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The golden guide on how to spend day of the dead in Oaxaca, Mexico

Wow! I just got home from 8 days of celebrating Oaxaca day of the dead. I wanted to write this now since you need to plan your travels ahead if you want to make it next year (and while my experience is still fresh).

📬 Reader Mail: Trisha, I followed your week-long Oaxaca day of the dead celebrations on Instagram and I must say I am pretty jealous! I regret not doing it this year but 100% inspired by your Instagram stories.

You mentioned on this Instagram post that it has to be planned 6 months in advance. Is this true?! I am so surprised that a lot of people plan ahead but I understand since day of the dead has its fixed dates.

Can you please make a guide about your experience, tips, etc? Keep inspiring people and writing stories. I appreciate the content you put out there. I hope to see you next year since you already mentioned you are going to do it again!

– Dale Castro, USA

Hi Dale,

Thank you for following on Instagram! Right now, I really don’t know what to do first – edit the Youtube video or edit the photos – it has been a crazy week (as you’ve seen on my social media).

I am glad that you are planning to do Oaxaca day of the dead 2022. I am actually thinking of doing it in Mexico City but after further research and feedback from friends, Oaxaca is still the best!!!

I am going to write separate posts for my day-by-day experiences during this week-long celebration but for now, here are the tips on how to celebrate Oaxaca day of the dead including many helpful tips.

I am already 100% sure I am going next year so please, let’s keep in touch and celebrate together. I would like to meet you too! Good luck and see you!

Xx,
Trisha

Why day of the dead is celebrated in Mexico

Day of the dead or dia de los muertos is very unique to Mexico. I’ve never seen anything like it in my life and this is one of the reasons why I love living in Mexico!

Historically, it is celebrated because the Mexicans believe that their departed loved ones come back (from the dead, literally) to visit them.

With this, the ever so entertaining Mexicans put a grand show for the deceased relatives and friends by putting on a glamourous altar. Candles, photos, and even food are placed on the altar as offerings (ofrenda).

Need more resources? Check out all blog posts about Oaxaca


The Mexicans are also not afraid of death as they believe this is a normal cycle of life. Life should be celebrated as they say. I really admire this attitude because this makes them live a full life. I mean, look at how they celebrate their daily life!

Mexicans are the walking example of “we only have one life and we need to live it as best as we can.” There is no other time in the world but NOW.

Why celebrate the day of the dead in Oaxaca?

Quick answer: there is nothing like it. While I originally wanted to go to Mexico City to celebrate day of the dead (the flights were cheaper), I realized I’ve never really experienced Oaxaca day of the dead (not even once).

Oaxaca is the capital of day of the dead and I must warn you – if you do it here the first time, all the other DOTD celebrations in other parts of Mexico will be lame for you.

See also: Is it safe to travel to Oaxaca alone?

Take my credit card, please – now is a good time! I did spend a little more than what I planned because of last-minute poor planning that is why I am writing this Oaxaca day of the dead guide that doesn’t break the bank.

Honestly, if I planned it sooner, it would’ve been so cheap. I will share all the booking and planning lessons I learned in this trip so keep reading!

How is the day of the dead celebrated in Oaxaca?

I don’t even know how to begin but there will be events left and right. First, I would like to clarify that day of the dead in Mexico is not like Halloween. In fact, it is not Halloween. No trick or treating whatsoever.

As you are already familiar with how Mexicans are in terms of parties and celebrations, just imagine the most extreme festivity possible. You will be up against an unimaginable force of celebrating.

The whole city of Oaxaca will be filled with decorations from November 25th. All restaurants and establishments do their best with the decorations – there won’t be a single place in Oaxaca that will not comply. The grander, the better.

There will be events left and right although they are not the same every year. Mezcal tastings, drag shows, street parties, lots of raves, you name it.

Recommended: Living in Oaxaca as an expat woman

Oaxaca day of the dead

Oaxaca day of the dead

I really can’t be specific with the events but along the way, you will definitely find one or five events that will suit your taste. I will give you tips later on how to find them.

You will feel left out (FOMO) because you can’t even decide what to do first. It got so overwhelming for me planning it with friends. We had this long list of events and things that we wanted to do but guess what?

In the end, we just lived in the moment and followed our days. For example, we planned to go to this mezcal tasting then it overlapped with a drag show that was announced last minute. We ended up doing the drag show instead!

The good thing about celebrating day of the dead in Oaxaca is whatever you end up doing for the day/night will always be awesome!



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Oaxaca Day of the Dead guide: how to plan your trip and how to find the most local celebrations

Oaxaca day of the dead: how far ahead should you book flights?

You can start booking your day of the dead flights as early as April. I booked mine 2 weeks before and guess what I paid for the domestic flight from Cabo? $400 USD, which, by Mexican standard is super expensive.

I live in Mexico and I know very well that you can easily get a domestic flight here for less than $100 USD. My flight was also super complicated as I had to stop in Mexico City for 8 hours!

It was the dumbest idea ever but for next year, my plan is to just book a 2-way flight (Cabo-Mexico City-Cabo) then take the bus from Mexico City to Oaxaca (and back).

The overnight bus only costs $35 USD (one-way) and you don’t have to pay for the luggage. Although I only travel with a carry-on, I did some shopping in Oaxaca so I had to pay for checked luggage (one-way). That cost me $45 USD (UGH!).

Another good thing about taking the bus is that the ride will be throughout the night (7 hours) and you don’t have to pay for accommodations. Just sleep in the comfortable bus which you can even upgrade to first class for $50 USD.

Because of poor planning, I had to stop in Mexico City for a night (both flights) and pay an extra $40 USD for accommodation. I know I wasn’t very smart on this trip but I am happy to share these stories as they can help you plan your Oaxaca day of the dead trip without spending as much as I did.

The bus should also be booked ahead of time via ADO. My friends Brock and Ciara got trapped because the busses were full and the bus website was not loading (a week before DOTD).

It was painful and stressful for them to stay in Mexico City while all of us were already celebrating in Oaxaca. Plus all the extra expenses you have to pay while being stuck in Mexico City.

It’s not a bad place to be stuck in because it’s my favorite city in the world but if you originally planned to party in Oaxaca, this is very frustrating! These two cities have a very distinct day of the dead celebrations but many prefer Oaxaca over the capital.

Oaxaca day of the dead

Our day of the dead crew! Everyone decided to come to Oaxaca – we didn’t even talk about it!

Anyway, they made it in time but it was already the 30th so they definitely FOMOed. A lot already happened in our group and they missed out.

Mexican roads will also be crazy at this time so you want to be in Oaxaca by the 25th. Traffic was insane so the bus trip will take longer. Additionally, we also had friends whose flights were canceled last minute because of overbooking.

Remember that the most important thing to book during this event is transportation. Logistically, I find that harder to arrange because accommodation is always easy – you can always stay with friends when push comes to shove (which most of us did but more on that on the next part).

Oaxaca day of the dead: how far ahead should you book your accommodation?

Tip, tip, tip! Golden golden tip. Let’s start with the tip as I plan to do it now and for my future trips in Oaxaca. Book your accommodations as early as March/April.

I know that’s too far ahead to book and that life can take you to different places for the next 6 months but guess what? If you decide to cancel, you can just sell the hotel reservation and probably even earn from it!

Many friends of mine canceled their trip to Oaxaca because you know, life just happened and they were able to sell their hotel accommodations for even a higher price!

Recommended: The best hostels in Oaxaca

Oaxaca day of the dead

You won’t believe what people would pay for especially closer to date. A friend who must not be named booked a private room for $50 USD in April and he was able to sell it for $100 USD.

And fast! As soon as he posted it on Instagram, the hotel room was taken within the hour. I do hope you won’t cancel your trip last minute but just in case, this is a freaking great alternative!

If you are alone, another money-saving tip is to book a hostel in Oaxaca. I swear to you, you will always be outside and you will not have the chance to stay in your hostel.

This party’s round the clock, honey! It doesn’t make sense for you to get an expensive Airbnb unless you’re with a group and you’ll split the costs. I don’t remember being in my accommodation. I literally was just in my bed to sleep and that’s it.

Since I always stay in hostels, I didn’t really spend a lot on accommodations but often found myself sleeping in friends’ hotel rooms because, oh well, the party went on until 5:00 am and I can’t walk back. It’s also not that safe to walk in Oaxaca after 10:00 pm so my friends always insisted I stayed (more on safety later).

What’s so funny is that even if you’re in a dorm in a hostel, you’ll barely see people. It’s crazy! I was in a 4-bed dorm and somehow just always never seen my dormmates.



Booking.com

There was one night that I decided to stay in. I slept at 8:00 pm and nobody was there so I popped a 10mg melatonin and slept like a baby. Having slept that early, of course, I and woke up at 5:30 AM.

Surprise, surprise! I was still alone in the dorm room by the time I woke up. People just started coming in after 6:00 AM when I was already starting my day!

Everyone’s always out and about so believe me, if you are on a budget, don’t sweat on accommodation. Hostels are the cheapest without compromising your comfort.

Arrival in Oaxaca

On day of the dead, taxi prices from the airport and from the bus stations can be unreasonable. Luckily, I have some local contacts in Oaxaca who give me the best rates.

If you take a normal taxi inside Oaxaca International Airport, they will charge you $25 USD for a 10-minute ride to the city center which is a lot.

What’s next after Oaxaca? Check out Puerto Escondido
Oaxaca day of the dead

Don Javier and his son Javo pick me up at the airport whenever I visit Oaxaca and they’re always on time!

My local contact which is the Rodriguez family only charges me half the price. Javier, the eldest son has Instagram but he asked me not to publish it here so send me a message on Instagram and I will connect you!

If he’s not available (which is highly unusual), I have a whole lot of phone numbers of taxi drivers in Oaxaca. Just send me a message and I will be happy to share!

How long should I be in Oaxaca for the day of the dead?

A week or even more. Look, you don’t just want to experience the day of the dead – you want to experience Oaxaca in its fullness. Without the day of the dead celebrations, Oaxaca is a cool city and you need to explore it!

Oaxaca day of the dead

I would say 7 days is the most ideal since there is also other stuff to do outside of Oaxaca City. Don’t worry, Oaxaca is one of the cheapest places in Mexico so I assure you, you can travel here at low costs.

In the next parts of this Oaxaca day of the dead guide, I will give you a sample itinerary. From there, you can decide how many days to stay.

Oaxaca day of the dead dates 2022

When I visited my local host family in Teotitlan (an hour drive from Oaxaca), I was so surprised that the children weren’t already in school on November 26th.

The parents told me that the government of Oaxaca declared November 25th as a holiday so the kids will have more than a week of vacation! It was all of day of the dead!

In reality, day of the dead is only celebrated for 3 days but the Mexicans always extend it to a week. Here are the important dates:

Oaxaca day of the dead

➡️ October 31st is what we know as Halloween but this is All Soul’s Eve. On this day, it is believed that the angelitos (spirits of the children) are the first to return to spend time with their families.

➡️ November 1st is All Saint’s Day is when the adult spirits return so expect a crazier shebang such as parades, drinking, and crazy parties.

➡️ November 2nd is All Soul’s Day which I thought is going to be calmer but this year, it ended up to be the craziest night!

There are also the 3 ideal consecutive days to put your day of the dead make-up (Catrina) as I did. If you only plan to do it for one day, you should do it on November 1st.

It’s only $5 USD on the streets of Oaxaca. You will usually find the make-up artists on the streets of the Andador Turistico, on the corner of Murguia Street.

Oaxaca day of the dead calendar of events, traditions, and sample itinerary

Now, on this part, I will share with you what happens in Oaxaca day by day. You can choose to skip some of the activities as you deem fit but I highly recommend you go all in. That’s what I am doing next year!

October 25th: Marigold field cultivation

I can’t believe I missed it this year. Cultivos El Viejo is a marigold farm located in Zimatlan, just 45 minutes from Oaxaca City. This is where all those colorful photos you see on Instagram are taken.

They open their doors every year for guests to visit (and take photos) from 8:00 AM – 12:00 PM and 4:00 PM – 7:00 PM. Sadly, the. last day they allow it is November 24th because the flowers need to be delivered in many parts of Oaxaca by the 25th. I will definitely come ahead of time next year!

There is no entrance fee to enter these fields but they accept donations. You can also buy flowers from them directly to support what they do.

Please be careful not to step on the plants and move with caution while you are inside the farm! Also, don’t do crazy Instagram photos that will damage the flowers.

October 25th – 26th: Oaxaca City transforms with festive decorations

Although Oaxaca is already festive without the day of the dead decorations, you will notice the difference if you arrive before these dates.

The moment you go out on the 25th, you will see everyone super busy decorating the facade of their establishments. The most common you’ll see apart from the marigolds are the altars.

The altar is very significant during day of the dead because this is specifically for their departed loved ones. There is no format in making the altar so you will see all of them differently.

Recommended: 10-day Oaxaca state road trip

Oaxaca day of the dead

Oaxaca day of the dead

Oaxaca day of the dead

The Mexicans get really creative with their altars and it’s a joy to see! Below are the most important things that should be in the altars:

📷 Photos of the departed loved ones. You can even print yours and bring them during your trip. Just make sure to ask if it’s okay to place your picture in their altars.

🎊 Confetti: Purple for Christian mourning and orange for pre-Hispanic mourning

🕯️ Candles (lots of it!): The candles are believed to be the light to guide the souls back to their loved ones. It also symbolizes faith.

💦 A glass of water: The moment the souls arrived, they will be tired from their journey so the first thing to give them is water. Well, others put beer and mezcal as well.

🌼 Flowers: The famous cempasuchil (marigold), cockscomb, and the Mexican white flower which we call flor de nube.

💀 Sugar skulls represent the deceased. And they’re too cute! You will find them in many souvenir shops in Mexico even if it’s not day of the dead.

🫓 Pan de muerto (literally translated to dead bread, I don’t even know if it’s correct). This bread is super traditional during day of the dead season! Even Starbucks features them at this time of the year.

🎇 Copal: you will see this all-year-round in any Mexican market. During DOTD, it is believed to purify and ward off bad spirits.

🍲 Food: Usually, Mexicans put the favorite food of their departed loved ones on the altar.

October 27th – 30th: Explore Oaxaca

There are so many things to do in Oaxaca so before the crazy celebrations, make sure to do the touristy stuff. I did a mezcal tasting in a wild agave field with a local family.

I feel very privileged visiting this local mezcal producer and getting close to their family. Palenque Conejo in Santa Catarina Minas grows wild agave and produces small batches of mezcal.

When you go to Mexico, you probably prefer tequila over mezcal but Oaxaca is home to the abundance of agave plants and is a famous area for mezcal producers not just in Mexico but all over the world.

Don Conejo, his wife, and his children have dedicated their lives to sustainably producing mezcal so if you are in Oaxaca, this should be on your list of things to do.

Oaxaca is also known for its textiles. Up until today, they still use the old school method of weaving in Oaxaca, it’s such a joy to see!

Josefina is the (woman) leader of the artisanal textile co-op in Teotitlan del Valle, just an hour outside of Oaxaca City.

Most tourists will think that these products are expensive but when you get to see how tedious this work is, you’ll realize it’s all worth the price. They even take months to produce one rug because everything is done manually.

This is my second time seeing this process and I admire these people for keeping this tradition alive, including passing it to their children.

I’m still working on my best things to do in Oaxaca post and I’ll share it with you as soon as I gather them. I have a long list of super local things to do but these two top the list because they are important and they’re outside Oaxaca City.

Read: Is Oaxaca the best digital nomad destination in Mexico?

Oaxaca day of the dead

Oaxaca day of the dead

Within the city, you can definitely go around and take pictures. Oaxacan structure is one of a kind so take your camera and walk around town.

I always spend hours and hours around Oaxaca and I never get tired of looking at everything! It is really the prettiest city in Mexico. I even think it’s more colorful than San Miguel de Allende or Guanajuato.

Make sure to visit the Jalatlaco neighborhood, my favorite in town. It’s just a 15-minute walk from downtown and it has the best cafes, restaurants, and colorful streets!

Oaxaca is also the food capital of Mexico so don’t forget to go on some food tours or explore the markets. My favorite was Oaxaca’s meat tunnel inside the 20 de Noviembre Market. It was a one-of-a-kind experience!

When in Oaxaca, make sure to try food tours that involve markets, cacao, mole, mezcal, and tlayuda. These are the top food that you have to know when visiting Oaxaca.

Many places also offer cooking classes so make sure to sign up for that too! I am going to gather a list and send it to you – I’ve done a lot of cooking classes in Oaxaca and they’re always worth it!

Fine dining is also very big in Oaxaca so make sure to try the best Oaxacan restaurants. Honestly, fine dining in Oaxaca is from $15 USD. It’s just expensive by Mexican standards but imagine how far your money can go here when it comes to food!

hierve el agua oaxaca

Finally, one of the most important sights in Oaxaca is Hierve El Agua. The petrified waterfalls has been closed since March 2020 and they just opened it to tourists two weeks ago!

I’ve been trying to visit for the last 6 months and they were never open so even if I had to drag myself to wake up at 7:00 AM after a night of DOTD party, I did it anyway!

October 31st: Halloween! Well, sort of

Like I said, Oaxaca day of the dead is not Halloween. It is just implied to dress up because the date is very popular. Especially if all your friends are gringos like mine!

I usually do the make-up for 3 days and the 31st is always my first day. Coincidentally, the 31st always falls on a weekend so the events are more hyped. Even if it falls on a Monday, 31st is the 31st. It is a holiday no matter what and you need to go out!

Oaxaca day of the dead

This is also a time where Mexican families visit their loved ones in the cemetery. Because of COVID, tourists are not allowed in cemeteries.

However, since I know a lot of locals and can pass as a Mexican, I was able to visit cemeteries without problems. You won’t believe how lively the cemeteries are at this time!

November 1st: Parades and raves

Oaxaca has suspended their parades and oddly managed to hold a rave in Mitla, about 40 minutes away from the city. Their argument was Mitla is an open field and can host an unlimited number of people so that wasn’t canceled.

I didn’t go to the rave because I am too old for that and the tickets are crazy expensive! They were charging $150 USD for tickets and mind you, the prices on their website are in USD.

Surprisingly, Mexico City’s parade went on. You’ll see different kinds of floats, costumes, and vibrant colors – it’s always a great experience to be on the streets and party!

November 2nd: Comparsa (a must do!)

I am not kidding, comparsas are the best highlight of my Oaxaca day of the dead experience. I really had a blast!!! A comparsa is a band/musical group that usually performs on the streets. They are most common in Spain and Latin America.

They will start playing in one place and from there, parade along the streets stopping at every major point. The crowd has to go with it – you can’t wait for them in the spots they stop on.

Oaxaca day of the dead

Oaxaca day of the dead

The whole point of the experience is to parade with them and follow them around town. The most famous comparsas are that of Santiago de Cuba’s and Barranquilla’s carnivals.

It will be very crowded (check my Instagram stories) but the best thing to do is to always stick close to the band. If you are so far from the band, nothing is really happening and it’s quite boring so do your best to be close to them!

For the best Oaxaca day of the dead experience, join the Oaxaca Social Whatsapp group. It’s useful all year round!

Safety in Oaxaca during day of the dead

Sadly, this time of the year in Oaxaca is super dangerous at night. There are many tourists in town so expect the streets to be crowded and for bad people to take advantage.

Lots of theft after 10:00 PM

On our first day, one of our good friends was robbed and hit in the face. They took his wallet and his phone but no guns were involved. He had to cut this trip short to go home and that was just our first day (26th Oct).

The following days, we’ve heard from common friends that bartender A was attacked by kids with guns and masks. The stories went on and on that most of us got worried.

Only take yellow taxis if DiDi is not available

We all did a buddy system and promised not to walk home after 10:00 PM. Always take a taxi. In Oaxaca, they use the DiDi app, not Uber.

Taxis are not always available on DiDi so if you are hailing one from the street, make sure to only go with yellow taxis, not white. The yellow ones are safer.

Don’t bring a lot of valuables. Leave your phone at your hotel if you can

Some of us also left our phones when we’re going out at night. Don’t bring a lot of valuables especially if you plan to get drunk. I mean, let’s be real – it’s day of the dead. Even if you don’t plan to ‘party,’ it will happen.

Oaxaca is a cash city so you always need cash but don’t bring crazy amounts with you. Bars and restaurants accept credit cards. But you need cash because you’ll want to try street food and eat in the markets at night!

Don’t party with people you don’t know

Easier said than done. When everyone gets drunk, we all go huggy and friendly that we end up in random places with people we don’t know.

I am speaking from experience and this is the dumbest thing I did in Oaxaca during day of the dead. I am not ready to tell that story yet but it will be in my (future) book.

Don’t take drugs

Also easier said than done especially if you are one of those kids who want to take molly in raves. Don’t buy drugs on the streets because you will get in trouble. This is the ‘dangerous’ Mexico everyone’s talking about. You will only be in danger if you willingly involve yourself in this situation.

Oaxaca day of the dead guide on Pinterest: save it for later!

Oaxaca day of the dead

ANUKRATI DOSI

Tuesday 16th of November 2021

I remember watching this movie Coco a few months back that is based on the festival of the dead. I loved the concept behind the festival and the way it is celebrated.

Kate

Monday 15th of November 2021

I always assumed Day of the Dead was literally only a day, so I had no idea it could extend to a week's long celebration! It does seem that the Mexican culture truly embraces every day and celebrates life and death. Especially through the items in the altar that I never realized all held certain significance.

Vasu Devan

Friday 12th of November 2021

The day of the dead festival sounds like a lot of fun. wow! 1 week long festival. I have seen some pictures of Oaxaca and it seems quite colorful. Enjoy!

Natascha

Thursday 11th of November 2021

What a great time you had celebrating Day of the Dead in Oaxaca. Years ago I spend DOTD in Oaxaca and San Cristobal and loved it! We went to some parades and parties, but also headed to the cemeteries. People there still played music and feasted, but there also was a lot of grief!

Sherianne

Wednesday 10th of November 2021

Sounds like this is an amazing experience! Great tips about preplanning and how to save money. Not loving the safety issues but the heads up is appreciated. Looking forward to the post of things to do while visiting, mezcal tasting would be a high priority for me