Día de los Muertos - Mexico

October 28 - November 3, 2022

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.

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 (Fri, Oct 28) – Arrival/ Oaxaca City ~ Arrival to Oaxaca Xoxocotlan International Airport (OAX) and transfer to hotel.

Accommodations: Hotel de la Parra or similar

Meals: None

Estimated Drive Time Today: OAX Airport to Hotel – approximately 30 mins.

Day 2 (Sat, Oct 29) – Monte Albán ~ After breakfast at the hotel, we’ll travel to the archaeological site of Monte Albán, the ancient center of Zapotec and Mixtec culture dating back to the 8th Century. Monte Albán, a UNESCO World Heritage Site, is considered one of Mexico’s most culturally rich archaeological sites that towers 400 meters above the valley floor from a hilltop a few kilometers west of Oaxaca. Through exploring numerous pyramids, temples, and altars visitors will be treated with gorgeous 360-degree views of the city and surrounding valleys on clear days. Get to know fellow travelers during today’s Welcome Lunch overlooking Santo Domingo Temple.

Accommodations: Hotel de la Parra or similar

Meals: Breakfast and Lunch

Estimated Drive Time Today: Hotel to Monte Alban- approximately 30 mins.

Day 3 (Sun, Oct 30) – Ejutla ~ Today, we’ll head to Ejutla where we’ll visit a local home for a hands-on, interactive culinary experience.

Accommodations: Hotel de la Parra or similar

Meals: Breakfast and Lunch

Estimated Drive Time Today: Hotel to Ejutla – approximately 30 mins.

Day 4 (Mon, Oct 31) – 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.

Accommodations: Hotel de la Parra or similar

Meals: Breakfast and Lunch

Estimated Drive Time Today: Hotel to San Martin Tilcajete – approximately 45 mins.

Day 5 (Tues, 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’s markets searching for the main elements that make up a Día de los Muertos altar. We’ll learn the meanings behind each aspect of the altar and how they come together to create a statement that is both personal and communal when honoring ancestors. We’ll construct our own altar back at the hotel. The afternoon is yours to relax and 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: Hotel de la Parra or similar

Meals: Breakfast, Lunch and Dinner

Day 6 (Wed, Nov 2) – Zaachila Village ~ After a leisurely morning, we’ll visit Zaachila Village. To welcome their loved ones, families gather to make tapetes de arena (sand tapestries), beautiful “murals” made of sand and flowers. In Zaachila, streets are adorned with colorful tapetes de arena as a way of rendering tribute to a person of great significance to the artist. Each is unique, acting as a showcase for that artist’s character – containing political themes, images of saints or other deities, even depictions of everyday life. Called tapete, the Spanish word for carpet, this artwork is a Día de los Muertos tradition because it is temporary, like life. The art, sometimes 32×32 feet or larger, drawn on the ground, lasts only for a few days and then is gone. Relive trip highlights this evening during our farewell dinner at Casa Oaxaca.

Accommodations: Hotel de la Parra or similar

Meals: Breakfast, Lunch and Dinner

Estimated Drive Time Today: Hotel to Zaachila Village – approximately 45 mins.

Day 7 (Thurs, Nov 3) Departure ~ Transfer back to OAX Airport in time for our flight home.

Meals: Breakfast

Estimated Drive Time Today: Hotel to OAX Airport – approximately 30 mins.


Price: $3785* per person based on two double sharing double occupancy accommodations; add $100 per person for non-members of Denver Botanic Gardens. Supplement for private accommodations: $840*.

Inclusions: accommodations, airport transfers on Day 1 and 7, private transportation from Day 2-6, full-time local bilingual trip leader, trip host from Denver Botanic Gardens, entrance fees as listed, meals as listed, cooking class, alebrije workshop, basic no trip cost travel insurance (pre-departure cancellation can be added at additional cost), gratuities at restaurants for included meals, gratuities for your trip host and driver, purified water in vehicle, and sales taxes.

Exclusions: flights, passport/visa fees, optional gratuities for hotel staff, optional activities, taxis, medical testing, and personal expenses.

Group Size: 7-9 participants + DBG Trip Host + Local Trip Leader

Traveling during Covid-19: All participants must be fully vaccinated against Covid-19 prior to travel. Participants must also present a negative Covid-19 test taken within three calendar days prior to the trip start date. Safety precautions during the trip will also be implemented to enhance traveler safety.

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).