San Martin Tilcajete is a tiny village located 23 kilometers away from the city of Oaxaca. San Martin is a rural, indigenous community which, up until three generations ago, still spoke the Zapotec language and practiced their traditions.
Why visit? Because this is where the making of the famous alebrijes happens. What are they?
Alebrijes are wood carved folk art, mostly found in Oaxaca, that come in the shape of animals (with a twist) painted in bright colours and something everyone visiting Oaxaca must take home. Alebrijes were first created by Pablo Linares, a Oaxacan artist who fell sick and while sleeping, he dreamt of some unusual creatures in the woods who kept shouting “alebrijes” to him. Once his health was back, he decided to recreate what he had seen on his dreams. They became popular after famous Mexican artists Frida Kahlo and Diego Rivera gained an interest in his works. Now, alebrijes have become a symbol of not only Oaxaca, but of Mexico.
In San Martin Tilcajete, you’ll find artisans selling their alebrijes as well as workshops where you’ll learn how to make your own. There isn’t much to see other than that but houses’ façades are beautifully decorated with life-sized alebrijes standing in front of them.
San Martin Tilcajete is also the host to some pretty amazing festivals, where anyone is welcomed to.
The first and most popular is the Carnival, celebrated after Ash Wednesdays where everyone wears wood carved masks made by local artisans.
If visiting during April, you’ll be lucky to experience the Alebrije Festival. This festival lasts nine days and the artisan’s works (sometimes life-sized) is displayed while music plays in the background. You’ll also be able to attend several theatre events and watch dance performances.
If there during October, go to Azucena Zapoteca, a restaurant in the town that hosts the Shin Naa Lasn, or commonly called, the Folk Art Festival. In this festival, alebrijes are also the main theme and you’ll be able to see them in their fullest glory as well as get involved in many workshops to learn how to make your own instructed by the local experts.