Tag Archives: day of the dead

Oaxaca Day of the Dead Folk Art Tour: October 31

We have a small van and we are ready to go! If you are in Oaxaca during Day of the Dead, we invite you to join us on this special One-Day Folk Art and Textile Tour down the Tlacolula Valley along the Pan American Highway. We start at 9 a.m. and finish around 6 p.m. We get you back to the city JIT to enjoy all the evening holiday festivities, parades and cemetery visits. We have space for 2 more people!

We are your portal to Oaxaca! This one-day customized study tour takes you beyond Oaxaca City and into the villages along the Tlacolula highway to San Pablo Villa de Mitla. We want to give you a guided cultural experience, personalized and deep. We have spent years developing relationships with the artisans we visit. This is NOT a “punch my ticket” tour.

Here is our itinerary:

  1. Stop in El Tule to visit the 3,000 year old cypress tree, a magnificent specimen noted as the oldest tree in North America.
  2. Visit a famous rug weaving family in Teotitlan del Valle that creates hand-loomed textiles with churro sheep wool that they dye with native plants and cochineal. Watch an indigo dye demonstration, try your hand at weaving on the loom, and see some amazing examples of their work.
  3. Meet a Teotitlan family cooperative that creates handwoven handbags, backpacks, tote bags and overnight bags that are made with sturdy leather straps and strong zipper closures. They also work in natural dyes!
  4. Lunch at a traditional restaurant in Teotitlan del Valle where everything is organic and prepared from scratch. They grow their own native corn, grind it and prepare delicious tortillas you can slather with salsa fresca or dip in succulent Mole Negro or Mole Coloradito. Lots of menu choices, including gluten-free and vegan
  5. Visit San Pablo Villa de Mitla for a trip into the past — we take you to an antiquities dealer, off-the-beaten-path, to explore treasures that include vintage mezcal bottles, ex-votos, jewelry, molcajetes and metates, and the serendipity of what remote villagers may bring to him on consignment.

Where and When: We pick you up at a designated Oaxaca Historic Center meeting location for 9 a.m. pick-up on October 31. We return you there by 6:00 p.m.

Cost: $195 for one person or $325 for two people. If there are more than 2 people in your party, each additional person is $165.

How to Reserve: Send us an email and tell us you want The Special Day of the Dead Folk Art Tour. We will then contact you to make your non-refundable reservation deposit. The Reservation Deposit is 25% of the total cost. For example, if one person registers, the deposit is $48.75. If two people register, the deposit is $81.25, and so on.

How to Pay Your Deposit: You can make your reservation deposit one of three ways — with Zelle, with Venmo and with PayPal. Tell us how you want to make your deposit when you say you want to register. For Zelle transfer, we will send you our account number and there is NO SERVICE FEE. For Venmo or PatyPal, we send you a request for funds and add a 3% service fee. Contact us to reserve.

Balance Due: This will be paid in cash on October 31 on the day of the tour. It can be made with either US dollars or MXN pesos at the exchange rate of the day.

Please note: Tour fees include guide services, translation from Spanish to English, and full explanation of all processes and experiences. The cost of lunch and tips is not included.

Don’t be disappointed! Space is limited. This is a small group experience, with lots of personalized explanation. Thanks for choosing Oaxaca Cultural Navigator LLC.

2022 Day of the Dead Culture Tour

October 29 to November 4, 2022—6 nights and 7 days— $2,895 for a shared room and $3,495 for a single room. We have 3 single rooms and 4 shared rooms available.

Day of the Dead in Oaxaca, Mexico, is meaningful and magical.  Celebrations in the villages go deep into Zapotec culture, community, tradition and pre-Hispanic practice. Some say it is the most important annual celebration in Mexico and here in Oaxaca, we know this is true. This tour is limited to 10 participants.

At Oaxaca Cultural Navigator, we hope to give you an unparalleled and in-depth travel experience to participate and delve deeply into indigenous culture, folk art and celebrations.

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Day of the Dead Altar

Beyond the city, in the Tlacolula Valley, many smaller villages are still able to retain their traditional practices.  Here they build altars at home, light copal incense, make offerings of homemade chocolate, bread and atole, prepare a special meal of tamales, and visit the homes of relatives to greet deceased ancestors who have returned for this 24-hour period.  Then, at the designated hour, the living go to the cemeteries to be with their loved ones  — either to welcome them back into the world or put them to rest after their visit here – the practice depends on each village.

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You will learn about this and more as you come with us to meet artisans in three different villages beyond Oaxaca city who welcome us into their homes and their lives during this sacred festival. 

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Study Tour Highlights:

  • Visit homes, altars and cemeteries in three Zapotec villages: Teotitlan del Valle, San Pablo Villa de Mitla, and San Marcos Tlapazola
  • Participate in presenting altar offerings at each home we visit
  • As a group, build a traditional altar to remember and honor your own loved ones
  • Learn to make homemade chocolate with the Mexican cacao bean
  • See a tamale-making demonstration and taste what is prepared
  • Shop for altar décor at the largest Teotitlan del Valle market of the year
  • Learn how mezcal is an integral part of festival culture and tradition
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We created this study tour to take you out of the city, beyond the hubbub of party revelry and glitz of a Halloween-like experience that has morphed into a Hollywood-style extravaganza in downtown Oaxaca.  We will compare how city celebrations complete with costumes and face painting differ from those in villages even as outside influences impact change. Our desire is to give you a full immersion experience that evokes what Day of the Dead may have been like 20 or 30 years ago–mystical,  magical, transcendent and spiritual.

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Even so, cultural tourism has found its way into the back roads of Oaxaca.  We do our best to be respectful by limiting the size of our group to 10 participants, to give you an orientation about to what to expect and do during our visits, and to offer you an intimate, personal experience.

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We give you an insider’s view. You have the guidance of local expert Eric Chavez Santiago who will lead this cultural tour. Eric is a partner in Oaxaca Cultural Navigator LLC.

Eric Chavez Santiago is an expert in Oaxaca and Mexican folk art with a special interest in artisan economic development.  He is a weaver and natural dyer by training, a fourth generation member of the Fe y Lola rug weaving family, who was born and raised in Teotitlan del Valle. He has intimate knowledge of local traditions and customs, speaks the indigenous Zapotec language, and serves as your cultural navigator. 

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Eric is a graduate of the Anahuac University, and speaks English and Spanish. He can translate language, culture and traditions, tell you about practices in his extended family and how they have experienced the changes over time.

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Moreover, he is deeply connected and will introduce you to some of the finest artisans in the region, where you will meet weavers, natural dyers, ceramic artists, and traditional cooks. You will have an opportunity to see artisan craft demonstrations and to shop for your own collection or for gifts, as you wish.

We will be based in a comfortable Bed and Breakfast establishment one block from the market in Teotitlan del Valle for our time together. (You might decide to arrive early and stay a few nights in the city or extend your trip to be in the city afterward.)

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Angel in Pan de Muertos (Day of the Dead bread)

Preliminary Itinerary

Saturday, October 29: Arrive in Oaxaca and travel to Teotitlan del Valle. Check in to a highly-rated, locally owned bed and breakfast inn. Snack box available for arrivals after 8 p.m.

Sunday, October 30: During our breakfast orientation, we discuss how Day of the Dead is celebrated in the villages and then go on a walking tour that includes the village market, church, archeological site, and cultural center. Today you will also visit the homes and studios of rug weavers, candle makers, and silk weavers talking with them about their own family observances. Overnight in Teotitlan del Valle. (Includes breakfast and welcome dinner)

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Teotitlan del Valle tamales with mole amarillo, made by Ernestina

Monday, October 31: After breakfast, walk to the Teotitlan del Valle market to shop for altar decorations to later build a group altar. Bring photos of those you want to remember! Then, we will venture out into the countryside to visit the Zapotec village of San Marcos Tlapazola to meet artisans and discuss their family Dia de los Muertos traditions. You will see demonstrations of red clay pottery and have a chance to buy if you wish. We will come prepared with altar gifts of chocolate and bread to present to the difuntos. On the road, we will stop at a traditional comedor for lunch (at your own expense). We finish the day with a mezcal tour and tasting in Santiago Matatlan, mezcal capital of the world. Mezcal is an integral part of Zapotec celebrations and we will see why. (B, D)  

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Monday, November 1: After breakfast, travel to San Pablo Villa de Mitla to meet a noted weaver artisan who will take us to their family gravesite at the village cemetery and talk about history and traditions. Visit a home where a traditional altar tells the story of ancient Zapotec culture. Our hosts will explain the ancient, pre-Hispanic altar offerings and go deep into the meaning of Muertos here in Oaxaca. You will bring your offering of chocolate and bread to put on their altar to honor our host’s ancestors. We will spend the day with this family and enjoy a very special lunch that they have prepared in our honor. – Para todo mal, mezcal. Para todo bien, tambien.  (B, D)  

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Tuesday, November 2: After breakfast, we will visit the Teotitlan del Valle cemetery to see preparations being made to honor dead loved ones: cleaning and decorating the graves. Then we will spend the afternoon in the courtyard of a traditional cook, who shows us how to make hot chocolate and tamales with mole amarillo. We’ll have late lunch there and then accompany her to the cemetery while she sits with her loved ones as they return to the underworld. After the cemetery, you will enjoy a before bedtime snack and discuss how participating in Day of the Dead has had an impact on you. Compare and contrast this experience with USA and Canadian experiences with death and dying.  (B, L, D)

Wednesday, November 3: After breakfast, we will arrange for any laboratory tests (at your own expense) required to re-enter the USA. Then, we will hold an EXPOVENTA to showcase the work of outstanding weavers representing various villages throughout Oaxaca state, including San Juan Colorado, Triqui, and San Mateo del Mar, and San Pedro Cajones. The rest of the afternoon is on your own. You can arrange a taxi to take you to the city, to neighboring villages or archeological sites. We will enjoy a final goodbye supper before you depart. (B, D)

Thursday, November 4: Departure. We will help you arrange a taxi (at your own expense) to the airport or you may choose to stay on in Oaxaca or visit another part of Mexico.  (B) Hasta la proxima!

Itinerary subject to change based on scheduling and availability.

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What Is Included

  • 6 breakfasts, 2 lunches, 5 dinners
  • 6 nights lodging at a charming B&B hotel in Teotitlan del Valle
  • museum and church entry fees
  • luxury van transportation
  • outstanding and complete guide services
  • multi-lingual translation
  • the cultural experience of a lifetime

What is NOT Included

The program 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 • $2,895 double room with private bath (sleeps 2) • $3,495 single room with private bath (sleeps 1)

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Natural dyes have strong color, beautiful and more complex than synthetic dyes

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 June 15, 2022. The third payment is due on or before September 1, 2022. 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 September 1, 2022, there are no refunds. If you cancel on or before September 1, 2022, we will refund 50% of your deposit received to date less the $500 non-refundable deposit. After that, there are no refunds. If we cancel for whatever reason, you will receive a full refund. 

The tour and COVID-19: You are required to be FULLY VACCINATED to participate. You must send Proof of Vaccination (this includes all boosters) by email on or before June 15, 2022. You can take a photo of the documentation and forward it to us. All participants are required to wear N95 OR KN95 face masks, use hand-sanitizer and practice social distancing while together. We will sanitize vans and keep the windows open when traveling together. Please note: You MUST also provide proof of international travel insurance including $50,000 of emergency medical evacuation coverage. 

Registration Form

Complete the form and Send an email to Norma Schafer.

Tell us if you want a shared/double room or a private/single room. We will send you an e-commerce invoice by email that is due on receipt.

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Red clay pottery, San Marcos Tlapazola

Who Should Attend • Anyone interested in indigenous culture and creativity, who wants a deep immersion experience into Day of the Dead practices and traditions, and who appreciates artisan craft — weaving, embroidery, pottery. If you are a collector, come with us to go deep and find the best artisans. If you are a photographer or artist, come with us for inspiration. If you are an online retailer, come with us to find the stories to market what you sell.

To Register, Policies, Procedures & Cancellations–Please Read

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.

Terrain, Walking and Group Courtesy: Oaxaca and surrounding villages are colonial and pre-Hispanic. The altitude is close to 6,000 feet. Many streets and sidewalks are cobblestones, narrow and uneven. We will do a lot of walking. We recommend you bring a walking stick and wear study shoes.

If you have mobility issues or health/breathing impediments or you are immunocompromised, please consider that this may not be the study tour 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 free time to go off on your own if you wish.

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Sitting vigil in the village cemetery, Dia de los Muertos

All Soul’s Day, Dia de los Muertos, Oaxaca 2021

Today is the day, November 2, that the souls of the departed visit their loved ones here on earth. Our Oaxaca Day of the Dead Culture Tour is immersed in the traditions of the small weaving village of Teotitlan del Valle. We have also spent time in San Pablo Villa de Mitla, the Zapotec City of the Dead, with weaver Arturo Hernandez and his family. We have come to know the deeper meaning of Muertos intimately by sharing this pre-Hispanic tradition with local families.

Mike is an architect and he laid out the altar plan in advance

On October 31 we went to the Teotitlan del Valle village market to buy the decorations for the altar we would construct together in our B&B. We made a list of the important altar elements and divided them up for the group to get: flowers, chocolate, Day of the Dead bread, candles, nuts, fruit, copal incense. We would also make five bundles to give to the families we would visit over the next couple of days.

Market baskets for sale with Teotitlan church in the background

The altar is an offering to the deceased. It is a way to remember them and to honor the tradition of welcoming them back to visit us for a 24-hour period between All Saint’s Day and All Soul’s Day. The altar is a symbol of the continuum of life — birth to death and it is thought to be a circular spiritual event that is unending. Life begins and ends. Without death there is no life.

An abundance of flowers and chocolate

The copal incense, the fragrant seasonal flowers, the aroma of hot chocolate and bread, the light of the candles, all serve to bring the difuntos (souls) home. Strewn marigold petals are the spirits of loved ones making their way into the home altar room. The candles and aromas guide them so they don’t get lost.

Just picked pecans for sale

October 31 was a busy market day. Hug bags of bread loaves and homemade chocolate were tucked under the arms of shoppers. Palm fronds will make an arch over the altar that represents the gateway between earth and the spirit world. Tradition is to visit relatives whose loved ones have passed and bring fruit, flowers, candles, chocolate, mezcal as a tribute to them and the family. People here need lots of bread and chocolate.

Skull decor for sale

In exchange, the family being visited will serve guests a cup of hot chocolate, a piece of bread for dipping in it, and a place to site by the altar to reminisce. Family relationships are central and people take the time to nurture this. A visit can often extend to an hour or longer.

Mike shopping for wild marigolds and cockscomb at the market

Today, at 5 p.m., as the sun sets, we will accompany the spirits back to the cemetery so they are assured of finding their way. and to be comfortable with their passage from here to there. We will sit with them there in reverence and attend to the mystery of life. Our group will spend this day with Ernestina who will give us chocolate making and tamale making demonstrations. We will have lunch with her and the difuntos of her family, and then accompany her to the family gravesite at the cemetery.

Flor de Muertos, picked from the mountains, a tradition with significance—fragrance to lead the difuntos home

It is a privilege to be able to share this observance in a traditional Oaxaca village where people attend to the rituals they have grown up with, retelling the stories of their ancestors.

The altar we constructed at our B&B remembering our own ancestors
Our group of cultural appreciation travelers, here to learn more about the deeper meaning of Day of the Dead

Preparing for Day of the Dead, Oaxaca 2021

Our Oaxaca Day of the Dead Culture Study Tour is underway. We started in the City two days ago and we’ve now landed in Teotitlan del Valle for the duration of our time here. There are 12 of us, me, our co-leader Eric Chavez Santiago and 10 supportive and adventurous participants. We are all double-vaccinated and some of us have had our third booster. All the artisans we visit wear masks and 90% have been vaccinated.

Iconic Santo Domingo Church, Oaxaca, Mexico

On our first full day in the city, we welcomed two artisan groups to join us at the hotel for expoventas. Las Sanjuaneras came in the morning from San Juan Colorado on the Costa Chica of Oaxaca, nestled in the mountain range bordering the Pacific Ocean. Their village is about two hours north of Puerto Escondido. We have visited them for many years as part of our Oaxaca Coast Textile Tour. Total time to get to the city for them was 12 hours. Camerina, Brisaida and Edivigus brought hand-woven garments made by the 20 women who make up the cooperative. All the work is made on a back-strap loom and the cotton, much of it native hand-spun, is all dyed with native plants and cochineal.

Carrie models an extraordinary huipil from San Mateo del Mar, Oaxaca

During the day, we walked the cobblestoned avenues of the colonial town, photographing altars and costumed revelers, dipping into interesting textile shops, including Andares Arte Popular folk art gallery.

In late afternoon we greeted Jazmin and Liliana, daughters of famous San Mateo del Mar weaver Francisca Palafox. Francisca was just recognized by the Federal government as most important indigenous textile maker in Mexico. We were privileged to see her work, as well as the excellent pieces made by her daughters on the back strap loom. Both learned to weave complex, fine cotton and silk garments, as young teens. They now win awards on their own, too.

Array of blouses and huipiles from San Juan Colorado, Oaxaca

During Day of the Dead, starting October 30, we are told that weavers put aside their looms and think only of the return of their deceased family members. It is forbidden to work during these days. Each village will observe Day of the Dead somewhat differently, depending on custom and geography. Ritual food at San Mateo del Mar, an Ikoots speaking village, will include fish since its a village of fishermen.

Altar under construction at Andares Arte Popular folk art gallery

In the coastal highlands, where the people speak Mixtec, their traditions will require them to dress in masks and dance to keep the devil away from snatching loved ones while they are out of the grave. There is a strong African-Mexican tradition along the coast that traces its origins back to Mexican slave history — those who worked the mines and sugar can fields.

Brisaida and Camerina tell us about the symbols in cloth and dye materials

Today, we go to the village market to buy the essentials to make our own altar at our B&B. It will include chocolate, bread, candles, flowers, nuts and fruit. We will add our family portraits of loved ones passed and offer our tributes to their memory.

Honoring the dead is an essential element of the rituals these days and it is an honor to be part of small village celebrations. We will present gives of these altar offerings to families we visit in the next few days.

Shop decor, Oaxaca city

Day-by-Day: Remembering Juvenal Gutiérrez, Teotitlan del Valle

In a week we will observe Dia de los Muertos here. In the city, it’s a big party. Many foreign visitors will arrive to eat, drink mezcal and make a rowdy show of Muertos that has become more like Halloween here. In the USA, Halloween — or All Hallows’ Eve — is said to rival Christmas in the amount of money spent on decorations.

in Teotitlan where I live, the small Zapotec village of around 7,000 people, observations are more traditional in keeping with pre-Hispanic culture fused with indigenous roots. My culture tour group will start on October 28, and I’ll be posting as we go along.

Right now, it is chilly and there is a fine rain that required me to search my closet for a wool covering and a long sleeve blouse this morning.

Yesterday, I went to visit Norma Gutiérrez and her daughter Lisette. Husband and father Juvenal died from covid in San Diego earlier this year. He was young and strong. In Spanish (with some translation help from Lisette) we talked about the existential question of life and death: WHY?

is there an answer? I suppose this is why religion exists — to help us accept the inexplicable and to give us hope that we may reunite with a loved one who has departed this world. It’s a perfect lead in to Dia de los Muertos—a mystical tradition that reveres the dead and welcomes them (their) spirit back into our lives each year.

Muertos is a time to honor and remember Juvenal’s life along with so many others list to this virus. We build an altar that includes favorite foods, beverages and the aromas of chocolate a d wild marigold guide the dead back home where they come to life for a day.

Memory plays a critical role. As I sat with Norma and Lisette, I returned to the time I first met Juvenal 16 years ago, when I visited the English class he was teaching. I thought of my own mother and father and wished they were still with me. And, I acknowledged that they are — in spirit.

Norma is a baker and makes delicious organic cakes. I brought back almond flour for her from the US to make me one that is gluten free. It costs $17 for a bag of this flour here! She will be baking for our grand finale tour dinner.

There is no better way to help families as they recover from loss but to sit with them to share their pain, and to support them economically.