Ok so lately I haven’t been doing as much research about the places I go. Fuck it! I’m trying to let things unfold organically and just go with the flow. Less Stressful. I like to tell myself. So I only googled ‘dia de los muertos oaxaca’ a few times before my trip. Not much came up, but I thought I had a basic idea of what I was getting in to. Turns out I did not. Have any idea what I was getting in to. I like solo independent travel. No groups, no tours. Authentic experiences only. Well in Oaxaca over dia de muertos those are REALLY hard to come by.
The hotel I stayed at had a tour desk offering Dia de Muertos tours. (It’s Dia de Muertos FYI…not Dia de los Muertos). I didn’t inquire because, like I said, I’m not a tour person. I thought I could do it on my own and I wanted an authentic experience. But once you get there you realize the area you’re dealing with is large and spread out. There are a shit ton of villages and there’s a lot going on. But nobody seems to know exactly what is going on where and when. So there’s no fucking way in hell you’re gonna be able to have an authentic experience on your own unless you speak to EVERY single taxi driver/person you see and ask if they know what celebrations are happening that night. See if you can get a general consensus and use that info to plan each night.
The celebrations start on October 31st and go through November 3rd or 4th depending on what village. There are a few very popular ones that you will hear about that are supposed to be ‘the best’ (like Xoxocotlan), but EVERY village has a celebration and there are a million villages so there not only are a shit ton of options, but there is quite a bit you will miss out on. And BTW Xoxocotlan is a shit show. Tours go to it. It’s VERY well decorated, but there’s a million people. I went by myself. Took a taxi that told me I’d be fucked on the way home ’cause there aren’t any taxis out there. So I panicked and rushed through the old cemetery (there’s an old one and a new one – which I completely forgot) before I was stranded in Xoxo all night. before Only to find out it was all LIES! I asked a vendor and they told me there were group taxis (different than the yellow ones) around the corner and I got back to Oaxaca just fine around midnight. The other place that celebrates on October 31st is Atzompa. But in my panic about getting stranded in the middle of nowhere I forgot to write that down and missed out on that one. Damnit! Next time.
The next few nights were spent following a list that I found on line that listed a few other villages that celebrated on different days. The list was wrong. I took taxis to various villages and each one was a bust. The celebration was either the night before or the night after. But after that happened on November 2nd my taxi driver took me about 35 miles outside of Oaxaca center to a random village that was having their comparsa (village parade that lasts all night) which was absolutely amazing. I spend all night driving from village to village taking part in any comparsas we could find. It was an amazing experience. One that I will never forget.
And forget about asking at the ‘Tourist’ kiosks. They have pamphlets for the activities happening in town that are geared toward the 50/60/70 year old crowd that’s in town for the holiday. There wasn’t a single thing on their pamphlet that seemed authentic or was something I’d be interested in.
So short story boring. If you wanna do Dia de Muertos independently:
++Pretend you want to go on a tour and ask about which cemeteries they go to THAT night. Then…
++Find a reliable taxi to take you, wait, and drive you around all night. – BE CAREFUL WITH THIS ONE. I HAD VERY GOOD LUCK, BUT I DID MEET 2 YOUNG KIDS WHO’S TAXI THAT WAS SUPPOSED TO RETURN TO GET THEM NEVER CAME. IF I HADN’T HAVE COME ALONG THEY WOULD HAVE SPENT THE NIGHT ON THE SIDE OF A RURAL VILLAGE ROAD OR IN THE CEMETERY WITH THE FAMILIES I SUPPOSE. WE WERE THE ONLY TOURISTS THERE.
++Ask around as to what’s going on and where. And be prepared for a few misses. There is SO much going on. You might not necessarily get to where you wanted to go, but you might just end up having a better time if you are open and just roll with whatever comes up.
Have fun and be safe!
p.s. Oaxaca is the safest state in Mexico so use common sense but don’t be paranoid. Or scared. Or nervous. Or….