The night of October 31 sees the old cemetery (cementerio viejo)
in the village of Xoxocotlan come alive with candles and flowers
that decorate the tombs as the families wait for the return
of the spirits of the deceased.
Update May 25, 2014
Schedule of Night Cemetery Visits
OaxacaThe City of Oaxaca welcomes visitors for the The Day Of The Dead festivities during the last week of October.
This Day of the Dead schedule lists the days and places near the City of Oaxaca where visitors can go to the cemeteries in the evening to visit the grave sites where the local people decorate the tombs and grave sites with candles and flowers. During a night vigil the families sit by the graves and wait for the return of the spirits. Visitors are welcome to observe and photograph the cemetery rituals.
|Sand painting in the New Cemetery|
When To Visit The Cemeteries
Xoxocotlan October, 31 On the night of October 31, the town of Xoxocotlan, just a few miles west of Oaxaca City, celebrates its Day of the Dead in two Cemeteries, Cementerio Viejo, the old cemetery, and Cementerio Nuevo, the new cemetery.
The most interesting is the Old Cemetery as it is a magic place of densely packed grave sites ablaze with thousands of candles. It is a challenge to photograph when the crowds stream in at around ten in the evening. With patience, great photos can result. It is best to find just one good group of tombs or grave sites and make well-composed photos.
See Day of the Dead Photo link Composition Page
If possible, arrive as dusk falls to include the afterglow of a sunset in your photos. This will also allow you to become acquainted with the cemetery layout. The candlelight will become intense and the cemetery crowded after nine pm when the families arrive to sit by the graves.
- Atzompa, October 31
Atzompa holds a cemetery vigil starting around 11 pm. This is a less-crowded cemetery where the vigil goes on throughout the night, accompanied by modern salsa and cumbia music.
The arch from an old gate makes a good backdrop for photos.
Taxis from Oaxaca City reach Atzompa. You can arrange for a later pickup with the driver. We have done this and find the drivers reliable. There is no bus service at night.
- Oaxaca City Cemetery, Panteon General, November 1
- Xochimilco Barrio, Oaxaca City
Offering table, Xochimilco
Oct Nov 2012
There are various programs offered including the building of offering tables. The offrenda are traditional offerings that are displayed in the church grounds.
Walk north from the Zocalo on Garcia Vigil (street) across the Ninos Highway. Go two blocks north and turn left for one block. Find the church and cemetery.
Activity on Oct 31 , offrenda, and November 1, a comparsas, a costumed parade that starts in the church at 7 pm.
(check ahead as the cemetery has been closed at night in the past and the other activities schedules change)
|Details of an ofrenda or offering table, Xochimilco Nov 2012|
Tlaixtac de Cabrera November 1
Tlaixtac de Cabrera is a village six miles southeast of Oaxaca City where the townspeople celebrate exuberantly with brass bands, strolling guitar groups, and candlelit vigils by graveside. Tour agencies offer trips to this cemetery. See Barroco Tours on Garcia Vigil in Oaxaca City for guided tours to this cemetery.
- San Felipe del Agua, November 2
San Felipe is a quiet neighborhood cemetery in a well-to-do community of professionals and Government employees that can be reached by taxi or public bus. Bus service stops after 9:30 but taxis are plentiful and should cost around 50-60 pesos for a return to Oaxaca City center.
- Village of San Antonino Castillo Velasco
San Antonino is a flower growing village south of Oaxaca City, beyond the airport, off of Route 175. The town celebrates as much as a week after the other villages celebrate because the farmers of San Antonino are busy harvesting and selling flowers during the traditional festival time. In San Antonino, flowers are used to create artwork unique in the valley of Oaxaca. This is a good, late-afternoon visit to photograph the preparations of the gravesites.
Tour agencies will know the date of this festival.
Ask at Borroco Travel Agency located at 406 Calle (street) Garcia Vigil in Oaxaca's historic center; they conduct tours during the three nights of activities and will have information about San Antonino.
|Cemetery at Xoxocotlan on the night of October 31|
During Day of the Dead cemetery visits, the people of the villages invite the foreign visitor to join them in the graveside vigil. They are proud of their offerings of marigold flowers, chocolate, special bread, and candles. They have decorated as their budget allows and they don't mind sharing with you the pride they feel about their decorated tomb. They are, after all, attempting to lure the spirit of a loved one back for a visit and if you find the decorations pleasing, most likely the spirit will also.
It is best not to use flash photography in the cemetery, although it will be very dark in places. The problem with flash is that it will blind everybody momentarily and actually will make a less pleasing photo. Deer-in the-headlights photos done with flash will rarely include any ambient light such as the candles in the distance.
It is best to use a tripod or other support, (just not the family's gravestone) and use a slow shutter speed to capture the ambiance of the cemetery full of candles.
The people standing or sitting by the grave will be nearly motionless and therefore, a long exposure (slow shutter speed) should not show excessive motion blur.
During a long exposure (slow shutter speed) people crossing in front of you will not show, as long as they keep moving.
Students in Oaxaca city prepare
altars and sand paintings in the
streets of Oaxaca during the week
leading up to the cemetery visits.
At times you will not want to disturb the family if they are sitting quietly; you make the photo and move on. At other times you can engage the family in conversation and then ask to make a photo even if you do it via sign language. They are proud of their decorated tomb and will most often welcome you.
If you are with a tour guide, the guide will ask for you or will advise you when it is appropriate to ask or when it is appropriate to just make the photo.
The Barroco Tours staff is well acquainted with the needs of photographers. If you book with them, their guides will ask whenever it is appropriate.
Tel. 514-1294 cell 044-951-187-2637
We are not affiliated with Barroco tours but have traveled with them on many occasions and like the way they consider the needs of their clients and the privacy of the families at the gravesites.
The people of Oaxaca have an approach to death that is different than the western way. Death to them is not necessarily sad, it is part of the cycle of life. They will at times be saddened by the recent death of a loved one or the death of a child, however, so some sensitivity on the part of the visitor is appreciated.
Next Technical Considerations When Making Photos In A Darkened Cemetery