You’ve never experienced Carnival like this before. On the outskirts of Oaxaca City lies a small town famous for it’s Alebrijes meaning “Joy for its colours”. But these wooden painted carvings aren’t the only colourful thing this town has to offer. Once a year at carnival (or Carnaval as it’s more commonly known in Latin America) San Martin Tilcajete comes alive with fireworks, colour and dancing. But it’s most notable for the unique masks and motor-oil painted skin that makes this carnival a bizarre and unique spectacle. Here are just some of the photos from this year and tips on how to see carnival in San Martin Tilcajete, Oaxaca, Mexico.
The masked men
Costumes consist of large masks resembling animal or human skulls, often the more terrifying the better. Cowbells tied around the waist by rope ward off evil spirits and make for a deafening carnival procession. Black motor oil, silver and colourful paints cover the bodies, they call themselves aceitados (oiled ones) and go around town causing mischief.
Participants in this unique carnival in Oaxaca are usually young men, “a young mans game” one local told me, fully covered in black running around like crazed revellers under the mid day sun. But women and children also join in with tribal dress and beautiful hand made outfits.
When is carnival in Mexico and when to get to San Martin Tilcajete Carnival
Carnival is celebrated in Mexico around the last week in February. The main Carnival in San Martin Tilcajete starts around noon on “Fat Tuesday” (the day before lent) lasting well into the evening. Get there early to explore the town hall, stalls and food vendors before the carnival sets off in full swing with band in tow, in a circuit around the town.
What to expect from celebrating carnival in Oaxaca
The masks can make it seem like it’s all doom and gloom. It’s not all serious faces though. Dancing is the main focus of the day with fireworks, eclectic dress and a drag wedding thrown in for good measure. Everyone is made to feel welcome with food and drinks passed around freely.
When caught off guard the locals of San Martin Tilcajete were clearly enjoying themselves. Part of celebrating carnival in Mexico is letting go of everything before lent; as well as a great excuse for a fiesta. Some even taking selfies to remember the moment.
How to get to the San Martin Tilcajete Carnival in Oaxaca, Mexico? And top tips for visiting
- From Oaxaca City grab any collectivo heading towards Ocotlan. The bus terminal is here in the south of the city. Cost is 30pesos.
- From the drop off it’s a 15 minute walk straight in to town, tuks tuks are also available. To return to Oaxaca city just head back to the main road.
- The main parade starts at noon on Shrove Tuesday, but make sure to arrive to the main square early to get caught up in all the excitement.
- The locals are bewilderingly friendly. They love to pose for photos when on show but leave them alone when resting or eating. You’d expect the same.
- Get involved with the dancing and be prepared to come out dirtier than you went in! Old clothes you don’t mind being covered in oil are a must!
- Cameras are safe, unlike other carnivals there no liquids being thrown around and the only target for oil covering is your skin (it washes off, eventually!).
- If you are in Oaxaca City the Saturday before there is usually an evening parade starting around 5pm from the Zocalo with some of the local towns including San Martin Tilcajete.
A truly unique experience in Mexico, a mesmerising spectacle unlike any other, and surely the best carnival in Mexico. The Oaxaca region is a wonderful and genuine part of Mexico many visitors miss. While visiting the Yucatan for it’s luxurious beaches and hidden islands is a must, Oaxaca is the perfect place to spend a couple of weeks and soak in real Mexican culture. Don’t forget to follow Lost Wanders on Facebook or Instagram for more unique adventures.
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