Trip Number: 13520A
Staff: Barbara Kamm
- Stay in remote indigenous villages
- See local artisans at work
- Hike in the Sierra Madre
- Explore ancient ruins
- Comfortable accommodations
- All meals and on-trip transportation
- All entry fees and gratuities
Photo: Barbara Kamm
The state of Oaxaca, Mexico, is an ancient land of pine-clad mountains and
cactus-filled valleys. It is the most biologically diverse state in the mega-diverse
country of Mexico with more plant species than Costa Rica and more than 700
bird species. Its varied microclimates and rugged geology have also created
a diversity of human culture. Settled more than 10,000 years ago, Oaxaca’s
mountains and valleys are home to a broad mosaic of peoples, including the Zapotecs
and Mixtecs, making Oaxaca Mexico’s most indigenous state.
Our explorations will take us into the heart of Oaxaca’s natural and
cultural worlds, where we will get a privileged glimpse of her amazing people
and their folk art. As we travel down the back roads, we’ll meet local
artisans making baskets and hats, rugs and tapestries, paper and figurines,
pottery and furniture, dyes and pulque. We will hike in the forests of the Sierra
Madre, where the Zapotec mountain villages have come together to develop community-based
eco-tourism and sustainable-yield forestry as a means of protecting both their
natural resources and their culture. We will visit a thriving Saturday market
that is the heart of life in the Mixtec highlands, and we will travel to the
legendary birthplace of the Mixtec people in the hanging valley of Apoala.
Our travels will be by private vans, often over bumpy dirt roads, and since
our group will be small, we will visit artisans’ homes that would not
be accessible with larger groups. We will enjoy a four-star hotel as well as
community cabins built by the villages to promote eco-tourism. We will eat gourmet
food as well as local food prepared by the community. For a change of pace,
we’ll bird watch at the base of an ancient city and swim in bubbling mineral
springs, but all the while we will be immersed in the natural beauty and cultural
richness that is Oaxaca.
Day 1: Plan to arrive no later than 5 p.m. at our hotel in
the historic center of Oaxaca City (OAX), a Spanish colonial jewel and UNESCO
World Heritagae site. We will meet in our hotel for an orientation talk at 5:30
p.m. and then head out for our first meal of the trip, a welcome dinner of fine
Photo: Barbara Kamm
Day 2: Our day will begin with a guided tour of Oaxaca’s
ethno-botanical garden, filled with indigenous Oaxacan plants. The garden is
situated on the grounds of the old Convent of Santo Domingo, itself a site worth
seeing. Then we’ll load up the vans and head into the backcountry, into
the lands of the ancient Mixtec kingdoms. Our first stop is Yanhuitlan, once
a powerful city-state, now a tiny village that boasts one of the grandest churches
in Oaxaca. We’ll visit the church and enjoy a special lunch prepared by
a group of local women spearheading a project to revive cultural identity in
the region and working with communities on reforestation in this damaged landscape.
In the afternoon we’ll head on to the most bustling town currently in
the region, and overnight in Tlaxiaco.
Day 3: A market will blossom overnight in the plaza in front
of our hotel. The ancient tradition of the regional, weekly market is alive
and well here as people from far and wide come to buy, sel, and trade. After
exploring this very lively market, we will journey to a remote stretch of oak
forests and limestone soil to find an ancient walking route that will lead us
to a little valley guarded by steep cliffs. There we’ll encounter the
mythical birthplace of the Mixtec people in a spring of clear water at the base
of a large cypress tree. We’ll spend the next two nights in comfortable
adobe cabins in the nearby village of Apoala.
Photo: Barbara Kamm
Day 4: Apoala is a tiny village of tin-roofed log cabins and
fruit trees, surrounded by spectacular cliffs and graced by a fine waterfall.
We will enjoy 1-2 mile hikes into this exotic landscape of bromeliad-faced cliffs,
terraced slopes, and turquoise blue water. One hike has a gentle elevation gain,
and another has a short, sharp drop and a climb back out of about 1,000 feet.
Visits are also planned with palm hat and basket weavers as well as an old timer
who makes pulque, a very Mexican version of microbrew from the agave cactus.
We’ll overnight again in Apoala.
Day 5: As we head back to the valley of Oaxaca, we will stop
in a small hillside village to visit the local co-op, which produces all variety
of hand-made paper from local fibers and turns the paper into jewelry and other
fine creations. Nearby is a century-old textile factory that has been converted
into an art school. The entire space is a work of art, and we will wander through,
enjoying the colors, flowing water and shades of light. Then, we’ll head
onward into the Sierra to visit Ixtlan, a timber town surrounded by predominantly
pine-oak forests. Through sustainable forestry, the village’s communal
lands have been rated one of the world’s 17 outstandingly diverse ecosystems
by the World Wildlife Federation. We’ll spend two nights in the village-owned
and -operated forest cabins in Ixtlan.
Photo: Barbara Kamm
Day 6: We’ll begin the morning with a hike of 1-2 hours
through the pine forests in the mountains above our cabins. We’ll be hiking
at 7,000-8,000 feet with moderate elevation gains and losses. Later we will
have a guided tour of the village’s sawmill and furniture factory, a working
model of sustainable forestry and resource management as well as a primary source
of income for the village and many of the villagers. Later, we’ll have
lunch at a cooperatively run trout farm along a creek. Our overnight will be
Day 7: Returning to the Oaxaca Valley we will have one more
walk in the Sierra. We’ll follow a 6-mile mountain trail that's maintained
by a union of villages joined in an effort to log more sustainably and offer
eco-tourism as an economic alternative. We’ll enjoy high pine forest studded
with enormous agave cactus and then drop into Oaxaca Valley toward the town
of Mitla, where we will spend the next three nights at a charming hotel right
off the town square. From this base camp, we can explore the richly cultural
Zapotec Valley and get to know this thriving town so famous for its Zapotec
ruins. Overnight: Mitla.
Day 8: Beginning in the heart of our small town, we will visit
the ruined palaces of what was once an important chiefdom. The Mitla palaces
showcase some of the finest and most precise stonework in Mesoamerica. After
exploring the ruins, we’ll head into the hinterland to the mineral springs
of Hierve el Agua, where centuries of mineral deposits have created dramatic
"frozen waterfalls." Hiking and perhaps a dip in the pools will be
in order. Overnight: Mitla.
Day 9: Accompanied by a local birding guide, we’ll get
an early start to spot the morning birds in the fields once cultivated by the
Zapotec citizens of the kingdom of Yagul. As the sun gets higher in the sky
and the birds settle down, we’ll visit Yagul with its ball court, temples
and palaces. Then it’s onward to the village of Teotitlan del Valle, legendary
for two things: amazing weavings and rich, traditional Zapotec cuisine. Today
we are here for the food! We’ll come back tomorrow for the rugs. For the
rest of the our morning, a local cook and her family will help us create a true
Mexican feast with homemade corn tortillas, salsas made from local chili peppers
and squash flowers, and Oaxacan cheeses mixed into the whole blend. What will
we make? Come find out. After devouring our own handiwork at our mid-afternoon
comida, we’ll return to Mitla and take some time to relax. Overnight:
Photo: Barbara Kamm
Day 10: We’ll pack our bags and bid farewell to Mitla
as we head back to Teotitlan, where we’ll visit a few of the thousands
of rug weavers in the area. We’ll visit a household that weaves pieces
commissioned by contemporary artists, working a loom 15 feet wide -- the biggest
in the village -- and enjoy a lunch prepared by their household. Then we’ll
meet a master dyer and learn about a very special red dye (the “cochineal”)
produced from a cactus parasite the size of a shriveled lentil bean! Later,
we’ll head into the countryside to visit the Zapotec pottery village of
San Marcos Tlapazola, where we will learn how a family of potters has been making
bean pots and corn sieves for the last 4,000 years. Finally, we’ll head
back to Oaxaca City, completing the circle of our journey. The afternoon and
evening are open for exploring or relaxing. Overnight: Oaxaca.
Day 11: We’ll spend the morning exploring the historic
center of Oaxaca on foot. After lunch and a couple hours of free time, we’ll
visit one of Mesoamerica’s largest ruined cities -- Monte Alban -- ancient
capital of the Zapotecs, and then we’ll return to town for our farewell
dinner in Oaxaca.
Day 12: Breakfast and departures from Oaxaca airport (OAX).
Airport transfers are not included, but vans will be available to transport
you from the hotel to the airport for about $10 per person.
Please note: weather or other conditions may require changes to this itinerary.
All itineraries are subject to change without notice.
The trip begins and ends at the hotel in Oaxaca, Mexico (OAX). You might want
to arrive a day or two early to avoid the difficulties that arise from delayed
or canceled flights, to make sure that you can make our 5:30 p.m. orientation
meeting on day one and to rest up before our trip begins.
Accommodations and Food
We will experience a range of accommodations from a four-star, family-owned
hotel in Oaxaca to very basic, community-owned cabins in Apoala and Ixtlan.
This trip has been designed to take us off the beaten track into the cultural
heart of Oaxaca, so our accommodations in some places, by necessity, will be
simple but clean and comfortable in order to access certain very special indigenous
people and villages. Rooms will be double-occupancy with bathrooms en suite.
Single travelers will be matched with a roommate of the same gender. Single
rooms may be available for an extra charge. If you plan to arrive early or stay
later in Oaxaca, we would be happy to help you make arrangements to stay at
our hotel if space is available.
Meals will be served at our hotels, at local restaurants, or by local communities
or households. Some meals will be gourmet and others will be quite basic, but
filling and tasty. Rice, beans and tortillas are staples. Meals prepared by
local households are prepared with our health and sanitation in mind. Everyone,
including vegetarians, will have plenty of good, local food to eat.
Photo: Barbara Kamm
Potential trip members should be familiar with the nature and demands of adventure
eco-travel. There will be some long, bumpy and dusty rides on rutted dirt tracks.
Hiking will range from moderate to moderately strenuous, with at least two hikes
taking 3-5 hours. Most of our trails will be well traveled but uneven in surface
due to centuries of use. Those who don’t wish to hike or cannot hike may
stay at the hotel or with the van.
We recommend that all participants engage in an active, pre-trip walking regimen
so as to maximize their full enjoyment of the trip since we will be on our feet
a fair amount of time each day. All participants will need a spirit of discovery
and a high level of flexibility since unforeseen glitches can and do occur and
might require a change in our itinerary. Finally, everyone should be reasonably
comfortable being in a group, trying different types of food, sleeping and hiking
at elevation (sometimes as high as 8,000 feet), and adapting to local customs.
Equipment and Clothing
We will be traveling during the so-called "dry season," so we probably
won’t see much, if any, rain. Temperatures will range from the 70s-90s
Fahrenheit in the valleys, but may get considerably colder in the mountains.
There is little or no humidity, so the higher temperatures should be tolerable
for most folks and, whenever possible, we will avoid being out in the open during
the heat of the day. For evenings and early mornings in the mountains, a warm
jacket, cap and gloves, would be good items to throw into your suitcase.
The most important equipment will be your day pack for daily necessities (water,
camera, binoculars, journal, etc.) and really good, broken-in footwear. Either
mid- to light-weight hiking boots or walking shoes with a good lugged sole are
acceptable. A collapsible hiking pole is a must. It’s especially helpful
in protecting your knees on the downhills, and you will find it indispensible
on the many stream crossings. A full packing list will be provided prior to
- Greenfield, Amy Butler, The Perfect Red: Empire, Espionage and
the Quest for the Color of Desire. The wild story of a little pest from
Oaxaca that was and still is the best natural red dye in the world.
- Sachs, Oliver, Oaxaca Journal. Dr. Sach’s engaging
journal from his own tour of Oaxaca.
- Simmons, Joel, Endangered Mexico: An Environment on the Edge.
Interesting and insightful tales about environmental issues in Mexico.
- Whipperman, Bruce, Moon Oaxaca (Moon Handbooks). Arguably
the best guidebook out there on Oaxaca.
- Rothstein, Arden Aibel, Mexican Folk Art from Oaxacan Artist Families.
An overview of artisan families in the Oaxaca valleys. Lots of good pictures.
- Mendoza, Mary Jane Gagnier, Oaxaca Celebration, Family, Food,
and Fiestas in Teotitlan. An intriguing look at a year’s worth
of colorful festivities. [Note: we will be visiting Teotitlan during our trip]
- Wasserspring, Lois, Oaxacan Ceramics: Traditional Folk Art by
Oaxacan Women. A look at six Oaxacan potters, their work and stories.
- Howell and Webb, A Guide to the Birds of Mexico and North Central
America. Very complete and quite hefty. Recommended for serious birders only.
Sierra Club is an environmentally focused entity. We are concerned about conservation
and sustainability of resources, both locally and globally. Our work is accomplished
by volunteers and aided by a salaried staff, who encourage grassroots involvement.
Our outings seek to empower participants toward greater understanding, advocacy,
and participation in the goals of the Club. Environmental topics on this outing
include reforestation and sustainable forestry, as well as cultural preservation.
We will stay in, and you’ll learn about, communities that are trying to
develop the eco-tourism trade so as to attract hard currency and preserve jobs
in their own villages. We will also visit some of the sustainable and cooperative
enterprises they have built to generate income, including some designed to preserve
the folk art of the region, and you’ll have a chance to learn about their
practices and challenges.
This trip requires a $200 per-person deposit. An additional payment of $300 per person is due six months prior to trip departure. International trip prices are subject to change and are based on double-occupancy or group accommodations as described above. Single rooms may not be available or may cost more than the listed price. If you have any questions regarding double occupancy, please contact the trip leader.
See the How to Apply for an Outing
section for more details on registering for this trip and details
about our Reservation and Cancellation
The payment of a deposit does not confirm you as a member on the
trip. Participants must be approved by the trip leader. After signing
up for this trip, you will be sent a confirmation packet containing
approval materials (Participant Approval Questionnaire, Medical
Form, Liability Release Form). Each applicant (including those on
the waitlist) must fill out these forms and promptly mail them to
the trip leader. The leader will review the approval materials and
notify you of your acceptance in a timely manner.
The Sierra Club accurately and fairly budgets and prices our trips. However, unforeseen costs such as devaluation of the dollar compared to other currencies and fuel surcharges assessed by our international providers may necessitate adjustment in trip price. We will make every effort to mitigate and absorb these fees. If a price increase is necessary, however, you will have 14 days after announcement to cancel without penalty.
Barbara Kamm grew up in Lima, Peru, and speaks Spanish fluently. After graduating from college, she and her sister spent three months driving a VW bug from San Francisco to Panama. Oaxaca was one of her favorite stops, and it retains much of the same charm today. Barbara has traveled to over 55 countries and leads trips in Europe and Latin America for the Sierra Club. She loves archaeology, history, and hiking and is developing a fondness for birding.
General Notes About Sierra Club Trips