The Day of the Dead

Mexico

Culture | Festivals

Discover Mexico's most colourful festival

10 days £1,795 pp This is the per person group tour price, based on 2 sharing. The price is subject to change with exchange rate and flight cost fluctuations.
Dates & Prices

Intro

Discover the famous celebrations of the Day of the Dead in Oaxaca, the indigenous capital of Mexico, and the best place to experience this special day. The Day of the Dead in Mexico is not a mournful commemoration but a happy and colourful celebration where death takes a lively, friendly expression. After the festival, take time to appreciate the ancient history and phenomenal architecture of Monte Albán and Mitla, discover the stunning natural landscapes of Hierve El Agua and Santiago Apoala and wander the colourful craft markets throughout the state before taking a walk in a cloud forest.

TOUR HIGHLIGHTS

  • The colonial charm of Oaxaca city
  • Visit colourful traditional handicrafts markets
  • The unique site of Hierve El Agua
  • Take in the world’s widest tree
  • Experience Mexico’s most colourful festival
  • The stunning ruins of Monte Alban
  • Experience the vibrant Day of the Dead festivities
  • Explore one of Mexico's most ancient archaeological sites
  • The mysterious statues of historic San Agustin
  • Discover the stunning Sierra Norte
  • Learn to cook tasty Oaxacan food

Places Visited

Oaxaca - Santiago Apoala - Monte Alban - San Bartolo Coyotepec - San Martin Tilcajete - Santo Tomas Jalieza - Llano Grande

What's Included

Airport transfers
Ground transport
Accommodation
Sightseeing
Entrance fees to sites & parks
Breakfasts and some meals (as per itinerary)
Drivers and guides
Itinerary & Map
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Day 1 : Oaxaca

Arrive into Oaxaca airport. You will be met at the airport by a Travel The Unknown representative and brought to your hotel. At a suitable time you will have a guided walk through the city. Overnight in Oaxaca. 

Overnight in Azucenas, Oaxaca

Meal plan: n/a

Oaxaca is at the heart of all things indigenous in Mexico with more indigenous groups than anywhere else in the country and this is clearly visible on its streets. At the centre of Oaxaca lies the city's famous traffic-free square known as the Zocalo. This is a fantastic place to people watch with cafes lining the edges of the square and a constant flow of people weaving in and out of the square or sitting enjoying its shady benches. A colonial city, Oaxaca oozes character and boasts a vast range of crafts and contemporary art. Surrounded by famous archaeological sites, the city itself also has a fascinating history - with Aztecs, the Spanish invasion and the city’s growing importance in the life and trade of southern Mexico. Earthquakes in 1854 and 1931 left much of the city in ruins and effectively uninhabitable. Oaxaca has seen the largest expansion in the last 25 years however, as migration from rural areas has increased. 

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Day 2 : Mitla - Hierve el Agua - El Tule

Visit the ancient pyramid of Mitla, the bizarre terrains and petrified waterfall of Hierve el Agua and the world's widest tree, El Tule. We will then visit the indigenous farmers market of Tlacolula to see the preparations for Día de Muertos (Day of the Dead). Return to Oaxaca for the night.

Overnight in Azucenas, Oaxaca

Meal plan: Breakfast & lunch

Mitla derives its name from the Nahuatl word "Mictlan", meaning "Place of the Dead". Similarly, the Zapotecans call it "Lyobaa" meaning "Burial Place". This reflects the historic importance of ancient kings and priests tombs within the city structures. Although the city dates back to as early as 200 AD, there is archaeological evidence that it was inhabited from 900 BC. There are structural remains of the city that correspond with the height of Zapotecan rule over the region from Monte Alban (500 BC to 800 AD) although the ruins at Mitla date predominantly from the 13th and 14th Centuries when Mitla would have been the dominant religious centre where human sacrifice would have been a central part of their worship. Of the original fifty two pyramids, only one remains. This ornate pyramid was spared Spanish wrath for one simple reason - it was carved with stone crosses. These crosses had no connection with a Christian crucifixion but the superstitious Spanish were afraid of destroying it. The 52 pyramids were related to a passage of time as were most of their archaeological and mathematical creations here. However, it does not refer to the 52 weeks in a year but rather to do with the alignments of planets where every 52 years, three planets were said to be aligned. Each group of buildings at Mitla was reserved for a specific person. So the high priest stayed in one building, the lesser priests in another, and the king in another.

El Tule is a Montezuma Cypress and is quite something to behold – 11.6m in diameter with estimates of its age ranging from 1500 to 3000 years old, rivalling even the ancient Monte Alban. Some very famous naturalists such as Alexander von Humboldt made a special visit to Oaxaca to visit this tree. Nominated as a UNESCO World Heritage Site, it towers over the 17th Century church in whose courtyard it stands. The volume of the tree is about that of three large planes, and consumes some one thousand gallons of water every day. This has led to a serious drop in the surrounding water table (of up to 6m) casting doubts on the future of El Tule. The entrance fee to visit the church (and tree) is used to combat this issue.

Hierve Al Agua means “the Water Boils”. This is a misnomer as the steaming mineral-rich water, that seeps from fissures in the ground, is in fact cold. The name is a result of this rising steam creating the illusion of a hot spring. Beautiful natural stone ponds make for stunning outdoor swimming pools and the constant run of the mineral-heavy water has created what looks like frozen waterfalls (or “petrified waterfalls”). The beautiful landscape here is totally unique. It is believed that the springs were first used 2,400 years ago. The waters were easy to direct and were used for irrigation through a network of canals over half a square kilometre. Wells were dug and constructed about every 12 feet along the canals by the ancient Zapotecs. Research dates the construction from between 450 B.C. to 1500 A.D. Because of the high mineral content of the water, archaeologists still debate whether this was an irrigation system or a bathing spa. The most impressive site at Hierve el Agua is the two white stone waterfalls. The flow of water has, over the years, left a nearly 100 feet high white deposit that seems to flow as if it were still liquid. The smaller fall, 40 feet tall, is still bathed by water from a warm pool at the top, large enough to swim in. Even now, all these years later, the spring still produces two litres of water a second during the summer months.

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Day 3 : Santiago Apoala

Drive into the Sierra Mixteca range, a stunning range of mountains in the indigenous Mixteca region. Hike through a canyon and past waterfalls to the beautiful village of Santiago Apoala, before exploring the village. Overnight in Santiago Apoala. 

Overnight in Santiago Apoala village cabins, Santiago Apoala

Meal plan: Breakfast

Santiago Apoala is one the oldest villages of the Sierra Mixteca. According to tradition, the tree of life - which gave birth to humanity - can be found here. The village is set in a wonderful and enchanting landscape, - a green hidden valley and impressive waterfalls enclosed by steep cliffs. You don’t need much imagination to understand why the Mixtec people believe this place is their paradise. 

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Day 4 : Santiago Apoala - Oaxaca

Half day hike to a waterfall with the possibility to swim. Stop for lunch and after lunch return to Oaxaca. Overnight in Oaxaca. 

Overnight in Azucenas, Oaxaca

Meal plan: Breakfast & lunch

Day of the Dead in Mexico is a three day festival that focuses on commemorating the dead, particularly friends and family. Though an ancient tradition it coincides today with the Catholic holidays of All Saint's Day and All Soul's Day. Throughout Oaxaca there are all night parties at all of the cemeteries. Altars (ofrendas) are erected in almost every home, carefully constructed sand 'carpets' adorn the streets where coloured sand is formed into skeletons, faces, flowers and niches that hold candles, flowers, food and pictures. In Oaxaca all of this is set against a soundtrack of brass bands and exploding fireworks. This tradition can be traced back to an Aztec festival and In the pre-Hispanic era, it was common to use skulls to symbolize death and rebirth.

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Day 5 : Monte Albán

After breakfast take a short drive to Monte Albán, one of Mexico's most ancient and impressive archaeological sites - dating from as far back as 500BC. After spending a few hours exploring the extensive site of Monte Albán you will visit a paper factory in San Agustin Etla before visiting la CASA (an interesting art school founded by Francisco Toledo). After dinner, go to Xoxocotlan and visit the Day of the Dead celebrations in the cemetery there. Overnight in Oaxaca. 

Overnight in Azucenas, Oaxaca

Meal plan: Breakfast & lunch

Monte Albán, one of Mexico’s most ancient sites and the first urban complex in Mesoamerica, is an ancient Zapotec capital a few kilometres west of Oaxaca city. Meaning "White Mountain", Monte Albán sits on a flat hill top overlooking the surrounding valley. The location of the site gives rise to spectacular 360 degree views of the valley and across the extensive site of Monte Albán. First built around 500 BC, early hieroglyphs found in Monte Albán suggest the Zapotec elite here may have been the first to use writing as well as a written calendar. The buildings of the site are excavated to various degrees, meaning some are well excavated and their purpose well known, whereas others are at an early stage of excavation and their purpose can only be guessed at. In addition, the buildings are spread over an unusually large period of time lasting up until the early 16th Century, when it mysteriously fell into decline. One of the site’s most important and most impressive buildings is the Ball Court. Its prominent position is a clue as to the importance of games to the early Zapotecs, games in which the losing captain is believed to have been ritually slaughtered. 

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Day 6 : Teotitlan

Morning free. Visit Teotitlan for micro-finance tour. This tour with our partners Envia (www.envia.org) will give you a real insight into the lives of local people in this traditional Zapotec village famous for its weaving traditions. This tour will directly fund small micro-finance projects which are small interest-free loans to help people to start or expand their businesses. You will visit people's homes and they will explain what they will do with the loan from their own homes or places of business. The benefits these small loans can bring to people is quite incredible and Envia will send you an update on the people who explained their projects once they have received their loans. Return to Oaxaca. Overnight in Oaxaca.

Overnight in Azucenas, Oaxaca

Meal plan: Breakfast

Envia have used the model of microfinance started in the 1970s in Bangladesh whereby underprivileged people who are unable to obtain credit from banks are given small loans by NGOs, which are used to start or expand businesses, and are paid back as any other loan. When the loans are repaid, they take their own low admin costs from this and reinvest the rest in further microfinance and other projects such as free English lessons for the people of Teotitlan.

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Day 7 : Oaxaca

Visit of the colourful Ocotlan market and the handicraft villages of San Bartolo (black pottery), San Martin Tilcajete (painted wooden animals) and Santo Tomas Jalieza (textiles). In the late afternoon treat yourself to a traditional indigenous steam bath ("temazcal"). Overnight in Oaxaca. 

Overnight in Azucenas, Oaxaca

Meal plan: Breakfast

Located in the Centro District of the Valles Centrales region, the village of San Bartolo Coyotepec is the place of origin of black clay pottery ('Barro negro pottery'). Now found all over Oaxaca, this pottery is distinguished by its colour, sheen and unique designs. It is hand-molded by an ancient technique and then fired in a pit kiln where the black colour is gained from smoke and iron oxide in the clay. Originally, the pieces were completed with a grey matte finish before the method of 'burnishing' the pottery with quartz stones was invented in the 1950s, giving the pottery its distinctive metallic shine. 

San Martin Tilcajete is a small and rural village located in the Ocatlan District. It is well known for its brightly-coloured and intricately-patterned "alebrijes" made of local copal-wood. These traditional Oaxacan-Mexican folk art sculptures typically depict fantastical creatures, with many pieces based on the sacred animals of Zapotec mythology



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Day 8 : Llano Grande

Day trip to Llano Grande, the smallest and highest village of Los Pueblos Mancomunados, for a walk in a cloud forest. Surrounded by pine forest the 150 inhabitants live in the cleanest community of Mexico and are happy to show you their beautiful area. Your hike passes through meadows covered with wild flowers and pine forest and leads to some dramatic views. Back in the village we enjoy a delicious lunch at Kata's restaurant. Overnight in Oaxaca. 

Overnight in Azucenas, Oaxaca

Meal plan: Breakfast, lunch & dinner



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Day 9 : Oaxaca

After breakfast there are a number of optional activities (these are included in the price of the tour but you must choose). Option 1: a cooking course learning some of the dishes that Oaxaca is famous for with one of Oaxaca's best chef's. Option 2: a guided tour of the botanical gardens of Oaxaca. Oaxaca is one of the world's biodiversity hotspots and home to more than 8,400 registered plant species, 738 bird species and 1,431 terrestrial vertebrate species, accounting for 50 percent of all species in Mexico. 

In the afternoon you will visit Abastos market, one of the largest and most colourful markets in Oaxaca. Overnight in Oaxaca. 

Overnight in Azucenas, Oaxaca

Meal plan: Breakfast & lunch

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Day 10 : Oaxaca - Departure

After breakfast transfer to airport for return flight.

Meal plan: Breakfast

Accommodation

Accommodation

All accommodation subject to availability. Final accommodation choices will be confirmed after booking.

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Azucenas

Oaxaca (8 nights)

Hotel Azucenas is a small Canadian-owned hotel in the colonial city of Oaxaca. The hotel has 10 rooms with private baths and the city’s best Rooftop Garden Terrace.

Visit hotel's site
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Santiago Apoala village cabins

Santiago Apoala (1 night)

The cabins at Santiago Apoala village are situated in a beautiful location along the banks of a stream which comes down through a cleft in the high rock escarpments at the southern end of the valley. Modern and clean, there is also a restaurant available nearby.

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Classic Mexico & Cuba (15 days)

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The Day of the Dead (10 days)

Discover Mexico's most colourful festival

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Reviews

Having travelled to Mexico on various trips over the years I was surprised to find Oaxaca was so different. Many traditions that have died out elsewhere are still alive and kicking in Oaxaca. And the food is sublime.

Bill Dodd , Flavours of Mexico, Mexico

It is not surprising that UNESCO has added Mexican cuisine to its list of cultural treasures worth preserving. The variety and quality of Oaxacan food is awe inspiring and ranges from street food to creative chefs in top class restaurants. All aspiring young chefs should visit the Sunday market in Tlacolula, a real feast for the eyes and the palette. We have learnt a huge amount on this tour about life in Mexico and the problems of Mexico`s indigenous people.

Jeannie Saville , Flavours of Mexico, Mexico

The hiking was amazing with spectacular scenery and knowledgeable guides. The luxurious but rustic wooden cabins were really welcoming after a long days hiking.

Caroline , Zapotecan Village Trek, Mexico
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