Oaxaca City is widely known for its cheese, mezcal, chocolate, and mole. The city’s vibrant architecture, defining cuisine and archeological ruins are what make it so unique. Read on to discover why you should visit Oaxaca City.
What to do
Go on a walking tour
As I’ve said in every single blog post I’ve written, my favourite thing to do in a city is to go on a walking tour. It’s a great way to get your bearings in a city. I love learning about the history and current politics of the place. It’s also an opportunity to get tips from a local on the best restaurants and bars to visit.
Visit the Santo Domingo Church Complex
The Church and former monastery of Santo Domingo de Guzmán is a Baroque ecclesiastical building located in the centre of town. Make sure to at least peek inside to see the beautiful ceiling detailing.
Visit Mercado Benito Juárez
For a one-stop market with a bit of everything, look no further than Mercado Benito Juárez. A warehouse-style structure houses this market and fills one entire city block. You could peruse through here all day. I found a pair of authentic cowboy boots for AUD 100! They are my favourite souvenir and now sit proudly on display in my room.
Visit a leather store
As a vegetarian, I don’t support leather stores. However, I will make an exception here as there is something special about the leather stores in Mexico. They are rustic and authentic, and I felt transported back in time. Make sure you step foot in one, even if you don’t plan on buying anything.
Indulge in the Oaxacan cuisine
Oaxaca is renowned as the foodie capital of Mexico, in particular for its indigenous and traditional cuisine. A must-try dish whilst in Oaxaca is mole- a rich sauce made from up to a staggering 40 ingredients, served over a variety of meats or vegetables.
Along with mole, be sure to sample as many traditional dishes and ingredients as possible, such as:
–Tamales Oaxaqueños: large, hot-steamed tamales available from street vendors
–Tetelas: grilled triangle-shaped corn masa treats, stuffed with black beans
–Tlayudas: large, thin, crunchy, partially fried tortilla covered with toppings
–Quesillo: white, semi-hard Oaxacan cheese
During my visit to Oaxaca, my friend and I treated ourselves to one of Oaxaca’s best fine-dining experiences at Criollo. The menu is a modern take on traditional Mexican cuisine. We indulged in a 5-course vegetarian meal paired with alcohol. The dishes were unlike anything I’d ever eaten – so full of flavour and worth the price! In Sydney, you would pay three times the price for a similar setting and meal.
We also ate at and enjoyed; La Popular, La Cosecha and Casa Mayordomo. Be sure to try some authentic street food to round out your experience.
Visit the oldest tree in the world
De Santa Maria Tule is a 2,000-year-old Montezuma cypress tree and is one of the oldest, largest and widest trees in the world. It is 58 metres in width and 42 metres in height and it needs 600-800 litres of water per day to survive. It was very humbling to be in the presence of a piece of nature so old and large. I also enjoyed viewing the buildings and church surrounding the tree. I would recommend making a morning or afternoon visit here.
Go on a day trip to Hierve el Agua
Hierve el Agua is a set of natural rock formations that resemble cascades of water. The site is located about 70km east of Oaxaca City, in the municipality of San Lorenzo Albarradas.
During the day trip, I learned that Hierve el Agua was created by mineral water that pushed through karstic limestone, depositing the falls onto the mountain’s edge. While the waterfalls are white, two mineral pools sit at the edge of the cliff, full of calcium carbonate, magnesium, and just enough sulphur to lend them a yellow hue. How cool is that?
This was one of my favourite things I saw whilst in Mexico and would recommend dedicating a day to visit. Just look how beautiful…
Drink Mezcal at a Mezcal bar
Mezcal is a distilled alcoholic beverage made from agave. Mezcal has been around for 400-years but has made a popular comeback in recent years. According to 2016 statistics, mezcal sales had doubled in the previous four years. The obsession was even boosting Oaxaca’s economy, as investors and fans were flocking to the state. Be sure to try some Mezcal at a bar or on a tour to try the world’s best.
See the ruins at Mitla
It is believed that Mitla was established as a sacred burial site long before the Christian Era, probably by the Zapotecs, whose influence was predominant until about AD 900.
I visited Mitla on a day tour and it was amazing to walk around the ancient ruins and learn about the history from a knowledgable guide.
Buy handcrafted textiles from a local
Oaxaca has a noteworthy tradition of finely crafted textiles, particularly handmade embroidery and woven goods created with a backstrap loom. There are day tours you can go on to see locals making these beautiful handcrafts.
Hang out in the zócolo
Nearly every Mexican town has a zócolo, which signifies a park or plaza at the centre of town. There are always restaurants and street vendors surrounding the zócolos, making it a great place to people-watch and feel the vibrancy of the city around you.
Visit a museum
I visited the MACO Museum, which is located in a 1700s house featuring permanent and rotating exhibitions of contemporary Mexican art.
Where to stay
I stayed at the Parador del Dominico. It was centrally located meaning we could walk everywhere within the city, was well priced with free breakfast and we were able to organise a day tour to Hierve el Agua through the hotel. The place wasn’t fancy but it had everything we wanted and did the job.
If you’re after a more luxurious or romantic stay, this is not the place for you and I would recommend having a search for a better option. There are many nice places to stay in this city!
How to get around
We flew into Oaxaca City from Mexico City, then got a taxi to our hotel You can drive from Mexico City, but it will take you 5 hours. Once we were at our hotel, we were able to walk everywhere on foot. Anywhere that was too far out of reach, our hotel was able to call a taxi for us and as taxis in Mexico are very cheap we didn’t mind having to do this on occasion.
I thought I would mention that many people want to visit Oaxaca for the beaches; Oaxaca City to the beaches is a 6-hour drive. So if you would like to visit both Oaxaca City and the beaches I would opt for a flight to Huatulco’s International Airport (HUX).
Best time to visit
Oaxaca’s elevation gives it a reasonably pleasant climate year-round. Spring and autumn (April, May, September and October) are more moderate in temperature and there are generally fewer tourists. The summer months (June-August) and the holiday season (December-January) are considered the high season and Oaxaca can get very crowded with tourists. The rainy season usually lasts from May through to September, and the rest of the year is quite dry.
There’s almost always some kind of celebration taking place in Oaxaca and Mexico in general. So no matter when you visit, you’ll likely come across some type of cultural celebration or religious processions in the street – which is great because one of my favourite parts about Mexico was getting to experience Día de Muertos!