Guelaguetza — Oaxaca City, Oaxaca
Auditorio Guelaguetza • Guelaguetza Amphitheater • (A)
Drawing tens of thousands of attendees to events throughout the state, the Guelaguetza is Oaxaca's largest, most dazzling festival. The main event is held in the city of Oaxaca at the 11,000 person open-air Auditorio Guelaguetza amphitheater on the side of the Cerro del Fortín hill, about a mile's walk from the Zócalo, while in the villages and towns smaller unique versions of the festival are staged. On the first two Mondays after July 16, known as Los Lunes del Cerro (Mondays on the Hill), the festival is celebrated by costumed dancers from the seven regions of the state performing folk dances of cultural and historical significance. The word Guelaguetza is Zapotecan and means "to exchange gifts". And in this spirit, the dancers symbolically exchange gifts by throwing produce to the audience at the end of each performance.
To get to the amphitheater from the Zócalo:
- Beginning at the intersection of Indepedencia and Alcalá (across the street from the cathedral) walk up traffic-free Alcalá for about half a mile (0.8km) to Carranza.
- Turn left on Carranza and continue three blocks to Tinoco y Palacios.
- Turn right on Tinoco y Palacios and then almost immediately turn left on Boca del Monte. Continue one block to Crespo.
- Turn right on Crespo and continue about a block to the staircase on the left side of the Crespo.
- Continue up the staircase, through the tunnel, to the amphitheater.
Founded in 1568 as a small cottage with four nuns living in it, the convent had grown by the early 18th century into the large compound that still exists today, one city block in size, enclosed by high stonewalls, with a large chapel, the Santa Catalina de Siena, and five arcaded courtyards and cloisters inside.
As it did with most church proprieties in 1859, the federal government expropriated the convent, turning it over to the city, which in turn used it as a jail and city hall. Unlike most expropriated church properties, though, which were eventually given back to the orders that founded them or the Catholic Church, the convent was turned over to private hands, where it was used as a movie theater and a Masonic lodge before being converted into the city’s most elegant and expensive hotel, the Camino Real. During this time, the interior of the convent was subjected to several makeovers and restorations, and even though it is still beautiful, it has, for the most part, been stripped of its original ornamentation and furnishings, save a few fragments of murals on the walls, some old oil pots, a handful of restored colonial paintings, and a smattering of furniture.
Even if a night’s stay is beyond your means, the place is still worth a visit, especially the chapel with its dark, cavernous nave, where reenactments of the Guelaguetza folk dances are held every Friday night. (The price of admission includes a buffet dinner.) But perhaps what is most captivating architecturally about the former convent is the small octagonal-shaped outbuilding the nuns used as a washhouse. Located in the northeast courtyard, the washhouse is ringed with arches and covered with a Moorish dome, at its center a fountain surrounded by a dozen washbasins, its waterworks fully functional.
- Cinco de Mayo 300, just north of Murguia; North of Independencia, Centro Histórico; 91 rooms, USD$271/271/311 (s/d/t); Most major credit cards; phone 951-516-0611, 951-501-6100; fax 951-516-0732; www.caminoreal.com/oaxaca; firstname.lastname@example.org; Reservations recommended.
- Restaurant El Refectorio, outdoor heated swimming pool, 24 hour room service, safe deposit box, laundry and dry cleaning, two bars: Las Novicias & Las Bugambilias, shop and news stand, taxi stand, doctor on-call.
- Room: phone, satellite TV, hair dryer, AC, internet.
- Alameda de León 1, southwest corner of the Alameda; Around the Zócalo, Centro Histórico; 20 rooms, USD$43 s, USD$52 d, USD$68 t; Most major credit cards; phone 951-516-2777, 951-516-2330; fax 951-516-3265; email@example.com.
Casa de Cantera • Guelaguetza, Oaxacan Restaurant • (K)
Catering to domestic and foreign tourists, this restaurant stages mini-guelaguetza performances nightly, starting at 8:30 p.m. and costing 140 pesos. For dinner, a set, multi-course meal of Oaxacan food is served during the show, though not included in the price of admission. The restaurant is located in the middle-class Reforma neighborhood, a couple of kilometers north of the Zócalo, about a thirty-minute walk. Not interested in hoofing it, especially at night? A steady stream of cabs queue up at the taxi stand on the north side of the Alameda de León. However, before schlepping it all the way up here, be sure to call ahead and make a reservation for the show, particularly during the low seasons.
- Dr. Federico Ortiz Armengol 104, half block west of Calzado Porfirio Díaz; Colonia Reforma; Daily 2 p.m. - 10 p.m.; phone 951-515-3768; www.casadecantera.com; firstname.lastname@example.org.