Mexicans often say, “Somos muy fiesteros,” we love a good celebration! Nowhere else like in Oaxaca does this statement ring true. Throughout December, city streets come alive with color and pageantry as citizens commemorate everything from their patron saint’s day to the artistry of the lowly radish. Christmas preparations and celebrations take place almost daily from mid-month until the end of the year, and nightly posadas accompanied by music and song recall the Holy Family’s search for lodging in Bethlehem.
We have designed a very special trip, centered in the UNESCO Historic Centre of Oaxaca, that includes leisurely visits to archaeological sites, private visits to the studios and workshops of well-known artists and craftspeople, and dining on memorable food of the region. We will visit recently renovated Colonial churches built in the 15th and 16th some of which contain exquisite, hand-made, and recently restored pipe organs from the same time. We have arranged private talks and demonstrations by renowned collectors and artists in Santo Tomás Jalieza, San Bartolo Coyótepec, Atzompa, Ocotlán, and Teotitlán del Valle. As an added treat, we will dine on delicious regional cuisine in several of the city’s most outstanding restaurants. All this while staying in the Quinta Real Oaxaca, a boutique hotel set in the restored 16th-century Convent of Santa Catalina de Siena.
Join us on this very special nine-day Christmas trip to Oaxaca that highlights the colorful celebrations of the season and the unique folk art of the neighboring villages.
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La Noche de los Rabinos, or The Night of the Radishes, is one of the most unusual festivals in the world. No one knows why it was started, but every year for more than one hundred years, on December 23rd, the lowly radish is promoted to center stage. In the zocalo, or central square of Oaxaca City, talented artists present this humble root that now has been carved into whimsical depictions of saints, nativity scenes, mythological animals, and symbols of ancient civilizations. The most creative displays receive prizes.
Fly to Oaxaca, a colonial city surrounded by the Sierra Madre Mountains and set in a spectacular valley with a 3000-year-old history and UNESCO World Heritage Center. Throughout the region, Zapotec and Mixtec ruins and extraordinary colonial architecture recall the achievements of its inhabitants while captivating folk art reflects the vibrancy of today’s culture. Upon arrival, we check into Quinta Real Oaxaca, a boutique hotel set within the 16th century Convent of Santa Catalina de Siena located in the heart of this stately city. This will be our home for the duration of the trip. An international culinary destination, Oaxaca features a multitude of outstanding restaurants with delicious regional cuisine and we will have a light dinner in one of the city’s celebrated restaurants. (D)
We begin today with two rarely visited archaeological sites. Lambityeco became important around the time of the decline of Monte Alban, about 700 A.D. During excavations of one of the structures in the 1960s, a tomb was discovered that was adorned with large, carved stucco heads of Cocijo, the god of lightning and rain, along with Zapotec rulers. Perched on a hilltop, Yagul is crowned by a fortress with magnificent views of the surrounding countryside. The fortified walls enclose buildings encircling plazas, several Mixtec tombs and the second biggest ball court in Mesoamerica (after the one at Chichén Itzá). Then we move on to Mitla, the second most important archaeological site in Oaxaca. The architecture of the palace is glorious, with spectacular mosaic fretwork covering the interior and exterior walls. Behind the Zapotec structures can be seen the red domes of a church that was built by the Spanish conquerors in 1544 on top of a pre-Hispanic religious platform. From here, depart for Teotitlán del Valle, a Zapotec village that has a 500 year history of weaving, especially rugs. After the conquest, Dominican missionaries introduced sheep to this town and since then it has become distinguished for the manufacture of hand-loomed wool rugs, blankets and serapes. By special arrangement, we meet privately with Faustino Ruiz Lorenzo, an acclaimed thirteenth-generation weaver, where he will demonstrate how each color is hand-dyed using tints from plants, insects, and other pigments. Our welcome dinner will be in Origen, one of Oaxaca’s many fine restaurants where Chef Rodolfo Castellano uses recipes that have been passed down through generations of his family. This evening we may encounter a posada, a reenactment of the search for shelter in Bethlehem of Joseph and his pregnant wife Mary that occurs each evening for the nine nights before Christmas. Carrying candles, these small groups walk through their neighborhood singing carols, frequently with two small children dressed as the Virgin and her husband. (B/L/D)
Our all day walking tour of the UNESCO Historic Center of the city begins with the Rufino Tamayo Museum to see a wonderful collection of pre-Hispanic art, left to the city by one of Mexico’s most famous painters and muralists. Enter the Palace of the Governor. The interior walls are brightly decorated with delightful paintings created by Arturo García Bustos, a Mexican painter from Mexico City who was one of ‘Los Fridos’, students who studied under Frida Kahlo. The murals portray important characters in Mexico’s history. Move on to the Cathedral of Our Lady of the Assumption dating back to 1535 and dominating the city’s main plaza. Inside, view a pipe organ constructed in 1690 and a piece of the legendary Holy Huatulco cross. Spend the afternoon in the Santo Domingo Cultural Center, housed in the cloister of the breathtaking Church of Santo Domingo. Until 1992, the ex-convent was used as an army base. Now a museum, it displays an amazing array of stunning artifacts from the valley sites as well as the exceptional Mixtec treasures found at Monte Albán. We will walk within the walls encircling the vast complex and covering one fourth of the grounds, to see an ethno-botanical garden launched by Francisco Toledo, the renowned Oaxacan artist. The large collection show the cultural significance of the plants, both in the present or in antiquity. Dinner is on our own to hunt for the perfect Oaxacan cuisine. (B/L)
Our morning will be spent at magnificent Monte Albán, a UNESCO World Heritage Site, spanning the crest of an artificially flattened mountain. Monte Albán was a major Zapotec ceremonial center where more than 150 tombs have been found containing some of the richest treasures in the Americas. We will walk through the huge plazas and see the famous danzantes, incised figures once thought to be dancers but are now thought to represent mutilated captives. Upon returning to Oaxaca, we will spend time in the Saturday market where merchants from throughout the valley come to lay out a profusion of hand-made crafts, indigenous foods and medicinal herbs. This is one of Mexico’s largest traditional markets and at Christmas the bounty is prodigious. Tonight, Oaxacans celebrate La Noche de Rábanos, or Night of the Radishes, an extraordinary festival combining religion, agriculture and art. Oaxaca’s zócalo is transformed with garlands of flower-studded laurels as families compete for prizes with displays of elaborate and intriguing sculptures, all made from fresh radishes. Dinner is on our own. (B/L)
High on a hilltop perches Atzompa, a Mixtec fortified city and satellite of the great Zapotec capital of Monte Alban. Although only partly excavated, archaeologists have found three ball courts and other important buildings. The silence of the near empty ruins and the breathtaking views of the valley below makes this place very special. In the village of Santa María Atzompa we will meet a great master of pottery, Angélica Delfina Vásquez Cruz. She began to work in clay when she was a child of seven, learning from her parents, and today her creations encompass a wide range of images from lovely angels to majestic female figures reflecting her work for women’s rights in Mexico. In 2009, the past president of Mexico, Felipe Calderón, presented Angélica the National Arts and Sciences Award in the “Arts and Traditions” category. In 2000, the world-renowned artist and native Oaxacan, Francisco Toledo purchased a huge abandoned Mexican textile factory and hacienda built in 1883 in the town of Etla. Respected for both his talent and his activism, Toledo used his resources to create the San Augustin Center for the Arts (CaSa) in order to ensure that the Oaxacan cultural and architectural heritage was preserved. We will visit the complex that incorporates craft workshops using environment-friendly techniques, expeditions, a retail store, and housing for international artists-in-residence. This is the night of the calendas, the celebration that concludes the posadas. The procession includes motorized floats representing different churches of the city, each accompanied by a brass band. Giant paper mâché puppets (monos) with arms that move in any direction, dance and twirl to the brass band, adding to the atmosphere of fun. Dinner is on our own this evening. (B/L)
In the 1990’s Rodolfo Morales, a famed Zapotec artist returned to Oaxaca and created a foundation with the goal of restoring colonial churches in Oaxaca. Together with Rufino Tamayo and Francisco Toledo, he helped make Oaxaca a center for contemporary art. Drive to Ocotlán de Morelos, his hometown, to see the church and ex-convent that has been transformed into a dazzling and exquisitely tasteful compound containing a museum displaying the artwork of local artists and artisans. While in Octolán, we will meet with one of the legendary Aguilar sisters in her home studio, a contemporary folk artist. First “discovered” by Nelson Rockefeller in his visits to Mexico in the 1970’s in search of fine pieces for his collection, the painted clay figures of the Aguilar sisters appear in important collections of Mexican folk art all over the world. In San Bartolo Coyótepec, the valley’s famed black pottery is hand-molded by an age-old technique and fired in pit kilns. Here we will enjoy a private demonstration by Carlomagno Pedro Martinez. In the village of San Tomás Jalieza we visit the home of Abigail Mendoz for a demonstration of the traditional method of back-strap weaving. Then it’s on to the home of the Fuentes family in San Martin Tilcajete to view the whimsical, brightly colored woodcarving style that is now associated with Oaxaca. Finally, travel to Santa Ana Zegaché to see another of the charming 16th-century churches revitalized by Rodolfo Morales. Our Christmas lunch will be as guests in a local Zapotec family home. Dinner is on our own. (B/L)
The Oaxaca valley is one of the richest repositories of historic pipe organs in the New World with seventy-two baroque tubular organs built between 1686 and 1891. Most are richly ornamented and retain elements of ancient Iberia. Our drive today takes us to San Jeronimo Tlacochahuaya’s late 16th century convent, one of the churches housing a pipe organ dating from about 1730. We will see this gorgeous musical instrument along with the ancient sun clock and interior walls enriched with traditional paintings by Native artists. Continue to Santa María del Tule to see El Árbol del Tule, a tree located in the church grounds. This Montezuma cypress, or ahuehuete, is Mexico’s nation tree and has a trunk with the widest girth in the world. On the way back to town, stop to enter the parish church in Santa María de la Asunción Tlacolula. The ornate baroque side-chapel, the Capilla del Mártir, has an eye-catching display of realistic, almost life-size sculptures of the 12 apostles in their various manners of martyrdom, in some cases holding their own severed head. We will then climb to the choir loft where another restored organ stands. By special arrangement, we will meet Cicely Winter, one of the founders of the Institute of Historic Organs of Oaxaca (IOHIO) and author of Oaxacan Regional Music of Yesterday and Today, Transcriptions for Organ and Piano. She will discuss the history of these historic wind instruments and the restoration project, and give us a short recital on this exquisite instrument constructed in 1792. Return to Oaxaca with the afternoon free for last minute shopping! (B/L)
Today begins with a visit to Zaachila. According to the codices (pre-conquest books made of animal hide), after the Zapotec kings abandoned Monte Albán, Zaachila became their capital. The tombs that have been found here are garlanded with relief sculptures of the rulers and the gods they served. We continue to the 16th-century Dominican convent of Cuilapán. This imposing and truly unforgettable church and monastery complex stands alone in the landscape, a timeless remembrance of the influence of the Dominican clergy in Colonial Mexico. Our final lunch together will be in the garden restaurant of Las Quince Letras. The chef’s specialty is mole made with a touch of almonds and olives – yum! (B/L)
Transfer to the Oaxaca City airport for our morning flights home. (B)
Price is based on double occupancy and includes:
Trip prices are based on a minimum number of participants. If this minimum number is not met, trip prices are subject to change. Should the prices need to change, Far Horizons will reach out to registered guests to discuss directly.
Should a roommate be requested and one not be available, the single supplement must be charged.
As a tour company that benefits from the cultural and natural riches of our destinations, we have a policy of donating to the scientific and cultural sites and projects which we visit. This has created a bond between Far Horizons and the academic and local communities that has helped us establish an extensive list of lecturers and contacts in each of our destinations. We ask that each participant donate to the noteworthy project we designate. The donation amount is $150.00 per person. Note that the donation is required as part of your registration for the trip and that it is non-refundable.
Prices are based on currency exchange rates keeping below a projected level. While it is unlikely, if the exchange rates should change substantially, Far Horizons reserves the right to charge an additional amount to the trip cost.
A deposit of $1000 per person is required along with your registration & health forms, which will be linked in the email confirmation you receive once you pay your deposit on our booking platform. Final payment is due 120 days before departure. Prior to departure, you will be sent a reading list and a tour bulletin containing travel information.
Cancellations received in writing at least 120 days before departure will receive a refund less a $500 per person administrative fee. Cancellations received less than 120 days before the departure date will not receive a refund. If for any reason you are unable to complete the trip, Far Horizons will not reimburse any fees. Upon registering for the tour, the purchase of travel protection with both trip cancellation and emergency evacuation is strongly advised. Links to recommended insurance policies will be included in the email you receive confirming receipt of your deposit.
International round trip flights are not included in the cost of the trip. If Far Horizons must change the trip dates or cancel the trip for any reason, Far Horizons is not responsible for any air ticket you may have purchased. Please send your complete air schedule as soon as you have it. NOTE: Please contact Far Horizons if you would like for us to handle your air ticketing.
The private tours of archaeological sites and talks by specialists are scheduled in advance and include a donation to each. Specialists working at these sites are excited about showing their work to interested enthusiasts. However, please be aware that there may be times when the director or a member of the staff may not be on site when our groups arrive due to other commitments.
Far Horizons expects all participants to be physically active and able to walk and climb independently throughout the full touring days. This includes walking over uneven terrain (uphill and downhill) for 2 miles or more at each site. You should expect to be on your feet for much of each day, averaging as much as 5 miles of walking per day. As such, each participant should be able to walk unaided at a pace of 3 miles per hour for at least an hour at a time, and to stand unsupported for at least 60 minutes. Bearing this in mind, we suggest that, if you have not already done so, you begin walking several miles every day, ideally including stairs and hills. If you have questions about your ability to keep up with the group or the strenuous nature of this trip, please contact the Far Horizons staff.
This tour is designed for flexible, energetic people who like to be active, have a spirit of adventure and a positive attitude. We have designed this trip to be as comfortable as possible, while also aiming to visit some remote or unique sites that other companies do not attempt to include in their itineraries. There may be days where we have very long drives and the conditions of the roads may vary. Hotels and transportation in some remote areas may not be up to western standards. There may be times when no bellhops are available; please pack with the understanding that you need to be able to handle your own luggage at times. At times we may be walking over uneven trails for a mile or more; hiking boots are strongly recommended. Not every meal will not be haute cuisine and several lunches may be picnics or box lunches. By maintaining a flexible attitude we will soon be captivated by the beauty of the natural scenery, the hospitality of the local people, and the fascinating sites we will see. Your flexibility and patience will be appreciated.
Changes in our itinerary, accommodations, and transportation schedules may occur. While we are committed to keeping as close to the published details as possible, sometimes it is simply not possible. Weather events, government affairs, or other factors out of our control sometimes come into play. A good book to read as well as patience, flexible attitude, and a sense of humor are essential.