One way to understand Mexican's fascination with Death is visiting Mitla, the place for the dead

Rene Cabrera


Mitla is one of the many well-preserved archeological sites of the Oaxaca Valley, where the dry climate has conserved sites as old as 10,000 years. This valley was settled by the Zapotecs who, over the centuries, developed a hierarchical society governed by kings and nobles. While the valley was relatively isolated, the Zapotecs did have contact with other Mesoamerican peoples. By the time the Spaniards arrived, the Zapotec state had a population of over 500,000 people, sophisticated construction techniques, a writing system, two calendar systems and an agricultural system that included the cultivation of corn, squash, chilies and beans, using irrigation and terraces in the mountains to grow food for a mostly urban population.

Mitla is one of the Pre-Columbian sites that represent the Mesoamerican belief that death was the most consequential part of life after birth. It was built as a gateway between the world of the living and the world of the dead.

Mitla became the principal town of one of the most important city-states in the Valley of Oaxaca after 750 A.D. The name Mitla comes from the Nahuatl Mictlan meaning place of the dead (Lyooba in Zapotec which means resting place). Mitla was venerated as the place where the souls of the dead people came to rest.

Five main Pre-Hispanic architectural complexes are preserved within the center of the present-day town. Common households of this period were dispersed on the hillslopes within a radius of several kilometers around Mitla, and a fortress stands on a hill two kilometers to the west. Mitla had perhaps a population of 2000-5000 people.

The site consists of five architectural complexes: Adobe Group, South Group, Group of the Columns, Church Group and Arroyo Group.


In this tour, we will visit the “Group of the Columns” and the “North Group”. The first complex is known for its magnificent panels decorated with striking mosaic designs. This is evidently the principal complex and may have been occupied by the supreme ruler or the ruling family of Mitla. The other buildings may have been occupied by high-ranking nobles. Alternatively, these two complexes may have been built and occupied at slightly various times within the city-state stage; between 800 to 1400 A.D.

TEOTITLÁN DEL VALLE is a small village and municipality located in the Tlacolula District in the east of the central valley region, 16 miles southeast of Oaxaca City on the foot of the Sierra Norte. It is known for its textiles, especially rugs, which are hand-woven on looms with pedals, from wool obtained from local sheep and dyed mainly with natural dyes. They combine Zapotec designs with contemporary designs such as reproductions of famous artists’ work. The name Teotitlán comes from the Nahuatl language and means “land of the gods.” Its Zapotec name is Xaguixe, which means “at the foot of the mountain.” Established in 1465, it was one of the first villages founded by Zapotec peoples in this area and retains its Zapotec culture and language.

EL ÁRBOL DEL TULE is a giant tree located on church grounds in the town center of Santa María del Tule in the state of Oaxaca, approximately 6.5 miles southeast of Oaxaca City on the Pan-American Highway 190. The giant tree is a Montezuma cypress (Taxodium Mucronatum) or Ahuehuete (meaning “old man of the water” in Nahuatl). It has the stoutest trunk of any tree in the world. The exact age is unknown, but it is at least 2000 years old. It is the biggest in the world because of the size of the trunk which is 190 feet. El Tule tree is 137 feet high and weighs 636 tons.


We will meet at Casa de las Bugambilias B&B or at the front desk of your hotel, from where we will drive 6.5 miles southeast on the Pan-American Highway 190 to the municipality of Santa María del Tule to see the giant tree and the church of Santa María de la Asunción.

After a short visit in Santa María el Tule, we will drive on the same highway for approximately 25 minutes to Teotitlán del Valle. Here we will visit the workshop of Jacobo Mendoza Ruiz, a descendant of a large family of famous Zapotec weavers. Together with his wife María Luisa Vásquez, they gather plants to prepare the natural dyes for their rugs. We will see a full demonstration of natural dyeing and weaving and at the end, you will have the opportunity to buy masterpieces, made with fine wool and natural dyes.

After Teotitlán del Valle, we will visit Mitla, which is approximately 1 hour (27 miles) from downtown Oaxaca. We will start the tour at the “Church Group” complex, to see the original mural paintings and the fretwork of Mitla, which is unique in all Mesoamerica. After the arrival of the Spaniards, the buildings in Mitla suffered a lot of destruction and looting. The Spaniards destroyed most of the buildings around Mitla and they built a catholic church on top of one of the main temples. We will continue the tour at the “Group of the Columns” complex to see the home of the ruler of Mitla, after which we will visit tombs #1 & #2 to see the traditions used for burying their dead.

We will finish the tour with lunch in a beautiful restaurant called “Rancho Zapata”, which is a 10 minute-drive from Mitla, to taste the traditional foods of Oaxaca.

All the customers lodged in downtown Oaxaca will be picked up at the front desk of their hotel or at any other place in downtown Oaxaca.

8 hours. Weather and traffic conditions might affect the length of the tour.

VW Transporter Mod. 2019 with A/C, liability insurance, purified water, and driver.

The service includes transportation, an English-speaking tour guide and soft drinks.

See the Map

Admission fees ($10 pesos per person at the giant tree of El Tule and $75 pesos per person at the archaeological site of Mitla), lunch, additional beverages.

We recommend you bring walking shoes, sunblock, a hat, sunglasses, and a camera.

1-2 persons: $100 USD per person
3-5 persons: $75 USD per person
6-9 persons: $50 USD per person

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Some photos of our visit to Mitla:

Some photos of our visit to Teotitlán del Valle:

One comment on “Tour 2: Mitla

  1. When I check the dates available for your tours some dates are colored pink. Can you tell me what that means? I understand that the dates in grey are not available. I will no longer be in Oaxaca for the dates in green, unfortunately.
    Thank you.

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