Día de los Muertos - Mexico

(October 28 - November 3, 2021)

Denver Botanic Gardens and Reefs to Rockies are offering an unforgettable trip to Mexico during its most important celebration of the year – Día de los Muertos.

A national holiday in Mexico, Día de los Muertos, or Day of the Dead, is considered one of the most important cultural celebrations in Latin America. With ancient roots in Mesoamerica, the celebration as we know it today is largely a combination of indigenous and European cultural practices that demonstrates the culture’s strong sense of love and respect for one’s ancestors, while celebrating the continuance of life. On this day in Mexico, the streets near the cemeteries are filled with papel picado (tissue paper decorations), flowers, candy calaveras (skeletons and skulls), and parades. It is believed that the spirits of the dead visit their families on October 31 and leave on November 2.

This 8-day journey takes you to Mexico City, Puebla and Oaxaca.  Combining these three cities offers visitors a unique opportunity to explore the rich history and long-standing traditions of this beautiful celebration. We’ve included museums, UNESCO World Heritage Sites, demonstrations by artists working in traditional methods, and even a special cooking class to create an engaging tour that is sure to get you into the spirit of Día de los Muertos.

Join Dan Johnson, Curator of Native Plant Collections and Associate Director of Horticulture at Denver Botanic Gardens for this unforgettable experience that acquaints people with the culture, art, and food, and what makes Mexico such a unique destination.


Day 1 (Thurs, Oct 28): Arrival/ Mexico City ~ Arrival to Benito Juárez International Airport(MEX) and transfer to hotel. For those arriving by early afternoon, an optional tour of Chapultepec Castle is available. Get to know fellow travelers this evening during your Welcome Dinner.

Accommodations: Zocalo Central

Meals: Dinner

Estimated Drive Time Today: MEX Airport is about 30-45 mins to the hotel depending on traffic.

Day 2 (Fri, Oct 29): Mexico City (Dolores Olmedo Museum & Xochimilco) ~ One of the largest metropolitan areas in the world, Mexico City is a fascinating capital that seamlessly blends old and new. Our first full day in Mexico begins with a visit to Dolores Olmedo Museum, home to a treasure trove of folk art representing traditions from the diverse cultures of Mexico. It also boasts ones of the largest exhibits of paintings by famous Mexican artists Frida Kahlo and Diego Rivera, close friends of the museum’s founder.

After lunch, visit Xochimilco Floating Gardens, Mexico City’s famous canals and the last remnants of a water transport system built by the Aztecs. With its colorful trajineras (gondolas) and chinampas (traditional floating gardens), Xochimilco offers visitors an explosion of colors and festive experience. The chinampas are recognized as a UNESCO World Heritage Site and are still used today for cultivation. 

Accommodations: Zocalo Central

Meals: Breakfast and Lunch

Estimated Drive Time Today: Hotel to Dolores Olmedo Museum is about 45 mins; Museum to Xochimilco is about 30 mins; Xochimilco to Hotel is about 45 mins – all depending on traffic.

Day 3 (Sat, Oct 30): Mexico City (Frida Kahlo Museum & Coyoacan)/ Puebla ~ Morning visit to the Frida Kahlo Museum, also known as La Casa Azul (Blue House) for the structure’s cobalt-blue walls.  Located in Coyoacan neighborhood, La Casa Azul was the birthplace of and childhood home of Kahlo.  She lived there for a number of years with husband Diego Rivera.  The museum’s collection is displayed in the rooms of the house, which remains much as it was in the 1950s. Afternoon departure to Puebla.

Accommodations: Quinta Real

Meals: Breakfast, Lunch and Dinner

Estimated Drive Time Today: Hotel to Coyoacan is about 30 mins; Coyoacan to Puebla is 2.5-3.5 hrs depending on traffic.

Day 4 (Sun, Oct 31): Puebla/ Oaxaca City ~ Unlike many places in Mexico, Puebla is not a Mesoamerican city. It was a new city built by the Spanish alongside the pre-Columbian town of Cholula. A river divided Puebla with the Spanish on one side and the indigenous population across the water. One of the oldest cities in the country, Puebla’s well-preserved colonial architecture earned its place on the list of UNESCO World Heritage Sites. We’ll start the day with a short city tour of Puebla including a talavera (hand-painted pottery) artisan demonstration. Puebla is sometimes called “The City of Tiles” because of the talavera tiles adorning many buildings.

Afternoon drive to Oaxaca City arriving in time for a mezcal tasting before dinner at one of Oaxaca’s best restaurants.

Accommodations: City Centro Hotel

Meals: Breakfast, Lunch and Dinner

Estimated Drive Time Today: Puebla to Oaxaca City is approximately 4.5-5 hrs.

65Day 5 (Mon, Nov 1): Oaxaca City ~ Mexico’s Day of the Dead Festival (November 1 and 2) has garnered worldwide attention and is celebrated with more passion in Oaxaca than anywhere else. This morning, we’ll explore downtown Oaxaca during our city tour including a visit to Santo Domingo Museum. The afternoon is yours to relax and/or explore the city on your own.

At nightfall, we’ll visit a local cemetery, a meeting point for families and friends. The cemetery will be festively decorated with marigolds, candles, and papel picado. There will be elaborately adorned altars to deceased loved ones, filled with their favorite foods and drinks as well as traditional elements, like pan de muerto, sugar skulls and fragrant incense. This is a colorful, candlelit celebration, and a feast for the senses. Families and friends will sit around graves, talking, sharing food and drinking mezcal to stave off the cold. Their vigil will go on all night and into the following day when the souls once again depart from the world for another year.

Accommodations: City Centro Hotel

Meals: Breakfast, Lunch and Dinner

Day 6 (Tues, Nov 2): Ejutla ~ Experience the main elements that make up a Día de los Muertos altar when we create one this morning at the hotel.  We will explore the meanings behind each aspect and how they come together to create a statement that is both personal and communal when honoring ancestors. Afterward, we’ll head to Ejutla where we’ll visit a local home for a hands-on, interactive culinary experience.

Accommodations: City Centro Hotel

Meals: Breakfast and Lunch

Estimated Drive Time Today: Ejutla is approximately 30 mins from the city.

Day 7 (Wed, Nov 3): San Martin Tilcajete ~ Oaxaca is famous for alebrijes (brightly colored Mexican folk art sculptures of fantastical creatures). First, in San Martin Tilcajete, we’ll see local families carving and painting alebrijes for sale. Then, we’ll visit the studio of Jacobo and Maria Angeles in San Martin Tilcajete. Jacobo is a master carver and his wife, Maria, paints trademark stylized Zapotec designs. Their popular alebrijes are shipped all over the world. Get creative during our hands-on alebrije workshop.

Relive trip highlights this evening during our farewell dinner at Casa Oaxaca.

Accommodations: City Centro Hotel

Meals: Breakfast, Lunch and Dinner

Estimated Drive Time Today: San Martin Tilcajete is approximately 45 mins from the city.

Day 8 (Thurs, Nov 4): Departure ~ Transfer back to OAX Airport in time for our flight home.

Meals: Breakfast

Estimated Drive Time Today: OAX Airport is approximately 30 mins from the hotel.


Price: $4,265* per person for Denver Botanic Gardens members (double occupancy rate with two people sharing accommodations); add $100 per person for non-members. Supplement for private accommodations on single occupancy basis: $935* (subject to availability).

Includes: Accommodations, private transportation with full-time driver, full-time local bilingual trip leader, trip host from Denver Botanic Gardens, guided activities on a private basis with entrance fees, meals as listed, one cooking class, basic no trip cost travel insurance (pre-departure cancellation can be added at additional cost), gratuities for your trip host, driver and at restaurants, purified water in vehicle, and sales taxes.

Exclusions: International airfare, passport fees, optional gratuities for hotel staff, optional activities, taxis, and personal expenses.

Group Size: 8-9 Participants + DBG Trip Host + Trip Leader

Important Information: Itinerary has been built to allow flexibility to accommodate activities and sightseeing.  Included lunches and dinners will be at local markets or restaurants in the areas we explore. Every effort will be made to carry out all activities as planned and advertised, however, trip leaders reserve the right to make alterations, deletions, or modifications to the itinerary deemed necessary due to circumstances beyond their control.

About Your Host: Dan Johnson has spent his life gardening, from New York to Colorado and Arizona, and has worked in horticulture most of his life, including the nursery industry and public gardens. This includes 23 years with Denver Botanic Gardens Horticulture Department, currently as Curator of Native Plant Collections and Associate Director of Horticulture.

His scope of work has focused on xeric and native plants, and naturalistic design including creation and care of more than a dozen of DBG’s gardens. Diverse interests in cacti, conifers, annuals, perennials and tropicals, from the traditional to the rare, have rounded out his work with seasonal displays, container gardens and special exhibits. He has been published widely and presented internationally on plant selection, exploration and garden design including Steppes, Wildflowers of the Rocky Mountains, and his revised and expanded Meet the Natives.  Forays throughout the West continue to expand his plant pallet and knowledge. Travels have included horticultural exploration in Oaxaca, South Africa, Argentina, Spain, and Pakistan, often with a focus on Steppe climates with conditions similar to the Interior West.

For more trip information, contact Reefs to Rockies (303.860.6045; admin@reefstorockies.com).