La Guelaguetza 2023: Your Guide to The Ultimate Festival in Oaxaca

La Guelaguetza is a tradition started over 500 years ago by the Zapotecs, where different groups come together to share their customs and bring them to one another. It is centered around the worship of their corn goddess and is celebrated yearly.

Today, the Guelaguetza Festival unites communities from the eight regions of Oaxaca, as they come together to exchange their diverse customs of music, dance, art, and cuisine.

The performers often give away their traditional sombreros, handicrafts, and food, as they continue to make efforts in sharing the tradition with the community.

The Festival Guelaguetza, often referred to as La Máxima Fiesta, is the biggest celebration of the year in Oaxaca, and events will continue throughout the month of July and start well before the official date.

A woman with a large smile across her face dances at the Guelaguetza Parade in Oaxaca. She is dressed in traditional clothes and is holding a basket on top of her head that is filled with flowers and a circular structure that is laced with sparklers. The main structure is completely lit, with smoke billowing off to the side. In the background, the audience watches in amazement and take pictures.

Oaxaca City is known for its incredibly festive atmosphere, with numerous events including parades, festivals, food fairs, mezcal tastings, and concerts. Guelaguetza 2023 is one of the most anticipated festivals in Oaxaca, celebrating the city’s rich culture and traditions.

Additionally, there are smaller Guelaguetza festivities in over 15 towns throughout the state of Oaxaca.

If you’d rather, you can go straight to the Guelaguetza events happening this year.

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The festival of Guelaguetza is celebrated throughout the month of July in Oaxaca, with events taking place at the Guelaguetza Auditorium, including performances at Cerro del Hill on Mondays.

The celebration of La Guelaguetza starts one week later if the initial Monday falls on July 18th, which commemorates the official day of Benito Juarez’s passing. However, the last two Mondays in July are reserved for the festivities of Los Lunes del Cerro.

The Guelaguetza, which takes place from July 24th to July 17th in 2023, is an official festival with numerous preceding events and a series of activities that span over a few weeks, including the second Monday of the Hill.

Best Accommodation Options for Guelaguetza 2023

I generally recommend travelers to book a stay in centro Oaxaca, especially if it’s your first time in the city, as some of my favorite hotels are included in the availability during the Guelaguetza festival.

Stunning contemporary suites with a combined terrace adorned with exotic foliage – El Callejón Hotel ($$$$). Stylish boutique hotel with artistic decor, a cozy cafe on the lower level, and a breathtaking rooftop – Majagua Hotel ($$$). Cutting-edge hotel with a distinctive architecture and a rooftop swimming pool – City Centro Hotel ($$). Exquisite accommodations in a classic residence with a charming garden space in a convenient setting – Hotel Las Golondrinas ($).

Background of the La Guelaguetza Celebration

Xilonen, the deity of maize, is revered and celebrated by the Zapotecs. They had the idea of fostering relationships and promoting exchange to connect different groups together. The origins of the Guelaguetza Festival in Oaxaca, Mexico, precede the arrival of the Spanish language.

When the Spanish arrived, they brought about a change in the date and introduced certain Christian aspects. Although the Aztecs started worshiping Centeotl, the goddess of corn, the overall celebration mostly stayed unchanged after the Aztecs conquered the region.

The Festival Guelaguetza today includes eight regions of Oaxaca, namely Centrales Valles and Sur Sierra Norte, Sierra Papaloapan, Mixteca, Istmo, Costa La, Cañada.

Events at the Guelaguetza Festival in the City of Oaxaca

The precise dates may be subject to alteration; however, please note that I have made adjustments to these dates for the gradually unfolding Guelaguetza 2023 events, considering the previous year.

Please save this page for future reference, as I will update the dates of the events when they are announced.

Before you go, it is important to verify the location, time, and date of the Guelaguetza events, as they can change at the last moment. You can ensure that there will be plenty of events to attend throughout the neighboring towns and centro Oaxaca, as mentioned.

My favorite events of Guelaguetza in Oaxaca are the parades. They go by different names (convite, desfile, comparsa) depending on the occasion.

The main parades of Guelaguetza start somewhere around Zocalo, near Church Santo Domingo, about two hours later. Although the parades begin in the north of the city, specifically in Colonia Reforma, near El Llano Park and the city center.

Commence the procession shortly prior to discovering a location. The dance performed by the groups often inspires the impromptu bands that will play. As the groups wait for the parade to begin, there are some pleasant moments. If you are interested in taking pictures at the parade, it is recommended to arrive about an hour early – a helpful tip.

Diosa Centéotl – Maize Deity of the Guelaguetza

During a span of two nights, over 40 women compete to become the Diosa Centéotl de la Guelaguetza.

The attire, their native tongue, and their understanding of their heritage transport the spectators to their community, every woman who approaches the microphone.

The beauty being evaluated is not solely based on physical attractiveness, but rather on the representation of culture and tradition.

Every woman in their community possesses exceptional knowledge of customs and crafts, languages, and traditions. Each woman is a prominent cultural promoter in their community. They proudly represent the cultures of Oaxaca.

That sense of pride infiltrates the crowd. They are proud of the strong women of Oaxaca. They are proud to be Oaxacan.

And that is the essence of this celebration.

WHEN: June 23 and 24 at 6 pm WHERE: Jardin el Panuelito (located next to Santo Domingo).

Invitations – Parade Invitations

During Guelaguetza, one of the biggest Oaxaca festivals, women wearing bright dresses dance while holding baskets full of flowers and other decoration on top of their heads.

The urban center awakens with processions, known as convites, for two back-to-back weekends prior to Los Lunes del Cerro (Mondays of the Hill). The forthcoming Guelaguetza Festival is proclaimed and extended invitations through these processions.

Historically, the attendees of the convites hail from central Oaxaca as Oaxaca and the neighboring Central Valleys extend an invitation to everyone to partake in the Guelaguetza Festival.

You may recognize many towns, such as Coyotepec, Maria Santa, Zaachila, Teotitlán, Ocotlán, and Mitla, as they are all located just a short drive from the city of Oaxaca, and most of them participate in various activities.

The Zocalo and Santo Domingo Church, past Piedra de Cruz, is the starting point. The event will take place from 7 pm to 8 pm on July 7th.

Procession of Delegations – Desfile de Delegaciones

With the inclusion of the Oaxaca delegations, the Guelaguetza now commences (with additional processions, of course!).

The upcoming Mondays will feature Los Lunes del Cerro, with the participation of the identical groups, who will now include members from various communities across Oaxaca state, particularly those involved in the parade.

WHEN – July 15 and 22, 6 pmWHERE – Oaxaca Center.

During the Guelaguetza Festival in Oaxaca, a man pours a spectator a shot of mezcal. In the background a woman holding a basket pours a different spectator a shot of mezcal.

Monday of the Hill | Lunes del Cerro

The main performances of the festival are held at the Auditorium Guelaguetza, which overlooks the city of Oaxaca. These dates revolve around the festival centers. Los Lunes del Cerro is the festival held at the Auditorium Guelaguetza.

There are two shows each day, one in the morning and one in the evening, in which traditional dances are performed by communities from more than 12 different areas in the state of Oaxaca.

In a matter of minutes, the presale and general ticket sale for 2022 were completely sold out, with the presale being exclusively available to individuals holding a Santander bank account. Acquiring tickets has become exceedingly difficult.

Indeed, a whole 7 hours spent waiting in queue. A pal of mine proposes arriving at 3 am to join the queue for the 10 am performance. Alternatively, you have the option to partake in the occasion without charge if you’re prepared to endure long hours of waiting on the event day.

DATE – July 17 and 24, at 10 am and 5 pmVENUE – Guelaguetza AuditoriumTICKETS – Buy online here.

Guelaguetza Folk Festival

The slogan for the Oaxaca Guelaguetza event, which started over 15 years ago, is “unattainable and commercialized, with the attending notion that it has become Oaxaca for the people, by the people.”

The festival concludes on the initial Monday with its own Guelaguetza presentation, succeeded by a procession of the delegations the following day, and commences with a convite (invitation parade), condensed to one weekend, as the primary festival adheres to a comparable structure.

The WHERE for Guelaguetza on July 17 at 9 am is Plazuela del Carmen Alto and Oaxaca Technology Stadium, and the WHEN for the parades on July 15 and 16 is at 3 pm.

Young women dressed in traditional clothing talk as they wait for a parade during one of the biggest festivals in Oaxaca to begin. Their long hair is braided with colorful ribbons that hang down their back, tied in a bow.

Donají The Legend

The tale of Donají is a legendary Zapotec story that revolves around the love between Prince Mixtecan and Princess Zapotec, showcasing bravery and faithfulness.

The story of the Zapotec lily is one of the most beautiful parts of the legend, as it has become a symbol since then and grew. You can read the full legend here or a short version here (in Spanish). I won’t try to tell the story out of fear that I will butcher it.

Before Los Lunes del Cerro, the event occurs on Sundays for two back-to-back weeks, narrating the tale through a musical and dance spectacle, Donají La Leyenda.

DATE – July 16 and 23, at 8:30 pmVENUE – Guelaguetza AuditoriumTICKETS – You can buy tickets at this location.

Celebration of Moles

You can taste a variety of moles from eight different regions of Oaxaca. One of the top things to do in Oaxaca City during this culinary event is to participate in the traditional tasting of the seven moles.

Tickets need to be purchased in advance. Oaxaca Casa and Zandunga, El Tendajon, Letras Quince Las Sol, and del Tierra, including various restaurants, are available at different locations.

DATE – July 14th at 2 o’clock in the afternoonVENUE – Oaxaca Convention Center.

Tejate and Tamales Festival – Feria de Tejate y Tamal

Tejate, recognized as an ancient combination of corn and cacao, takes center stage in this occasion, as it symbolizes the divine flavor.

There will be an opportunity to taste tamales. You may have tasted tejate at one of the markets in Oaxaca. It can be found throughout Oaxaca, while it originates from San Andrés Huayapam.

At Plaza de la Danza, a cherished open-air location in the city, you have the opportunity to acquire these unique items from multiple vendors who will be present.

WHEN – July 19 and 20, from 10 am to 7 pmWHERE – Plaza de la Danza.

A back view of performers at the Guelaguetza parade. A man stands with a traditional woven fabric over is shoulder with a netted bag of green onions. To his left is a woman wearing traditional clothes of a blue skirt and white shirt with red embroidery. Her hair is braided and includes a colorful woven headband.

Current Activities for Guelaguetza Festival in Oaxaca City

During the exploration of the Guelaguetza Festival, you can witness attractions such as the huipil showcase and the photography presentation, including several of these continuous activities throughout the event.

Oaxaca Mezcal Exhibition – International Mezcal Fair

Artificers and customary cuisines, java manufacturers, brewers, and mezcal are exhibited at the Oaxaca Mezcal Fair, one of the utmost awaited occasions of the Guelaguetza, with more than 125 Oaxacan enterprises taking part.

Visit the Guelaguetza Artisan Fair and explore the Oaxacan handicrafts afterwards. Situated in the parking lot, the Semana de los Antojos event offers a perfect opportunity to indulge in traditional Oaxacan snacks before embarking on a mezcal tasting adventure.

WHEN – July 14th – 25th, 10 pm – 10 pmWHERE – Oaxaca Convention Center.

Guelaguetza Photo Exhibition

Explore the Guelaguetza in more detail as you discover the customs and performances of the eight regions of Oaxaca.

The audiovisual components are triggered by a QR code on each of the 16 prominent picture images exhibited in diverse open-air locations across Oaxaca City. This collection represents an audiovisual showcase.

The event will take place in different open-air venues such as Santo Domingo Church, Antonia Labastida Garden (located near Santo Domingo), Plaza de la Danza, and Alameda de León (in proximity to the Zocalo) from July 10th to 28th.

Display of Traditional Huipiles from Ancestral Times

The huipil is a customary attire frequently donned by native females across a significant portion of central Mexico and Guatemala.

The design elements of huipiles, which are often an indication of the wearer’s community, vary from community to community. Traditional huipiles were woven on a backstrap loom and decorated with designs woven and lace, ribbons, and embroidery.

This ongoing exhibition displays a range of traditional huipiles from various regions of Oaxaca.

During various weeks of the Guelaguetza Festival, the Archivo Histórico Municipal is the location.

Strokes of Tradition – Brushstrokes of Tradition

The exhibit, located inside the Coro Alto room of the Real Quinta Hotel, showcases the works of all the artists who competed to create the official image of La Guelaguetza.

The winner of the display, which is announced in early March after the works are showcased in Zocalo, is encouraged to advance to the next round for public voting, as favorites.

The first-place winner copied the photograph of another artist, causing a great deal of controversy surrounding the contest in 2023.

WHEN – July 14th – 28th from 11 am – 6 pmWHERE – Hotel Quinta Real Oaxaca.

Music Shows and Live Performances – Teatro Macedonio Alcalá

You can find more information on their Facebook page. They include concerts and performances by the Oaxaca Symphonic Orchestra, as well as the Guelaguetza. The Macedonia Theater hosts various events in Oaxaca during the month of July.

WHEN – During the entire month of JulyWHERE – Teatro Macedonio Alcalá.

A woman dressed in traditional clothes dances at a Guelaguetza parade in front of the church. Two braids woven with bright yellow ribbon flow down her back. On top of her head is a basket of flowers and lit sparklers. On the left a women, also dressed in traditional clothes, holds a basket decorated with a large cross statue made of flowers. Much of the audience is taking pictures in the background.

Guelaguetza Celebrations – Oaxaca’s Central Valleys

Many events are planned in Oaxaca’s pueblos. They coincide with the festival during the month of July. They are similar to Guelaguetza. They revolve around traditional dances, music, food, artisans, and mezcal.

Most of these events are within an hour’s drive of Oaxaca City. There is a variety of events below, but it is impossible to attend all of them or list them. Some even host their own Guelaguetza Festival simultaneously with the main festival in Oaxaca City.

Villa de Zaachila – The Grand Celebration of Cerrito

Zaachila de Villa, a town with strong Zapotec roots located less than an hour south of the city of Oaxaca, is a fitting host for one of the more exciting celebrations outside of Guelaguetza.

Craft beer and mezcal, barbacoa, and grilled meat are showcased in culinary festivals over the weekend. Moreover, there are a few workshops available: one for mastering the art of creating a pre-Hispanic beverage known as “Chon Ni” and another for acquiring skills in crafting sculptures using various shades of corn.

There are also traditional parades and Guelaguetza performances at the archaeological zone of Zaachila, “El Cerrito” located in the center of town.

Although the events are free, you can purchase tickets to the main event in El Cerrito if you prefer to have preferred seats in front of the stage.

WHEN – July 15th – 24th, El Cerrito July 24th at 1 pmWHERE – Zaachila (40 minutes south of the city).

San Pablo Villa de Mitla – Mezcal Fair and La Guelaguetza Celebration

The events in Mitla during the week of La Guelaguetza include a showcase of guayabera, a showcase of waist loom weaving, a workshop on agave, and a tasting session for mezcal.

You can find the schedule on their Facebook page. In addition, there is a parade followed by a Guelaguetza performance on the two Sundays before Mondays at the Hill.

WHEN – July 15 – 24WHERE – Mitla (50 minutes east of the city).

Ocotlán de Morelos – Celebration of Brotherhood, Culture, and Tradition

The Guelaguetza includes concerts and a mezcal fair, along with an artisan expo. Ocotlán hosts this festival to celebrate brotherhood, culture, and tradition.

Can you find the full schedule on their Facebook page? There is a parade in the afternoon during the Guelaguetza festival at Los Sabinos Park on Mondays.

WHEN – July 17 – 24WHERE – Ocotlán (1 hour to the south of the city).

San Jacinto Amilpas, Oaxaca Guelaguetza Celebration

The festivities at the primary sports facility conclude with a presentation, succeeded by a procession, and commence with a culinary exhibition. Prior to the commencement of the main festival on Sunday, San Jacinto Amilpas organizes a miniature Guelaguetza Festival.

The occasion is complimentary and the procession participants comprise various groups from the province of Oaxaca.

On July 16, the Guelaguetza will take place in San Jacinto Amilpas, which is located 20 minutes northwest of the city. The Parade will start at 4 pm, followed by the Food Fair at 9:30 am.

Dance of the Feather – Dance Encounter

Witness one of the most renowned dances of Oaxaca at this gathering of the performances.

Cuilápan de Guerrero is hosting its own Guelaguetza festivities, but I would like to specifically emphasize this occasion.

This traditional dance features a semi-circular headpiece made up of over 3,000 colored feathers, which mirrors various sized stars and moons.

The communities of Zaachila, San Bartolo Coyotepec, Teotitlán del Valle, and Cuilápam will perform La Danza de la Pluma.

WHEN – July 18th at 4 pmWHERE – Cuilapan de Guerrero (30 minutes south of the city).

Tlayuda Celebration – San Antonio de la Cal

San Antonio de la Cal is recognized as the place of origin of the tlayuda, a distinctive Oaxacan cuisine.

The tlayuda is cooked on the comal, where the corn dough is prepared to make a large tortilla that serves as the foundation. Visitors will have the opportunity to learn all about it.

In the square in front of the church in San Antonio de la Cal, a dozen women are setting up tlayuda stands for the festival.

San Antonio de la Cal (20 minutes south of the city) – WHERE: July 18 – 24 from 10 am – 10 pm – WHEN.

The Great Mezcal Fiesta – Santiago Matatlán

It’s only appropriate for the city known as the “World Capital of Mezcal,” to organize its own mezcal fair for La Guelaguetza.

Santiago Matatlán has arranged The Great Mezcal Celebration to showcase the customs of their mezcal producers, who generate approximately 40% of Mexico’s mezcal.

On their Instagram, you can discover additional information. Furthermore, the event encompasses mezcal demonstrations and tastings, bull riding, horse races, as well as musical and dance showcases.

The event will take place from July 23 to 29, between 12 pm and 8 pm, at Santiago Matatlán, which is located one hour to the east of the city.

San Marcos Tlapazola’s Pottery Fair in Red

On the weekend before Guelaguetza begins, the town of San Marcos Tlapazola invites visitors to learn about their tradition of red pottery.

Additionally, besides various cultural festivities and authentic cuisine, the event also offers clay showcases and informative tours of the pottery studios.

WHEN – July 7 – 9 from 10 am – 6 pmWHERE – San Marcos Tlapazola (1 hour east of the city).

Alebrije Festival – San Martín Tilcajete

Tilcajete, a small town in San Martín, is known for its fanatical carved animals made of painted and carved copal wood, called alebrijes, which are intricate designs.

This is a chance to view the creations of numerous artists all at once while meandering through the booths set up in the heart of the town.

While you’re in that location, be sure to explore a workshop where alebrijes are skillfully made, which happens to be one of my favorite day trips from Oaxaca.

WHEN – July 10 – 31 from 9 am – 6 pmWHERE – San Martín Tilcajete (1 hour south of the city).

Craft Fair – Tlacolula de Matamoros

Situated in the heart of this quaint town, the artisan fair in Tlacolula de Matamoros showcases textiles, customary footwear, intricate jewelry, baskets, and other items.

If feasible, endeavor to explore the Tlacolula Market on a Sunday, which is acknowledged as one of the oldest markets in Oaxaca.

The event will take place on July 15, 16, 22, and 23, between the hours of 10 am and 6 pm. The location is Tlacolula, which is situated one hour to the east of the city.

Concluding Impressions on La Guelaguetza, Oaxaca

Whew! You can see why they refer to this as “La Fiesta Máxima!”.

Experience the Guelaguetza Festival by selecting a limited number of events, allowing you to witness at least a portion of these captivating Guelaguetza celebrations. However, I must emphasize that achieving this feat is exceedingly challenging.

The cuisine in Oaxaca is incredibly varied and rich in taste. It offers the opportunity to witness traditional dances from different regions of the state, such as Ejuteco Jarabe, Pluma la de Danza, and Pina de Flor. Whether you are watching a formal presentation or enjoying a parade through the streets, it is a great opportunity to immerse yourself in the culture of Oaxaca.