Day of the Dead at the Instituto Cultural Oaxaca

Day of the Dead in Oaxaca

As Native Oaxacan, and as most Oaxacans would say you can come to Oaxaca at any time during the year, the weather it is magnificent, you can join Calendas, parties, and celebrations through the whole year, but my favorite time of year it is during the Day of the Dear, or Dia de los muertos. 


Many would say that Christmas is the holyday that is most celebrated in Oaxaca, but it is the Day of the Dead, I would say people invest more money on the day of the dead celebrations than in any other celebration, for that reason at ICO we have design a program that while studying spanish allows you to enjoy the magic and the beauty of Oaxaca.

The Instituto Cultural Oaxaca’s Day of the Dead program consists of two weeks and this year we will have the following program. 

  • From 9 to 1PM as usual, we will have Spanish Language Classes
  • In the arternoons from Monday to Thursday we will have Cultural Workshops, but only for these two weeks of the year we host our Mask Making workshop. These masks are used during our Comparsa.  
  • Our Cooking workshop we will be learning how to make Mole Negro, which is the traditional dish served in this celebration
  • On October 31 we will host our annual Comparsa in which all of students, teachers, friends and families join us at ICO to celebrate the return of the Dead. On this day we will have our althar ignauration.
  • On October 31 we will visit the cemetery of Xoxocotlan. 
  • On November 1st we join the comparsas in the valley of Etla. 
  • On November 2nd we will visit the cemetery of San Felipe del Agua. 



In addition to activities held by the Instituto Cultural Oaxaca, while you are in Oaxaca you will be able to witness the Day of the Dead festivities from different angles. For example if you decide to stay with a homestay family there are many chances that you will participate in the family’s altar set up. It is very likely that the family will invite you to participate in the different family events in which all the family gets together to received the returning loved ones. 

In the streets of Oaxaca is possible to witness festivals, contests of altars, there flowers and sand tapestries everywere. I recommend that you visit the pateon general which open its doors to welcome of the families, friends and all visitors who would like to partake of this amazing experience.

Markets – Previous to the Day of the Dead Markets operate at their full capacity everyone is buying flowers, candles, sweets, fruit, and all the ingredientes for their altars and of the preparation of the main meal, so the visit of a market is a Thing that you must do in Oaxaca during the Day of the Dead.

Another way to get immerse in Oaxaca’s Culture during this time is by joining a tour with Fundacion En Via in which by supporting a local community you will get in exchange and authentic cultural experience

If you would like to spend your time enjoying Oaxaca and taking advantage of all the activies the ICO offers another way to participate in these celebration is with MOCAdventures who offers a unique and personal Day of the Dead Experience


Things you must do in Oaxaca during Dia de los Muertos

Day of the Dead or Dia de los Muertos is the most time-honored and expressive holiday of Oaxaca. It is an example of the harmonious relationship between Christianity and the pre-hispanic traditions found in the state of Oaxaca.


Although Día de los Muertos is recognized all over Mexico, Oaxaca has become known for it’s ornately rich celebrations venerating the return of their deceased loved ones on November 1st and 2nd.

Visit a Cemetery

During this time the living join together to rejoice the return of their ancestors. Visiting cemeteries enables one to enjoy the richness of this celebration. The energy of the occasion is awesome.


Cemeteries to visit in Oaxaca during this time

  • October 31 visit the cemetery of Xoxocotlan
  • November 1st visit the Panteón General in Oaxaca
  • November 2nd visit the Cemetery of San Felipe del Agua

Visit Markets

All of Oaxaca’s Markets are operating full on in the days prior to the Muertos holiday. They provide the decorations for the altar including the candy skulls, skeletons and ceramic figures.


Markets to visit in Oaxaca during Dia de los Muertos

  • Saturday – Mercado de Abastos
  • Sunday – Tlacolula La Merced – City of Tlacolula
  • Monday – Miahuatlán – City of Miahuatlan de Porfirio Díaz
  • Tuesday – Atzompa
  • Wednesday – Zimatlan, Etla
  • Thursday – Zaachila
  • Friday – Ocotlán, Atzompa

For more information about markets visit

Participate in a Comparsa

In addition to visiting homes and cemeteries, one may experience the cultural richness of this time by getting involved in the Comparsas, theatrical performances representing the return of the dead, which take place in various outlying villages.

  • There are plenty of Comparsas in the city of Oaxaca one of them is held by the Instituto Cultural Oaxaca A Spanish Language School in which students who enroll for the day of the dead program after a mask making workshop participate in a comparsa organized by the school


  • Another way to participate in Comparsas is by going to one of the many villages of the Valley of Etla. During November 2nd the Valley of Etla is witness of multiple comparsa organized by the different neightborhoods of the villages in this valley. You can find the most creative designs in this villages. 

Enjoy the altars

The Oaxacan altars are most commonly built on October 30th and October 31st in the homes of the Oaxacan people. The altar is generally set on a table, and then it is wrapped with a tablecloth, white sheet or with perforated tissue paper. Sugarcane is bound to the foot of the table and run high over overhead into the shape of a triumphal arch. On the morning of October 31st the offerings are placed on the altars; these offerings consist of exquisite dishes that the relatives will come to savour the aromas of.


Eat Mole Negro

Oaxaca is considered one of the top gastronomic destinations in Mexico and its rich indigenous heritaged blended with a Spanish Influence of more than 300 years is displayed in its flavorful cuisine. In Oaxaca it is possible to find many the regions of Oaxaca and Puebla it is possible to find a vast array of Moles, but it is only in Oaxaca where you can eat the king of moles, the Mole Negro, and during Dia de los Muerts families and restaurants prepare this delicacy to welcome guest both alive and dead who are expected for visit this time of the year

During this time of the year there are many restaurants where you can taste the deliciousness of Mole Negro!


Visit the artisan Villages

One of the ways you can get more about this cultural experience is by visiting the outlying villages of Oaxaca where you can find crafts and folk art. During this time of the year artisans set up the altars of their families and it is possible to witness first hand how a Oaxacan Family welcomes their loved ones who are visiting in this special ocassion

Villages to visit

  • Arrazola & Tilcajete – Famous for its alebrijes (wooden animal carvigns)
  • San Bartolo Coyotepec – Famous for its black pottery
  • Teotitlan del Valle – known for its beatiful rugs (it is possible to get an cultural insight of the community with Fundación En Vía)
  • Atzompa – Green pottery
  • Jalietza – Cotton Textiles

There are many ways in which you can enjoy the Day of the Dead in Oaxaca either by Learning Spanish during this season, volunteering or just by Visiting if you want get the cultural richness of this season MOCadventures offers a unique experience carefully designed to offer you a blend of culture, gastronomy and art.