Day of the Dead - Oaxaca City

Friday, August 19, 2016

Our journey to Oaxaca City for Day of the Dead was a memorable one. In fact around sunset time somewhere in a desert-like landscape we realised our bus driver was lost. We had no phone signal and the only person who knew we'd taken that particular bus was Jay's aunt who was now several hours in the other direction, up the coast in Huatulco. We had hoped to reach Oaxaca City before nightfall but that was looking doubtful. I guess this became one of our first lessons in Latin America transport. Were we naive for thinking that public transport stuck to actual routes and ran on the correct times as advertised? Of course we were.

Day of the Dead - Oaxaca City

Oaxaca City/Day of the Dead at a glance

 ✓ Language: Spanish

✓ Currency: Mexican Peso

  Restaurant food: $3-$5 - Menu del Dias

  Street food: $1-$3 - Some bars serve free snacks

 Drinking: Cerveza $1 - Tecate, Corona, Dos Equis


✓ Day of the Dead Festival: October 31st - November 2nd

✓ Best time to visit: The last weekend in October - During the Day of the Dead Festival

✓ Must do: Monte Alban ruins from Oaxaca City



All prices in US Dollar


Day of the Dead, Oaxaca City, Mexico, travel, travel blogger, travelsandmore

Day of the Dead, Oaxaca City, Mexico, travel, travel blogger, travelsandmore
Huatulco 7-bay day tour, such a bittersweet day for me but an incredible setting and seeing dolphins and meeting great people always add the cherry to the top of any experience  

Before Oaxaca City

We spent a week or so in Huatulco visiting Jamie's aunt, our time here was spent eating like kings and enjoying home comforts right in the heart of Mexico's Oaxaca Coast Line. From dolphin sightings on our 7-bay day tour to lazy afternoons around the complex's pool, every second spent in Huatulco and with Jay's aunt Noni was filled with laughter and fun.

It was like a full circle moment too. Noni was the person who had helped us plan our trip and offered us advice on what to see in Mexico, we'd chatted with Noni for so long about the possibility of spending some time together in Mexico and hoped it would all work out right with timings.

Being in Huatulco with her was definitely a turning point of our trip too. I certainly remember feeling like we had spent a lot of the time so far looking forward to that moment we'd see a familiar face. Our time in Huatulco was like a break from the unknown we had been experiencing and a platform for us to prepare for the rest of our big trip. 

Before we knew it our time of relaxation and rest in Huatulco was over and it was time to hit the road once again for us. Like always, time has a weird way of slipping away from you when you're having a good time. On our final morning in Huatulco we booked a shuttle service to Oaxaca, we'd heard the winding roads were very dangerous and generally inaccessible for larger busses.

Getting to Oaxaca City from Huatulco and the Coast 

We left Huatulco with Oaxaca City in our sights. We were arriving in Oaxaca City just in time for Halloween and Day of the Dead and we knew the celebrations were well underway. The journey over the Oaxaca pass was a tough one, Jay gets super travel sick on long and winding roads and to be honest I wasn't feeling too clever either.

We randomly stopped off at one of the most spectacular roadside restaurant locations we'd seen. High in the clouds we really understood the distance we had covered looking down into the abyss. A welcomed break to everyone feeling under-the-weather from all the bling turns and near misses on the road. 

Day of the Dead, Oaxaca City, Mexico, travel, travel blogger, travelsandmore
What a view, and a total contrast from where we had come from
Like I mentioned earlier, at around sunset we began to realise our bus driver was lost, he'd taken a few wrong turns probably because the woman in the passenger seat had his ear burning for the whole of the journey. Nothing is quite as irritating as a long distance bus ride with someone who has no volume control. The driver frantically called some friends and stopped some locals and we eventually arrived in Oaxaca City some time later than expect which I now know can be expected throughout Mexico and Latin America. A great lesson learnt in shuttle bus travel, one I'd find very useful heading to Central America. 

Day of the Dead, Oaxaca City, Mexico, travel, travel blogger, travelsandmore
Welcome to Oaxaca City, Mexico

Oaxaca City checklist

Whilst in Oaxaca City we had a small checklist of things we wanted to accomplish. Mainly places to see and things to do. First on our list was to visit it's incredible markets, which we did every single day actually. There are multiple markets in lots of different locations around Oaxaca City, Jamie is obsessed with food markets and I'm obsessed with handicrafts so Oaxaca City Markets were the ideal setting for us.

There are many pop-up style markets on during our visit because of  the time of year we had chosen to see Oaxaca City. A lot of public space had been given up to make way for all the different Day of the Dead markets, it really brought the city to life. Each of the Day of the Dead markets were open early to late so early morning shopping and lazy afternoon browsing became part of our daily routine whilst in Oaxaca City.

Monte Alban at a glance

✓ Entrance fee: $3-$4

✓ Bus cost: $1

✓ Bus duration: 30 mins

✓ Opening times: 8am - 5pm


We also decided to visit Monte Alban from Oaxaca City, a popular a pre-Columbian archaeological site just outside of the city. Monte Alban was the final archaeological site we would visit in Mexico, from pyramids in Cholula to the more well-known Chichen Itza to all the smaller ones in between.

It's very easy to get to Monte Alban from the main city and several busses leave from several shuttle organisations just off the main streets. Booking our bus, I felt much more confident in my improved Spanish ability and spoke to the ticket office with confidence in now, what I would say was very broken Spanish. I was proud at the time and I guess it's the effort that counts!


Day of the Dead, Oaxaca City, Mexico, travel, travel blogger, travelsandmore
Exploring Monte Alban, Mexico
I have to say Monte Alban has the most breathtaking views. In the shuttle you seem to go up and up and up, for what feels like a very long time. Upon reaching the summit you don't realise how high up you are until you have entered the site. Monte Alban is free of hustlers and people selling artifacts, which as I mentioned in my posts about Teotihuacan and Chichen Itza annoys me to my bones. I think it's actually a breach of the rules to try and sell goods within the Monte Alban site and I do remember a lot of people climbing the steep hills and sneaking in from random pathways around the site. I could tell others were getting annoyed too but each seller soon disappeared whenever someone official appeared.

Monte Alban has some amazing views which makes it a really nice site to visit, there's quite a lot to see and there are many guides on hand to offer advice and insight. We walked the site several times following the ancient paths and trying to follow the signs. It's definitely worth the day trip and I would absolutely recommend visiting Monte Alban when in Oaxaca City. 

Day of the Dead, Oaxaca City, Mexico, travel, travel blogger, travelsandmore
Rooftop chills - Oaxaca City, Mexico

Cafe culture and nightlife fun

One of the things I loved the most about Oaxaca City is its cafe culture, there is a bar, cafe, pub and restaurant on every  street. Menu del Dias are plenty, all reasonably priced, filling and tasty. We spent so much time exploring eateries and trying the various cuisine available in Oaxaca City, making the most of our final days in Mexico. Most evenings we would head to a rooftop bar and wait until the sun sets for things to really liven up.

We visited at the end of October and I found the evenings to get chilly so be prepared for that. I love any city that can offer a range of traditional food and drink, I feel you are able to experience so much more and gain so much more from a location when you get in there and eat like the locals do. Jamie often criticizes my vegetarian ways but he'll tell you himself that in Oaxaca City we truly embraced the cuisine and culture. Expect for that one time we bought a large Domino's pizza drunk, but that's our little secret.

We were even able to visit a Mezcaleria during our time in Oaxaca City. We were able to sample some Mezcal, something the region is well know for. We only had small samples but contents literally blew our heads off! Its so strong. Sampling the Mezcal is something so many people suggested to do whilst in Oaxaca City, a stronger version of Tequila from the Agave plant.

One of our favourite bars that brought out authentic Mexican nibbles after every couple of drinks

Day of the Dead Festival and Celebrations

When we first arrived in Mexico we knew we'd be close to leaving by the time Day of the Dead came around. As the month of October grew shorter we began to see promotional material for Dia de Muertos. Day of the Dead is something we were not keen on skipping before leaving Mexico and we rearranged our stay in Mexico to accommodate the Day of the Dead Festival. We had known for a long time that we wanted to experience this unique holiday before leaving the country. The Day of the Dead celebrations were due to start on the 31st of October as they do every year and last until the 2nd of November, but the Day of the Dead costumes and celebrations were in full swing when we arrived a few days ahead of the 31st October.

Each day we spent in Oaxaca City was spend embracing the culture and festivities leading up to the main events of Day of the Dead. We began to see more and more costumes as the festival began.

Each afternoon we followed a different Day of the Dead parade through the streets of Oaxaca City. A personal favorite were the parades dedicated to all dead pets, I have never seen so many dogs dressed as skeletons the Day of the Dead costumes on display are incredible. It wasn't until later we realised all of the dogs in Day of the Dead costumes were celebrating The Day of the Dead Dogs.

Another great addition to being in Oaxaca City during the Day of the Dead Festival and leading up to the celebrations are the amazing decorations. Each house and public space has its own range of Day of the Dead themed decorations. From flowers and candles to skulls and coffins. Every day the streets are bustling and lively because of the large number of tourists packed  into the city wanting to witness Day of the Dead.

We woke up early every morning as each morning and afternoon  had something something Day of the Dead and unique to offer us and to be honest we were afraid of missing out on the festivities.

 Day of the Dead is really the perfect time to visit Oaxaca City as Day of the Dead is as much as part of Oaxacan Culture as Oaxacan Culture is to Day of the Dead. I'd also be eager to visit Mexico City during the Day of the Dead Festival as I can only imagine its as fun filled and packed with celebrations as Oaxaca City is.

During the Day of the Dead Festival we got to see so many parades, visit so many pop-up markets and see so much live music. The Day of the Dead celebrations were our topic of conversation with all locals and tourists alike in our hostel and in the bars and restaurants we visited. It seems that everyone in Oaxaca City during the Day of the Dead Festival is only talking about one thing. 


Day of the Dead, Oaxaca City, Mexico, travel, travel blogger, travelsandmore
Day of the Dead decorations everywhere in the city 

One night in a cemetery - Day of the Dead 

We spent Halloween in a cemetery somewhere in the rural suburbs of Oaxaca City. This is something I wasn't keen on doing at first. I soon realised the reason I was uncomfortable with this was because of my own culture's relationship and understanding of death. Being around people filled with nothing but joy and happiness because of their understanding and respect for death really helped me understand Day of the Dead. It only took a small amount of wandering the cemetery and trying to remain respectful before I began to realise that nobody cared if I was. Locals were dressed in Day of the Dead costumes and late into the night in the Oaxacan cemetery the Day of the Dead Festival continued.

What I perceive as 'respectful' is something that exists because of my culture's relationship with death and isn't really relevant in Mexico especially during Day of the Dead. All anyone cared about is that I was there. People were so happy that we had joined them in celebrating the life and love of their family member or members. It's kind of beautiful, everything about Day of the Dead is kind of beautiful if you think about it. 

We got some flowers and placed them on some of the unmarked graves, Jamie and I wanted to contribute something to the Day of the Dead celebrations. I don't think there will ever be a time in England where I spend Halloween in a cemetery drinking beer with people dressed as Zombies and Ghosts. I doubt there will ever be an evening where a Beatles tribute band performs inside a cemetery or where people join together on top of graves to have a drink and a bit of a catch up. So many people were gathered to celebrate life and death and come together to honor their own dead. It was an incredible feeling to be part of something so distant to my own cultures ideologies about death and cemeteries.

I left feeling so grateful that I had been invited to experience something so unique to Mexico's culture and I still cringe at the fact I used a porta-loo in a cemetery. Although, I did try my hardest to embrace this tradition I was unable to take any photos, I just have real opinions when it comes to things like this so chose not to. Photos of a cemetery will always be distasteful to me.

Day of the Dead costumes on children during the Day of the Dead children parade

Day of the Dead, Oaxaca City, Mexico, travel, travel blogger, travelsandmore
A school taking part in the Day of the Dead parade through the main streets of Oaxaca City 

Day of the Dead costumes - Even the tiniest of Oaxaca City residents get involved

There are so many Day of the Dead different performances and expressions of art to see in various locations throughout Oaxaca City. We found ourselves in the crowds of many dance shows with traditional Mexican music playing out into the streets. The Day of the Dead costumes are possibly my favourite part of the whole Festival. Everyone makes so much effort and even the animals have their own Day of the Dead costumes as mentioned. 

Our final days in Mexico

As a stranger I felt so welcomed in Oaxaca City, it's such a captivating place to be and the locals only add to that. Perhaps it comes with the holiday but I think it probably always feels this way in Oaxaca City. During Day of the Dead all regular tourist activities run too and we were even able to take an open bus tour to see all the sites including Benito Juarez Oaxaca home. We got to witness some fabulous weddings with celebrations spilling out into the midday sun. Something about this time of the year gets everyone in high spirits and even the most beautiful of brides get involved with the dancing and cheer in the streets. 

Oaxaca City is an incredible city to visit, it's so energetic and that energy is infectious. As usual we spent longer here than planned and I have so many fond memories to take away with me. There are many tourists, especially during the Day of the Dead celebrations and although the city feels full everyone is welcomed. 

I felt so at home and at ease in Oaxaca City and I certainly believe I'd have this feeling with or without the addition of the Day of the Dead celebrations. Oaxaca City was our last official stop in our five week tour of Mexico From here we would take several grueling busses including an overnight bus to make it to the Guatemalan Border and head straight to Lake Atitlan. You can read about that experience here.

Click here for more Mexico

Day of the Dead - Oaxaca City, Mexico - travelsandmore


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5 comments

  1. My hubby is Oaxaceño and I've visited Oaxaca multiple times, unfortunately not for Day of the dead. Decorations and "katrinas" look amazing, I can't wait until I see it in person!

    ReplyDelete
    Replies
    1. Such a great experience. Really left us feeling like we had seen a lot of the best Mexico has to offer. Such an incredible country, I hope to see it again soon. Yes, you must! The celebrations and decorations are spectacular.

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  2. I'm so excited, I'm going to Mexico this year and cannot wait to experience all the culture & the celebrations for day of the dead!

    ReplyDelete
    Replies
    1. You're so lucky! I know you'll have such an amazing time! Mexico is a truly welcoming country with so much culture and history. I'm jealous have the best time.

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