visit and tasting at a small mezcal distillery, for this elixir is as much a part of Oaxacan Day of the Dead as flowers and candles.
Meeting & End Point: In front of the Jardin Etnobotanico's Main Gate
* Off-the-Beaten Path Tour
* Bilingual guides
* Small group
* Transport in private van
* Entry fees and artisan fees
* Hands-on activities
* Gratuities for your guide & drivers
* Travel Insurance
* Personal Expenses
* Alcoholic beverages
Group size: This tour is capped at 12 guests!!!
1. Reserve your spot on the BOOK NOW button. We'll require full payment at the moment of booking.
2. Cancellations. You have up to 7 days prior to your tour time to email and cancel your tour with no penalty incurred. A US$35 fee per person will be charged if you cancel less than 7 days prior to your scheduled tour time. Cancellations less than 48 hours prior to tour date are non-refundable.
3. Traditions Mexico takes you beyond the standard sites visited by tourists and travellers and into the wonderful and authentic wilds of backcactus Mexico. As a result we will see things that other visitors seldom or never see. Our travellers should bring with them a willingness to get off-the-beaten-track and a curiosity to see the real world in its true and wondrous colors.
4. Our trips are lead by unique individuals who are more cultural ambassadors than guides. They are specialists and aficionados, authors and long-term students of the cultures of Oaxaca, experienced, involved, and totally in love with what they do!
5. Minimum numbers apply. We require a minimum of 3 travellers to run a trip.
La Vida y los Muertos (Life and the Dead)
La Vida y Los Muertos is a visually rich documentary film by artist Carolyn Kallenborn that captures the beauty, the joy, the sadness and the magic of Day of the Dead in Oaxaca, Mexico.