Ancestral Potters in the Modern World

Feb. 23 - March 3, 2019

Quick Details

  • Dates: Feb. 23 – March 3, 2019
  • Duration: Nine days/eight nights
  • Where: Valleys and Mixtec Oaxaca
  • Departing and ending point: Oaxaca City

About the Ancenstral Potters Tour

Become immersed in a world of ancient Oaxacan potters and handmade cookware.

This journey looks at ancient ways and modern ideas. The potters we meet are all committed to keeping their ancient ways alive and have joined forces with Innovando la Tradición to help make that happen.

As we wash clay off our hands or smell the smoke of the fire, we enjoy stories of ideas and adventures, like Zapotec potters showing their work in New York City at the Museum of Modern Art’s store of design, the creation of a first-of-its-kind biodiesel kiln, design workshops bringing potters together from diverse indigenous communities, and the organization and resurgence of potters in a village where pottery was at the brink of extinction.

Join us on this journey into deeply traditional pottery, real-world challenges, and great ideas that make a difference. This is a journey about fire and clay and change.

Meet traditional makers and artisans collaborating with innovative changemakers (social entrepreneurs, cooperatives, etc.) doing work that makes a difference in the lives of traditional people. A percentage of the tour price goes directly to the artisans and the changemaker organization. And your presence and interest are priceless nods of approval to people working against the odds to make a difference.


  • Four unique pottery villages
  • Off the beaten track
  • Learn about a life-changing organization
  • Pre-Hispanic pottery making
  • Witness amazing wood firings
  • Hands-on play with clay
  • Understand real-world challenges and great solutions

Note About Pottery in Oaxaca

Four thousand years of pottery-making wisdom are expressed through the hands of the potters of Oaxaca. Our journey focuses around a select handful of Zapotec and Mixtec pottery villages. Each community forms, finishes, and fires its pottery in a distinctive way. We meet potters who carry the generational knowledge of their ancestry, seeing how they work, putting our hands in the clay with them, participating in the thrill of hot and smoky wood firings, and sitting down to home-cooked meals made in traditional pottery.

But there is a major challenge in the world of traditional potters; the inflow of plastic buckets, tin cups, and aluminum pans has begun to force many potters to leave their villages and look for other work. A fabulous organization called Innovando la Tradición is working with potters to change that. Contemporary challenges call for contemporary solutions.

  • Chevron down What's Included
    • All lodging during trip based on double occupancy
    • Most meals (listed on itinerary)
    • Superb guide
    • Transport in private van
    • Entry fees
  • Chevron down Not Included
    • Airfare and transportation to and from the pick-up/drop-off locations
    • Lodging before and after the trip
    • Personal items purchased during the trip
    • Alcoholic beverages
    • Some meals are not included. On these trips, Traditions Mexico invites you to explore the local cuisine at your leisure.
    • Gratuities for your Traditional Mexico guides may be given at your discretion in response to their professionalism and leadership. The industry standard is for each individual guest to tip the guide team 5-10% of the trip price.
    • Room service
    • Travel Visa fees
  • Chevron down Itinerary
  • B=breakfast, L=lunch, D=dinner included in trip cost

    Day 1 – Saturday, Feb. 23 (D)

    We have our first meeting at our hotel at 6 p.m., getting to know each other and talking about the trip to come. Afterward, we go out to dinner.





    Overnight in Oaxaca

    Day 2 – Sunday, Feb. 24 (BL)

    We begin our explorations around Oaxaca city. But this isn’t your typical old church and pretty plaza city tour. Our focus is to get to know this city and the people who make it hum through the lens of social enterprise, meeting people doing work that makes a difference, hearing new ideas, experiencing old ways, and feeling the fresh pulse of this city.

    Overnight in Oaxaca


    Day 3 – Monday, Feb. 25 (BL)

    And now, clay! We begin in the town of pottery colored like the night, like the underworld, Coyotepec. The very distinctive black pottery of this town has made it famous far beyond Oaxaca. Even if people know nothing else about Mexican pottery, they’ve usually heard of the black pottery. Well, this is the source, And we get to see it from the inside.

    We start by meeting one of the handfuls of potters who still form their vessels in the unusual pre-Hispanic method of Coyotepec. We get a hands-on chance to play with some decoration tools (not quite like the ones you buy from the clay shop) and work on putting some style on a vessel or two.

    A walk around town with a local potter introduces us to the ecological side of this village, giving us a look at how a village organizes to take care of itself. And we meet an innovative potter who is pushing the boundaries of tradition. We also have an opportunity to examine the sunken kilns of Coyotepec and learn about their one-of-a-kind firing process.

    Overnight in Oaxaca

    Day 4 – Tuesday, Feb. 26 (BL)

    For over 10,000 years, the valley of Oaxaca has been populated, and it’s been nearly 4,000 years since pottery appeared on the scene here. So it is that valleys of Oaxaca are filled with the ruins of fallen Zapotec cities and kingdoms, the ground littered with ancient pottery shards.

    Our morning begins with a visit to one of those ruined kingdoms at the archeological site of Atzompa, which sits upon the summit of a small mountain overlooking Oaxaca. Of particular interest for us here are the kilns. And just below these ruins is the present-day village of Atzompa, which not only happens to be one of the largest pottery producing communities in Oaxaca, but it is likely also the most ancient.

    We spend the rest of the day here, meeting potters who know their stuff! We get to see the traditional way of forming and firing pots as well as new approaches to both. Of particular interest is the biodiesel kiln pioneered by Innovando la Tradición. We also meet a master of comal forming. Comals are the crucial clay platters used for cooking tortillas and toasting chilis. It is no easy feat making one of these, though it appears to the contrary watching a master at work. Give it a try, lest you might think it’s as easy as it looks.

    Throughout the day, we learn about the ways Innovando is involved with these potters and others and how that has made a difference. (P.S. we enjoy a homecooked lunch today!)

    Overnight in Oaxaca

    Day 5 – Wednesday, Feb. 27 (BL)

    There are perhaps 2,000 potters in Atzompa. Yesterday we met about four. We’re going back today to meet a couple more. Local potter Juanita says “I was born in clay,” and to watch her work is to see that she lives and breathes it – she is one with clay. We spend a long morning with her and her brother, watching her work and getting our hands muddy as well.

    We also have the pleasure of witnessing a glaze firing in their single-chamber, updraft kiln (the same kind of structure we saw yesterday at the ruins), including the fast and frenetic hot unloading. Gotta pull the pots before the glaze cools! This is a sight worth seeing. You have some free time in the afternoon to visit those churches and pretty plazas we missed on the first day.

    Overnight in Oaxaca

    Day 6 – Thursday, Feb. 28 (BL)

    The ancient pottery centers of Coyotepec and Atzompa are crucial pieces of Oaxaca’s ceramic history and heritage. But today we go even deeper, traveling into a region where Spanish is only spoken as a second language.

    In the village of San Marcos, we meet a family of ribbon-bedecked Zapotec clay masters. We travel with them to the edge of the mountain among the cornfields, where they dig their clay, and see how they turn this clay into the workable material they build their pottery with. We get to see the pottery at work in cooking and serving when we are treated to lunch here as well!

    To cap it all off with a bath of smoke, we witness one of the great pottery shows in Oaxaca, a pre-Hispanic communal surface firing!

    Overnight in Oaxaca

    Day 7 – Friday, March 1 (BLD)

    We continue to go deeper. Pack your bags for this overnight field trip! We head to a region called the Mixteca to meet the last potters of Tonaltepec. Where once there were many, with the hard changing times, there are now less than fingers on your hand. But their work is unique, earthy, and essential, a reflection of the landscape that surrounds this almost surreal community.

    We meet a group of potters who show us their ancient way of forming, and perhaps even more fascinating, we witness a firing method seldom seen by outsiders and unique only to this village. The firing wraps up with steaming and aromatic hot tanning dyeing of the vessels as they are plucked out of the fire with long sticks. Our evening is spent in a lodge on the edge of a small town called Yanhuitlan, right next to one of the largest churches and monasteries in Oaxaca. Wonderful sunset photo ops to be had here!

    Overnight in Yanhuitlan

    Day 8 – Saturday, March 2 (BLD)

    We visit our last potters this morning, a couple from this region who live right up the road and whose intensely creative and often humorous work in a way serves as a bridge between traditional Oaxacan pottery, which inspires their methods, and contemporary studio pottery, which best describes their approach.

    You are treated to a home-cooked breakfast and a tour of their studio and gorgeously humble artwork of a house. Then we head back to Oaxaca, stopping en route to visit a beautifully restored textile mill turned art center that has little to do with pottery at all but plenty to do with beauty. Enjoy the afternoon in the city on your own before we gather for a fancy little final feast together.

    Overnight in Oaxaca

    Day 9 – Sunday, March 3 (B)

    You’re homeward bound today, with a bit of dust and smoke marinating your clothing.