Oaxaca Day of the Dead 2024: Your Ultimate Festival Guide

Do you want to experience Día de Muertos in Oaxaca?

You’ve made a great choice! Oaxaca Day of the Dead is one of the most traditional Muertos celebrations in Mexico.

Since I live in Oaxaca City, I’ve been to Day of the Dead in Oaxaca multiple times. And this guide covers everything you need to know for the ultimate experience.

I’ve included an itinerary, where to stay, Day of the Dead Oaxaca tours, and more tips so that you can make the most of your time.

I recommend that you arrive at least a few days before and are well-rested for the festival! 

There are many things to do for Día de Muertos in Oaxaca. And I wouldn’t want you to miss the fun parades and other events.

This article may contain affiliate links. This means if you click a link on my website and make a purchase, I earn a commission at no additional cost to you. For full information, please see my disclaimer here.

Editor’s Choice
The sun shines down on this Dia de Muertos street art in Jalatlaco. Among a painted field of marigolds, it features a skeleton catrina and skeleton dog with it's tongue out towards the cup of mezcal in her hand.

Prefer a small group tour with everything planned for you?

This 6-day Oaxaca Day of the Dead tour is the ultimate Oaxaca Muertos experience. Each day you’ll go on unique cultural adventures that you won’t find anywhere else.

October 28 – November 2, 2024

Looking for a one night Oaxaca Day of the Dead tour?
Jump ahead to my Oaxaca Day of the Dead tour recommendations

When is Day of the Dead in Oaxaca, Mexico?

Just like Día de Muertos in other parts of Mexico, Day of the Dead in Oaxaca is celebrated on November 1st and 2nd. Though in reality, the celebrations start on the night of October 31st when the spirits return at midnight.

Preparations for the Oaxaca Day of the Dead festival begin earlier. I recommend you arrive in the city at least a few days before to soak up all of the Día de los Muertos vibes.

At a Cemetery in Oaxaca for Day of the Dead, a gravesite is topped with a variety of lit candles and vases of traditional flowers.

November 1st – Día de los Inocentes

The first day of celebrations is called Día de los Inocentes, or Day of the Innocents. This is the day to remember children that have passed. It’s believed that spirits of the angelitos (little angels) return at midnight on this day.

November 2nd – Día de los Muertos

The second day of celebrations also begins at midnight. This is the day to welcome the spirits of the adults that have passed. This is generally the most festive day, but you can rest assured Oaxaca Día de los Muertos celebrations are lively throughout.

For Oaxaca Day of the Dead, Marigold flowers are woven together with a red flower and hung from the metal balcony.

Where to Stay in Oaxaca for Day of the Dead (2024)

Celebrating Day of the Dead in Oaxaca means jam-packed days and nights. You most likely want to stay in the center of town to have easy access to your room for a quick refresh or a siesta.

For where to stay in Oaxaca for Day of the Dead, I recommend staying close to Santo Domingo Church, near the Zocalo, or in the neighborhood of Jalatlaco.

If you’re able to book a hotel for Day of the Dead in advance, you’ll be rewarded with the best options and prices since many travelers book months in advance. I’ve detailed the top hotels for Day of the Dead below.

If you’re booking with less notice, you should click to search for places to stay in Oaxaca with availbility for your ideal dates.

I would personally choose the accommodation closest to centro that is within your budget. And keep in mind, you may need to stretch your budget since Day of the Dead is one of the biggest holidays. Taxis are in high demand as well, so it’s best to be within walking distance or plan to book tours.

Quick Look – Where to Stay for Day of the Dead in Oaxaca

Casa Quiote Hotel Boutique $$$$$ | Gorgeous hotel with luxurious suites that feel like a peaceful sanctuary
Casa Hidalgo Hotel Boutique $$$$ | Beautiful hotel in a central location with comfortable rooms
City Centro Oaxaca | $$$ A top-pick Jalatlaco hotel with modern, stylish rooms and a rooftop swimming pool

Centro: Best Place to Stay in Oaxaca for Day of the Dead

Conveniently located one block from the Zocalo, Casa Quiote Hotel Boutique is a peaceful sanctuary with luxurious suites that are the perfect place to relax between the Day of the Dead events.

Another place to stay for in Oaxaca Day of the Dead with a fabulous location is Casa Hidalgo Hotel Boutique. You’ll be in the center of the action near the Zocalo but be able to retreat to your room to rest in between.

Located in a former convent, Quinta Real Oaxaca is one of the most luxurious hotels in Oaxaca. And the location, steps away from Santo Domingo Church and the pedestrian street is exactly where you want to be.

And if you’re just looking for a comfortable place to sleep, both the Holiday Inn and City Express Oaxaca are well located, with lots of availability for Muertos.

Jalatlaco: A Great Place to Stay for Día de los Muertos

The neighborhood of Jalatlaco is charming and colorful all the time but it particularly comes alive this time of year.

And the regular Muertos events in the neighborhood make it a great place to stay in Oaxaca for Day of the Dead. Visitors flock to this area in the evenings for the parades during the celebration.

In the heart of Jalatlaco, modern design hides behind the doors of City Centro Oaxaca, one of my top picks to stay in Jalatlaco for Día de Muertos. The rooms are stylish and the rooftop pool is refreshing.

The arched sign of Jalatlaco, a place to stay in Oaxaca for Day of the Dead is decorated with colorful flags, small skeleton figures and a large catrina head.

Xochimilco and Reforma: Other Areas to Stay for Day of the Dead

These two neighborhoods stretch north, just above the highway and center of Oaxaca. While they aren’t my first pick for where to stay for Day of the Dead, they each have their perks.

For convenience, you’ll want to stay in a location further south to be near the center.

Hostels: Where to Stay for Day of the Dead

If you’re a backpacker or budget traveler, there are a few hostels in Oaxaca with availability for Day of the Dead.

Viajero Oaxaca Hostel and Casa Angel Hostel bare both in a fabulous location and currently have availability for Muertos.

Planning to come to Oaxaca for Day of the Dead? You’ll also want to read my tips for staying safe in Oaxaca.

Why Celebrate Día de Muertos in Oaxaca?

Day of the Dead in Oaxaca is one of the most traditional Día de Muertos celebrations in Mexico. I attribute a lot of that to the strong family ties within the community. As the festival approaches, it feels as though the entire city embraces the essence of Muertos.

The smell of cempasúchil flowers permeates the air as homes and businesses decorate their entrance with traditional flowers and create altars. There are also many nearby pueblos that have their own traditions for Día de Muertos, some of which are available to respectfully visit.

If you’re looking for another traditional location for this celebration, check out my guide to Day of the Dead Michoacán which focuses on Pátzcuaro and Janitzio.

Day of the Dead Oaxaca Tours

Guests on this dia de muertos experience make their contributions to the altar using maize, cacao, and colored flowers.

I’ve been on multiple Day of the Dead tours in Oaxaca. In my opinion, the key is to find an authentic tour.

There are a Oaxaca Day of the Dead tours that you can book online which I think provide a greater value than ones you may find while walking around. They also vary based on your interests.

I’ve selected and highlighted a few below as well as the available dates.

If you’re looking for a more intimate view of the celebration, then you should definitely book this authentic Oaxaca Day of the Dead Tour.

An artists paints a woman's face during a Oaxaca Day of the Dead tour. Her face has a slight covering of turquoise, her eyes are painted as pink and orange flowers. Around her neck is a necklace made of fresh marigold flowers.

When I joined this tour, we met at a local restaurant where we were served a complimentary snack and cocktail. While we were getting to know each other, we took turns having our faces painted and a professional photo shoot.

Afterward, we returned to the upstairs patio where we learned about the origins and traditions of Day of the Dead from a local guide.

Then our Oaxaca Day of the Dead tour took us to a nearby cemetery where we met with another local resident and his family as they celebrated their loved ones. The cemetery was lit with candlelight and awash with yellow marigold flowers. This part of the tour was a truly magical experience.

Hanging from an arched ceiling are yellow and red flowers, one of the most abundant Oaxaca day of the dead traditions.

Itinerary Day of the Dead Festival Oaxaca

This Oaxaca Day of the Dead itinerary is a guide for the main activities. I’ve also included a few bonus Muertos events, many of which take place in the surrounding pueblos of the Central Valleys.

I recommend you pick up a schedule of events from the tourist booth that is located in front of the main cathedral, near the Zocalo. Small events change each year, so you’ll want to keep your ears and eyes open for other activities happening in the city. 

Before the 31st

Spend the days before the Day of the Dead festival wandering around Oaxaca, taking in the essences that have begun to take over the city. The mercados are full of fresh-cut flowers, the bakeries are busy making pan de muerto, and just about everywhere is putting up decorations.

The sun shines down on this Dia de Muertos street art in Jalatlaco. Among a painted field of marigolds, it features a skeleton catrina and skeleton dog with it's tongue out towards the cup of mezcal in her hand.

In addition to centro, the neighborhood of Jalatlaco is one of my favorites to wander during Día de Muertos. There you’ll find a lot of street art, including pieces by one of my favorite artists, Bouler. And you may even stumble across an artist in the midst of creating a large mural.

Here are a few bonus things to do during Day of the Dead in Oaxaca before we get into the full itinerary.

Explore Nearby Pueblos – Artisans, Markets, and Mezcal

The days before Día de los Muertos is also a great time to explore the surrounding villages. Oaxaca City is unique in that you can travel in one direction outside of the city and visit several surrounding pueblos in one day

Whether you opt to use colectivos or book a tour, use this guide to plan day trips and tours from the city. Inside, I help you navigate different routes or tours, depending on your preferences. 

Try to plan a visit that coordinates with one of the weekly markets, called a tianguis. Different towns have a designated day. During Day of the Dead, these markets become even more extravagant with piles of flowers and specialty pan de muertos. Some of my favorites are:

  • Thursdays – Zaachila Market
  • Fridays – Ocotlan Market
  • Sundays – Tlacolula Market

Visit a Flower Field in Oaxaca

During Oaxaca Day of the Dead, a woman with her face painted and wearing a black dress stands in a field of yellow marigold flowers. Mountains, blue skies, and white clouds are in the background.

For a unique experience, travel an hour outside of the city to Cultivos el Viejo, a flower field near the town of Zimatlán. Among the rows of vibrant marigold flowers, visitors pose to have their pictures taken. Some wear bright dresses while others go all out with a special Muertos look.

For a small donation, you can enter the fields to take pictures. I recommend arriving in the late afternoon when the golden hour sun enriches the scenery. Keep in mind that you’ll need to visit the week before Dia de los Muertos. The flowers are harvested around the 28th of October.

Flower Field Tour: If you prefer to have a guide take you, book this tour of the flower fields on October 28th. It also includes some of my favorite day trips from Oaxaca so you can maximize your time. You’ll start by touring Monte Alban, an alebrije workshop, a flower field in Ocotlan, and a mezcal tasting in Santa Catarina Minas.

To Get There on Your Own: Take a bus towards Zimatlán from Terminal Autobuses Halcón. Let the bus driver know you want to go to Cultivos de Viejo. In case he doesn’t know where that is, you will want to get off the bus here.

After you exit the bus, look for the tree-lined dirt road on the right that parallels the highway. Walk this road in the same direction the bus was traveling for about five minutes until you reach the marigold flower farm on your right.

Sand Rugs (Tapetes) in Zaachila, Xochimilco, and Other Locations

A man squats to work on a sand tapete in Zaachila. In the foreground is a large catrina face with a green grasshopper on top of his head and flowers in the background.

In the Central Valleys of Oaxaca, colorful sand rugs have a long history of celebrating the dead. Depending on the town, they are created nine days, forty days, and one year after the death of a loved one. 

They have also become a Oaxaca Day of the Dead tradition as a way to welcome the spirits and share the ritual with visitors.

You can see the tapetes of Zaachila along Calle Coquiza which leads from the cemetery to the church. Ideally plan to visit during the Thursday market. If not, I recommend eating at Mercado Gastronómico de Zaachila where you can find barbacoa and other specialties.

Recently other communities such as Xochimilco and Xoxocotlan have created a display of sand rugs to celebrate Day of the Dead. While I didn’t find them as impressive as those in Zaachila, they are closer to the city if you’re tight on time.

Day of the Dead Bread Decoration in Mitla

You may have heard that Day of the Dead bread is one of the items used on the altars. While you’ll find the traditional bread in the city, I recommend traveling to Tlacolula or Mitla to see their specialty bread for Muertos.

In Mitla, the bread is decorated an intricate white pattern. And recently the bakeries have open up to visitors who want to decorate their own Muertos bread. I’ve listed the top two experiences below.

La Catrina Exhibition in Mitla

This small town about an hour east of Oaxaca is home to the second most important archeological site in Oaxaca. It was also a sacred place for the Zapotecs. The name is derived from the Nahuatl word, Mictlán which means “place of the dead,” as it was considered the place where souls go to rest in the afterlife.

So it’s a particularly appropriate town to visit during the Day of the Dead festival. In addition to visiting the archeological site, you can wander the streets to view the catrinas created for Día de los Muertos.

You’ll need to pass through Mitla if you’re planning to visit Hierve el Agua (which you absolutely should!)

October 31st – Xoxo Cemetery

Families in Oaxaca spend the days prior to the Day of the Dead festival preparing the gravesite of the deceased. They clean the grave and begin to decorate it with flowers. During the celebrations, they gather in the cemetery at night to light candles and welcome their loved ones to visit.

At a cemetery during Day of the Dead in Oaxaca, a gravesite is topped with lit candles, an intricate flower cross, and a picture of the deceased.

Traditionally the cemetery in Xoxocotlán (pronounced ho-ho for short) has been the most open to outside visitors. When I first visited Oaxaca for Dia de Muertos, I was a bit shocked by the amount of people in the surrounding area of Xoxo cemetery.

There were street vendors and lots of people throughout the streets, though inside the cemetery was a bit calmer. For a more peaceful visit, I recommend arriving near dusk so that you can visit the cemetery for Day of the Dead before the throngs of people arrive. Then enjoy a snack of tacos on the street before heading back to the city.

It should go without saying, foreigners who wish to visit a cemetery need to be incredibly respectful of this private time. In recent years (due to you know what), the cemeteries were reportedly closed by the government.

In some Oaxaca cemeteries, families continued to gather but outside visitors were not welcome. I do think we should take this as a lesson to take a step back and show even more respect for this family tradition.

How To Get To Xoxo Cemetery During Day of the Dead

You can take a bus to the town of Xoxo next to El Llano Park. Then you can hire a moto taxi to take you close to the cemetery. I don’t recommend walking from the bus.

If you plan on arriving later than 8 pm, I recommend taking a moto taxi near this area on the Periferico. This cemetery draws large crowds and with that comes traffic. The moto taxi will be able to drive in places buses and cars simply would not, thus getting there much faster.

Other Oaxaca Cemeteries for Day of the Dead

At one of the Oaxaca cemetery for Day of the Dead, gravesites are decorated with intricate biblical scenes created from colored sand and glitter, called tapetes. Surrounding the graves are votive candles and flowers.

There are other Oaxaca cemeteries that I recommend visiting for Day of the Dead. Several of these are within the city which makes it convenient to visit on nights before other events.

Atzompa Cemetery – Located less than 30 minutes west of the city, Atzompa is a traditional cemetery in Oaxaca for Day of the Dead. It has a more rustic feel than Xoxo and draws a smaller crowd.

Xochimilco Cemetery – A small cemetery located in the traditional neighborhood of Xochimilco. While this Oaxaca cemetery was a bit calmer on the night I visited, there were a few families and many gravesites with flowers and candles.

San Felipe Cemetery – A medium-sized cemetery with a long tradition. Lots of families gather in this cemetery on the nights of October 31st, November 1st, and November 2nd.

General Pantheon – Located east of the city, this is the main cemetery of Oaxaca. However, the night I visited, it was very calm without much decoration or families. I wouldn’t put this cemetery at the top of your list.

November 1st – Etla, Oaxaca – Day of the Dead Muerteada

In the Valley of Etla, Day of the Dead celebrations takes the form of a muerteada, one of the newer traditions in the city. On this night, male residents dress in costumes adorned with small mirrors and bells.

People gather wearing masks and costumes adorned with bells and mirrors in Etla, Oaxaca for Day of the Dead.
Participants gather at the Muerteada in Etla, Oaxaca for Day of the Dead

The mirrors are used to scare away the witches and the bells help guide the spirits in the night. The costumes are complete with masks that represent important muerteada figures such as the devil, the dead, and the old.

Accompanied by a brass band, they meander through the neighborhood, going from house to house, welcoming the spirits to come out. The festivity turns into an all-night parade that ends around sunrise.

If you want to join in on the Muerteada and other Oaxaca Day of the Dead parades, I recommend joining this mask workshop on October 29th. It’s a really unique experience to make your own mask at one of the most well known workshops.

While San Agustin Etla has been the most well known town for a Muerteada, they have limited the number of people in recent years. There are other towns in Etla Valley that also have Muerteadas on these days.

I have recently learned there is a second version of this Muerteada in Etla. One week later, females dress up and go through the town in a similar fashion.

How To Get To Etlas Murteadas

Since you will arrive at night, a taxi is the best way to get to Etla for Day of the Dead. It’s about a 40-minute drive from the center of Oaxaca, so it’s best to organize a group to share the cost. 

In fact, I recommend you hire a taxi for the entire night so that they are available when you are ready to go back to Oaxaca City. In the years prior to 2020, the muerteada in Etla drew a crowd of more than 3,000 people, so you can imagine the difficulty of finding an available taxi in a sea of people.

November 2nd – Jalatlaco Comparsa (Parade)

There always seems to be something going on in the neighborhood of Jalatlaco for Day of the Dead. In the evenings of both the 1st and the 2nd, people gather in this traditional neighborhood to celebrate. And around 9 pm, you will most likely find a parade in the streets, called a comparsa.

To locate a comparsa, look and listen for the telltale signs – a brass band leading the parade, large puppets with their arms swinging wildly, and “El Patron,” whose job it is to keep everyone lubricated with shots of mezcal.

This Day of the Dead parade is typically much shorter than the muerteada in Etla, though no less fun! In fact, the traditional neighborhood of Jalatlaco is the perfect backdrop for the Day of the Dead festival in Oaxaca. You can expect the parade to wrap up around 11 pm this night.

Are you looking for an authentic Oaxaca Day of the Dead tour? Check availability for this special tour which includes getting your face painted, building an altar, and visiting a cemetery.

Oaxaca Day of the Dead Traditions

A skull made from the traditional black pottery of Oaxaca is surrounded by fresh marigold flowers. The skull is intricately carved with designs for Dia de los Muertos.

Dia de los Muertos is enveloped in tradition. It’s always been a celebratory time, but unfortunately, some traditions have been diluted by a party atmosphere. While there is plenty of celebrating to do, it’s important to understand the roots of Day of the Dead and when it’s appropriate to party.

Day of the Dead Altars

Altars, or ofrendas, are a centerpiece of the Day of the Dead celebration, created to welcome the spirits as they pass from the underworld to visit with family. The altars are filled with favorite items of the deceased, flowers, candles, and photographs.

The offerings include their favorite food and drinks, and often mezcal and cigarettes for adults or candy and toys for children. Families spend countless hours going to the market and preparing food to create their Day of the Dead altar.

While Day of the Dead altars are typically on display at private homes, there are several made by hotels and neighborhoods that you can see while you’re wandering around Oaxaca City.

Day of the Dead Flowers

The orange marigold flower, called cempasúchil, has been prevalent during Day of the Dead celebrations since pre-Hispanic times. It’s believed that the flower’s bright color and pungent smell help to guide the spirits to the ofrenda.

Both yellow marigolds and red cockscomb, traditional Day of the Dead flowers, are piled high on top of wooden crates at the market in Oaxaca

During Day of the Dead in Oaxaca, various venues put these flowers on full display by creating intricate decorations and altars throughout the city. You’ll often find them interlaced with another classic Day of the Dead flower called terciopelo rojo, or red cockscomb.

Pan de Muertos – Day of the Dead Bread

Another essence prevalent in the city comes from the bakeries. Pan de Muertos, or Bread of the Dead, is only eaten in October and November since it’s strongly associated with the celebration. 

A close up view of the Oaxaca Day of the Dead Bread which is decorated with red flowers and the face of a woman.
Central Valley pan de muertos
An overhead shot of pan de muertos which is dome shaped and characterized by bone-like formation with a dusting of sugar on top.
Traditional pan de muertos

There are several varieties of pan de muertos in Mexico. The most well-known is decorated with a bone-like formation across the top and dusted with sugar.

The Central Valleys region is known for pan de yema, or yolk bread. Its name comes from the large number of eggs and egg yolks used in place of other liquids when forming the dough.

The Day of the Dead tradition is to decorate this bread with a small painted face. It is said that the bread itself represents the grave while each face represents a deceased person.

In the Central Valleys region near Oaxaca City, it is a round shape while in the Sierra Sur and La Costa, the pan de muertos takes on the shape of a human figure.

You can find these pan de muertos at bakeries throughout Oaxaca City. Grab a cup of hot coffee or chocolate to enjoy this Day of the Dead tradition.

Oaxaca Day of the Dead Parades

One of the most festive traditions is the Day of the Dead parades in Oaxaca. As I mentioned above, the neighborhood of Jalatlaco is one of the best places to experience a comparsa.

But you should keep your eyes and ears open for a passing parade throughout the city and surrounding small towns. The sounds of a brass band, fireworks, and a crowd of people following the larger than life-sized puppets that lead the way are all signs of a Dia de Muertos parade (and a fun-filled time).

Day of the Dead Face Painting

A woman sits to get her Day of the Dead face painted. Her face is all white with a rainbow of blue yellow and pink around her eyes and pink skeleton-like mouth. In her hair is a purple, pink, and yellow flower headband attached to a small white veil.

Okay, this one is a little controversial because La Catrina was created in the early 1900s as a satire about Mexican society. Thus, painting your face is not a Day of the Dead tradition with a lot of history, but it has become popular with locals and tourists.

If you want to get your face painted during Oaxaca Day of the Dead celebrations, walk along Alcalá (the walking street) south of Santo Domingo Church. There you’ll see lots of artists offering their services.

Although if you want to take it up a notch, I recommend you book this makeup session with a professional photo shoot to go home with a fun keepsake.

To complete the look, you can find marigold flower headbands throughout the city. You’ll find the freshest ones at a flower shop, but there are also vendors selling them on the streets in the center of the city.

While I used to believe you should only attend certain activities with your face painted, I’ve since loosened up on this after hearing opinions from Oaxacans. Nonetheless, I’m most comfortable having my face painted for events such as Day of the Dead parades and the Murteada in Etla rather than inside the cemeteries.

Tips to Celebrate Day of the Dead in Oaxaca

Plan Your Dia de los Muertos Trip in Advance

The best tip I can give you is to plan in advance as much as possible. Oaxaca City has become one of the most popular places to celebrate Día de Muertos in Mexico. Planning early will assure you can reserve the best accommodations and Day of the Dead tours.

With that being said, both times I celebrated Day of the Dead in Oaxaca, I only planned a month or two in advance. If that’s the case, you may just need to be more flexible. I certainly think it’s more important to experience this amazing tradition than make sure everything is perfect.

Book an Authentic Day of the Dead Tour in Oaxaca

If you want to book a tour, one of the biggest tips I have for enjoying this special celebration is to find an authentic Oaxaca Day of the Dead tour.

While you’ll still be an outside observer, a Day of the Dead tour should educate you about the history and traditions as well as expose you to a traditional celebration whether it’s in a local’s home or at a cemetery.

A local guide explains the traditions during a Oaxaca Day of the Dead tour while participants with their faces painted gather around. In front of him is a table of fruit and other items to create an altar.

Be Respectful and Mind Your Alcohol Intake

Day of the Dead is a traditional celebration that truly revolves around family. Oaxacans are incredibly generous and mostly excited to share their traditions with foreigners. However, it’s important to respect the history of Muertos.

Yes, it’s festive. Yes, it’s a celebration. But it’s not an excuse to party and drink excessively. It also makes you vulnerable to potential theft.

Ask Before Taking Someone’s Photo

Day of the Dead in Oaxaca transforms an already picturesque, culturally rich city into a photographer’s paradise. There are vivid scenes everywhere you look. Unless they are participating in a parade or other public event, you should ask before taking someone’s photo.

This is especially true when visiting the cemeteries and with the flower vendors at the mercado. The rounded piles of fresh-cut flowers always draw visitors in. But I’ve seen vendors get upset and turn away from the camera multiple times. Make sure you ask ahead of time. They will often generously agree if you photograph the flowers only.

Final Thoughts on Oaxaca Day of the Dead

Day of the Dead in Oaxaca is an amazing cultural experience. Although its popularity has diluted this family tradition, it is still possible to experience the authentic traditions of Dia de los Muertos.

I can’t stress enough how important it is to observe, participate when appropriate, and reflect upon this unique way to celebrate life and death.