For travelers on a tight time budget, a prearranged tour package can provide a hassle-free route for sampling Oaxaca’s attractions. For tour information, read on, call a travel agent, or visit a travel website (see Internet Resources ).
If, however, you prefer a self-paced vacation, or desire thrift over convenience, you should probably defer tour arrangements to Oaxaca guides and agencies whom you can contact upon arrival (or before departure by telephone, fax, or email, see the Oaxaca City Tours and Guides section  and Getting Around the Oaxaca Valley for more information). Many Oaxaca tour agencies as close as your hotel telephone or lobby-front tour desk can customize a tour for you.
Oaxaca’s rich archaeological and cultural heritage provides a focus for some noteworthy tour-study programs. Some of the agencies that offer such options include Adventures into Art, Elderhostel, Field Guides, Journey Mexico, Manos de Oaxaca, Mexi-Maya Tours, Siemer and Hand, and Zapotec Tours.
A pair of Elderhostel (11 Lafayette Ave., Boston, MA 02111, 877/454-5768, www.elderhostel.org ) tours lead participants on Oaxaca explorations: “Oaxaca: Spanish Language and Hispanic Culture” emphasizes local traditions, food, and fiestas, plus lots of practice in conversational Spanish; “Dia de Los Muertos (Day of the Dead) in Oaxaca” centers on the happy Mexican tradition of celebrating their beloved departed in joyous gravesite, food, flower- and candle-festooned family fiestas. Both programs include visits to the archaeological sites of Monte Albán  and Mitla  and appreciation of indigenous tradition through visits to pottery, weaving, and woodcraft villages and evening excursions to enjoy Oaxacan food and folkloric music and dance. Accommodations can include both hotel rooms and homestays with Mexican families.
Florida-based Zapotec Tours (407/332-0707, toll-free 800/446-2922, fax 407/264-0709) arranges two exciting and enlightening Oaxaca tours: a “Taste of Oaxaca” gastronomical tour (beginning of October), a “Day of the Dead” cultural tour, focused on the celebrated November 1–2 Day of the Dead festival. For many details, visit www.zapotel.com .
Journey Mexico (toll-free U.S. tel. 800/513-1587, Mexico tel. 322/225-9821, info [at] journeymexico [dot] com, www.journeymexico.com ) organizes custom or group outdoor, people-to-people-oriented tours that include off-the-beaten-track villages in the Oaxaca northern mountains and southern tropical coast. The group tour starts in Oaxaca City  and the Valley of Oaxaca  archaeological sites and crafts villages. The itinerary continues with hiking around the Sierra Norte villages of Benito Juárez and Cuajimoloyas. Tours usually climax with explorations, including sea turtle conservation and wildlife-viewing, in the tropical coastal villages around Puerto Ángel .
The Illinois-based Mexi-Mayan (12S675 Knoebel Dr., Lemont, IL 60439, 630/972-9090, toll-free 800/337-6394, fax 630/972-9393, www.meximayan.com ) tours feature broad museum-quality cultural experiences, customarily including visits to museums, historical and archaeological sites, crafts villages, and markets. In past years, they have regularly led groups on a popular Oaxaca Day of the Dead tour. Sometimes itineraries include extensions to Oaxaca’s palmy coastal resorts.
Birding tour outfitter Field Guides (800/728-4953, fax 512/263-0117, fieldguides [at] fieldguides [dot] com, www.fieldguides.com ) leads Oaxaca tours centering on the wildlife-rich foothill forests and lagoons of the tropical coast. Along the way, trips often include archaeological and historical sites and colorful native markets.
Siemer and Hand Travel (50 Osgood Place, Suite 230, San Francisco, CA 94111, 415/788-4000 or 800/451-4321, fax 415/788-4133, www.siemerhand.com ), a broad-based high-end tour agency, specializes in both individual and group educational tours. Their Oaxaca group tours have recently included “Birding in Oaxaca,” in cooperation with the Massachusetts Audubon Society, and “Textiles of Mexico City and the Valley of Oaxaca ” that also includes historical and cultural highlights, in cooperation with the California Academy of Sciences.
Oaxaca arts and crafts tours, often in cooperation with art institutes and museums, are the specialty of Travel Adventures into Art (3030 Bridgeway, Sausalito , CA 94965, tel./fax 415/492-8166, taia1 [at] mindspring [dot] com), run by President Joan LeVine Mellion. Tours frequently occur during the springtime (for cooking) and July (for the Guelaguetza  dance festival), and Day of the Dead (November 1 and 2) and Christmas–New Year’s. Other tours have focused on a special interest, such as contemporary art, textiles, or women artists. Hands-on tours emphasize actually doing art, such as painting, pottery, or photography, in a Oaxaca setting.
Adventuresome travelers hankering for something unusual might check out Manos de Oaxaca (Oaxaca tel. 951/571-3695, traditions mexico [at] yahoo [dot] com or mindling [at] comcast [dot] net, www.manos-de-oaxaca.com ), of artisan-guide and Oaxaca lover Eric Mindling. His bliss is leading like-minded folks in explorations of traditional clay and fiber arts by country artisans in communities in Valley of Oaxaca , the Mixteca, and the Coast. The approach is people to people, the accommodations sometimes rustic, the prices very reasonable, but the rewards potentially great. Eric customarily leads about four or five 7- to 10-day tours per year.