How to Celebrate the Guelaguetza Festival in Oaxaca

an illustration of the Guelaguetza festival with facts about it from the article

TripSavvy / Jie En Lee 

The Guelaguetza Festival is a celebration in which representatives from the many communities of Oaxaca come together and celebrate the diversity of their traditions and cultures. The state of Oaxaca is home to 16 different ethnolinguistic groups and is incredibly diverse. For the Guelaguetza, members of these groups gather wearing their traditional clothing and perform folk dances that are particular to their region. At the end of the dancing, they throw items to the crowd, products that come from the region they represent.

When and Where Is It

The Guelaguetza Festival, also called the Lunes del Cerro, or "Mondays on the Hill," is celebrated in Oaxaca de Juárez on the last two Mondays of July. However if one of those Mondays falls on July 18— the anniversary of the death of Benito Juárez, the first Indigenous president of Mexico—then the festival will take place on the following two Mondays. While the festival is mainly celebrated in Oaxaca, some cities in the U.S. also celebrate Lunes del Cerro.

Origins of the Guelaguetza

Guelaguetza is a Zapotec word that translates roughly to "offering" in English, but its meaning goes far beyond the festival held in July. In traditional Oaxacan villages, whenever there is an occasion for a celebration, such as a baptism, wedding, or the feast day of the village patron saint, the people attending the party will bring items necessary for the celebration like food, alcoholic beverages, etc. Each person's offering or guelaguetza makes the party a success (imagine a wedding with no food!) and becomes part of a reciprocal exchange between the hosts and guests. The tradition of guelaguetza is one of the ways social ties are reinforced and maintained through time in Oaxaca.

The Guelaguetza festival as it is celebrated today is a combination of pre-colonial celebrations dedicated to the corn goddess, Centeotl, and the Catholic feast day of Our Lady of Mount Carmel, which falls on July 16th.

Guelaguetza Auditorium
 Satdeep Gill/Wikimedia Commons/CC BY-SA 4.0

What Is the Guelaguetza Auditorium?

The Guelaguetza festival has been celebrated on Fortin Hill in Oaxaca (Cerro del Fortin) since the colonial era. In the 1970s, a special auditorium was built specifically for the celebration. The Guelaguetza Auditorium has seating for 11,000 people. One very special feature of this construction is that it is built into the hill so that spectators looking down at the stage can also appreciate a gorgeous view of the city below. The auditorium also hosts other events besides the Guelaguetza festival.

Choosing the Year's Centeotl

Every year a young woman from one of the communities of Oaxaca state is chosen to represent Centeotl, the corn goddess. This is not a beauty contest, but rather a contest to see which young woman is most knowledgeable about the traditions of her community.

Attending the Guelaguetza Festival

There are two showings of the Guelaguetza each of the two Mondays, one at 10 a.m. and one at 5 p.m., for a total of four showings each year. Tickets can be purchased for the Guelaguetza Festival can be purchasesthrough Ticketmaster Mexico. Tickets are for seating in the two front sections of the auditorium (sections A and B). Seating in sections C and D (the rear two sections of the auditorium) is free admission. People line up from very early to get into the free sections.

The festival showcases and celebrates Indigenous Oaxacan culture with parades and costumed dances. There is also a variety of Indigenous foods and crafts available like handmade textiles.

Other Festivities

There are many other events that take place in Oaxaca during the two weeks of the Guelaguetza festival, including concerts, exhibits, conferences and a mezcal fair where you can sample different varieties of this alcoholic drink.

There are also independent celebrations of the Guelaguetza in several villages near Oaxaca where you can witness more traditional festivities, such as in Cuilapan.

Seeing Guelaguetza Dances Throughout the Year

If you can't go in July but would like to see a presentation of the Guelaguetza dances, you can attend shows throughout the year at a few different locations in Oaxaca.

  • Casa de la Cantera Restaurant has nightly performances of a Guelaguetza show.
  • The Quinta Real hotel offers a Guelaguetza presentation every Friday night with a buffet dinner.