Day of the Dead in Oaxaca, Mexico – A Personalize Guide

The Day of the Dead, or Dia de los Muertos, holds a special place in my heart, especially after visiting Oaxaca in late October and experiencing its vibrant colors, art, and celebrations firsthand. The bonus is that this vacation comes with rich memories, colorful pictures and is surprisingly affordable.

In this comprehensive guide, let’s walk you through planning a successful trip to Oaxaca for Day of the Dead 2024 and beyond.

From accommodations to dining options and respectful celebration tips, everything is based on my personal experiences.

For additional insights, you might also enjoy my lists of must-do activities in Oaxaca and some of the photo spots in town.

Why Experience the Day of the Dead in Mexico?

Visiting during the weeks leading up to the Day of the Dead in Oaxaca is a must. As one of the top three most celebrated events in the country and the world, the festive atmosphere is palpable. Despite crowded streets (or because to them), the unique magic of this celebration makes it a bucket-list-worthy experience.

Unlike Halloween and All Souls’ Day, Mexico’s Day of the Dead is a joyous multi-day event where families gather to honor and remember their deceased loved ones.

The Day of the Dead, or Dia de los Muertos, is a vibrant Mexican tradition dedicated to honoring and celebrating deceased loved ones. This festive and colorful event showcases Mexico’s unique fusion of indigenous and Catholic customs. Held from October 31st to November 2nd, the celebration is rich with various rituals and traditions.

Ofrendas (Altars)
Families set up elaborate altars called ofrendas, decorated with photographs, favorite foods, and mementos of the deceased. These altars are meant to welcome and honor the spirits of the departed.

Calaveras (Sugar Skulls)
Intricately decorated sugar skulls, or calaveras, are a signature feature of Dia de los Muertos. They are often exchanged as gifts or placed on ofrendas.

The bright orange marigold flowers, known as cempasúchil, are ubiquitous during the celebration and are believed to guide the souls of the dead to the altars.

Elaborately adorned skeletons known as Catrinas are a key symbol of the Day of the Dead. People often dress as Catrinas during parades and festivities.

Traditional Foods
Traditional Mexican foods, such as tamales, pan de muerto (bread of the dead), and mole, are prepared and shared among families during the celebration.

Top Destinations for the Day of the Dead in Mexico

While the Day of the Dead is celebrated throughout Mexico, certain locations stand out for their vibrant festivities. Each city has its traditions and flavors and various vacation costs, from luxurious to surprisingly affordable.

The best places to experience this event include:

  • Mexico City
  • Oaxaca de Juárez (and nearby towns)
  • Janitzio Island at Lake Patzcuaro in Michoacán
  • Guanajuato City
  • San Miguel de Allende in Guanajuato state.

Oaxaca vs. Mexico City for Day of the Dead

Mexico City offers a fantastic Day of the Dead experience, but in my opinion, Oaxaca is unparalleled.

There are many celebrations throughout the country’s capital, Mexico City. The crowds are much bigger, and traffic is a lot to contend with if you want to try various locations for festivals.

In Oaxaca, the main streets are closed for the celebration, and there is much to enjoy on foot. The city turns itself over entirely to the celebration but gives easy access to hotels, restaurants, and other businesses.

Why Choose Oaxaca for the Day of the Dead?

Having celebrated Day of the Dead in Mexico City and Oaxaca de Juárez, I can confidently say Oaxaca is unmatched. While Playa del Carmen’s celebrations were limited to a few nights, Oaxaca transforms entirely, with streets adorned in flowers and nearly every establishment setting up altars (ofrendas) to honor the dead.

Oaxaca’s festivities start unofficially in late October and peak in early November, lasting nearly two weeks. The city’s immersive celebrations are something you won’t want to miss.

How the Day of the Dead is Celebrated in Oaxaca

Though a local’s perspective is invaluable, my time in Oaxaca gave me deep insights into this celebration. As an American living in Mexico, I was invited to a family’s home during the Day of the Dead, where we shared meals and witnessed their family altar. This profound experience underscored the festivity’s significance.

I’ve compiled a list of key events and traditions to help you understand and appreciate the celebrations while being respectful.

Must-See Events and Activities in Oaxaca During Day of the Dead

During the main week of celebrations, you’ll encounter numerous traditions and events, with comparsas (parades) being my favorite. You’ll hear firecrackers, see calendas (street processions), visit cemeteries with offerings, see local art, and enjoy parades throughout different neighborhoods.

Oaxaca’s festivities honor the deceased and celebrate life, creating a unique, joyous atmosphere.

Oaxaca Day of the Dead Tours

Participate in the rich traditions of Day of the Dead by joining a local tour led by experts. These tours offer a deep dive into the history and mysticism of the celebration, providing a fuller understanding of the culture.

When you visit Oaxaca, you can also visit nearby villages that celebrate the season and have unique artisan focuses, such as natural textiles and dyes or the famous detailed hand-painted animals.

Admiring Ofrendas and Altars

One of the most beautiful aspects of Day of the Dead is the altars, which can be found city-wide. These elaborate shrines feature offerings, photos, candles, and marigold flowers, reflecting the departed’s favorite items. Post-celebration, families often consume the food from the altars as part of the ritual.

Visiting Local Cemeteries

Witnessing the scenes in Oaxaca’s cemeteries during the Day of the Dead is deeply moving. Although some cemeteries were closed due to COVID-19 in 2021, I recommend visiting the following:

  • San Miguel Cemetery (Oaxaca’s General Cemetery)
  • San Felipe Cemetery near Oaxaca Centro
  • Panteón Viejo and Panteón Nuevo in Xoxocotlan
  • Panteón at San Agustin Etla
  • Panteón at Santa Maria Atzompa

Enjoying Day of the Dead Street Art

Oaxaca transforms with new street art celebrating the Day of the Dead in Oaxaca. The city comes alive with festive colors and creative expressions, enhancing the celebratory atmosphere.

Joining Comparsas

Comparsas, or parades, are a highlight. Local bands march through neighborhoods, playing music and inviting people to join in. These lively events can last for hours and are an incredible way to immerse yourself in the festivities.

Travel Tips for the Day of the Dead in Oaxaca

Due to high demand, planning is crucial. Book accommodations and tours in advance, and make restaurant reservations a few weeks before your trip. Here are some additional tips:


  • Arrive at least a week before November 1st
  • Stay in Oaxaca Centro or a satellite hotel
  • Engage respectfully with locals about the celebration
  • Participate in events and parades
  • Visit cemeteries (if permitted) and surrounding towns
  • Secure a local tour guide for all your adventures outside of town
  • Take a local cooking class
  • Purchase marigolds from local markets
  • Try traditional foods like pan de muerto
  • Tip in bars and restaurants (10-20%)
  • Carry cash, as cards are not widely accepted


  • Avoid drinking in cemeteries
  • Refrain from using flash photography in cemeteries and always ask for permission before taking photos
  • Don’t touch altars
  • Respect the cultural significance
  • Avoid dressing as you would for Halloween

Where to Stay for the Day of the Dead in Oaxaca

For the best experience, stay in Oaxaca Centro or the Jalatlaco neighborhood. Here are some accommodation options from budget to high-end:

  • Selina Oaxaca (hostel with co-working spaces)
  • Casa Angel Hostel (top-rated hostel in Centro)
  • Las Mariposas Eco-Hotel & Studios (sustainable hotel in Centro)
  • Casa Carlota (unique style and rooftop)
  • Casa de las Bugambilias B&B (Oaxacan-style hotel in Centro)
  • Boulenc Bed & Bread (modern, minimalist hotel)
  • Casa de Sierra Azul (Hacienda-inspired hotel)
  • Quinta Real Oaxaca (historic hotel in a former convent)

Best Food in Oaxaca During Day of the Dead

Oaxaca is a food lover’s paradise. Don’t leave without trying tlayudas, memelas, mole, tortas, tacos, café de olla, tejate, mezcal, and street food. During Day of the Dead, be sure to taste the special bread, pan de muerto.

Top Tours in Oaxaca

Explore the best of Oaxaca with these recommended tours, which include mezcal tastings at family-owned palenques, animal painting, black pottery and traditional textile workshops.


Day of the Dead in Oaxaca is an unforgettable experience, blending vibrant traditions with deep cultural significance. Plan ahead, immerse yourself in the celebrations, and enjoy the magic of this unique festivity.

At Fox Travel Texas, we have been booking travel for our clients for over 30 years. We are Mexico experts too! Let us set up your Oaxaca Day of The Dead vacation at no additional cost and take the guesswork out of planning. We’ve been there!

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