Weaving Your Way Through Mexico

Oaxaca's Fading Weaving Art lives on in
 the traditions of its remote villages.
Explore the Zapotec villages where art
 and precision are an everyday way of life.

Colored with culture and arrayed in splendid beauty, Oaxaca State is a rare gem located deep in the south of Mexico, an adventurer's playground rich in history, art, mystery and magic. From mountain villages where time stands still to the colonial capital of Oaxaca City, there is plenty to see and do with never enough time to experience it all.

From Mitla, the ancient "place of the dead", to the towering mountaintop heights of ancient Monte Alban, a glorious pre-Columbian city of great art and science, archeological wonders dot the countryside at every turn, remnants of a once-great American civilization that flourished a 1,000 years before Cortez landed on Mexico's glistening shores near Vera Cruz.

Nearly unspoiled and far off the typical tourist path, Oaxaca offers a wonderland of adventure travel, from mountain biking its Pacific coastline or backpacking across its interior mountains to villages rich in local arts and crafts, where nothing more than a dirt road connects the villagers to the modern world outside.

Most notable among these outer villages is Teotitlan de Valle, home to the famous Zapotec weavers, where the tradition of weaving pre-dates European influence in the Americas. The Aztecs exacted a tribute of weavings from the Zapotec during their reign of Mesoamerican authority. It may well have been the Zapotecs that shared their rich craftsmanship with the Navajo of Southwestern America.

Whether your adventure includes time to relax on the Pacific beaches of southern Oaxaca (a little-discovered area rich in getaway amenities), a tour of pre-hispanic sites and artifacts scattered across the grand mountains and valleys of the region, whitewatering the great rivers that rapidly descend into the sea, or taking the time to get to know Oaxaca City, one of the New World's "Nicest Cities", there is plenty of room to adventure in southern Mexico.

In nearby Oaxaca City, the single biggest annual party, in mid-July, has come to be known as La Guelaguetza, which is Zapotec for "offering" or "mutual help". A massive open-air amphitheater is a permanent fixture on the side of the Fortín hill which overlooks the north west quadrant of the city. In July, this is the scene for spectacularly colorful regional folkloric dances performed by several different ethnic groups from the seven main geographic regions of the state. The entire city comes alive with color. Color is everywhere from the beautifully hand-embroidered dresses and huipiles, to the food, to the paper streamers decorating the streets and to the mixture of merchandise sold on the sidewalks. Some central hotels, including the Camino Real, luxuriously housed in an architecturally-gorgeous former convent, and the Monte Alban opposite the cathedral, offer a once-a-week, year- round, scaled-down version of La Guelaguetza for travellers unable to visit in July.