How to Enjoy Oaxaca's Guelaguetza Festival

Women holding pineapple and dancing in row during Flor de Pina (Pineaple dance), smiling
••• Guelaguetza dancers perform the Pineapple Dance. Kim Steele / Getty Images

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, except when one of these falls on July 18th, which is the anniversary of the death of Benito Juarez, in which case it takes place on the following two Mondays.

Dates for Guelaguetza 2017: In 2017 the Guelaguetza festival will be held on Monday, July 24 and Monday, July 31. This will be the 85th edition of the Guelaguetza festival in its current form.

Origins of the Guelaguetza:

The word Guelaguetza means "offering" in the Zapotec language, and its meaning goes far beyond the festival. In traditional Oaxacan villages when there is an occasion for 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: food, alcoholic beverages, etc.

Each person's offering, or "guelaguetza" allows the party to take place and becomes part of a reciprocal exchange and is one of the ways social ties are reinforced and maintained through time.

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

The Guelaguetza Auditorium:

Since colonial times the Guelaguetza festival has been celebrated on the Fortin Hill in Oaxaca (Cerro del Fortin). In the 1970s a special auditorium was built specifically for this celebration, though other events are held there throughout the year. 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.

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:

Tickets can be purchased for the Guelaguetza Festival through Ticketmaster Mexico. Tickets are for seating in the two front sections of the auditorium (sections A and B). Seats are not reserved so you need to arrive early to get a good spot. Seating in sections C and D (the rear two sections of the auditorium) is free admission. Since 2005 there have been two showings of the Guelaguetza per Monday, one at 10 am and one at 5 pm.

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. See photos of a celebration of the Guelaguetza in Cuilapan.

Guelaguetza 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.