How to Spotlight Oaxaca’s Cultural Diversity for Your Clients

Photo by Journey Mexico 

Few festivals in all of Mexico are as highly anticipated as the Guelaguetza in Oaxaca. Zapotec for “gift” or “offering,” the Guelaguetza takes place the last two Mondays of July. The main event of Los Lunes del Cerro (the Mondays on the hill) is a dance showcase, featuring costumed troupes comprised of Oaxaca’s different indigenous groups.

The Guelaguetza in its present form is a tradition more than eight decades old. It has evolved into a multi-media affair staged in a purpose-built hillside auditorium that holds more than 10,000 people. 

“Oaxaca streets are full of life and color this week, with lots of parades, processions and all manner of fiestas. Besides the traditional cultural events, there's a mezcal fair in one of the city parks with live music and many different brands and varieties of mezcal to try. There's a lot going on outside of the city center as well with many of the surrounding villages preparing their own celebrations of the Guelaguetza,” Suzanne Barbezat tells Travel Agent.

The Oaxaca-based Barbezat is a travel writer and co-owner of Discover Oaxaca Tours. The company specializes in customized private tours. Itineraries can be adapted to emphasize culture, food, nature, handicrafts, archaeology or architecture, among other interests.

The diverse appeal is something tourism officials are eager to promote.

“Our culture, archeological zones, architecture, beaches, gastronomy and traditions are what attract visitors from the U.S. to Oaxaca. We’re doing a number of touristic promotions and videos that show Oaxaca as a well-rounded destination where it’s possible to encounter all of these things,” said Gabriel Antonio Pedro Reyes, tourism coordinator for the state of Oaxaca.

The state has also introduced touristic routes and corresponding Strategic Tourism Development Plans. The routes emphasize nature, adventure, culture, eco-travel, agritourism and other niche travel opportunities.

Boutique hotels, such as Casa Oaxaca, Hotel Azul Oaxaca and Casa Catrina are garnering attention from high-end international visitors. And new infrastructure improvements are coming on line. They include a new superhighway from Oaxaca City to Huatulco on the Pacific. Though much-delayed, current projections have the highway completed by year’s end. It will cut the trip down to three hours. That’s quite a difference from the current seven hours through mountainous terrain.  

That rugged terrain of mountains, valleys and coasts lined with bays accounts for Oaxaca’s cultural diversity. Indigenous groups developed separately from each other. The result: some 17 different languages are spoken in the state. Most are derivations of Zapotec and Mixtec. A large portion of the populace speaks no Spanish.

Photo by Journey Mexico 

“Oaxaca is such an incredible combination of all of Mexico’s multi-layered past. The different ethnic groups in the valleys and mountains have all brought their own languages, traditions and customs to bear. It makes for an incredibly rich and wide-ranging appeal,” Zach Rabinor, director general and CEO of Journey Mexico, tells Travel Agent. 

Journey Mexico tours include market visits and cooking classes with well-known chefs, such as Casa Oaxaca’s Alejandro Ruiz. Tours also highlight the exceptional art and handicrafts of the region. Tours call on artisans in their homes and workshops in Teotitlan del Valle, known for woven rugs and blankets; Santa María Atzompa, home to the famous Oaxacan green pottery and San Martin Tilcajete, where the whimsical painted wooden animals known as alebrijes are from. 

Though Guelaguetza events last only through month’s end, Oaxaca’s draw is year-round.

“I love teaching the overall mass market that Mexico is much more than a beach destination. Oaxaca is the best lesson I can offer ,” said Rabinor.