Why you should visit Oaxaca City

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!

How to spend a weekend in San Miguel de Allende

San Miguel de Allende is a World Heritage Site, complete with a mix of beautiful and bright Baroque and neo-Gothic architecture within a 16-century Spanish colonial layout.

Your time spent here will involve walking along cobblestone streets, admiring the architecture, visiting various museums, galleries, boutique clothing stores, cafes and rooftop bars. After a few days in this gorgeous and vibrant city, you’ll realise why it’s become one of the most popular spots to visit in Mexico and will spend your time plotting ways to make a quick return.

About San Miguel De Allende

San Miguel De Allende was founded in the 16th century and is located roughly four hours drive from Mexico City. The city was named by the monk who founded it, Juan de San Miguel, and a war hero in Mexico’s War of Independence, General Ignacio Allende.

The city feels like you’ve stepped into a Mexican fairy tale; cobblestones and brightly coloured colonial facades, a beautiful neo-gothic pink stone church as the focal point, all surrounded by lush, green mountains.

There is something for everyone in this beautiful city; a temperate climate year-round, a vibrant art scene, delicious restaurants with authentic Mexican cuisine and mountains to hike.

Best things to do during your visit

1. Hang out in the main plaza (Jardín Allende)

San Miguel’s main plaza hosts the symbol of the city- Parroquia de San Miguel Arcángel- a neo-gothic parish church. The original church dates back to the 1600s, but the facade we see today was designed in 1880.

Grab an Esquites from a street vendor, find a park bench to sit on and watch this vibrant city come to life around you.

2. Take a walk to a viewpoint

San Miguel de Allende looks amazing at street level, but it looks even better from above. The walk to the viewpoint, El Mirador, is only a 15-20 minute walk from the main plaza and boasts views over the whole city and beyond.

3. Grab drinks at a rooftop bar

There’s no better way to spend a sunny afternoon on holidays than kicking back and enjoying a few cocktails at a trendy bar overlooking the beautiful city you’re visiting. I spent an afternoon at the Lunas Roof Top Bar. Being a little further out of Centro than some other rooftop bars, you get sweeping views of the city. I highly recommend this place for its charming atmosphere along with reasonably priced alcohol and charcuterie boards.

4. Eat your way across town

Authentic Mexican food, non of this tex-mex stuff the Western world is used to eating, is truly something special! During my two weeks in Mexico I tried so many different flavours, spices and herbs I’d never tasted in my life; it was delectable and such a fun experience!

Something I like to do is ask the waiter what the local favourite dish is on the menu or what’s a “must-have” meal and go with that! I’m a vegetarian so I had to miss out on many of the local top picks, but many delicious veggie options had just as much flavour (in my opinion).

My favourite restaurants and cafes I visited were La Parada, a Peruvian restaurant for lunch and Panio for an authentic Mexican breakfast.

5. 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 going 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 city. It’s also a great opportunity to get tips on the best restaurants and bars to visit from a local.

6. Experience a local festival

Planning your trip around a main Mexican festival is a great way to experience their culture! One of my favourite parts of visiting Mexico was how deeply engrained Mexican culture, cuisine and language is all over the country. I was in Mexico during Día de Muertos (Day of the Dead) which made my whole experience even more special getting to witness this beautiful holiday.

7. Visit Fábrica La Aurora

Fábrica La Aurora has a number of galleries and artist’s studios, located on the site of an historic textile factory. You can still see a number of the machines from the factory as you explore. There are a number of cafes and restaurants as well that you can enjoy during your visit.

8. Have a coffee in a secret courtyard

There are so many unsuspecting courtyards throughout this city, you just need to wander around and you’ll stumble into one.

9. Marvel at the beautiful architecture

The architecture in this city and the tiny details everywhere are what make this city so unique. I had so much fun wandering up and down the streets, snapping as many pictures as I could trying to capture that perfect moment!

Best time to visit

People who travel to San Miguel de Allende love it for its seemingly eternal spring. Winter is the high season, with clear days and chilly nights; summer is the rainy season; fall is fiesta season, boasting tourists, parades, and fireworks.

May is the hottest month, with an average high of 30°C and January is the coldest month, with an average high of 23°C. I visited in November and the weather was perfect.

Where to stay

We wanted to stay somewhere central, so we could walk everywhere in the city. We stayed at Hotel Villa Santa Blanca; it was an incredibly simple stay with a bed and a bathroom. However, the only time we were in the room was to sleep, so this hotel did the job.

How to get to and around the city

We drove 4 hours to San Miguel from Mexico City. There are three airports available to get you to San Miguel de Allende depending where you are coming from. Your options are to; 1. Fly to Del Bajio Airport, Leon/Guanajuato then drive 1 hour. Fly to Juarez Intl, Mexico City then drive approximately 4 hours. Fly to Queretaro Airport then drive 1 hour to San Miguel.

The best way to get around San Miguel de Allende is on foot. Some of the most exciting discoveries in the city can only be found along its winding walkways. Just be sure to pack comfortable sneakers; cobbled, narrow streets can be tough on feet.

If you’re planning a trip to Mexico, I hope this blog post has convinced you to add this charming city to your itinerary! Let me know in the comments if you’ve ever visited San Miguel de Allende or it’s now on your bucket list.