At Oaxaca Cultural Navigator, we aim to give you an unparalleled and in-depth travel experience to participate and delve deeply into indigenous culture, folk art and celebrations. The Maya World of Chiapas, Mexico, spans centuries and borders. Maya people weave their complex universe into beautiful cloth. Symbols are part of an ancient pre-Hispanic animist belief system. In the cloth we see frogs that signal coming rain, the plumed serpent — guardian of life, woman and man and family, earth and sky, the four cardinal points, moon and sun and stars, birds, flowers, symbols of the natural environment. Each weaver chooses her themes based on what is important to her.
We go deep into the Maya world of southern Mexico, from February 20 to February 28, 2024. While we focus on textiles, we also explore what it means to be indigenous, part of a cooperative, live in a remote village, have agency and access to economic opportunity, and understand the role of women in traditional life. We meet creative, innovative and talented people who open their doors and welcome us.
8 nights, 9 days in and around the San Cristobal de Las Casas highlands.
Cost • $3,395 double room with private bath (sleeps 2) • $4,285 single room with private bath (sleeps 1) A $500 non-refundable deposit will reserve your space. Contact: Norma Schafer to register.
What is a Study Tour: Our programs are designed as learning experiences, and as such we talk with weavers about how and why they create, what is meaningful to them in their designs, the ancient history of patterning and design, use of color, tradition and innovation, values and cultural continuity, and the social context within which they work. First and foremost, we are educators. Norma worked in top US universities for over 35 years and Eric founded the education department at Oaxaca’s textile museum. Our interest is in creating connection and artisan economic development.
We are based in the historic Chiapas mountain town of San Cristobal de las Casas, the center of the Maya world in Mexico. Here we will explore the textile traditions of ancient people who weave on back strap looms. Women made cloth on simple looms here long before the Spanish conquest in 1521 and their techniques translate into stunning garments admired and collected throughout the world today. Colorful. Vibrant. Warm. Exotic. Connecting. Words that hardly describe the experience that awaits you.
We are committed to giving you a rich cultural immersion experience that goes deep rather than broad. We cover a lot of territory. That is why we are spending eight nights in this amazing Pueblo Magico — Magic Town — to focus on Maya textiles, weaving and embroidery traditions.
Our cultural journey takes us into villages, homes and workshops to meet the people who keep their traditions vibrant. We explore museums, churches, and ancient cemeteries. This is an interpersonal experience to better know and appreciate Mexico’s amazing artisans.
Your Study Tour Leader is Eric Chavez Santiago. Norma Schafer, Oaxaca Cultural Navigator LLC founder, may also accompany the group.
Eric Chavez Santiago is a weaver and natural dye expert. He is a Oaxaca native, born and raised in Teotitlan del Valle, and speaks Zapotec, Spanish and English. Eric was the founding director of education at the Museo Textil de Oaxaca from 2008 to 2016. In 2017, Alfredo Harp Helu and Isabel Granen Porrua asked him to open, manage and promote indigenous craft through their folk art gallery Andares del Arte Popular. He resigned in September this year to grow the family enterprise, Taller Teñido a Mano, and to join Norma as a partner in Oaxaca Cultural Navigator. Eric is a graduate of Anahuac University and has made textile presentations throughout the world. He is very knowledgeable about Chiapas textiles and techniques.
Norma Schafer is a retired university administrator and founder of Oaxaca Cultural Navigator LLC. She has lived with the Chavez Santiago family in Teotitlan del Valle since 2005, and also lives in Taos, New Mexico. In 2006, Norma started offering textile weaving and natural dyeing workshops, and cultural and textile study tours, concentrating on Oaxaca and Chiapas. She is a contributor to the textile guidebook, Textile Fiestas of Mexico, has been featured in The New York Times, and has published articles in the international Selvedge Magazine and literary magazines. She writes the blog Oaxaca Cultural Navigator about life and art in Oaxaca and other parts of Mexico.
We engage one of San Cristobal’s best bilingual cultural guides who has worked with weavers and artisans in the region. Gabriela is a native Chiapaneca who knows the region. You will enjoy learning from her. She is our compass to discern meaning.
Take this study tour to learn about:
- culture, history and identity of cloth
- cultural appropriation or cultural appreciation
- wool spinning and weaving
- clothing design and construction
- embroidery and supplementary (pick-up) weft
- Maya textile designs — iconography and significance
- village and individual identity through clothing
- social justice, opportunities and women’s issues
- market days and mercantile economy
- local cuisine, coffee, cacao and chocolate
- quality and value
- We will travel in a comfortable van as we go deep into the Maya world.
- We visit 6 Maya weaving villages
- We enjoy home-cooked meals
- We meet makers and directly support them
- We go far and away, off-the-beaten path
- We decode the weaving designs unique to each woman and village
- We explore three towns on their market days
- We understand the sacred, mysterious rituals of Maya beliefs
Villages we visit: Tenejapa, San Lorenzo Zinacantan, San Juan Chamula, San Andres Larrainzar, Magdalena Aldama, Chenalho
Special Hands-On Experience: we are organizing a hands-on embroidery workshop at Casa Textil with owner Ben and our favorite Aguacatenango embroidery artisan Francisca. We will teach you decorative stitches and French knots to embellish a small zipper bag to take with you. Workshop fee included in tour cost.
Who Should Attend Anyone who loves cloth, culture, and collaboration • Textile and fashion designers • Weavers, embroiderers and collectors • Photographers and artists who want inspiration • Retailers and wholesalers
Tuesday, February 20: Travel day. Arrive and meet at our hotel in San Cristobal de las Casas. You will receive directions to get from the Tuxtla Gutierrez airport to our hotel. The airport is a clean and modern facility with straightforward signage. You will book your flight to Tuxtla from Mexico City on either Interjet, AeroMar, Volaris or Aeromexico. To find best routes and rates, search Skyscanner.com Then book directly with the carrier. There are plenty of taxis and shuttle services to take you from Tuxtla to San Cris. Your cost of transportation to/from San Cristobal is on your own. Taxis are about $60 USD or 1,000 pesos. Shared shuttle is about 200 pesos or about $13 USD. Meals included: None.
Wednesday, February 21: On our first day in San Cristobal de las Casas, we orient you to the textiles of the Maya World. You will learn about weaving and embroidery traditions, patterns and symbols, women and villages, history and culture. After breakfast, we will visit Centro Textiles Mundo Maya museum, Sna Jolobil Museum Shop for fine regional textiles, compare and contrast quality at the vast Santo Domingo outdoor market. At Casa Textil we hear about an artisan development project that encompasses several villages. We finish the morning together with a Group Welcome Lunch. In early evening, we meet with Sergio Castro, famed humanitarian healer, whose vintage textile collection is an important basis for our orientation to understand the mix of Maya language groups and the location of their villages. Meals included: Breakfast and lunch.
Thursday, February 22: Tenejapa is about an hour and a world away from San Cristobal de Las Casas. Today is market day when villagers line the streets filled with fresh fruits, vegetables, meats, and household supplies. Peer into dimly lit doorways to find hidden textile treasures. We’ll meander the market to see what’s there. In years past, I’ve found some stunning shawls, huipils and bags. Keep your eyes open. Then, we will visit an outstanding textile cooperative and then the best pom pom maker in the region. After a box lunch, we go to the centuries- old Romerillo Maya cemetery, then continue on up another mountain to visit Maruch (Maria), a Chamula woman at her rural home. Surrounded by sheep and goats, Maruch will demonstrate back strap loom weaving and wool carding, and how she makes long-haired wool skirts, tunics and shawls. Perhaps there will be some treasures to consider. Return to San Cristobal de Las Casas in time for dinner on your own. Meals included: Breakfast and lunch.
Friday, February 23: Today, we make a study tour to the textile villages of San Andres Larrainzer and Magdalena Aldama. This is an ultimate cultural experience to immerse yourself into the weaving culture of two of the best weaving villages in the region. We visit four families of weavers in their humble homes. Their work includes blouses, dresses, bags, and home goods. One family is the last to work with ixtle, the agave fiber used to weave market bags that are often a deep coffee color gotten by hanging the bags over the smoky cooking fire. A small bag takes 42-hours to make. Several of the artisans we visit are recognized as Grand Masters of Mexican Folk Art by Fundacion Banamex. We will see how they weave and embroider beautiful, fine textiles, ones you cannot find in the city markets or shops. They will host a show and sale for us, and we will join them around the open hearth for a warming meal of free range chicken soup, house made tortillas, and of course, a sip of posh! Meals included: Breakfast and lunch.
Saturday, February 24: We set out by foot to a nearby textile studio founded by Alberto Lopez Gomez, a Magdalena Aldama weaver and designer, who was invited to New York Fashion Week in 2020 and Sweden Design Week in 2022 We hear presentations about creativity, style, innovation, and how to incorporate tradition while breaking new ground. Then, After breakfast, we set out for Na Bolom, Jaguar House, the home of anthropologist Franz Blom and his photographer wife, Gertrude Duby Blom. The house is now a museum filled with pre-Hispanic folk art and jewelry. We walk the gardens and learn about Franz and Trudy’s work with the Lacandon tribe and their relationship with Frida Kahlo and Diego Rivera. Meals included: Breakfast and snack.
Sunday, February 25: This is a big day! First we go to San Lorenzo Zinacantan, where greenhouses cover the hillsides. Here, indigenous dress is embellished in exquisite floral designs, mimicking the flowers they grow. First we meander the open-air market, then visit the church, bedecked in fresh flowers. Next stop is magical, mystical San Juan Chamula where the once-Catholic church is given over to a pre-Hispanic pagan religious practice that involves chickens, eggs and coca-cola. You’ll find out why. We’ll roam Chamula’s abundant textile market, compare and contrast fabrics and designs. (B, L) Dinner on your own. Meals included: Breakfast and lunch.
Monday, February 26: About an hour-and-a-half from San Cristobal de las Casas is the farming and weaving village of Chenalho, situated deep into the mountains with stunning views. This is not a tourist destination! We have found a cooperative there started 41-years ago by cultural anthropologist Christine Eber when she did her PhD dissertation about the culture of weaving and women there. We hear the women’s stories, see demonstrations, and have an opportunity to support them by purchasing what they make if we wish. Then, we return to San Cristobal de las Casas for you to choose your own lunch spot and enjoy the rest of the day on your own. Meals included: Breakfast and snack.
Tuesday, February 27: This is expoventa day! We have invited one of the finest embroiderers of Aguacatenango blouses, an organic coffee grower/roaster, and a pottery artisan to show and sell their work. Afternoon is on your own to do last minute shopping and packing in preparation for your trip home. We end our study tour with a Regret’s Sale (just in case you have any) and a gala group goodbye dinner. (B, D)
Wednesday, February 28. Depart. You will arrange your own transportation from San Cristobal to the Tuxtla Gutierrez airport. The hotel guest services can help. It takes about 1-1/2 hours to get to Tuxtla, plus 1-2 hours for check-in. Connect from Tuxtla to Mexico City and then on to your home country.
What Is Included
- 8 nights lodging at a top-rated San Cristobal de las Casas hotel within walking distance to the historic center and pedestrian streets
- 8 breakfasts
- 5 lunches
- 1 Gala Grand Finale Dinner
- Museum and church entry fees
- Luxury van transportation
- Outstanding and complete guide services
The workshop does NOT include airfare, taxes, tips, travel insurance, liquor or alcoholic beverages, some meals, and local transportation as specified in the itinerary. We reserve the right to substitute instructors and alter the program as needed.
Cost • $3,395 double room with private bath (sleeps 2) • $4,285 single room with private bath (sleeps 1)
Reservations and Cancellations. A $500 non-refundable deposit is required to guarantee your spot. The balance is due in two equal payments. The second payment of 50% of the balance is due on or before October 1, 2023. The third 50% payment of the balance is due on or before December 1, 2023. We accept payment using online e-commerce only. We will send you an itemized invoice when you tell us you are ready to register. After December 1, 2023, there are no refunds. If you cancel on or before December 1, 2023, we will refund 50% of your deposit received to date less the $500 non-refundable reservation deposit. After that, there are no refunds.
If we cancel for whatever reason, we will offer a 100% refund of all amounts received to date, less the non-refundable deposit.
All documentation for plane reservations, required travel insurance, and personal health issues must be received 45 days before the program start or we reserve the right to cancel your registration without reimbursement.
NOTE: All travelers must provide proof of vaccination for COVID-19 to travel with us. You must also wear CDC-approved face masks, use hand-sanitizer, and maintain all public health precautions.
How to Register: First, complete the Registration Form and send it to us. We will then send you an invoice to make your reservation deposit.
Terrain, Walking and Group Courtesy: San Cristobal de las Casas is a hill-town in south central Chiapas, the Mexican state that borders Guatemala. The altitude is 7,000 feet. Streets and sidewalks are cobblestones, mostly narrow and have high curbs. Pavement stones are slippery, especially when walking across driveways that slant at steep angles across the sidewalk to the street. We will do a lot of walking. Being here is a walker’s delight because there are three flat streets devoted exclusively to walking. We walk a lot — up to 10,000 steps per day at a moderate pace. We recommend you bring a walking stick and wear sturdy shoes.
NOTE: If you have mobility issues or health/breathing impediments, please consider that this may not be the program for you.
Traveling with a small group has its advantages and also means that independent travelers will need to make accommodations to group needs and schedule. We include plenty of free time to go off on your own if you wish.