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Mexico's annual celebration of the Day of the Dead is the most vibrant, colorful and culturally dynamic event in the country's calendar of events. If you are lucky enough to be heading south at the end of this month, make sure you take in these displays featuring a combination of Aztec and pre-Hispanic rituals, Christian traditions and pagan customs as Mexicans celebrate the lives of their dearly departed family members and ancestors.

November 1 and 2 are the traditional Día de los Muertos and All Saints festivals dates but the preparations and celebration start in the proceeding days and the city of Oaxaca is one of the best places to experience the atmosphere, pageantry and artistic expressions of this event. There will be countless processions, decorated houses, street parties, food specialties and of course the cemeteries will be the center of all the Día de los Muertos activities.

Although many Oaxaca hotels book out well in advance of the Day of the Dead, this year your indecision and procrastination may not mean that you have to miss out. There aren't real bargains to be had, but several properties in various categories still have availability, both in the town center and in neighboring suburbs.

The four-star Parador San Miguel (tel. +52/951-514-9331; www.paradorsanmigueloaxaca.com) is a beautiful colonial property located a stone's throw from the zócalo. A traditional standard room here with a queen sized bed will set you back 1,390 Mexican Pesos ($115) plus tax per night during the festive week. As of this week they still have several rooms available.

The four-star Hotel Los Olivos (tel. +52/951-514-1946; www.losolivosspa.com.mx) is located 20 minutes drive from Oaxaca airport. It has rooms with two double beds priced from 1,090 Mexican Pesos ($91) per night including breakfast. The hotel is known for its in-house spa services and yoga center.

The centrally located Hotel de la Parra (tel. +52/951-514-1900; www.hoteldelaparra.com) is a gorgeously restored colonial house with a pool and outdoor area. A standard double room is priced from 1,620 Mexican Pesos ($150) plus tax per night.

The three-star Hotel Antiguo Fortin (tel. +52/951-514-8301; www.hotelantiguofortin.com) is located a short drive out of town. It has 20 rooms with air conditioning, several of which are still open for Día de los Muertos. Rooms with two double beds are priced from 650 Mexican Pesos per night ($54) including tax.

The four-star Angel Inn Hotel (tel. +52/951-133-6128) in the residential suburb of San Felipe del Agua is situated ten minutes away from downtown area. It features 32 guestrooms decorated in a classical Oaxacan-style, with handcrafted wood furniture, traditional woven bedspreads and antiques. There are gardens and a pool and double rooms go for $90 per night in late October and early November.

The two-and-a-half-star Hotel Mision San Felipe (tel. +52/951-520-0050), also in San Felipe del Agua has double rooms priced from $72 to $108 including breakfast.

Oaxaca's Instituto de Comunicacion y Cultura (tel. + 52/951-516-3443; www.day-of-the-dead.org) runs a variety of Day of the Dead related tours and activities that start during the final week of October. Most tours/activities cost $40 per person (or $20 as indicated) and should be booked in advance. Discounts are available for participation in multiple excursions:

  • October 26: Mitla City of the Dead -- Visit the indigenous market of Tlacolula and see the famous tapestries of the Zapotec weavers of Teotitlan del Valle. The tour also includes lunch, a visit to a mezcal factory and the famed ancient Tule tree.
  • October 30: Zaachila -- a field trip to the Market of the Dead in this Zapotec town includes a visit to the ruins of Cuila'pan and a 16th century open chapel. Lunch is provided.
  • October 30: Day of the Dead Cooking class -- learn to make traditional Mole Tamales, Sweet Tamales, Tejocote Apple, and caramelized squash.
  • October 31: Market of the Dead -- Ocotlán Market plus visit Santo Tomas Jalieza weavers town and San Martín Tilcajete for wooden carved animals. Lunch is included.
  • October 31: Cemetery of Teotitlan del Valle -- this evening tour visits the tombs of the "little angels" and the famous candle maker Sofia Ruiz Lorenzo. Share this ancient tradition with a local Zapotec family before having chocolate, bread of the dead, mezcal and tamalitos in the house of one of the best Zapotec weavers in town.
  • November 1: Walking tour of Oaxaca's cemetery ($20) -- an evening tour of Oaxaca's local cemetery, where elaborate Day of the Dead altars are constructed.
  • November 2: Cemetery of San Felipe del Agua -- this night tour (6pm to 11pm) visits the cemetery of San Felipe del Agua and includes a typical Day of the Dead dinner in the magnificent 300 year-old former hacienda, Los Laureles.

The cost of each tour includes an English-speaking guide, lunch or dinner, and transportation. All tours depart from the ICC and Oaxaca Times offices at M. Alcalá #307 in Oaxaca's historic center.

Vista World Travel (tel. 800/880-8068; www.tomzap.com/vista_d.html) offers a land-only five-day Dias de los Muertos Tour, Celebrating Life on the Day of the Dead in Oaxaca beginning on October 29, 2008. It includes airport pick up and transfer; five-nights accommodations; breakfast daily; a walking tour of the zócalo area including Governor's Palace, Cathedral, and the markets; an afternoon guided tour of the Monte Alban archaeological site.; a Halloween dinner followed by a night tour to the Xoxocotlan cemetery to see the lit altars and offerings; a morning cemetery tour; and an excursion to the Tule Tree, Mitla archaeological site, Teotitlan, and Tlacolula Market; Return late afternoon. The package price includes the tours and services listed above plus accommodations at your choice of the following hotels.

  • The three-star Hotel Parador Del Dominico priced from $624 per person based on double occupancy, or $832 per person based on single occupancy
  • The three-and-a-half-star Hotel Aitana (priced from $708 per person double occupancy, or $915 single occupancy
  • The four-star La Provincia from $998 per person double occupancy or $1534 single occupancy.

Tours and transfers only without hotel accommodations is priced at $420 per person.