Celebrating Day of the Dead in Oaxaca was a once-in-a-lifetime experience for us! Here’s my detailed guide and a schedule of Dia de los Muertos Oaxaca events.
Dia de los Muertos, Day of the Dead, is undoubtedly one of the best times of the year to visit Mexico. The iconic Mexican holiday is a vibrant celebration of death throughout Mexico — and Oaxaca is lauded as the best place to celebrate it.
Marigold garlands light up the city, elaborate ofrendas (offerings) adorn the shops, and comparsas (parades) take over the streets. In the evening, families gather at the local cemeteries for all-night vigils, chating and eating in their ancestors’ memories.
Mexico City may have the biggest and grandest Dia de los Muertos celebrations in Mexico — but Oaxaca (pronounced ‘wa-ha-kah’) has the most deeply-rooted traditions and time-honored rituals. We loved celebrating Day of the Dead in Mexico City, but we found the Oaxaca celebrations more authentic and spiritual. Here, I’m sharing details on how to plan a trip to Oaxaca at Dia de los Muertos, and what events take place when.
Table of Contents
- Oaxaca Day of the Dead 2023
- What is Dia de los Muertos?
- How is Dia de los Muertos Celebrated?
- Why Celebrate Dia de Muertos in Oaxaca?
- When is Oaxaca Dia de los Muertos?
- How to Get to Oaxaca
- Do You Need to Book a Day of the Dead Tour?
- Mexico Travel Requirements
- Where to Stay in Oaxaca Day of the Dead
- How to Get around Oaxaca
- Is It Safe to Visit Oaxaca for Day of the Dead?
- How to Dress for Dia de Muertos Oaxaca
- Where to Get Face Painted in Oaxaca
- Oaxaca Dia de los Muertos Traditions
- Oaxaca Day of the Dead Events
- 26 Oct: Visit the Cempasúchil Fields
- 27 Oct: Magna Comparsa
- 28 Oct-2 Nov: Megaorfrenda At Zócalo
- 28 Oct-2 Nov: Sand Tapestries
- 27 Oct – 2 Nov: Jalatlaco Festival
- 27 Oct – 2 Nov: Xochimilco Festival
- 28 Oct – 5 Nov: Mitla Festival
- 29 Oct – 2 Nov: Visit Zaachila
- 1 Nov: Visit San Agustin Etla
- 1 & 2 Nov: Visit Cemeteries
- Things to know about Cemetery Visits
- How to Stay Connected in Oaxaca
- Where to eat in Oaxaca
- Best Restaurants in Oaxaca
- Best Rooftop Views in Oaxaca
- Extending Your Stay in Oaxaca
- Final Tips for Oaxaca Day of the Dead
- Enjoy Day of the Dead in Oaxaca!
Oaxaca Day of the Dead 2023
What is Dia de los Muertos?
First of all, let’s understand the history behind Dia de los Muertos. The roots of the Day of the Dead go back some 3,000 years, to the rituals honoring the dead in pre-hispanic Mesoamerica. The Aztecs held a cyclical view of the universe, and saw death as an integral, ever-present part of life.
Over the centuries, the Mexican holiday became more intertwined with Catholic traditions and shortened from a month-long event to a celebration that’s held in Mexico on November 1 (All Saints’ Day) and November 2 (All Souls’ Day). It’s definitely not the “Mexican Halloween.”
The holiday was even added to UNESCO’s list of Intangible Cultural Heritage as “a defining aspect of Mexican culture.” Dia de los Muertos is a part of who the Mexicans are, and remains a part of their tradition for as long as there are Mexicans.
How is Dia de los Muertos Celebrated?
Traditionally, Dia de los Muertos has always been a family affair. Families erect ofrendas (altar offerings) to honor their deceased family members. They then decorate the altar with bright orange marigolds, painted skulls, flickering candles, bottles of tequila and colorful paper cutouts. Every single item holds a meaning (read this guide to Day of the Dead symbols to learn more).
The Day of the Dead celebrations in Mexico have evolved over time — newer Dia de los Muertos celebrations such as street parades and parties have shifted the atmosphere of the holiday away from something quiet. At any time of the day, you’ll find parades and marching bands blaring their trumpets and guitars all over Oaxaca. At night, sparkling fireworks summon bystanders to join the party.
Despite the raucous parties and street parades, Day of the Dead in Oaxaca is still very much centered on the family. The holiday’s traditions are alive within their homes, with families gathering together to honor and celebrate their loved ones over music, food and drinks.
Why Celebrate Dia de Muertos in Oaxaca?
A bastion of indigenous culture, culturally-rich Oaxaca City (pronounced “wa-HA-ka”) is home to Mexico’s most colorful traditions, most vibrant art scene, and a unique cuisine unlike that of anywhere else in the country. It’s one of the best places to celebrate Day of the Dead, as its celebrations are more spiritual, intimate and deeply-rooted in traditions.
In recent years, more and more travelers are flocking to join Oaxaca Day of the Dead celebrations. Sadly, this also means that airfares and hotel prices are higher than ever, and accommodations get fully booked months in advance. You’ll also need to prepare for the overwhelming amount of tourists wherever you go.
We have also celebrated Day of the Dead in Mexico City and had an equally amazing time! Everything is bigger in Mexico City in terms of the scale of parades, ofrendas and cemetery gatherings. In comparison with Oaxaca, there are more celebrations in every corner, but they are also less traditional and more carnival-like.
*Oaxaca is a popular place to visit for Dia de Muertos. I would recommend booking your flights and accommodation as early as April or May. [Check out my 10-day Oaxaca itinerary.]
When is Oaxaca Dia de los Muertos?
Oaxaca Day of the Dead can be a week-long affair. I suggest arriving around 26 October and staying till 2 November. That way, you’ll have enough time to see all of Oaxaca attractions, join in the events and do some day trips from Oaxaca.
The highlight of the festivities in Oaxaca is undoubtedly the Magna Comparsa, the biggest parade that takes place through the historic center. Last year, it was held on Thursday 27 October 2022 at 5pm. Definitely come early, so you don’t miss that. Skip to the events schedule.
Throughout the week, there will be non-stop events happening all over Oaxaca, from parades to street parties, outdoor markets, display of mega ofrendas, and food festivals. Scroll down to see the detailed schedule of events.
The main days of the festival are:
- October 31 — All Saints’ Eve; it’s traditional to visit cemeteries and family graves. The spirits of little children, angelitos, are believed to return this first night and spend the next day with their families.
- November 1 — All Saints’ Day, celebrated again at cemeteries, parades and other festivities. Many believe that this is the night that adult spirits return.
- November 2 — All Souls’ Day, generally a quieter day of celebrations, but again people visit cemeteries.
How to Get to Oaxaca
The most convenient way to get to Oaxaca is by flying into the Oaxaca International Airport (OAX), located just outside of the city. The small airport serves mainly domestic destinations (Mexico City, Guadalajara, Monterrey), but also has flights from Los Angeles, Houston and Dallas.
Flights to Oaxaca are using higher than normal during Day of the Dead due to the higher demand. Direct flights from Los Angeles to Oaxaca cost around US$300-400 return. Flights from Mexico City to Oaxaca cost only $50 return(1hour). Budget travelers can also just take a bus from the Terminal de Autobuses del Sur in Mexico City to Oaxaca; it takes 6-7 hours depending on traffic. Pre-book your bus tickets here.
The fastest way to get from the airport to the city is to book a transfer. You can also take the colectivo (small, shared van) for $3-5 right outside Oaxaca Airport. Once there, pick up a brochure with the festival schedule at a tourist booth (there will be booths all over town, the most obvious one is in front of the Santo Domingo Church).
Do You Need to Book a Day of the Dead Tour?
Oaxaca Day of the Dead celebrations can be fun and lively, but also hectic and intense. If you don’t do well with crowds or you’re not a confident traveler, your best bet is to book a group tour. They will take care of the logistics and the local guide can give you a great overview of Dia de Muertos traditions.
We didn’t book a tour, and we went to all the events and cemeteries mentioned in this article ourselves. It easy to drive or take a taxi. But for solo travelers who don’t speak Spanish, it might be wise (and more fun!) to join a group.
- 28Oct – 3Nov: Dead of the Dead Tour by G Adventures — For a full experience, join this Dia de los Muertos Oaxaca tour for 7 days and experience all the events I mentioned above with a guide and small group.
- 31 Oct or 1 Nov: Day of the Dead Tour in Oaxaca — Prefer just a day tour? This daytrip lets you join in a family celebration and brings you to the town of San Agustin Etla.
- 31 Oct or 1 Nov: Day of the Dead Tour in Oaxaca — This tour brings you to Jalatlaco and three different cemeteries, including the famous one in Xoxocotlan.
Mexico Travel Requirements
- Mexico has no travel restrictions, and there’s no need for proof of vaccine or PCR tests on the plane. Anyone is welcomed to travel to Mexico.
- However, I always recommend travelers to buy travel insurance, whether you’re traveling for a year or a week. These days, it is particularly important to have travel insurance that covers COVID-19. Read my travel insurance guide.
- Safety Wing is the most popular travel insurance company for COVID19-coverage. I use their Nomad Insurance plan, which covers COVID-19 as any other illness as long as it was not contracted before your coverage start date.
Where to Stay in Oaxaca Day of the Dead
Oaxaca’s Centro Histórico (historic center) is a convenient location to stay, as most attractions, events and the parade take place here. But hotels get fully booked fast so reserve early! Jalatlaco and Xochimilco, two of the oldest districts just outside of the historic center, are also great areas to stay and there’ll be lots of festivities there too.
Luxury: Parador San Miguel Oaxaca
This historic hotel, housed in a restored 16th-century mansion, is a true icon of Oaxaca City. The rooms are spacious and elegantly decorated, with antique furnishings and traditional artwork. The hotel also boasts a beautiful courtyard and rooftop terrace. Check rates here.
Luxury: Hacienda Los Laureles
Located just outside of the city, Hacienda Los Laureles is a peaceful oasis surrounded by lush gardens and fruit trees. Cool whitewashed walls, terracotta floors, and wrought-iron furniture lend a rustic authenticity. Check rates here.
Mid Range: Hotel Azul de Oaxaca
We stayed at this beautiful boutique hotel with a central but quiet location. The stylish and modern hotel with a focus on sustainability and local art. The rooms are bright and colorful, and the hotel’s restaurant is known for its innovative takes on traditional Oaxacan cuisine. Check rates.
Mid Range: Hotel Casa Antigua
Just 2 blocks from the central Zócalo Square, Hotel Casa Antigua is a restored 19th-century house with a traditional central courtyard. The hotel’s rooftop restaurant serves delicious breakfasts and dinners using fresh, locally sourced ingredients. Most things to do in Oaxaca are steps from this hotel. Check rates here.
Budget: Paulina Youth Hostel
A great budget option for travelers looking for a clean and comfortable place to stay in Oaxaca. Located in the heart of the historic center, the hostel offers private rooms and dorms at very affordable rates. Check rates.
How to Get around Oaxaca
Oaxaca gets crowded during the Day of the Dead, so expect crazy traffic in many parts of the city! If you’re staying in Oaxaca’s historic center, you can get around mostly on foot. Many Oaxaca attractions are within walking distance of each other.
I recommend hiring a car only if you intend to do a Oaxaca road trip and explore the coast. Once outside of the city, it’s relatively easy to drive. We rented a car for our entire 10 days in Oaxaca, but hardly used it in the city as we walked everywhere. An economy rental car in Oaxaca costs around $100 for a whole week, which is less than $20 a day.
For day trips, we usually took our rental car and we had no issues. If you’re not driving, a taxi ride doesn’t usually cost more than $10.
Is It Safe to Visit Oaxaca for Day of the Dead?
Oaxaca is generally considered a safe destination for travelers. According to Mexico’s National Institute of Statistics and Geography, the state of Oaxaca had a homicide rate of 8.6 per 100,000 inhabitants in 2022, lower than the national average. The state government also reports that the number of homicides decreased by 33% from 2021 to 2022.
My husband, daughter and I all felt super safe in Oaxaca and had no security issues at all. Yes it was crowded everywhere in the city throughout Day of the Dead; but we kept our belongings close to us, brought minimal cash with us, and had no problems. Of course, we avoided seedy areas, and we weren’t hanging out late at night or getting drunk on the streets.
All in all, stick to the tourist areas and you’ll be fine (that means centro historico, Jalatlaco, and Xochimilco).
How to Dress for Dia de Muertos Oaxaca
Everywhere you go in Oaxaca during the Day of the Dead, you’ll see people dressed like La Catrina, an iconic character made famous by artist Jose Guadalupe Posada to bring elegance and a sense of aristocracy to the celebration. These days, the classy skeleton lady has become the symbol of Dia de los Muertos.
As mentioned, Dia de los Muertos is not the Mexican Halloween — please leave your sexy nurse or superhero costumes at home! Most people wear black dresses or simple Mexican embroidered floral dresses. You can find them at Mercado Benito Juarez for cheap. I got my black off-shoulder Mexican top for just $5 and my daughter’s dress for $15.
Keep in mind that Oaxaca gets chilly in the evenings at this time of the year. It will be dry, warm during the day, but the temperature drops once the sun sets. So pack jeans and a sweater or light jacket for night time.
Where to Get Face Painted in Oaxaca
Many people will get their faces painted to resemble la Catrina, one of the symbols of Dia de los Muertos. I checked with many locals, and they confirmed that it’s not rude/disrespectful to wear facepainting in the cemeteries either.
There are tons of makeup artists with temporary stands everywhere. A face paint costs around 100 – 150 MXN ($5-7.5) and takes 10-20 minutes. We got our faces painted in front of Templo Santo Domingo and another time at the Panteon Xoxo. They usually have a book of designs to choose from, or you can show them what you want on your phone.
To complete the look, you can also get flower crown headbands from these street vendors. Most are inexpensive, at around 100-200 MXN ($5-10).
Oaxaca Dia de los Muertos Traditions
To get you acquainted with Dia de los Muertos terminology, here’s a list of traditions that are commonly practiced during this holiday.
- Calaveras — Skulls are ubiquitous during Day of the Dead. The skulls are often drawn with a smile as to laugh at death itself.
- La Catrina — An emblematic character that represents Dia de Muertos. She’s a classy skeletal lady created by Jose Guadalupe Posada in order to bring elegance and a sense of aristocracy to the celebration.
- Alebrijes — Brightly colored Mexican folk art sculptures of fantastical (fantasy/mythical) creatures. In Mexico, they’re considered the creatures from the realm of the dead.
- Ofrendas — Altar offerings that every family in Mexico sets up in their home for the dead. The altar usually includes photos of deceased family members, their favorite food, candles, copal and marigold flowers.
- Sugar Skulls — The quintessential Day of the Dead treat. This water and sugar based treat represents the merging of Pre Hispanic culture with the Spanish custom of molding.
- Pan de Muertos — Another traditional Dia de Muertos treat, this is a sweetened soft bun decorated with bone-shaped phalanges pieces. The bones represent the deceased, and they’re represented in a circle to portray the circle of life.
- Cempasuchil — Iconic orange marigold flowers that adorn every altar on the Day of Dead. Their petals are laid out as walkways for the dead to find their way on earth so they may be reunited with their loved ones.
- Papel Picado — A colorful string of flags that lights up a room or a whole street. It’s made up of fine color paper cuttings, showing images associated with the Day of the Dead.
Oaxaca Day of the Dead Events
There are so many Oaxaca Day of the Dead events that you’ll need to spend at least 1 week in Oaxaca City to experience them all. We spent 10 days in Oaxaca and the coast and still wished we had more time!
Try to arrive in Oaxaca as early as 26 October, as you’ll get to see preparations for the holidays underway. In 2022, the biggest event, Magna Comparsa, took place on 27 October! I recommend staying until 2 November.
There are tourist booths all over town with brochures of the event schedules (the most obvious one is in front of Santo Domingo). Also, check out this Oaxaca events site and join this Oaxaca Day of the Dead Facebook group to find info on the latest events. *Event announcements are usually made in October. Check back often for latest updates.
26 Oct: Visit the Cempasúchil Fields
Before the Oaxaca Day of the Dead celebrations officially begin, head out to the gorgeous cempasúchil (marigold) fields surrounding Oaxaca to see them at full bloom. They are usually planted in June/July and the flowers bloom only in October/November.
These iconic flowers are the representation of Dia de Muertos and can be seen on every altar. Also called “flor de Muerto” (Spanish for flower of the dead), cempasúchil symbolizes the beauty and fragility of life. Prized for their bright coloring and potent fragrance, marigolds are thought to attract the souls of the dead to the ofrendas prepared for them.
We visited the Cultivos del Viejo farm in Zimatlán del Alvarez, a 45-minute drive from Oaxaca centro. The plantation accepts donations if you’d to come in and walk in the fields (just be respectful). You can also see the unique cresta de gallo (crested cock’s-comb) with its red velvety flowers and edible leaves.
When: 9am to 2pm
Where: Cultivos del Viejo, Zimatlán del Alvarez
Cost: A small donation of 20-50 pesos
27 Oct: Magna Comparsa
During Day of the Dead in Oaxaca, you’ll find plenty of comparsas throughout the historic center. A comparsa is a small parade with people dressed in costumes, performers dancing, and bands marching through the streets. These parades symbolizing the return of the dead. They begin at one home and they wait for the dead to join them, and later converge in streets.
The biggest comparsa of all is the Magna Comparsa (meaning ‘Grand Parade’). It’s the main event in downtown Oaxaca and it’s the first official parade to open the Day of the Dead holiday. Last year, it took place on 27th Oct 5pm in the historic center.
Where: Parque Llano -> Avenida Juárez -> Humboldt -> Plaza de la Danza
28 Oct-2 Nov: Megaorfrenda At Zócalo
28th Oct kick starts the Oaxaca Day of the Dead celebrations at the Zocalo (main square). Here’s where you’ll find the biggest ofrenda in Oaxaca, as well as concerts, food markets and exhibitions. Also at the Zocalo are sculptures of alebrijes animals and La Catrina on display. Check out the program here.
When: 12pm to 8pm
28 Oct-2 Nov: Sand Tapestries
Plaza de la Danza is another major square in Oaxaca City where massive tapetes de arena (sand carpets) are on display. At the end of the Day of the Dead celebrations, judges will decide which sand carpet is the winner of the competition. The Magna Comparsa ends here at Plaza de la Danza, making it an important spot for the Oaxaca Day of the Dead festivities.
When: 9am to 6pm
Where: Plaza de la Danza
27 Oct – 2 Nov: Jalatlaco Festival
Each neighborhood will have its own Dia de Muertos program and events too. You’ll find lots of activities in the bohemian borough of Jalatlaco (to the east of the historic center), which is now the hippest part of town. Murals are painted with Dia de Muertos theme, colorful papel picados (flags) hang overhead, while comparsas take over the streets. Most events take place around Jalatlaco is at Templo de San Matías.
When: 5pm to late
Where: Templo de San Matías Jalatlaco
27 Oct – 2 Nov: Xochimilco Festival
To the north of the historic center (across the highway)in Xochimilco, the oldest neighborhood in Oaxaca, there are also plenty of events. Throughout the week, you’ll find markets selling pan de muertos, altar competitions, bike parades and even kids-themed parades.
Here are some events in Xochimilco:
- 28 Oct 6pm: First family-themed comparsa
- 29 Oct 7pm: Bike parade “The dead roam on bicycles”
- 29 Oct 8pm: A Catrina theater show at the Templo de San Tomás Xochimilco
- 31 Oct 5pm: Festival of Terror
- 31 Oct 7pm: Cemetery vigil at the Panteon Xochimilco
- 1 Nov 430pm: A kids comparsa (our daughter loved it!)
28 Oct – 5 Nov: Mitla Festival
If you’re taking a day trip to Hierve el Agua, be sure to drop by the town of Mitla. It’s mostly famous for the archaeological site characterized by intricate geometric patterns and designs carved into the stone walls.
But Mitla is also one of the most popular places to visit in Oaxaca at Day of the Dead as its name is derived from the Nahuatl word, Mictlán which means “place of the dead,”. It was considered the place where souls go to rest in the afterlife.
Right outside the archaeological site is a big market where handmade crafts and textiles are on sale. This is where most of the major events in Mitla take place. Here are some highlights:
- 28 Oct 11am: Sand tapestry display
- 30 Oct 7am: “Ruta de los Muertos” half-marathon
- 31 Oct 8pm: Dance performance at the Casa de la Cultura
- 1 Nov: Visiting the cemetery of Mitla
- 3 Nov 5pm: Traditional comparsa through the city’s main streets
29 Oct – 2 Nov: Visit Zaachila
The villages in the Central Valleys of Oaxaca have a long history of celebrating the dead with colorful tapetes de arena. They represent a path for the spirits to find their way from the cemetery back to their family’s home. Depending on the town, they are created nine days, forty days, and one year after the death of a loved one.
The most famous ones are found in Zaachila, along Calle Coquiza which leads from the cemetery to the church. It’s a spectacular sight as the whole road is closed and the sand tapestry spreads the entire length of the road. But the sand tapestry here is created only a day or two before the Day of the Dead, so try to come only on 1 or 2 Nov.
1 Nov: Visit San Agustin Etla
At night, head out to the town of San Agustin Etla, about a half hour from Oaxaca City by taxi, for the craziest Dia de los Muertos festivities. Join this group tour if you prefer to have company. The Day of the Dead celebration in San Augustín Etla is like no other!
On November 1, the indigenous communities in Etla march through the streets of the town all night with drums and trumpets. These comparsas (known as muerteadas) begin at one home, where the musicians and characters are offered food and drinks while they wait for the dead to join them.
1 & 2 Nov: Visit Cemeteries
Oaxaca Day of the Dead celebrations culminate at the cemetery. On the last two days of the Dia de Muertos, you’ll find the cemeteries at their most festive as families gather to celebrate the dead. They’ll often decorate the panteon (cemetery) with marigold flowers, candles, and food — sometimes they play music, enjoy food and drinks here all through the night.
The Panteon General is an easily accessible one from the center, but the most famous cemetery at Dia de los Muertos in Oaxaca is in Santa Cruz Xococotlán. Panteon Xoxo (15 minutes away) has vibrant Day of the Dead celebrations and it gets packed with families throughout the holiday. If you’d rather join a group, this night tour will bring you there and allow you to join the celebrations in a respectful manner.
In 2022, there was an all-night vigil at Panteon Xoxo, with a fairground and huge stage set up outside and performances taking place from 8pm onwards. It was such a surreal experience wandering the cemetery amidst the candlelight, basking in the spiritual yet lively atmosphere. Amidst the flickering candles and burning incense, families played music, ate food and drank in memory of their loved ones.
Things to know about Cemetery Visits
To prevent overcrowding, the cemeteries in Oaxaca are opened at different times. Some will be opened for limited time only or have limited capacity. Last year, these were the opening times of the cemeteries in Oaxaca:
- Panteon General: 7am to 8pm
- Panteon Xoxocotlan: 7am to 12am
- Barrio de Xochimilco: 7am to 11pm
- Panteon Jardin: 7am to 6pm
- Panteon Marquesado: 7am to 6pm
- Panteon San Miguel: Closed for tourism
It’s important to remember that you’re at a burial site. Even though the atmosphere in the cemeteries is lively and festive, remember to be respectful. Don’t touch any of the graves or displays, and don’t sit on them.
How to Stay Connected in Oaxaca
Internet in Oaxaca is pretty decent, and you can get WiFi in most hotels and guesthouses. To get internet on the go, I recommend getting an eSIM before traveling. With a Mexico eSIM (digital SIM card), you can toss out your physical cards and simply activate it on your phone through an app! I have bought many eSIMs on Airalo and they have all worked perfectly. Airalo is the world’s first eSIM store. Check out Airalo’s Mexican eSIMs.
You can also get a SIM card at the airport upon arrival or at any OXXO shop in Mexico. A SIM card itself costs between 29 and 149 pesos (around $1-6 USD). You can get 3GB of data valid for 30 days on the sin limite plan (unlimited) for 200 pesos (~8 USD.) That will also give you unlimited calls, texts, and most social media within North America.
Read my guide on how to get a SIM card in Mexico.
Where to eat in Oaxaca
Oaxaca’s biggest appeal is its food. Oaxacan food is known for being unique and completely distinctive from other Mexican cuisine. The largest markets in Oaxaca City are Mercado de Benito Juárez and Mercado 20 de Noviembre just to the south of the historic center (the two almost merge together) and both offer senses-assaulting experiences.
Benito Juárez has almost anything you could ever need – from artisan goods to electronic accessories – but I recommend Mercado 20 de Noviembre for their taco stands and bakeries. This is the best place to buy some pan de muerto (skull-shaped bread pictured below) and get a traditional Mexican breakfast.
Meat lovers should head straight to the Pasillo de Humo (Smoke Alley) at the eastern entrance of Mercado 20 de Noviembre. Stall after stall of meat vendors serve up succulent meat, grills blazing and smoke billowing out. The most common meats here are tasajo (thinly sliced beef), arrachera (steak), costilla (pork ribs) and chorizo (spicy sausage). They’re all good and portions are huge!
Best Restaurants in Oaxaca
Oaxaca is a culinary powerhouse, and you can have an equally amazing experience eating at a street-side stand as you would at a fine dining establishment. But the best restaurants in Oaxaca get booked up quickly during Dia de los Muertos, so make sure to reserve a table in advance.
Tlayudas Libres Doña Martha
One of the best things to do in Oaxaca is eating street food. This streetside stand on Calle de los Libres has a loyal following. Their tlayudas sizzle with pork lard and drip with the perfect combination of melted Oaxacan cheese and grilled meat. Find its location here.
Itanoní Flor del Maiz
One of the best places in Oaxaca for a rustic and genuine culinary experience. The setup is humble with women cooking over the comal (flat metal pan), and serving up memelas made with heirloom-corn tortillas, rich pozole and a three-chile mole. Read reviews.
With locations in Oaxaca City and nearby San Agustin Etla, Los Danzantes is a popular restaurant and mezcal distillery that serves contemporary Mexican dishes with unique Oaxacan flavors. Its gorgeous setting right next to Templo de Santo Domingo makes it a hot favorite. Book your table here.
Ancestral Cocina Tradicional
This restaurant in Xochimilco serves reinvented Oaxacan dishes, prepared with locally grown produce and ingredients in a beautiful setting. In 2021 and again in 2022, the restaurant was recognized by the the Mexico Gastronomic Guide of Culinary Mexicana as one of the 250 top and best restaurants in Mexico. Book our table.
Las Quince Letras
Las Quince Letras is one of our favorite places to eat at in Oaxaca for the traditional menu and surprisingly good prices. The proudly Oaxacan restaurant is famous for its seven moles. You can even try 2/3 moles at once with their duo/triologia de moles.
Best Rooftop Views in Oaxaca
If crowded places scare you, head up to the rooftop bars in Oaxaca’s historic center for some respite (and great views!). These rooftop restaurants get fully booked for Dia de Muertos, so be sure to call and reserve a table months in advance.
Most rooftop bars are concentrated along Calle de Ignacio Allende, where you can take in sweeping views of the Templo de Santo Domingo and the comparsas happening on the streets.
- Praga Oaxaca — A small but stylish rooftop bar with sexy cocktails and a botaca oaxaqueña (snack platter) worth trying!
- Terraza los Amantes — This next-door rooftop bar is bigger and more stylish, and also more expensive.
- Gozobi — This colorful and eclectic restaurant has a huge rooftop and well-priced contemporary Mexican menu. We had dinner here on our last night and loved the grilled octopus in black squid ink and seafood risotto.
- Mezcalerita — A famous mezcal bar with a rooftop terrace that’s got more of a convivial party atmosphere than a formal dining one.
Extending Your Stay in Oaxaca
It’ll be a waste to come to Oaxaca and not travel around the state! The southern Mexican state is so diverse that you can drive from one end to another, and feel like you’ve traveled across continents. If you have the time, I highly recommend extending your trip to explore the Oaxacan coast and Sierra Madre del Sur mountains.
On our Oaxaca road trip, we spent 5 days in Oaxaca city and 5 days traveling around the state. We arrived a few days before Dia de Muertos and did day trips to Hierve el Agua and the Monte Alban pyramids. After the Oaxaca Day of the Dead celebrations ended, we drove out to San Jose del Pacifico for a day in the woods and eventually traversed the Oaxacan coast all the way to Puerto Escondido.
Check out our 10-day Oaxaca itinerary. The road trip gave us an opportunity to pack in a good mixture of culture, nature and adventure into one trip. If you only have time for the city, refer to my full list of things to do in Oaxaca City.
Final Tips for Oaxaca Day of the Dead
- Book your hotels in Oaxaca early and reserve Day of the Dead group tours in advance.
- Whether you are traveling Oaxaca for a week or a year, I highly recommend getting travel insurance. You never know what will happen, plus you’ll get compensated for things like flight cancellations, delays, loss of luggage and other incidents. Read my travel insurance guide.
- Be respectful of the Oaxaca Day of the Dead celebrations. This Mexican holiday celebrates the deceased with centuries-old traditions. Have fun and join in the celebrations, but don’t get drunk or high on the streets.
- Dia de Muertos is not a version of Halloween, so please do not wear sexy superhero costumes. Read this section on how to dress for Dia de Muertos in Oaxaca.
- Tourists are welcome to visit the cemeteries during Day of the Dead, but please do not touch anything on the altars or sit on tombstones.
- Avoid taking photos of people, or ask for permission before taking. Do not use flash at night.
- Cash is king in Oaxaca, so carry cash with you at all times. Only nice restaurants and hotels will accept cards.
Enjoy Day of the Dead in Oaxaca!
I hope this guide to the Oaxaca Day of the Dead celebrations has given you a good idea of what to expect. Oaxaca is definitely one of the best places to celebrate Day of the Dead and being part of the celebrations is a deeply immersive cultural experience.
I have also written a more comprehensive guide to Day of the Dead in Mexico as well as a specific post on Day of the Dead in Mexico City. Let me know if you have any questions in the comments field below.
For those who are planning to travel more of Mexico, check out other articles I’ve written on Mexico:
- Day of the Dead in Mexico Ultimate Guide
- Day of the Dead in Mexico City
- Day of the Dead Symbols & Traditions
- Best Places to Celebrate Day of the Dead
- Who is the Day of the Dead Catrina?
- What are Alebrijes?
- Oaxaca Road Trip: My 10-Day Oaxaca Itinerary
- 30 Cool Things to Do in Oaxaca City
Disclaimer: This post contains affiliate links i.e. if you book a stay through one of my links, I get a small commission at NO EXTRA COST to you. Thank you for your support!
Inspired? Pin it!