Category Archives: Oaxaca travel

Post-Earthquake Report for San Cristobal de las Casas, Chiapas: Rumor or Fact

The 8.2 magnitude earthquake shook southern Oaxaca state and Chiapas a month ago on September 7, 2017. What’s the situation in Chiapas now?

I asked my friends Ann Conway, owner of La Joya Hotel, and Bela Wood, owner of Bela’s B&B, for an on-the-ground report about the state of things in and around San Cristobal de las Casas, Chiapas.

The best of the best vintage from San Andres Larrainzar, Chiapas

What suffered damage there? I asked. What is closed? What is being repaired? Are tourist sites open and safe? What about visiting villages like Zinacantan, Chamula, Tenejapa, and Magdalenas?

I asked because we have two spaces open for the February 2018 Chiapas Textile Study Tour, and several inquirers express reluctance to commit right now.  (If you are interested, send me an email and I’ll send you the program description.)

Zinacantan man in tradition traje costume

Seems like there is a US State Department Advisory for the area and a rumor flying that Centro Textiles Mundo Maya is closed.

Here is what  Ann and Bela replied.

Bela Wood says, As far as I know all the villages are okay. In the historic center, two churches are closed pending repairs, and the Palacio Municipal is closed for repair.  Otherwise it’s fine. It feels quite safe. In fact we held up amazingly well for the size of the earthquake.

Ann Conway says, Many of our guests are from Mexico and other countries that don’t give much credence to what the US government has to say about safety here in Chiapas. Most of us who know and live in Mexico agree with this.

Embroidered blouse from Amantenango

Amigos de San Cristobal, an NGO support group, says, Hello Norma, Chiapas was affected by the quake, but the areas with the most damage were on the coast. Some museums are closed but not the Centro Textiles Mundo Maya textile museum.  In the villages of Zinacantán and Chamula all is good. We hope you will come visit us and we look forward to welcoming you. It is safe. 

Centro Textiles Mundo Maya, is the Chiapas textile museum located in the historic center of San Cristobal de las Casas. Here is what they say: We are still standing! We are pleased to share the news that our ex-convent of Santo Domingo was inspected by specialists and is in excellent condition to continue operations. We are waiting for the permits to perform minor repairs and resume our normal activities soon. 

Ex-convent Santo Domingo, Museo Textiles Mundo Maya

As for OAXACA: 

I’ve written before and I’ll say it again, Oaxaca City is safe. There has been very little damage and no loss of life. The same for the tourist destinations of Puerto Escondido and Huatulco. Please do not cancel your visit!


Follow Me Cultural + Photo Walking Tour, Christmas Posadas: One Day in Teotitlan del Valle

Christmas in Oaxaca is magical. In ancient villages throughout the central valleys, indigenous Zapotec people celebrate with a mix of pre-Hispanic mystical ritual blended with Spanish-European Catholic practice.

A moment’s rest. Christmas Posada, Teotitlan del Valle, Oaxaca, 2015

They retrace the Census pilgrimage (Roman command to travel from Nazareth to Bethlehem for Cesar’s census) of Mary and Joseph on their way to Bethlehem. The posadas in Teotitlan del Valle are held for nine nights, culminating with the last posada on Christmas Eve. Each host family serves as innkeeper for the night, throwing a big party, and welcoming guests into the home.

Cradling Baby Jesus at the altar, Teotitlan del Valle

The procession is elaborate and takes the pilgrims and the litter carrying Mary and Joseph from one inn to the next, through the winding cobblestone streets of the village, touching each neighborhood. Women carrying beeswax candles and children with sparklers guide the way. Altar boys illuminate the streets with candle-topped stanchions.

The last posada, Christmas Eve, Teotitlan del Valle, Oaxaca

Copal incense leaves an aroma trail. Church officials send firecrackers skyward to announce the coming of the pilgrims to the next neighborhood. It is solemn, festive and spiritual.

Wishing you season’s greeting with health and joy always.

What could be better than to experience one day of this celebration with those who lives here? This is an informal cultural immersion walking tour, so be prepared to walk, and then walk some more! Please bring your camera if you like. You will have permission to take photos.

  •      When:  Friday, December 22 — One Day ONLY
  •      Time:  1 p.m. to 9 p.m. (approximate end time)
  •      Where: Teotitlan del Valle, Oaxaca, Mexico
  •      Cost:  $125 per person includes late afternoon supper

Who is this one-day study tour for? Anyone interested in knowing more about how Christmas is celebrated in a Mexican village. All amateur photographers are welcome, from no to mid-level experience, and anyone interested in photo tourism and who wants a more personal travel experience.

Group Size Limited to 8 People: We welcome children and young adults ages 12 and over.

Parking lot, Tlacolula market sky, Sunday before Christmas

You will follow me into the homes of Zapotec families to talk about and observe the celebrations and decorations. You will have plenty of photo opportunities to capture images of people and place. You will take home memories that cannot be duplicated, to be treasured and shared for a lifetime.

Nochebuena flower or poinsettia, native to Mexico, Christmas full-bloom

What You Will See:

  • Behind the gates, behind the walls, honest village life
  • Food preparation for special occasions
  • Homes and altar rooms elaborately decorated for Christmas
  • Candlelit processions, complete with incense and mysticism

During the day, we will visit several family homes to see how they celebrate Christmas. We will bring chocolate and bread to the altar in greeting, a tradition.

Blessings before the altar at the home of the Patron.

After dark, we will take part in the procession that will carry Mary and Joseph on litters from one home to the next on their recreated journey to Bethlehem.

Photography Opportunities–What You Will Do:

  • Attend to natural and artificial lighting to get the best shot
  • Practice street photography on-the-hoof
  • Request permission from people to take their photos
  • Discuss photo-taking etiquette, When to ask or not?
  • Create portrait opportunities with the people you meet
  • Gain access to family compounds
  • Point out great photo opportunities
  • Explore night photography challenges and opportunities
  • Go home with a portfolio of your experiences

The pilgrims entering the altar room, Teotitlan del Valle

We DO NOT give instruction on how to use your camera. This will not be about camera settings or technical information. You will want to know your camera before you arrive. We will not offer an editing session or instructions on how to edit.

Food preparation area for posada participants

We DO provide a rich, cultural immersion experience, with all types of cameras welcome: mobile phone cameras, film, DSLR and mirrorless, instant, Poloroid, etc.

What to Bring:

  • Your spirit of discovery and adventure
  • Your camera
  • Extra batteries and charger
  • Extra storage disks
  • Optional tripod, if you wish
  • Notepad and pen

Lodging Options: You may wish to make this a day trip and return to Oaxaca city on the same night. Or you may wish to spend the night in Teotitlan del Valle (or perhaps several). Choose Casa Elena, Las Granadas B&B guesthouse, or La Cupula. Make your own reservations and pay your hosts directly.

Watching the procession go by, Teotitlan del Valle

About Your Photo Walking Tour Leader: Norma Schafer is an experienced amateur photographer who enjoys taking portraits as much as capturing the pulsating world of Oaxaca village life. Her photographs have been exhibited at Duke University, The Levine Museum of the American South, and featured in two chapters of the award-winning book, Textile Fiestas of Mexico (Thrums). She is most interested in the aesthetic of photography, rather than the technical details, acknowledging that to get a good photo, one must know how the camera works first!

The musicians always lead the way, announcing the coming of the procession

How to Book Your Reservation: Send Norma an email to let her know you want to participate. We will send you an invoice to make a PayPal payment to secure your place.

Cancellations: If, once you make your 100% prepaid reservation, and you find you are unable to attend, you may cancel up to 30 days in advance and receive a 50% refund. After that, refunds are not possible. You are always welcome to send a substitute in your place.

Even a blurry photo evokes mood and sense of place

Trip Insurance: We strongly encourage you to take out trip cancellation and medical evacuation insurance. We cannot emphasize enough how important this is when traveling in any foreign country. Since this is a one-day excursion, trip insurance is not mandatory, but highly advisable.





Sunday Tlacolula Market Meander Map For Sale

It’s Sunday in the Oaxaca Valley. Time to spend the day at the amazing Tlacolula Market. Located about 45 minutes from Oaxaca City on the Carretera Nacional–Mexico 190–between Teotitlan del Valle and Mitla, the market is the biggest and IMHO, the best in the region.

Tlacolula market scene with aprons as cultural identity, meat grilling area

I suggest you get there by 11 a.m. and stay until at least 3 p.m. All transportation points you to Tlacolula on a Sunday. You can take a bus from the baseball stadium in the city or a colectivo from the same point. If you wish, hire a private driver and have him wait for you at about 180 pesos per hour.

I created this map because the market is complex and goes deep. You don’t want to miss anything! The map costs $9 USD. Please order at least 24-hours in advance. I send this to you as a jpg or PDF. You print it out and take it with you — for personal use only!


There are some flash points to avoid for personal safety. The narrow arch that spills out from the church courtyard to the street that connects on the opposite side to the permanent market is where the purse-slashers and pick-pockets hang out. Don’t go through there, go around.

Assessing quality, style and price.

The map indicates my favorite place to eat, places to shop and to explore. You don’t want to miss any of it!  Where to taste the best nieves — ice cream — or sample agua miel, the unfermented first juice of the agave cactus filled with digestive health benefits.

With the map, you will know the streets, where to get cash at the ATM, how the town is laid out, where to get the colectivos, where to park, how far to meander without missing anything.

This map offers an option to those who want to know where they are going before they get there!


Thank you for supporting Oaxaca Cultural Navigator LLC. We invest a lot of time writing the blog and publishing photos. This is one way to help underwrite our efforts.

Also available by advance order, to guide you to weavers who work only in natural dyes in the rug weaving village of Teotitlan del Valle.  $10 USD


Colorful plastic woven baskets, Tlacolula Market. Map to buy!

NCSU in Oaxaca: Crocodiles, Iguanas, Mangroves at Ventanilla Beach

Rooster in the rain, plastic bag lens protector

It was a rollicking day in the skies over Oaxaca yesterday as I made my way back to Teotitlan del Valle from Puerto Escondido via Mexico City, where Tropical Storm Beatriz was having her way with us.

Sheets of rain cover Aeromar window. What do you see?

Sheets of rain fell as I took off in the little Aeromar turboprop. In Huatulco, the news wasn’t so good as flights were canceled, and one North Carolina State University student who decided to stay a couple of extra days, couldn’t get home as planned.

Iguana, happy on a log.

But, I’d like to back-track. Another highlight of the NCSU study abroad trip to Oaxaca was a visit to the Ventanilla lagoon between Puerto Escondido and Puerto Angel, where fresh and salt water mix to support cormorants, crocodiles and iguanas.

Crocodile protecting her nest

The bio-diverse tropical ecosystem is home to white and red mangroves, too.

Under the umbrellas in the rain forest

This is a protected area accessible only by canoe, paddles powered by local guides who volunteer as part of the preservation project of the region.

Let’s take the long view and protect our planet

Our admission fees help support the ecology of the region and the endangered species.

Red mangroves, an endangered specie, Ventanilla Lagoon

We started out by van in a down-pour with no inkling of the storm to come the next days. It was wet, wet, wet and I had to cover my camera lens with a clear plastic bag that I bought from a local food vendor on the beach.

Through the jungle swamp, Ventanilla lagoon, Oaxaca

I think the resulting images give you a sense of the wonder, the tropical humidity, and gauzy landscape shrouded by clouds and rain.

Diving bird drying its wings

By afternoon, the rain cleared. We spent the rest of the day enjoying lunch under the palapa and swimming in a Puerto Angel protected cove. (more about this in another post)

Cicadas hug a tree trunk

First stop en route, fresh coconut juice at roadside stand, Highway 200

We made a stop along the highway to sample fresh coconut, both the milk and the flesh. It was a refreshing break from the heat and gave us a chance to meet some of the local people who make a living harvesting from nearby trees.

Amber, a doctoral student, enjoying fresh coconut milk

Eating fresh coconut with salsa, roadside stand, Pacific Coast Highway 200

An offering of fresh, spicy peanuts — too hot for me!

Anna, Brianna, Kia and Makayla, camaraderie

A marker on the roadside, so we know where we are

Crocodile pond reflections

Professor Ricardo Hernandez and guide talk about preservation, biodiversity

In the lagoon, the families who protect the wildlife explain that they rescue parrots, alligators, crocodiles and monkeys that have been kept in captivity.

David wanted to take this species home, rare color

When the pets get too big and the owners don’t want them anymore, the refuge offers a safe place where the animals and reptiles can be cared for.

Ricky explores the wildlife refuge. These white tail deer were rescued.

Diorama feels real, snap, crackle, pop

David, enjoying the adventure

At the beach, examining the flora, a dreamy gauze

Reptile eggs have a soft, leathery shell. These chicks were just hatched. The reserve has a program to rescue and release.

Baby crocodiles, just hatched

An important message for us all, despite what Agent Orange says

Sea bird takes flight

Endangered sea turtle, National Turtle Center, Mazunte

NCSU, National Turtle Center, Mazunte, Oaxaca

There is also a reforestation project to protect and preserve the mangroves.



North Carolina State University Comes to Oaxaca for Study Abroad

The Department of Horticultural Science at North Carolina State University in Raleigh, is sending a group of sixteen people to Oaxaca to study organic agriculture, permaculture, indigenous farming techniques, and methods of converting native plants to dye materials, food and beverage. The group includes students, faculty members and a videographer who will document the week-long program.

They arrive tonight!

Sunset at Mazunte, Oaxaca, Mexico

I’ve organized a full week of activities for them that starts with an understanding of Zapotec history and culture as a foundation for our time together. We will explore the archeological site of Monte Alban with a knowledgable local guide that includes a discussion of social and political organization, food cultivation and sourcing, and farming.

Monte Alban archeological site

We will visit Tierra del Sol in San Jeronimo Tlacochahuaya, have lunch in the home of a local family who farms the land, visit a mezcal palenque to see how agave is cultivated and made into mezcal, and stop at the home of a Teotitlan del Valle weaver who works only in natural dyes.

Corn was first hybridized in Mexico about 8,000 years ago. Remnants, discovered with DNA testing, were found in the caves at Yagul, about five miles from where I live in the Tlacolula Valley. It is one of the most beautiful sites in the region.

Shucking dried corn kernels for planting in the milpas

Then, we fly to Puerto Escondido in that teeny-weeny airplane run by AeroTucan to visit an organic coffee farm, explore the marine biology of the region and tour the Mexican National Turtle Sanctuary in Mazunte where wildlife preservation takes priority.  We have plans to meet with the local university to learn more about Mexico’s commitment to doing things naturally.

I’ll be writing about the study abroad program this week. I hope you’ll follow us.

Plowing my neighbor’s corn field, a five-hour project with bull power