The Guelaguetza is a brilliant feast of Oaxacan folk dance staged on the first two Mondays after July 16 in the large, semi-open-air Auditorio Guelaguetza on Cerro del Fortín. Magnificently costumed dancers from the seven regions of Oaxaca state perform a succession of dignified, lively or comical traditional dances, tossing offerings of produce to the crowd as they finish.
Excitement climaxes with the incredibly colorful pineapple dance by women of the Papaloapan region, and the stately Zapotec Danza de las Plumas (Feather Dance), which symbolically re-enacts the Spanish conquest.
The auditorium holds about 11,000 people; tickets for the front sections of seating (A and B, together holding about 5000 people) for each show go on sale about two months ahead through the state tourism office, Sectur, and www.ticketmaster.com.mx for M$850 to M$1050. The remaining 6000 or so seats (sections C and D) are free and first come, first served.
The event takes place at 10am and 5pm on each of the Mondays, lasting about three hours. The dates vary only when July 18, the anniversary of Benito Juárez’ death, falls on a Monday. Guelaguetza then happens on July 25 and August 1.
The Guelaguetza period also sees many other colorful celebrations in Oaxaca, including concerts, exhibitions, a mezcal fair in Parque Juárez (El Llano) and fantastically festive Saturday-afternoon parades along Calle Alcalá. Thousands of people flock into the city for the festivities (including visiting pickpockets, so stay alert).
Smaller Guelaguetzas are held in outlying towns and villages, such as Zaachila, Tlacolula, Atzompa, Tlacochahuaya and San Agustín Etla, and even Tututepec down near the Oaxaca coast, usually on the same days, and can make a refreshing change from what might seem the overcommercialized hubbub of Oaxaca.
The Guelaguetza celebrations have their origins in a colonial-era fusion of indigenous festivities with Christian celebrations for the Virgen del Carmen. The current format dates back to 1932.