Día de los Muertos – Oaxaca, Mexico (October 28 - November 4, 2019)

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

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.

Oaxaca’s artistic and culinary heartland offers visitors a unique opportunity to explore the rich history and long-standing traditions of this beautiful celebration. We’ve combined an exploration of the city and its surrounding pueblos with 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 Yvonne Garcia Bardwell, Community Relations Manager at Denver Botanic Gardens, for this unforgettable experience that acquaints people with the culture, art, and food of Oaxaca, and what makes this region so unique.

Denver Botanic Gardens logoItinerary

Day 1 (Mon, Oct 28)Arrival/ Oaxaca ~ Arrival to Oaxaca Xoxocotlan International Airport (OAX) and transfer to hotel. Get to know fellow travelers this evening during your Welcome Dinner.

Accommodations: City Centro Hotel
Meals: Dinner
Estimated Drive Time Today: OAX Airport is about 30 mins from the city center.

City Centro Hotel: Located two miles from Downtown Oaxaca de Juarez, Hotel City Centro is a 4-star hotel conveniently located to area landmarks including colonial buildings, the Cathedral and Temple of Santo Domingo. All guest rooms are equipped with modern amenities in addition to a fitness center and 24-hour Front Desk service.

DAY 2 (Tues, Oct 29): Monte Albán/ Ethnobotanical Garden ~ After enjoying breakfast at the hotel, we will 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.

After lunch, we will visit Jardín Etnobotánico de Oaxaca, the ethnobotanical garden located behind the famous Baroque Santo Domingo church, to learn about the region’s unique and rich biodiversity. Oaxaca’s indigenous peoples are known for their textiles, ceramics, cuisine, and complex use of plants. To this day, native plants are used throughout the region for food, crafts, and medicine. Discover the wealth of plant and animal species found in Oaxaca and how they have influenced the city’s people for more than 12,000 years.

Accommodations: City Centro Hotel
Meals: Breakfast, Lunch and Dinner
Estimated Drive Time Today: Monte Albán is approximately 30 mins from the city.

DAY 3 (Wed, Oct 30): Santa Catarina Minas (Artisans & Mezcal Tasting) ~ Today, we’ll drive to the town of Santa Catarina Minas, a region known for its chocolate and mezcal, where delicious tastings await us. We’ll also visit with a local family who will tell us about their traditions and demonstrate the weaving process, using a waist loom to create their handcrafted textiles.
In Santa Catarina Minas, ancestral mezcal is still made the traditional way, in clay pots. We continue our journey with a visit to a local mezcal factory where we’ll have the opportunity to learn about the process of mezcal production. There will be time to explore the agave fields before we end our visit by tasting the delicious mezcal made onsite.

Accommodations: City Centro Hotel
Meals: Breakfast, Lunch and Dinner
Estimated Drive Time Today: Santa Catarina Minas is approximately 1.5 hrs from the city.

DAY 4 (Thurs, Oct 31): Teotitlán del Valle/ Abigail Mendoza & Tlamanalli Restaurant ~ Since 500 B.C., the Zapotecs from Oaxaca’s central valleys have been weaving and trading textiles, and the village of Teotitlán del Valle is world-famous for its fine tapestries and wall hangings. While visiting this charming village, we’ll get to see a live weaving demonstration and visit the market for shopping.

Our day continues with a cooking workshop with Abigail Mendoza Ruiz, the world’s most famous Zapotec chef. For nearly 30 years, Mendoza Ruiz’s restaurant, Tlamanalli, has not only showcased indigenous Zapotec recipes and customs but helped bring them international attention. This is an opportunity to learn from one of the best chefs in Oaxaca.

Accommodations: City Centro Hotel
Meals: Breakfast, Lunch and Dinner
Estimated Drive Time Today: Teotitlán del Valle is approximately 45 mins from the city.

DAY 5 (Fri, Nov 1): Oaxaca/ Santa María Atzompa Village ~ 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. Today, we’ll explore downtown Oaxaca’s markets and local festivals. Experience the main elements that make up a Día de los Muertos altar. In the mercado (market), become immersed in the colors, sounds, smells, textures, and tastes that are characteristic of this holiday. 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.

At nightfall, we’ll visit Santa María Atzompa Village, where the local cemetery becomes a meeting point for families and friends. The cemetery will be festively decorated with marigolds, candles, and papel picado. Here, we’ll get to see all the elements from the mercado come together. 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
Estimated Drive Time Today: Santa María Atzompa Village is approximately 30 mins from the city.

Day 6 (Sat, 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 arenaas 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.

Accommodations: City Centro Hotel

Meals: Breakfast, Lunch and Dinner

Estimated Drive Time Today: Zaachila Village is approximately 45 mins from the city.

Day 7 (Sun, Nov 3) – San Martin Tilcajete/ San Bartolo Coyotepec (Artisans) ~ Oaxaca is famous for alejibres (brightly colored Mexican folk art sculptures of fantastical creatures) and black pottery. First, in San Martin Tilcajete, we’ll see local families carving and painting alejibres 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 alejibres are shipped all over the world.

Finally, we’ll conclude our day in San Bartolo Coyotepec, the homeland of barro negro (Mexican black clay pottery). Barro negro is one of the best-known styles of pottery in Oaxaca, characterized by its unique color and designs, and its origins date back to the Monte Alban period.

Accommodations: City Centro Hotel

Meals: Breakfast, Lunch and Dinner

Estimated Drive Time Today: San Martin Tilcajete and San Bartolo Coyotepec are both approximately 45 mins from the city. The drive time between the two towns is about 15-30 minutes.

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

Meals: Breakfast


Price: $3,530* per person for Denver Botanic Gardens members (double occupancy); add $100 per person for non-members. Single supplement: $960* (subject to availability).

Includes: Accommodations, private transportation with full-time driver, private full-time local bilingual guide, full-time trip host from Denver Botanic Gardens (Yvonne Garcia Bardwell), entrance fees as listed, all meals beginning with dinner on Day 1 through breakfast on Day 8, one cooking class, basic no trip cost travel insurance (pre-departure cancellation can be added at additional cost), gratuities at restaurants, purified water and snacks in vehicle, and sales taxes.

Exclusions: International airfare, passport/visa fees, optional gratuities for your local guide and driver, optional activities, alcohol, and personal expenses

*Pricing is subject to change until deposit received and confirmed in writing. A 3% discount will be applied for payment by check.

About Your Host: Born and raised in South Texas, with a bilingual-bicultural background, Yvonne Garcia Bardwell brings a great mixture of experiences and knowledge to the tour. As the Community Relations Manager at Denver Botanic Gardens, she is responsible for diversifying the Gardens’ constituency by establishing and strengthening relationships with community organizations across the Denver metro area. Since 2011, she has orchestrated Denver Botanic Gardens’ observance of Día de los Muertos – a celebration that has grown into a vibrant annual event celebrating one of Mexico’s greatest cultural legacies. Her multicultural orientation has developed through not only extensive world travel but also significant work and volunteer experiences as well as an academic focus on international and Spanish-language marketing. This tour offers an opportunity to educate and inspire, to create a connection to our past, and to learn about the cultural traditions of Mexico.

Important Information: Itinerary has been built to allow flexibility to accommodate activities and sightseeing.  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.

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