This year, I was lucky enough to travel to Oaxaca, Mexico with Remote Year for El Día de los Muertos, aka Day of the Dead. The holiday takes place from October 31st (Halloween) through November 2nd, and is dedicated to celebrating and paying respect to loved ones who’ve passed. During the holiday, the city of Oaxaca comes alive with locals and tourists alike to celebrate, and while COVID restrictions had some impact this year, it was still an incredibly fun and special custom to experience!
As I just mentioned, the company Remote Year (who I traveled with as a digital nomad throughout the summer of 2021) organized a side trip, so I was traveling with a group and the logistics were mostly planned for us. That said, I came into town a few days early to give myself time to check out the city, try some restaurants, and catch up with friends, so read on for a bit more on how we celebrated and other Oaxaca gems I’d recommend!
The Day of the Dead festivities technically kick off on Halloween and last through November 2nd. Traditionally, Halloween is the day to dress up and parade in the streets, and on November 1st locals gather at the cemeteries to honor their relatives, and tourists are invited to experience it too. With COVID restrictions still in place, this year was a little bit different—there weren’t any official parades in the streets, and most cemeteries were either closed altogether or only letting relatives in. We were still able to have an amazing time!
On Halloween, buy a homemade flower crown on the streets or in El Mercado 20 de Noviembre, and book an appointment to get your face painted. You can either throw on a basic black dress to compliment your flower crown and skull face, or go all-in and buy a traditional Catrina dress.
Once you’re all dressed up, face painted, and ready to go, grab a quick dinner in a market for something casual, or make a dinner reservation ahead of time in the city center. Then take a leisurely walk about 20 minutes from El Centro up Calle de Rufino Tamayo (which then turns into Calle José López Alavez) to the Xochimilco neighborhood. There you will see the altars, which are beautifully decorated tributes to deceased loved ones made by their families. We probably spent close to an hour just walking around and looking at all of them.
When we were done checking out the altars, we went back to El Centro to check out the impromptu parades and street performers. While there were no official parades this year, there was still plenty to see and tons of people dressed up, out and about!
Later on in the night, if it’s your thing, you can buy tickets ($100-200 USD) to parties or raves that go on in the city center (from about 11pm till morning). That’s my worst nightmare, and some of my friends couldn’t even get into the parties despite having bought tickets, so that’s all I’ll say on that matter.
The following day (November 1st) was technically El Día de los Muertos, and is the day that many of the locals spend at the cemeteries honoring their loved ones. In past years, tourists have also spent time in the cemeteries, which the locals welcome. However because of COVID, they were only letting relatives in, so we had to miss out on this tradition.
Instead, as a group we went to a family-owned restaurant called Obispo where we had a tasting menu of delicious traditional food and a Mezcal tasting. This restaurant was a bit outside the city center but is definitely worth a visit!
My trip to Oaxaca was a quick trip, so there are many tours and activities I didn’t get to do that I would’ve liked to. But of course I didn’t leave without trying some delicious Oaxacan cuisine. Here are a few places that I’d recommend!
Café AM Siempre → Casual café with food options. There are 2 locations, one in El Centro & one in Xochimilco. The one in the center has the famous “Te Amo Oaxaca” neon sign, while the one in Xochimilco is a good excuse to wander there and see the neighborhood.
Muss Café → Super cute, good WiFi, lots of people working. It definitely fills up so get there early if you plan to work from there.
Marito&Moglie Café → Cute café with good food and WiFi.
Cafébre → Café with lots of seating and WiFi – definitely a good spot to work.
Boulenc → Delicious brunch. They don’t take reservations and there’s always a wait, so go early and it’ll be worth it!
Ancestral → Amazing farm to table restaurant in the Xochimilco neighborhood.
El Destilado → A good place to go and share a bunch of plates. It’s considered “Oaxaca fusion cuisine” and was really yummy!
Mercado 20 de Noviembre → Traditional market with food stands and shops. I found a little stand and got a Oaxacan quesadilla for lunch one day!
Mercado de La Merced → Another traditional market with food stands and shops. There’s a very casual restaurant in the back left of the building (I forget the name of it!) with amazing traditional breakfast (hiii chilaquiles verdes) and there was another stand that had fresh green juices that we loved.
While I was in Oaxaca for a short time and most of my itinerary was planned for me ahead of time, overall it was an amazing smaller city with lots of delicious food. I know plenty of friends who’ve gone at other times of year (not for El Día de los Muertos) and have absolutely adored it—I’d love to come back to learn even more about the city and local culture!