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As the title of this post suggests, the two times I’ve been to Oaxaca, I’ve spent a little more than what you can call a ‘long weekend’ there. The first time round, I went for a week and took part in some of the most obvious things to do in Oaxaca, Mexico, like Hierve el Agua and taking an ill-advised minivan down some winding backstreets to Mazunte on the coast (not recommended).
The second time round, I was there for a little over a week and a half, for a friend’s wedding and instead indulged in more of the top things to do in Oaxaca City, Mexico.
Btw, I cannot rave enough about that two-day wedding/event/party. So if you ever get the chance to go to a big, fat Oaxacan wedding, DO IT!
In and amongst sleeping off debilitating hangovers, avoiding the bouquet and trying to stop the bride from being knocked off a chair (it’s a tradition, trust me), I found time to spend a complimentary evening at one of the city’s best hotels, do a spot of cool café hopping and enjoy a rooftop drink or two. (Truly stressful, I know.)
And while I certainly didn’t make it everywhere I had on my list (I literally never do), I did tick off a big chunk of Oaxaca must-visits.
Having said thaaaat, I’ve literally only been to Oaxaca twice for about three weeks, total; so, this Oaxaca travel guide won’t be as in-depth as my previous posts on places like Mexico City and Guadalajara (although it somehow still clocks in at around 6000 words). Instead, I’m gunna focus on some of the best places to visit in Oaxaca, Mexico which you can mix and match to suit your schedule, whether you’ll be there for a week or a long weekend. (It is only five hours from Oaxaca to Mexico City by bus, after all.)
As always, this post is by no means entirely comprehensive, but it does feature the places to see in Oaxaca, Mexico that I know are cool and therefore makes for a good intro to one of the most traditional, affordable and interesting cities in Mexico. (And I’ve included a handy interactive Oaxaca, Mexico map at the bottom of this post!)
THINGS TO DO IN OAXACA, MEXICO
When someone asks you what to do in Oaxaca, Mexico your first response should be ‘eat’. So, before I even get into the ‘wheres’, let’s start with the ‘whats’ of Oaxacan cuisine, as there are several classic dishes you have to try at one point or another on your trip: tlayudas (pizza-sized crispy tortillas topped with beans, tomato, lettuce, the meat of your choice and stringy Oaxacan cheese, best enjoyed while slightly drunk on the side of the street or in a market); mole (any and all of the seven moles which come from Oaxaca); quesillo (that stringy cheese you get on your tlayudas, which is also fucking amazing served in an enormous blue corn tortilla quesadilla); chapulines (grasshoppers, best served crispy with lime juice and salt); tamales oaxaqueños (they’re denser, slightly sweeter and just generally superior to your standard tamal); chocolate de agua (chocolate paste mixed with water to make a light breakfast drink).
Related Post: 33 Popular Mexican Foods to Try in Puebla, Mexico
Now, moving on, here are a few places to eat—operative on the ‘few’—because I actually didn’t eat in that many places over my time in Oaxaca. In fact, I spent too much time eating random street foods and homemade stringy quesadillas to cultivate a truly comprehensive restaurant list. Please don’t hate me.
MERCADO 20 DE NOVIEMBRE | 20 de Noviembre 512, Centro
This is the number one place to eat in Oaxaca as far as I’m concerned. Down with restaurants! First of all, it’s affordable, it’s traditional, it’s full of options to suit all tastes (as long as your tastes include good af Oaxacan food), and basically everything sold there is delicious. Everything I listed in the intro to this section? You can find it there.
ITANONÍ TORTILLERÍA | Belisario Domínguez 513, Reforma
If you want to gorge yourself on everything corn-based, but you don’t fancy dining at the market, the slightly-out of-the-way Itanoní Tortillería is where you should head. I, honestly, am very lazy, so I didn’t make myself north to try this spot, but it’s meant to be incredible and I actually wish I’d made more of an effort to go there, in hindsight.
Another place that might suit corn fans is Tierra del Sol, in the centre of Oaxaca City.
CASA OAXACA | Gurrión 104A, Centro
Widely touted as one of the best restaurants in Oaxaca City, Casa Oaxaca is…just that, apparently. As far as I gather, it serves gourmet takes on Oaxacan classics. You’ll need to reserve, given that it’s the darling of Oaxaca’s culinary scene right now and, natch, I didn’t go. Sorry.
TACO PEZ | Murguía 407, Centro
I was recommended this cheap and cheerful taco restaurant by two separate people on two separate, un-fish taco prompted occasions, so I think I can safely say it’s a solid bet for somewhere to eat in Oaxaca. I’m not personally a big fish taco fan, so I didn’t find time I my schedule to stop by Taco Pez this time round, unfortunately.
CAFÉ RÚSTIKO | Independencia 1203, Centro
I was super hungry the day I stumbled into Café Rustiko craving well, any food. However, please don’t let me hangry state shade what I’m about to say, because their baguettes were really sizeable, delicious and affordable. So, like, the three things everyone who’s hungry really flippin’ wants. If you want something that’s not Mexican or covered in chili, the Café Rustiko is the place to head. And their mocca Frappuccino (I’m a cliché, I know) was really, really great.
TLAYUDAS EL NEGRO | Guerrero 1029, Obrera
Surprise, surprise, I didn’t actually get chance to eat at Tlayudas El Negro (although I did eat several delicious tlayudas in Oaxaca), but I’ve heard good things. If you’re wondering, I really enjoy chicken and chorizo tlayudas (which is odd, because I don’t typically go for chorizo).
An alternative, reputable place to try tlayudas in Oaxaca is Tlayudas Libres.
PRAGA COFFEE BAR | Allende 106, Centro
There are plenty of cool rooftop bars to add to a long weekend itinerary in Oaxaca City, Mexico, but the one I went to personally (and enjoyed) was Praga Coffee Bar. Set just off from the Santo Domingo zone, this is most definitely a favourite amongst tourists, but also has some really beautiful views directly out onto the Santo Domingo temple itself, as well as a killer (and incredibly chocolatey) crepe option.
So while this is realistically one you’d head to for the location, the drinks and food on offer aren’t too shabby either.
CASA DEL MEZCAL | Flores Magón 210, Centro
Trying out some mezcal is one of the best things to do in Oaxaca City, Mexico full stop, so why not do so in one of the most traditional spots? Set just a couple of blocks down from the Oaxaca City zocalo, Casa del Mezcal seemed to be popular with locals rather than tourists (although that’s not to say there weren’t some English speakers there). It kind of gave off a cantina vibe, except with a menu full of different mezcals. Apparently (and if my memory serves) it has the widest selection of mezcals available to try by the glass in Oaxaca City. If you want an intro to this typical Oaxacan drink then, Casa del Mezcal is really unrivalled.
There are three other spots I’ve had recommended to me on multiple occasions that would suit mezcal fans down to the ground too: first, there’s Mezcaloteca, where you can get tasting flights of artisanal mezcals, and then there’s Txalaparta, which supposedly has more of a bar feel (complete with live music and all) than the cantina-vibe I got from Casa del Mezcal. The third spot is Alambique which apparently serves a delicious coffee spiked with mezcal.
Related Post: An Introduction to 35 Traditional Mexican Drinks
BOOGIE CAFÉ | Miguel Hidalgo 1204, Centro
I went to Boogie Café for lunch with a fellow writer, who’s actually based out of Oaxaca City, and it was definitely a pleasant surprise. Even though its set a little east of the zocalo zone, it was an easy walk to get there and this café (which has both indoor and outdoor seating) proved to be cute and quirky and served up some great snacking options (like my giant bowl of roasted new potatoes topped with cream and spicy salsas), as well as a ton of good drinks. I got a hot chocolate topped with marshmallows, because I’m a child.
TASTAVINS | Murguía 309, Centro
Tastavins is the first spot listed in this section so far that I sadly didn’t get the chance to visit first hand, but for wine fans looking for a pleasant spot to enjoy a glass of red (or white), then the Tastavins wine bar (and Mediterranean restaurant) has you covered. (And as far as I know it’s the only—or at the very least, the most central—wine bar in Oaxaca City.)
LA SANTÍSIMA FLOR DE LÚPULO | Allende 215, Centro
I love to find breweries when I travel, but I HAD NO IDEA THIS ONE EXISTED! Given that it’s a nanobrewery, that isn’t too much of a surprise I guess, but I’m still a bit salty about it. Either way, I’ll send you, dear reader, to drink a local Oaxacan craft beer at La Santísima Flor de Lúpulo in my stead, and the next time I travel to Oaxaca, Mexico I’ll pop in myself.
BRÚJULA CAFÉ | Alcalá 104, Centro
This is one café that will crop up time and again on places to go in Oaxaca City lists, but honestly, I didn’t think it was that great. The drinks are a little overpriced and the quality left a lot to be desired (in my experience, at least).
However, I will say that it has a really pretty courtyard, so if you wanna read a book or get some work done (there are multiple plugs) then it could be worth considering, but there was very little atmosphere to speak of when I went.
Beyond that—and unless you enjoy being surrounded by other tourists while drinking below average coffee—I don’t really rate the Andador Alcalá branch of Brújula Café.
Somewhere else that I had recommended to me by a friend, and which might be a good option for those travellers who like to base themselves in a place for more than a weekend, or those who work remotely, is Convivio Coworking, an office-cum-café-cum-cinema-cum-cultural centre.
CAFEBRE | Manuel Bravo 108, Centro
I ended up in Cafebre twice on the recommendation of the friend I met up with in Boogie Café and I was really glad I gave it a chance. The first time round, I went on an evening with a big group and ordered a black tea (incredibly, it was actually pretty good and that’s coming from a black tea obsessed Brit!). It was also really nice and spacious, as well as being like two blocks out from Santo Domingo but without the slightly elevated prices of other spots in the area.
SANTO DOMINGO | Alcalá, Centro
Templo Santo Domingo is possibly the most well-known Oaxaca landmark and easily one of the best things to see in Oaxaca, Mexico. It’s possibly one of my favourite buildings in Mexico, to be honest, and is ringed by delightfully on message agave plants.
But this 16th-18th century building, constructed in the trademark green-hued cantera (stone) of Oaxaca, isn’t just a pretty face—although, there is a multicoloured Oaxaca sign just in front, which positions Santo Domingo perfectly as the backdrop.
It also houses a cultural centre (a.k.a. one of the top Oaxaca attractions, the Museo de las Culturas) and a Jardín Etnobotánico, full of lush-green and rich teal coloured cacti, palms and agaves.
CATEDRAL | Independencia 700, Centro
The Oaxaca Cathedral, situated on the zocalo, was also built over the same 16th-18th century timeframe as the Templo Santo Domingo, albeit in a Neoclassic rather than Baroque style. It’s a Oaxaca must-see for sure, and it’s surrounded by street vendors selling balloons and embroidered shirts, but I still think Santo Domingo is cooler.
BASILICA DE LA VIRGEN DE LA SOLEDAD | Independencia 107, Centro
A 17th century church dedicated to Our Lady of Solitude, the patron saint of Oaxaca, this Basilica was also rather smartly built with lower spires to resist possible earthquake damage.
Related Post: The Anxious Girl’s Guide to Earthquake Etiquette
EX CONVENTO SANTA CATALINA | 5 de Mayo 300, Centro
This is something of a ‘cheat’ entry, because I’ve not been here ‘in real life’, but Google Images gives me the impression the Ex Convento Santa Catalina is worth your time on a trip to Oaxaca—in fact, you could even stay there, given that it’s since been converted into the Quinta Real Oaxaca hotel.
MACO (MUSEO DE ARTE CONTEMPORÁNEO DE OAXACA) | Alcalá 202, Centro
I’m not big on contemporary art, but I’ve heard only good things about the MACO in Oaxaca. The fact that it only costs MXN$20 to visit the multiple exhibitions dedicated to both up-and-coming and established Oaxacan artists should twist your arm too. Save it for a rainy day, perhaps? (As long as that rainy day isn’t Tuesday, cos it’ll be closed.)
If you prefer more traditional art forms, then the Museo de los Pintores Oaxaqueños might be a good shout, while the Museo de Arte Pre-Hispánico Rufino Tamayo will really take you back some and the Espacio Zapata will give an insight into some more provocative, political art.
MUSEO TEXTIL DE OAXACA | Miguel Hidalgo 917, Centro
One of Oaxaca’s greatest legacies in terms of both culture and artesanía comes in the form of textiles, from rugs to bags to embroidered shirts. So if you wanna do something other than just buy more blouses than you can fit in your suitcase while in Oaxaca (me), stop by the Museo Textil de Oaxaca to learn about the wider cultural position and significance of Oaxacan textiles.
If you want to learn a more comprehensive history of Oaxaca itself, beyond textiles, take a visit to the Casa de la Ciudad instead.
MUFI (MUSEO DE LA FILATELIA) | Reforma 504, Centro
Does a museum about stamps sound boring to you? Well, if it does, then you should go to the petite but endearing MUFI in Oaxaca City. The first time I was in Oaxaca we actually stumbled across this place by accident, but I actually found it really interesting and the multiple, well-groomed outdoor patios and seating areas added to the appeal. Plus, when we went, you could take a photo of yourself in a stamp frame (and maybe pretend you were the Queen of England).
WANDER THE ZOCALO | Zócalo, Centro
If you’ve been to Mexico before, you’ll know what zocalos generally look like. Wide, open, expansive, usually filled with vendors and ringed with impressive architectural examples, like cathedrals and official government buildings.
Oaxaca’s cathedral is no different, but it really does have a pleasant vibe to it all day long. You can buy scarves, shirts and all manner of souvenirs from the vendors, get a drink in one of the restaurants (I tend not to recommend eating in places just off plazas because they’re typically marked up thanks to all the nearby tourist attractions).
You should also buy an elote doused in spicy chili powder as a light pre-lunch snack.
MERCADO JUÁREZ | Aldama, Centro
I know I’ve already spoken about the Mercado 20 de Noviembre in terms of where to eat in Oaxaca, but even if you’re not (for whatever reason) keen to eat in Mexican markets, you should still drop by the neighbouring Mercado Juárez to get lost amongst the aisles for a little while. The stalls are full of coffee, leather and chocolate, so it smells bloody amazing as well. Plus, Mercado Juárez makes for fertile souvenir shopping ground (but I’ll discuss that further in the shopping section).
ANDADOR MACEDONIO ALCALÁ | Alcalá, Centro
Prepare to become very familiar with this andador, a totally pedestrianized sliver of Oaxaca City, especially as it connects the zocalo and Templo Santo Domingo. Lined with stores, cafes and interesting cultural centres, galleries and museums, take some time to look around rather than just straight ahead when you stroll down this street. You should also give more than a passing glance to the Teatro Macedonio Alcalá, one of Mexico’s most important and beautiful theatres.
In late-July each year (the two Mondays after July 16th—unless the first falls on the anniversary of Benito Juárez, July 18th—to be more precise), people from the Seven Regions of Oaxaca descend on the capital to show off their best outfits, dances and culture in a spectacle known as the Guelaguetza. I’ve never actually had the chance to go but trust me when I say that Oaxaca hotels sell out fast for this event. So, if you’re considering stopping by make sure you plan at least a couple months in advance. After all, the Guelaguetza is generally considered one of the best things to see in Oaxaca, Mexico!
NOCHE DE RÁBANOS
Another intriguing tradition you could check out, if you time your Oaxaca trip just right, is the Noche de Rábanos. Some of you might realise that rábanos means ‘radishes’, so you’re probably wondering why Oaxaca has an entire night dedicated to them. Well, each Christmastime, competitors work through the night carving figures, scenes and honestly fucking impressive sculptures out of state-grown radishes, competing to be crowned the champion radish carver for that year. Scenes are often religious (some feature tiny radish Jesus babies) and others are a little more off-book—and people queue around the block to wander past the stalls displaying the creations.
DÍA DE MUERTOS
How could I talk about Oaxaca without mentioning Day of the Dead? Spoiler: I couldn’t. Despite the fact this holiday is only celebrated for two days each year (November 1st and 2nd, and no, it is not Mexican Halloween), it’s a huge tourist pull. While there are lots of typical places to celebrate Day of the Dead in Mexico (fodder for an upcoming post, I think), Oaxaca City is definitely one of the best known. Like with the Guelaguetza, book accommodation in advance.
Much like in San Cristóbal de la Casas, Chiapas, I went a bit shopping mad in Oaxaca City, buying everything from chocolate to coffee beans, handmade blouses to purses. Those are, by the way, just some of the things you should consider buying in Oaxaca. The city and surrounding villages are also well known for black (and green) clay pottery, ornate woven rugs (which can take hundreds of hours to create) and, of course, mezcal. I think it’s literally impossible to go to Oaxaca and not try mezcal to be honest.
AMATE BOOKS | Alcalá, Centro
Books aren’t necessarily the first thing everyone wants to buy while on holiday, but if you’re anything like me, you can’t help yourself. In Oaxaca there are numerous spots for book buying, but for English speakers in particular, Amate Books takes first place. I actually went in on my latest visit to Oaxaca and they had a ton of books I’d had on my to read list for a while, notably lots of recent bestsellers from Mexican authors (translated into English).
There is also a pequeño Spanish language section too, for nerds like me who enjoy reading in a foreign language (a.k.a. asserting dominance over monolinguals).
Related Post: Must-Read Books About Mexico
MERCADO DE ARTESANÍAS | García, between Zaragoza and Mina, Centro
If you don’t feel comfortable or confident buying clothes from street vendors, the next most obvious option for embroidered blouse buying in Oaxaca is to head to the Mercado de Artesanías. While I definitely felt like it was pretty small in comparison to other artesanía markets I’ve visited and lacked a bit of atmosphere as a result, that might equally make it ideal for people who typically get overwhelmed in uber busy Mexican markets.
Even if you don’t wanna buy anything there, it’s worth taking a quick look to see what kind of stuff is on offer and crowdsource rough prices for things you might be interested in down the line.
I’m a sucker for Mexican blouses, so naturally I bought one. It was actually a totally different, much plainer style to the ones I usually go for, but I think it might be up there as one of my faves.
For what it’s worth, I aim to pay 200 pesos maximum for blusas that don’t have any/ a lot of embroidery. Heavily embroidered pieces go for, and are worth, more.
HUIZACHE | Murguía 101, Centro
If the Mercado de Artesanías didn’t sound up your street, then Huizache should be your next stop for all manner of Mexican handicrafts. Mainly dominated by blusas and clothes over the massive two-level complex, Huizache also sells a few woven products too. For a store that seems very tourist oriented, the prices were really not awful and you know the exact, handcrafted origins or everything you buy. For reference, I bought a purse for MXN$60 and a cropped blouse for MXN$600.
LA CASA DE LAS ARTESANÍAS | Matamoros 105, Centro
Another store that’s honestly pretty similar to Huizache in terms of both size, scale and products sold is La Casa de las Artesanías. As such, my advice is to go for a quick browse in both before making a purchase in either. It could be that Casa de las Artesanías has something the other doesn’t or vice versa. That was certainly the case for me, anyway. (Plus, they’re both pretty as hell.)
HILO DE NUBE | Amapolas 619A, Centro
If you weren’t quite done looking for blouses, then Hilo de Nube is another option. I didn’t make it there unfortunately, but from what I gather it’s a bit smaller and quirkier but still offers some cool, high quality goods.
Related Post: A Mega Gift Guide for the Mexico Obsessed
MUJERES ARTESANAS (MARO) | 5 de Mayo 204, Centro
What do you know, it’s another traditional clothing store, this time run by all-women artisans! Mujeres Artesanas, a.k.a. MARO, has a selection of products that range from tin work to pottery to clothing, each with their own respectable selection to choose from. I.e. it’s not mainly clothing with a few pots dotted around. Again, great if you want to get a feel for what’s on offer in Oaxaca without having to head as far down as the Mercado de Artesanías.
There were also a couple of quirky shops on Calle Abasolo, in the couple of blocks stretch between Santo Domingo and Hotel Azul. I can’t remember the names of them for the life of me, but one was like a sprawling jumble sale of antiques, artwork and vintage Oaxacan clothes, while the other was a more ‘upscale’, artesanía boutique type of place.
GRANO DE ORO | Inside the Mercado 20 de Noviembre, Centro
Grano de Oro in the Mercado 20 de Noviembre for coffee (whole or ground), is the absolute best and I go there each time I visit Oaxaca City to stock up. The man who runs the place knows his shit and if you tell him what kind of coffee maker/device/machine you have, he can grind the beans to the right fineness. He also sells chocolate covered almonds and coffee beans if you’re looking for a snack, and his coffee is ridiculously affordable—I paid 15 pesos for 150g of whole bean coffee. Do yourself a favour and track down this guy’s stall.
EL MAYORDOMO | Francisco Javier Mina 219, Centro
For all your chocolate needs, El Mayordomo is the place to be. You barely even need an address to find one of the (many) Mayordomo branches in Oaxaca either—just wait til you get a whiff of chocolate and see a line of people queuing out the door. Congrats, you’ve arrived! I paid, at a guesstimate, no more than 50 or so pesos for a half kilo of chocolate. (I could be totally off with that price, but let’s say it was entirely affordable either way!)
There are tons of things to do around Oaxaca City, Mexico from quick visits to nearby villages to longer day trips to petrified waterfalls and archaeological ruins. So, if you’re wondering where to go in Oaxaca (beyond Oaxaca City) this is the section for you.
HIERVE EL AGUA
Did you go to Oaxaca if you didn’t take a picture of yourself in the pools of Hierve el Agua? Well, no, because it’s one of the main Oaxaca points of interest and basically an obligatory trip when in Oaxaca, so you can rest assured that the site of these petrified waterfalls and their artificially created pools which perch right on the cusp of said waterfalls are generally pretty busy. Try and avoid the crowds by setting out early on a weekday and hopefully you’ll get the site to yourself.
MONTE ALBÁN | Carretera Ignacio Bernal, Oaxaca
Monte Albán is arguably Oaxaca state’s best known archaeological site and easily one of the best day trips from Oaxaca City too. I should know, I’ve done it. While I certainly feel ‘archaeological site-d’ out after a few years living in Mexico and six months travelling round South America, Monte Albán is worth the visit. It’s part of the Zapotec culture, and while little remain of the edifices—which can make it seem vast but a little sparse at times—it’s pretty interesting nonetheless and the views over the two valleys it divides are beautiful.
Don’t forget to slather on the sunscreen if you go though, because you will burn thanks to the total lack of shade anywhere in Monte Albán, with the exception of maybe the museum.
MITLA | Carretera Internacional, Oaxaca
A former base for both Zapotecs and Mixtecs, Mitla is another easy archaeological day trip from Oaxaca City, which was still present right up until when the Spanish arrived to colonise the natives. Most day tours will probably take you to all the places mentioned thus far, a.k.a. Hierve el Agua, Monte Albán and Mitla, but if you do it yourself, take time to stop briefly in the town of Mitla too.
If you want to head to some lesser-known ruins than Mitla and Monte Albán, you dirty hipster you, then consider Yagul, Atzompa, Dainzú or Lambityeco. Basically, as with most places in Mexico, Oaxaca is your archaeological site oyster.
ÁRBOL DE TULE | 2 de Abril, Santa María del Tule, Oaxaca
Speaking of places at which most all organised tours from Oaxaca will stop, here’s the Árbol de Tule! Kind of notable for the novelty factor of being a really fucking old, really fucking big tree, at it’s core…it really is just a tree. I wouldn’t trek out to Santa María del Tule (the tree’s town) for the day, shall we say, but it makes for a cool five-minute stop en route to somewhere more interesting else.
ARTESANÍA PRODUCING VILLAGES
That brings me onto some of the Oaxaca day trips which I think are amongst the most worthwhile things to do in Oaxaca, Mexico—visits to the numerous outlying towns that ring the capital city. Most of these spots can be accessed by taking local buses and combis, or by taxi for a higher price point. I advise checking at the place you’re staying in Oaxaca to get the most up to date price and departure information.
Related Post: The Most Colourful Towns in Mexico
Anyway, remember those market places and artesanía stalls I mentioned in the above sections? There’s a good chance most of their products came from one of these towns. So you can choose accordingly which one to visit, I’m gunna label them according to their crafty output:
Arrazola | Woodworking. Fun fact: this town is right next to Monte Albán, so combine them both into one easy trip!
Santiago Matatlán | Mezcal. There are numerus mezcal factories in this town, including El Rey del Mezcal where you can ask for a small tour of the grounds and explanation of the mezcal making process.
Zaachila | Woven products. Your best bet is to head to Zaachila on a Thursday, when the local market takes over the town. As well as woven products, you’ll find livestock, woodwork and fresh produce on sale.
San Bartolo Coyotepec | Intensely shiny black pottery. I guarantee, you will have seen this pottery before in Mexico, and definitely in Oaxaca. Once you know what to look for, it’s everywhere. But anyway, to get the real deal right from the source, head to San Bartolo Coyotepec and look out for potters working from home. They’ll sometimes put pottery by their door to both entice you in and, hopefully, into buying something.
Ocotlán | Red clay pottery. These products are pretty much all made by the Aguilar sisters and their many, many relatives.
San Martín Tilcajete | Those cute and colourful wooden sculptures of both real and fantastical animals known as alebrijes. This is the most ‘typical’ spot for alebrijes, but Arrazola also has artisans who make and sell them too.
Teotitlán del Valle | Rugs and textiles. THE place to buy these products in Oaxaca, you’ll find plenty of people stopping off as part of organised tours. As such, it’s best to head to the workshops a little further back from the road, as far fewer people stop by there. You may also be privy to the rug making and dying process if you stop by a workshop that offers tours. Monday is the market day in Teotitlán del Valle.
San Tomás Jalieza | Woven textiles, made on backstrap looms. Far less popular than the famed Teotitlán del Valle, Fridays are apparently the best days to stop by.
While some of the aforementioned artesanía towns also have their own set market days, there are many other nearby villages that host more general interest markets: the week kicks off in Teotitlán on Mondays, with Santa Ana del Valle taking the reins on Tuesdays, followed by Etla on Wednesdays, Zaachila on Thursdays and Ocotlán on Fridays. Oaxaca City claims Saturday and Sunday goes to the super famous Tlacolula.
In fact, Tlacolula is probably the most famous market day trip from Oaxaca and basically anything you might find in any of the other market towns or artesanía producing villages can be bought there. Think, baskets, blankets and more. If you’re all market-ed out (#relatable), consider a trip not on Sunday and enjoy a more peaceful vibe, as well as the Capilla del Mártir which makes heavy use of wrought iron, and is home to both sculptures of the apostles and a hidden stash of silver tucked away in a secret passage sometime during the Mexican Revolution.
Of course, I don’t mean this literally; rather, I needed an easy way to refer to the Oaxacan towns with beautiful religious buildings in one fell swoop. So, here goes. Cuilápam de Guerrero has an imposing, expansive Ex Convento, Ocotlán has an intriguing and recently restored Dominican convent, while both Teposcolula and Yanhuitlán are also known for Ex Convents.
A curveball of an entry to end with, Guelatao (some two hours outside of Oaxaca) is actually the birthplace of Oaxaca’s most famous son and former Mexican president, Benito Juárez. Naturally, the best time to visit is on his birthday, March 21st.
HOTEL AZUL | Abasolo, Centro
On my most recent trip to Oaxaca City, I was actually lucky enough to receive a complimentary one-night stay at the swanky as all hell Hotel Azul, which is situated just a few blocks to the east of what’s possibly my favourite part of Oaxaca City, the Templo Santo Domingo. So, I naturally think it would be pretty difficult to beat this Oaxaca hotel on location.
But what about facilities? Well, I was placed on the ground-floor right at the bottom corner of the gorgeous, cactus-lined courtyard, in a room with perhaps the best shower I’ve ever had in a hotel and some of the most beautifully packaged toiletries (I stole the soap, I’m sorry). If the shower was number one for me (I have thick, curly hair and finding a shower with water pressure good enough to get me clean in Mexico is tricky), then the ginormous bed was a close second.
I especially liked the welcome touches in the room, like a couple of delicious, complimentary chocolates (which I ate) and a fruit platter (which I didn’t), although I would have liked it if there was a plug socket more conveniently located next to the table or window desk, so I could have connected my laptop while working too. (For normal people who don’t take their laptop on holiday, I highly doubt this is a big deal though.)
It’s worth noting that I didn’t have a comped breakfast included in my stay at Hotel Azul, although there is a buffet and menu options available. I went for one of my fave Mexican breakfast dishes, huevos motuleños, and while they were flavoursome the tortilla needed to be a bit crispier in my opinion. The coffee was fab though.
For a slice of luxury and sleek modernism mixed with traditional architecture and artistic touches in Oaxaca then, Hotel Azul is the place to be.
CASA ÁNGEL YOUTH HOSTEL | Tinoco y Palacios 610, Centro
If you’re looking for the best places to stay in Oaxaca on a tighter budget, then a hostel I can personally vouch for is the Casa Ángel Youth Hostel. Although I never stayed in a dorm room here, I have stayed in a private double and I remember thinking at the time how not like a hostel it looked. Casa Ángel also has a small kitchen area, sofa area (complete with TV and open access Netflix account) and really cute terrace.
I can’t comment a huge deal on public transport in Oaxaca, but the likelihood you’ll need local buses is basically slim to none anyway, especially if you’re sticking to the historic centre. Why? Well it’s compact, mostly flat and totally walkable!
If it’s late at night and you’re not keen on walking home from the zocalo (a.k.a. the heart of Oaxaca City’s historic centre, basically) you can grab a taxi off the street, no problem. There are no taximeters in Oaxaca, so don’t freak out and keep in mind that pretty much any journey within the confines of the historic centre from a starting point of the zocalo will cost, at a guesstimate, MXN$50.
If you’re planning to take a taxi in the day though, Oaxaca is known for having horrendously sloooow traffic (I can confirm) so add an extra twenty minutes onto your travel time.
As far as heading to spots around Oaxaca City, there are lots of minivans that can take you and drop you off for an affordable price. However, where you get these from will depend heavily on which part of the city you’re staying in, so I recommend asking your hotel/ hostel or Airbnb host for that info! It’ll be far more accurate than anything I can tell you anyway.
As far as I’m concerned, there are three frequently asked questions about Oaxaca de Juárez, a.k.a. Oaxaca City, a.k.a. Oaxaca that I can immediately think of, apart from you know, WHERE IS OAXACA?!
The first is how the fuck do you pronounce Oaxaca?! I remember the first time I said Oaxaca out loud. I’d just arrived to Mexico for the first time and had never bloody heard of the place. I think I said something along the lines of OH-A-CHACA. Spoiler, guys: that is most definitely not how to pronounce Oaxaca. In fact, it’s like WA-HA-CA. Like the restaurant.
The second is the same question everyone immediately asks about basically everywhere in Mexico (apart from Cancún, one place about which it maybe should be asked): is Oaxaca safe? My answer, as I hate sweeping safety statements, is yes, Oaxaca City is as safe as any large-ish city with lots of foreign visitors. I would watch out for pickpocketing first and foremost and overpaying for food you could buy in the market second. In and around the centre, you’re going to be basically OK as long as you exercise the usual amount of caution and common sense.
For what it’s worth, I felt very safe in Oaxaca, although I would still never have walked home the eight blocks to my hostel, hotel or Airbnb alone after, say, 10pm and I was careful to keep my spidey senses tingling for possible pickpocket potential.
The final question: what’s the weather like in Oaxaca City? Oaxaca weather is pretty fucking nice actually. It’s hot, but not sweaty hot in summer and cooler in winter. As for the best time to visit Oaxaca, I’d say spring is as good as any! Check here for more up-to-date info on the Oaxaca climate.
Have you been to Oaxaca? What do you think to these things to do in Oaxaca City, Mexico and my Oaxaca guide? Tell me in the comments!