My favorite week in Mexico: read this if you want to have an authentic Day of the Dead experience in Oaxaca!

Every year, I celebrate Oaxaca Day of the Dead in my most favorite city in Mexico and in this article, I will share with you all the best things to do and local insider tips!

📮 Hello Trisha!! I found your Oaxaca solo travel post and I am glad I did! I love that you are so honest with all your tips. I really loved that post so muchas gracias!

While reading that post of yours, I saw that you also have a yearly day of the dead tour, et voila! This is why I am reaching out to you today because I want to join your tour!

Do you still have any slots? I tried to call your office but they said it’s full! If you don’t have more slots, I’d be happy to just meet you there.

But please, give me more ideas on what day of the dead in Oaxaca is like. Thank you for all your tips!!!

Ronald Davis, United States
oaxaca day of the dead

Hi Ronald,

Thank you for your interest in joining my day of the dead tour! Since you wrote to me personally, I will make sure there will be a slot for you.

This year, I am only personally leading one tour group but I have three other groups spearheaded by my local staff.

Anyway, we’ll talk privately about logistics but even if you are not joining my tour, below is a helpful Oaxaca day of the dead guide.

I am definitely open to meeting in Oaxaca. I am arriving on October 27th and I hope to meet you! Good luck and let me know if you have any questions!

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🕯️ Join my Oaxaca day of the dead tour!

oaxaca day of the dead

Every year, I host 12 travelers from different parts of the globe to experience day of the dead in Oaxaca. I bring them to local homes, cemeteries, and of course, we all meet my local Oaxacan friends!

You don’t have to be a solo female traveler — my group is really diverse!

This is an all-inclusive Oaxaca day of the dead tour (except for flights). For 5 days, we will explore the city together and have the best DOTD experience!

🌼 Visit the Marigold fields in Oaxaca (Oct 25th)

oaxaca day of the dead
Photo: @garykarolli

Every year, on October 25thCultivos El Viejo allows tourists to visit their marigold fields to take pictures. This is also the same day that the marigolds are sent to the city.

This marigold field is about an hour away from Oaxaca City center and you have to go on your own. If you need a driver and a private car, don’t hesitate to contact me and I will recommend some.

If you are going on your own, take the bus from Autobuses Halcón Terminal Bustamante in Oaxaca City. Look for busses going to Zimatlan.

There is no fee to visit the field but a donation is encouraged. Please make sure to be a responsible photographer and do not step on the flower field. Just follow the local instructions on where you are allowed to take pictures.

💀 Get your day of the dead make-up (Catrina)

You’ve probably seen a lot of day of the dead make-up on social media. I myself prepare for this every year as I want my make-up to be unique!

The Catrina make-up, inspired by a satirical 19th-century drawing by artist José Guadalupe Posada, has become an iconic part of this annual celebration.

From living in Mexico, I have asked many Oaxacans and Mexicans about the traditions of the Catrina make-up: “is it disrespectful to wear the make-up if you are not Mexican?”

I always get mixed answers but my trick is to not wear them in cemeteries or when visiting local homes as some people may be sensitive (and have stronger feelings) about its cultural significance.

You can book your private session with my make-up artist. Just make sure you have a photo of the make-up you like. She can do anything!

🎊 Comparsa in Jalatlaco

day of the dead in oaxaca

comparsa is a vibrant and colorful event that has a stunning display of music, dance, and tradition that is super fun and mandatory to join in Oaxaca!!

The comparsa takes place on November 1st and 2nd each year to coincide with Mexico’s annual Day of the Dead festivities.

It is an extension of this tradition – a lively parade featuring elaborate costumes and masks as well as live music and dancing.

As you make your way through the streets during the comparsa, you’ll be surrounded by intricate floats displaying larger-than-life skeletons dressed in bright colors or donning traditional clothing.

Comparsas in Oaxaca is different every year but the one I consistently go to is the comparsa in Jalatlaco neighborhood.

Tip: Comparsas are usually crowded and cramped so it’s best not to bring a big bag, cameras, or other valuables.

⚰️ Cemeteries to visit in Oaxaca (1st or 2nd Nov)

oaxaca day of the dead

Many readers of this blog ask me if it’s okay to go to a cemetery as a foreigner/tourist. Yes, you can visit cemeteries but be very respectful.

In my experience, cemeteries within the city are used to foreigners but there are still different kinds of people there so I just keep it low.

When in cemeteries, always remember to maintain a respectful distance and keep conversations low. This is not a spectacle but a meaningful spiritual and familial occasion.

Never interrupt a private ceremony or take photographs of people or their altars without asking for permission first. Some families may be open to sharing their traditions and even invite you to participate, but others may prefer to keep their observances private.

If you are taking photos, ALWAYS ASK FOR PERMISSION FIRST and do not use flash. Below are some of the cemeteries you can visit in Oaxaca City:

1. Xochimilco Cemetery

The site is known for its charming setting and vibrant community spirit. It offers a slightly less crowded environment compared to the Panteón General but is no less rich in tradition and culture.

2. Panteón General

Also known simply as the General Cemetery, the Panteón General is one of the oldest and most traditional cemeteries in Oaxaca City.

3. San Agustín Etla

Known for its Muerteada procession, San Agustín Etla is a neighboring town with a lively Day of the Dead celebration.

4. San Felipe Tejalápam

Another location known for its Muerteada, the cemetery in this town is a meeting point for locals participating in the procession.

5. Santa Cruz Xoxocotlán

This town is famous for its two cemeteries, the Panteón Viejo and Panteón Nuevo, both of which are focal points for Day of the Dead celebrations.

6. Santa María Atzompa

Known for its pottery, the town’s cemetery often features ceramic decorations and crafts. The community is small but welcoming, and the cemetery turns vibrant and communal during the Day of the Dead.

7. Teotitlán del Valle

This Zapotec village is renowned for its handwoven rugs and textiles. This is the first cemetery I visited in Oaxaca but it’s about an hour away from the city.

oaxaca map

Travel to Oaxaca with all my recommendations in the city. This Oaxaca map includes over 600 places, divided into different categories!

☠️ Sand tapestry (tapetes de arena)

oaxaca day of the dead

“Tapetes de arena” translates to “sand tapestries” and is a traditional art form that takes on special significance during the Day of the Dead in Oaxaca.

These intricate designs are made using colored sand and other natural materials like seeds, flower petals, and sawdust.

These artworks are not only visually striking but also serve as a spiritual offering to the departed souls, inviting them back to the world of the living for a brief time.

Many local churches display these sand tapestries as part of their Day of the Dead celebrations. Santo Domingo Church often has elaborate tapetes de arena.

Areas like the Zocalo (main square) and other public gathering spots often feature large-scale tapetes de arena created by artists and community members.

In addition to being displayed in public spaces and churches, tapetes de arena can often be found in cemeteries, adding to the atmosphere during Day of the Dead vigils.

🎨 Art exhibitions during Oaxaca day of the dead

oaxaca day of the dead

During the Day of the Dead festivities in Oaxaca, art exhibitions often explore themes surrounding death, the afterlife, remembrance, and Mexican culture and traditions.

Apart from tapetes de arena and ofrendas, you will also see papel picado exhibitions which is a Mexican folk art form of paper-cutting, and special designs are often created for the Day of the Dead and exhibited.

Below are some museums and art galleries that hold special exhibitions during day of the dead in Oaxaca:

Oaxaca’s many art galleries often feature special exhibitions during this season. Keep an eye on spaces like La Curtiduría, Espacio Zapata, or any of the numerous galleries along Alcalá Street.

🪭 Cultural performances during day of the dead

oaxaca day of the dead

You will see cultural dances and music all over the city even if you are not looking! It’s not uncommon to stumble upon smaller performances or impromptu musical sessions while walking through the streets during Oaxaca Day of the Dead.

Given the significance of the Day of the Dead in Oaxacan culture, you’ll find that the city is especially vibrant with artistic expression during this time.

The historic theater of Teatro Macedonio Alcalá often hosts musical performances, plays, and dance events, some of which are themed around the Day of the Dead.

Of course, Oaxaca’s main square is often the site of free performances, including music, dance, and sometimes even theatrical performances related to the Day of the Dead.

If you want a smaller traditional performance, go to Plazuela del Carmen Alto. This smaller plaza is another common venue for public performances and full of local life!

Community Centers in neighborhoods like Jalatlaco, Xochimilco, or even San Felipe del Agua often have community-organized performances.

🙋 Muerteada in Etla: is it worth the trip?

oaxaca day of the dead

The “Muerteada” is a unique and lively tradition that takes place in various communities in the state of Oaxaca, Mexico, particularly in San Agustín Etla and San Felipe Tejalápam, during the Day of the Dead i nn Oaxaca.

In essence, Muerteada is a kind of mock funeral procession. Participants, often men but increasingly women too, dress up as traditional characters including death figures, brides, grooms, and other roles associated with mortality and the afterlife.

The procession is usually accompanied by a brass band playing lively music, creating a festival-like atmosphere that contradicts the somber nature of a funeral.

The idea is to mock death and show that it is not to be feared but celebrated as a part of life. Participants often engage in playful antics, dance, and interact with the spectators, spreading cheer and laughter.

Once you are already in Oaxaca, you will hear about people raving about going to Etla but personally, I’ve always had bad experiences doing this trip.

First, it’s so far from the city and it’s almost impossible to go back when you want unless you have your own car. My group and I always hire a bus for the muerteada so we can actually leave on our own.

On my first time doing this, I signed up for a tour and the tour took forever! The place was crowded, there weren’t a lot of food and drinks, etc.

I do hope to find a great muerteada tour in Etla (or at least be able to design one) and add it to my group trips. I just really need to go deep and travel there outside of the day of the dead dates.

📸 Best Oaxaca Day of the Dead photo spots

While many streets in Oaxaca are photogenic during day of the dead, there are specific spots that stand out.

Please note that all street decorations will be removed by November 2nd and on November 3rd, the whole city will be so bare and will look like that no event took place.

My trick is to always celebrate first and make sure to do a whole morning of photography on or before November 2nd. Here are some spots (with corresponding locations):

Zócalo: The main square is often decorated lavishly for the Day of the Dead and serves as a hub of activities, making it a prime location for photography.

Andador Turístico (Alcalá Street): This pedestrian walkway is often adorned with decorations and lined with altars, musicians, and street performers.

Jalatlaco: This neighborhood is known for its colonial architecture and cobblestone streets, providing a quaint backdrop for Day of the Dead festivities.

Xochimilco: Another historic neighborhood where you can capture the spirit of the celebration against a backdrop of charming old-world streets.

Matamoros Street: Not so popular street in Oaxaca but this area has galleries, artisan shops, and is extra colorful during day of the dead.

Calzada de la República: This long avenue often features artistic installations and is a parade route for some of the Day of the Dead processions.

Calle Garcia Vigil: This street is usually full of life and color, making it an excellent place for candid shots and street photography.

Templo de Santo Domingo: The church and surrounding plaza often feature elaborate altars and tapetes de arena (sand tapestries), offering unique photo opportunities.

✈️ Travel Guide to Oaxaca day of the Dead

Where to stay during Day of the Dead in Oaxaca

oaxaca day of the dead

If you haven’t booked your accommodations yet, now is the time to do so. Since I go to Oaxaca day of the dead every year, I book all accommodations for me and my group 1 year in advance!

Check on hotel booking platforms after January. You will see that there aren’t any availability anymore for the hotels because tour companies block them even without paying for them.

Sure, you can still find accommodations after May or June but expect them to be expensive and unsuitable for your taste.

Your flights can come later, but make sure you secure accommodation in Oaxaca City first as this is the most important (and the most difficult to secure).

🛏️ The best areas to stay in Oaxaca City are Oaxaca Centro and Oaxaca Historic Center. Make sure to check the address on before you pay.

Oaxaca day of the dead dates

oaxaca day of the dead

The real date of Oaxaca day of the dead is October 31 to November 2. However, Mexicans always like to celebrate early.

The decorations for day of the dead in Oaxaca are already up by October 25th. If you arrive the city on this day, you will see how Oaxaca transforms into a burst of color.

Actually, on regular days, Oaxaca is already bright and colorful, but on the day of the dead, they go the extra mile.

This is something really nice to see as you will get to witness all the locals filling their homes and businesses with cempasúchil (marigold), the official flower for the day of the dead.

As for me, I go for the day of the dead in Oaxaca every year on fixed dates: October 27 – November 3. I have many friends there and always have a tour, so I ensure I have time for everyone.

Flights to Oaxaca

oaxaca day of the dead

Oaxaca City has an international airport. However, there are not many direct flights from the USA, Canada or Europe – you have to fly into Mexico City if you’re coming from another country.

During day of the dead in Mexico, there will be 3-4 flights daily from Mexico City to Oaxaca City. Alternatively, you can also just book a flight to Mexico City and take a bus to Oaxaca.

The bus from Mexico City to Oaxaca costs $50 USD and lasts for 6 hours. This is a cheaper but longer option. You can take the night bus so you’ll save on accommodation.

💀 Oaxaca day of the dead travel tips

November 2nd is the worst day to fly out

oaxaca day of the dead

Through the years of celebrating day of the dead in Oaxaca, I always booked November 2nd as a departure date, and it’s always a bad idea!

November 2nd is the last day of the celebrations, and it’s such a painfully crowded day. Bus terminals will be full, traffic within the city will be crazier, and there’s generally be more people leaving Oaxaca on the second.

Extend your trip and explore Oaxaca City on your own. Leave Oaxaca City after the 2nd – it will be cheaper and less stressful!

Take the bus from Mexico City

oaxaca day of the dead

Flights for day of the dead in Oaxaca are usually expensive, especially when booked later. If you decide to go last minute, you can book a flight to Mexico City and then take the bus to Oaxaca City.

The bus from Mexico City to Oaxaca City is comfortable and only costs $50 USD. There is only one overnight bus that leaves every night at 10:00 PM.

This VIP bus has beds, TVs, USB charging stations, and many more. If you don’t take the night bus, you will get a regular bus (reclining seats, not bus beds).

It is wiser to take the night bus as you will save on accommodation. There is also lesser traffic at night. If you travel during the day, expect this bus trip to be 9 hours instead of 6.

🚌 Use BusBud to book your bus tickets in advance.

Combine activities and things to do

hierve el agua tour

Don’t just get drunk and party every night! Include a Oaxaca day of the dead tour like Hierve El Agua petrified waterfalls – one of the most visited natural wonders in the world.

Oaxaca is also known for mezcal so squeeze in a mezcal tour. Here, you will get to visit an agave farm outside of Oaxaca City, owned by a local family.

Other things to do in Oaxaca City include food tours, visiting the Ethnobotanical garden, or going to Monte Alban archaeological site.

Lastly, a textile tour in Oaxaca is a must! Oaxaca is known for its textiles; most Mexican souvenirs you see around the country are from Oaxaca. Which absolutely means you can buy them here for a cheaper price.

Put more budget on food than accommodations

oaxaca day of the dead

Oaxacan cuisine is not just the best in Mexico but it is famous all over the world. Since most of my travels are very food-forward, I definitely love to put more budget on food than accommodations.

You can survive in Oaxaca by just eating street food ($2 USD per meal) since their street food culture is world-class. Most of them are featured on Netflix’s Taco Chronicles!

If you want to experience fine dining, I also do at least 2 tasting menus for the week (from $100 USD). Oaxaca City has a lot of restaurants with great tastings.

Don’t focus on the city center

oaxaca solo travel

During your day of the dead tour in Oaxaca, explore other neighborhoods as well. Most travelers focus heavily on the city center (although don’t get me wrong, Centro Historico is beautiful!).

However, if you are spending a few days in Oaxaca, you might want to check out Jalatlaco and Xochimilco neighborhoods as well.

These 2 neighborhoods always have parties at night and they are really great to see during the day. Here, you will see the most colorful streets of Oaxaca!

Travel with a friend: or if you are alone, I can introduce you to some people!

oaxaca day of the dead

Day of the dead in Oaxaca is better shared with friends. Although visiting on your own and making friends while staying in a hostel isn’t impossible, it is still best to travel here with friends and family!

If you are traveling alone, you will easily find friends, but only if you are outgoing and open to making friends.

If you are a little introvert and want to feel safe while enjoying the day of the dead in Oaxaca, join my super cool tour group!

24/7 nightlife in Oaxaca City

day of the dead in oaxaca

You’ll feel FOMO at one point because there are so many events during the week of day of the dead in Oaxaca. I have gone through this every year – pick your battles!

I realized that I always wanted to go to every single event but it is physically exhausting! The good thing about this is that you can play every night by ear – you will always find something to do even if you decide to leave your hotel at midnight.

🚫 Safety in Oaxaca during Day of the Dead

day of the dead in oaxaca

Oaxaca is relatively safe during day of the dead. However, like any festival all over the world, expect Oaxaca to be crowded so petty theft is common.

Here are some safety tips to remember:

  • Do not walk after 9:00 PM, especially if you are alone. Always take the yellow taxis or use the Didi app.
  • Secure your belongings and as much as possible, just use a fanny pack and don’t bring too much stuff when you’re out.
  • Take out cash during the day but the ATMs in Centro are always out of cash during the week. It’s better to withdraw at the airport.
  • Do no take (or buy) drugs at all costs. Period.
  • If you aren’t able to join my day of the dead tour, e-mail me and I will introduce you to some local friends. Use the contact form on the menu of this blog.

⁉️ Oaxaca day of the dead FAQ

Day of the Dead is a 3-day celebration that starts on October 31st and ends on November 2nd. It’s a time when families gather together to remember their loved ones who have passed away. In Oaxaca, this means heading to cemeteries with food, drinks, and decorations.

One of Oaxaca’s most iconic symbols of the Day of the Dead is La Calavera Catrina – a skeleton lady dressed in fancy clothes and hats.

For the whole week, the streets of Oaxaca will be filled with comparsas, parades, dances, and festivals. The city will be open 24/7 so make it a goal to come to Oaxaca for day of the dead!

One must-see destination during this time is the Xoxocotlán Cemetery. Here, families gather to honor their loved ones who have passed away by decorating their graves with marigolds and candles. You can also witness traditional dances such as La Danza de los Diablos (Dance of the Devils) and La Danza de los Viejos (Dance of the Old Men).

Another popular spot is Zócalo Square where you can see impressive sand tapestries or tapetes created by local artists.

Oaxaca City: This colorful city is known for its lively celebrations and elaborate altars. The streets are filled with music, dancing, and parades featuring traditional costumes and makeup. You can also visit the cemetery at night to see families honoring their loved ones with candles and marigolds.

Patzcuaro: a charming town located in Michoacan. Here you’ll find one of Mexico’s most authentic Day of the Dead celebrations. The locals decorate their homes with colorful tapestries and flowers while preparing delicious offerings for their deceased ancestors.

First up, altars (or ofrendas) are a huge part of Day of the Dead. Families create these beautiful displays in their homes or at gravesites with offerings such as flowers, candles, food, and photos of their loved ones. It’s believed that these offerings help guide spirits back to the living world for a visit.

Another tradition is La Catrina, a symbol representing death in Mexican culture. This elegantly dressed skeleton lady can be seen everywhere during the holiday, from parades to art displays.

On the one hand, dressing up in traditional Dia de los Muertos attire can create a more authentic and immersive experience. Plus, it’s an excellent opportunity to show off your creative side with some face painting and colorful costumes. You’ll fit right in with crowds parading through the streets and visiting cemeteries.

On the other hand, if dressing up isn’t your thing or you don’t want to spend money on a costume, that’s okay too. Tourists are generally welcomed regardless of what they wear – as long as they respect this important holiday’s traditions and customs.

Families gather together to build altars in their homes or at gravesites. These altars are adorned with bright flowers, candles, photographs of loved ones who have passed away, and items that were important to them during their life. It’s believed that these offerings will guide the spirits back to the world of the living for one night.

While many cities and towns in Mexico celebrate this holiday with parades, markets and feasts, none quite compare to the festivities held in Oaxaca. This charming colonial town is a hub of activity during Dia de los Muertos. Every street corner comes alive with vibrant altars dedicated to loved ones who have passed away.

ABSOLUTELY! This is a once-in-a-lifetime journey! This holiday is a unique cultural experience that celebrates life and death in a way that you won’t find anywhere else in the world.

First things first: if you’re afraid of ghosts or anything spooky, don’t worry. The Day of the Dead isn’t about scaring people or being scared. It’s actually a joyful celebration where families come together to remember loved ones who have passed on. You’ll see colorful altars adorned with flowers and photos, and people dressed up in vibrant costumes with intricate face paint.

One thing to keep in mind is that this holiday isn’t just one day – it lasts for several days leading up to November 1st and 2nd.

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  1. I would love to join you for Dia de los muertos in Oaxaca! It looks like a colorful and exciting fiesta to join and one that has great significance too. It’s good to know you should book hotels 6 months in advance I would never realise that. The Catrina makeup is incredible! And so stunning.

  2. One day we would like to plan a trip to Mexico to celebrate the Day of the Dead. Good to know we need to book well ahead if we want to visit Oaxaca at this time. It looks like a very colourful time of year to visit with homes and business decorated in marigolds. Maybe we could collect our own in the fields and decorate ourselves after we are all made up? Sounds like it is a good idea to plan a longer stay and enjoy the different neighbourhoods too. We often visit cemeteries to learn the history of an area. I can see we would not be alone at this time of year!

  3. I would love to visit Oaxaca on the day of the dead! Thanks for the reminder to book accommodation at least 6 months ahead and flights at least 3 months, longer is better to find availability. Arriving early enough to see all the decorations go up sounds fun and I’d love to see the marigold fields! I often budget more for food than everything else so it’s good to know you recommend that for Oaxaca. Thanks for all the sightseeing and activities ideas and the link to your FB group for the latest news.

  4. This is a brilliant tour that you are running. If I ever plan to be in Mexico… I should keep this in mind and plan around it. It is such a cultural experience. Good tips on booking well in advance and how to plan around the city so that you avoid the expensive days to fly out. The bus option from Mexico city also sounds very convenient

  5. I would love to take part in the Dia de los muertos celebrations in Oaxaca someday. It looks like such a vibrant and fun event. Every year at the world travel market in London Mexico stands out with the beautiful Catrina make-up of the ladies at their stand. I can imagine that being in Oaxaca is so much more intriguing. It’s good to know that you have to book everything 6 months in advance if you want to have a choice of a good accommodation and flights. Also, I would definitely stay longer than the 2nd of november, to explore more of the city and its surroundings. And the street food… sign me up for it!

  6. Oaxaca day of the dead looks so amazing and colourful. The Catrina makeup is just dope. How cool to get all dressed up and made up to join in the celebrations. You have lots of great tips laid out – the heads up for booking accomodation way in advance for example. I would love to visit a marigold field one day.

  7. While experiencing the Mexican Day of the Dead would be great elsewhere, it would be incredible do so in Mexico itself. I can imagine, having to book the hotels 6 months in advance. It does get super expensive or rather unavailable. Good to know that there’s an overnight bus from Mexico or Oaxaca. I’m in awe with the Catrina makeup but its today I learnt that it’s a satirical makeup. Thanks for that info!

  8. This seems like a really cool tour. I definitely want to experience the Day of the Dead in Mexico someday. And what can be a better way than with a local. We have some celebrations going on in California too but nothing like this for sure. The question I have always been wondering is that how do mexicans feel about tourists doing the make up? Is it ok to do it?

  9. Oaxaca day of the tour is an interesting event and there are so many things to explore besides the event.The Cultivos El Viejo is a great event to wander in the bright marigold fields. Also the Hierve Al Agua is a extremely refreshing place to relax and click pictures.The Catrina makeup and Lively Comparasas music would be an exciting way to participate in the Day of the dead event. Also I would love to try the famous street food featured in Taco chronicles and take the local textile tour to support the locals.

  10. Oaxaca day of the dead tour is an interesting event and there are so many things to explore besides the event.The Cultivos El Viejo is a great event to wander in the bright marigold fields. Also the Hierve Al Agua is a extremely refreshing place to relax and click pictures.The Catrina makeup and Lively Comparasas music would be an exciting way to participate in the Day of the dead event. Also I would love to try the famous street food featured in Taco chronicles and take the local textile tour to support the locals.

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