City Guide Oaxaca

Oaxaca City Guide What do in Oaxaca Mexico

The City Guide Oaxaca gives us a deep dive into both the city, and state, of Oaxaca.

The secret’s outOaxaca, pronounced “wa-ha-ka“, is well on its way to becoming Mexico’s top heritage destination. Even though it’s appeared on “must-visit” lists for years, the topographic isolation of the region has lent to the preservation of its bygone charm and cultural richness. From the moment I first stepped off the plane, I instantly fell in love with Oaxaca and decided to make it the location of my upcoming destination wedding! A biodiverse wonderland, Oaxaca is home to dramatic mountain ranges, sweeping coastlines, and lush valleys, creating an always agreeable temperature of 80°F/26°C year-round. It’s also the homeland of mezcal, mole, and maíz (corn) and boasts the largest concentration of indigenous populations in the nation. This is a version of Mexico bursting at the seams with more artistry, more tradition, and more flavor than you can even imagine. There is little concern about safety when visiting the region, although it might be helpful to brush up on your Spanish; albeit little English-speaking abilities, the locals are as warm and hospitable as they come. The gateway to the state is its capital, Oaxaca de Juárez, (or Oaxaca for short). Not to be confused, there is both a state and a city called Oaxaca in Mexico. This guide unpacks both Oaxaca (state) and Oaxaca (city) so if you’re looking for somewhere that offers a bit of everythinghistory, adventure, art, food, shopping, drinking, you name it—you are looking in the right place.

city guide must dos in the city

city guide oaxaca hierve el agua

IN THE CITY

  • Orient yourself to the newness of the city at EL ZOCALO, the main public square with an iron gazebo surrounded by restaurants, cafes, shops, and the primary gathering spot for locals in the historic center (TIP: visit the square during the day and night for two completely different atmospheres).
  • Take a stroll down the car-free, pedestrianized CALLE ALCALA, which is bookended by The Church of Santo Domingo and El Zocalo, and explore its bohemian-esque boutiques, galleries, bars and eateries.
  • Step inside the magnificent Baroque cathedral, EL TEMPLO DE SANTO DOMINGO (The Church of Santo Domingo), and be amazed by the opulence of the gilded relief carvings adorning every inch of wall space and the ornate Rosary Chapel to the right of the entrance. The church is open to the public from 7 am – 1 pm and 4 – 8 pm daily, except when mass is in session.
  • Learn about Oaxaca’s wide array of flora, and snap photos of perfectly manicured catci, on a 2-hr guided tour of the Santo Domingo grounds where EL JARDIN ETNOBOTANICO (The Ethnobotanical Gardens) sits. The tours are $100 MXN pesos(~$5 USD) and are offered in several languages depending on the schedule.
  • Pick up a quick snack and begin your hunt for the best bargain at MERCADO BENITO JUAREZ, a one-stop shop for handmade goods, including but not limited to, textiles, carvings, pottery, leather,  and footwear and don’t be afraid to barter (TIP: most stalls will concede to your final price if you visit the hour before before the marketplace closes).
  • Right across the street from Mercado Benito Juarez is the city’s liveliest food bazaar, EL MERCADO 20 DE NOVIEMBRE, with rows of food stands selling freshly-made Oaxacan staples, like tamale (steamed corn dumplings wrapped in banana leaf), tasajo (thin smoked meats) and tejate (cacao-corn drink). Or you can pick up some edible souvenirs, like artisanal chocolate bars and miniature mezcal bottles for your carry-on.
  • Climb atop the crumbling ruins of MONTE ALBAN, a grand complex of pyramids, shrines, and palaces, and the former political capital of the Zapotec empire (TIP: if you want to skip a tour guide but need some context, there is a free museum about the archaeological site to the left of the ticket counter)
  • Get a dose of history at EL MUSEO DE LAS CULTURAS, a reasonably-priced and well-maintained exhibition of pre-Hispanic to modern-day Oaxaca housed in a former monastery, and be on the lookout for the prized jewel of the collection: a human skull inlaid with turquoise gems.
  • Every Sunday, one of the largest Sunday markets in all of Mesoamerica takes place in the nearby village of TLACOLULA, where families gather to eat, shop, and be merry. The actual market is called EL MERCADO MUNICIPAL MARTIN GONZALEZ, and is well worth your while to venture out to and explore. Come early, bring cash, and wear breathable clothing.

NEARBY OAXACA DE JUAREZ

  • The religious equivalent to Monte Alban, MITLA is the second most important archaeological site in the state of Oaxaca and a sacred, spiritual place to Zapotecs, who conducted ritual human sacrafices at this very spot. It is said that the Column of Life, hidden inside one of the tombs, can tell you how many years you have left on earth. Now’s the time to get an English-speaking guide to help you discern your mortality (if you’re curious that is.)
  • Travel to HIERVE EL AGUA, meaning “boiling water,” where you can see one of only two naturally occurring calcified waterfall formations that exist in the world, created by the minerally rich waters hidden beneath the ground (TIP: bring your bathing suit and hiking shoes, just in case you want to take a dip in one of the manmade pooltepid, not scalding hotor hike down to the bottom of the mountain to look at the stalactites from a different vantage point).
  • Surf’s up in PUERTO ESCONDIDO, an up-and-coming, sleepy surf retreat on the uncrowded Oaxacan coastline that is accessible either by a cheap (but arduous) 7-hour bus ride or a pricey (but comfortable) 1-hr plane ride.
  • 40-minutes outside the city you’ll find, SANTIAGO MATATLAN, the mezcal capital of the world, with distilleries galore. Palenque Mal de Amor is known for its good Oaxacan fare, as well as strong mezcal. And although El Rey de Matatlan is quite touristy (it’s a pitstop on many Hierve al Agua tours,) they host very generous tastings, free of charge as part of their tour.
  • High in the mountainous northern part of Oaxaca is SIERRA NORTE, an autonomous region of Mexico with a strong commitment to eco-tourism. Here, you can treak through the Pueblos Mancomunados, a chain of eight tiny villages connected by stunning hiking trails, and trekkers can enjoy peaceful stays in quiet cabins within these hamlets.

PRO-TIP: If you want to visit these destinations outside Oaxaca City, try hiring a private taxi service. Click here for more information.

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city guide what to eat in the city

city guide oaxaca foodIF YOU ARE LOOKING FOR “THE BEST MEAL”

  • RESTAURANTE CASA OAXACA (Calle de La Constitución #104-A, RUTA INDEPENDENCIA) By and large, Casa Oaxaca is the number one recommended dining experience in Oaxaca de Juarez. From the rooftop terrace seating looking out onto the Santo Domingo church to the tableside salsa service made to your liking, you are in for a memorable night. Don’t forget to bring a sweater just in case it gets chilly.
    What to order: The suckling pig with almond mole or the heirloom tomato salad with quesillo (local string cheese)

IF YOU ARE NOT AFRAID OF THE WORD “FUSION”

  • LOS DANZANTES (Calle Macedonio Alcalá 403, RUTA INDEPENDENCIA) Creativity astounds at Los Danzantes, a wild combination of artful presentations, surprising flavor choices, amidst a dramatic stone-wall setting. If the long dinner line is off-putting, stop by on Wednesdays and Fridays from 1 – 4 pm, and ask for the unpublicized “menu del dia,” a three-course set lunch complete with mezcal and agua fresca all for the jawdroppingly low cost of $115 MXN pesos (~$6 USD).
    What to order: The Hoja Santa appetizer with cheeses wrapped in hierbe santa leaves or the Shredded duck chilorio tacos and a mezcal margarita

IF YOU WANT TO GET TO KNOW THE REAL OAXACA

  • TYALUDA EL NEGRO (Calle Vicente Guerrero 1029, Zona Feb 10 2015, Obrera) No-fuss, late-night food stop doling out massive portions of the famous Oaxacan street food, tyaluda, a fire-toasted corn tortilla layered with a purée of refried beans, asiento (pork fat), shredded lettuce, and quesillo. This is one of the only places where the tyaludas are served with a smattering of condiments like salsa, guacamole, and pickled red onions.
    What to order: Tyaluda costilla (rib eye steak)
  • LOS PACOS (Avenida Belisario Domínguez 108, Reforma) Find out why Oaxaca’s nickname is “The Land of the Seven Moles,” at this restaurant known for its mole sampler, which allows you to try all seven of the region’s most distinguished moles: negro, rojo, coloradito, amarillo, verde, chichilo, and manchamantal. Learn more about each mole here.
    What to order: Los Moles Oaxaqueños
  • CHOCOLATE MAYORDOMO (Avenida de la Independencia 407 B, RUTA INDEPENDENCIA) The Oaxacans take chocolate very seriously as cacao is only grown in two states in Mexico (one being Oaxaca). At this franchise, if you order the drinking chocolate in-house, you’ll be shown right then and there how to churn a drinking chocolate using a wooden whisk called a molinillo. There are also different flavored chocolate bars like pecan, cinnamon, and vanilla that are made to order as well.
    What to order: Chocolate de agua (with water) is the most traditional preparation

IF YOU ADMIRE OLD SCHOOL MEXICAN GENTILITY

  • RESTAURANTE CATEDRAL (Calle de Manuel García Vigil 105, RUTA INDEPENDENCIA) If you want to rub shoulders with the Oaxacan elite, visit this fine dining outpost. Since 1976, the restaurant has been run by Doña Carina and to this day, the doyenne can be seen walking around the courtyard checking-in on her patrons. Stop by on a Sunday and take advantage of the brunch buffet from 2 to 7 pm for only $260 MXN pesos (~$13.50 US) per person. We were so impressed by the elegant dining experience that Tim and I chose them as our wedding caterers.
    What to order: The Mole Negro or the Chichilo braised short rib mole ← this is main entree for my wedding paired with a passionfruit mezcalini (a mezcal version of a margarita)

IF YOU HAVE A THING FOR CELEBRITY CHEFS, SPENDING $$$, AND NOT BEING PICKY

  • ORIGEN (Calle Miguel Hidalgo 820) Winner of Top Chef Mexico, Rodolfo Castellanos returns to his roots in Origen, a tribute to the culinarian’s home state. Albeit being a more contemporary update on time-honored classics, the majority of his dishes features the appearance of “the three sisters,” (ie. beans, corn, and squash.) The respectful, yet refreshing use of local ingredients is what has everyone talking. See menu here.
  • PITIONA (Calle de Ignacio Allende 114, RUTA INDEPENDENCIA) Owned by notable Mexican chef, José Manuel Baños, Pitiona is a place to sample elevated Oaxacan cuisine. Choose from either a six or nine-course tasting menu, although if you’re not the type of person who enjoys being surprised, there is an a la carte menu also at hand. Beautiful plating and imaginative dishes will easily win over the hearts of non-epicureans and gourmands alike. The menu is ever-changing but don’t be afraid to take a chance on something new; you are in good hands. See menu here.
  • CRIOLLO (Calle Francisco I. Madero 129, Santa María del Marquesado) The Oaxacan darling of celebrated Pujol Chef Enrique Olvera, and his creative head, Chef Luis Arellano. This is a fixed price, preset tasting menu that changes daily but they do rotate their finest dishes. Allot 2 hours to get through the full meal. There is also a fantastic weekend brunch held on Sundays.

IF YOU LIKE TO TAKE THINGS SLOW

  • LA BIZNAGA (1Gral. Manuel, Calle de Manuel García Vigil 512) With cheerful yellow walls, a retractable roof to let the light in, and greenery decorating the space, La Biznaga’s chill and unhurried vibes is really on brand with their “slow food” mantra. They duly warn you about their slow service so no complaining. As you wait for your food, sip on a glass of the most refreshing pulque in the city.
    What to order: A glass of pulque (fermented maguey sap) or hibiscus beer and the trademark La Biznaga flounder ceviche made with shallots, red onion and habanero

IF YOU RESPECT CORN AS MUCH AS MEXICANS DO

  • ITANONI (Avenida Belisario Domínguez 513, Reforma) Off-the-beaten-path, Itanoni is a homage to all things corn. As an anthropology major, I also love that this comedor was started by two anthropology professors with a passion for maiz. There are a number of traditional comales (flat clay griddles) around the premises where all the corn-based dishes are blistered to perfection. The homeliness of the plastic chairs, checkered tablecloths, and communal seating makes you feel like you’re eating at abuelita’s house. Be warned that the menu/ordering process is a bit confusing but the food will be worth your while.
    What to order: Raja de poblano memelas (toasted masa cakes topped with sliced poblano peppers doused in cream) or tetelas (triangular stuffed corn snacks)

IF YOU WANT TO TRY OUT FOOD FROM ANOTHER PART OF OAXACA

  • ZANDUNGA (Manuel García Vigil # 512-E) A family-run business dedicated to the cuisine from Southern Oaxaca, The Isthmus of Tehuantepec. The isthmus is the thinnest strip of  Mexico, sandwiched between the Gulf of Mexico and the Pacific. Each meal is accompanied by complimentary totopos (tortilla chips), minilla (a spicy fish spread), and salsa. The flavors are world’s apart from interior Oaxaca so try it for comparison’s sake. Also, the mother who runs this operations with her two sons has a cute shop in the back selling the highly-prized textiles of the Isthmus.
    What to order:
    Molotes de plátano con queso fresco y crema (stuffed plaintains with fresh cheese and cream)

IF YOU ARE A FAN OF LOCALLY SOURCED BEANS

  • CAFEBRE (Calle de Manuel Bravo 108, RUTA INDEPENDENCIA) For specialty coffee that’s as balanced in flavors as it is lovingly prepared, head to this coffee shop. All the beans are fair trade, acquired directly from small-batch producers.
    What to order: Pour-over coffee or for a more interesting experience, the tejate frappe topped with vanilla ice cream
  • CAFE BRUJALA (Calle Macedonio Alcalá 407, RUTA INDEPENDENCIA) While inadvertently a popular tourist retreat due its prime location on Calle Alcala, Cafe Brujala is an easy place to get some locally sourced coffee and light bites. Unwind in the the peaceful courtyard out back.
    What to order: A cappuccino or latte

IF YOU DON’T MIND NAVIGATING HECTIC MARKETS

  • FONDA FLORECITA (inside Mercado La Merced aka El Mercado Democracia) One of the cities most beloved breakfast haunts, this antojeria (small plate-cafe) is unmissable with its graffitied wall, tagged in the autographs of patrons past. The tables are communal so bear in mind if you’re not ready to make friends this early in the morning, might be better to find another place.
    What to order: The chilaquiles (fried tortilla stips bathed in tomato sauce and cheese) or pan de yema (egg yolk brad) with a chocolate de agua (watered-down hot chocolate) on the side to dip the bread into
  • FLOR DE HUAYAPAM (Stand #30-31, inside Mercado 20 de Noviembre) This trademark, non-alcoholic drink at this stall is tejate, which is revered as “the drink of the gods.” The magical mixture is made from a paste of toasted corn, fermented cacao, sugar, cinnamon, and the petals of the flor de cacao, added with water to create a fragrant, frothy concoction.
  • CASILDA AGUAS REGIONALES (Stand #30-31, inside Mercado 20 de Noviembre) Another refreshing drink stand in the bustling central market owned by the Casilda family. Their famous aguas frescas (fruit water) are made fresh daily, represent local seasonality, and usually the best flavors usually run out right after the morning rush.
    What to order: The various flavored horchatas (sweet rice milk)

IF YOU ARE A PLANT BASED EATER

  • HIERBA DULCE (Calle Porfirio Díaz 311, RUTA INDEPENDENCIA) Hailed as the best vegan restaurant in town, this feminist kitchen run by “Mayoras” has returned to the healing food movement practiced by female ancestors. Today’s mayoras use only locally sourced and deindustrialized ingredients to make their contemporary meals.
    What to order: Poleo tea (a wild mint from Mexico) used for aiding digestion and the avocado toast

IF YOU CONSIDER TACOS TO BE ONE OF THE BASIC FOOD GROUPS

  • PEZ (Murguía 407, RUTA INDEPENDENCIA) While you could just grab some roadside tacos y consomme (tacos and broth), Pez is a departure from the pork and beef-driven taco industry in town. More pub than a dedicated taco joint, patrons come for the fried fish and shrimp tacos, with seafood imported from the Oaxacan shoreline. The portions are generous and the homemade condiments are free-flowing.
    What to order: Either shrimp or fish tacos (in my opinion, get both) and pair with a Michelada (a Mexican version of a Bloody Mary made with beer)

IF YOU ARE A FAN OF BAKED GOODS

  • BOULENC (Calle Porfirio Díaz 207, RUTA INDEPENDENCIA) This artisanal bakery, specializing in sourdough, is probably the least traditional entry on this list, but crowds love the large selection of international dine-in options, as well as the takeaway baked goods at the bakery. And for a menu rife with gluten, a lot of their meals are allergen-friendly.
    What to order: Sourdough molletes (open-faced sandwich) with refried beans, soft cheese, and pico de gallo, or the gluten-free fruit hotcakes
  • PAN:AM (Calle Mariano Abasolo 103) Another bakery and al fresco breakfast spot praised for its pastries. For those needing a quick breakfast, skip the courtyard seating (unless it looks too inviting to pass up) and order the freshly baked treats to go.
    What to order: Oaxacan chocolate croissant and hot horchata

IF YOU WANT TO COOL DOWN WITH A SWEET TREAT

  • MANOLO NIEVES (Calle Macedonio Alcalá 706, RUTA INDEPENDENCIA) For a taste of Mexico’s answer to sorbet, nieves (meaning “snow”), head to this long-running establishment where you can try icy, imaginative versions of Oaxacan delicacies.
    What to order: The super-Oaxacan flavor pairings of leche quemada con tuna (burnt milk with prickly pear), or tamarindo con chapulines (tamarind with fried grasshoppers)
  • PALETERIA POPEYE (Calle de Manuel Fernández Fiallo 107) It’s hard not to give into the cartoonish, childish appeal of this local paleteria selling Mexican ice pops known as paletas, especially on a hot day, and at $8 MXN pesos ($.50 USD) per paleta, chances are you might be finishing off more than one pop.
    What to order: The paleta de cajeta (a sweetened goat’s milk with the consistency of dulce de leche)

IF YOU ACTUALLY LIKE BEING IN THE KITCHEN

  • CASA CRESPO (Jacobo Dalevuelta 200) Chef Oscar’s “Flavors of Oaxaca” tour includes a cooking class and market tour and he is willing to accomodate dietary restrictions ONLY if the entire group agrees. $65 USD from 10 AM – 3 PM, more information here.
  • LA COCINA OAXAQUENA (Yagul #209, Fracc. San José la Noria) Chef Gerardo also conducts a market tour, as well as a cooking class, and can accommodate dietary restrictions. $55 USD, 9 AM – 3 PM, more information here.
  • COOKING CLASSES OAXACA Chef Agustin’s party-like atmosphere has attracted a number of bloggers looking to not take themselves so seriously while learning the secrets of Oaxacan cooking. $65, 11 AM – 5 PM, more information here. Email Agustin to book a class here: [email protected].

city guide where to drink in the city

city guide oaxaca drinking mezcal

It would be a sin to visit Oaxaca and not try Mezcal, the local spirit made from maguey, or agave. 75% of Mexico’s maguey plans grow in the state of Oaxaca and all around the city, you’ll find bars selling the most artisanal versions of mezcal. Fun fact: tequila is a type of mezcal made from the blue agave. Story has it that in order to distinguish tequila from mezcal bottles, producers would drop a maguey worm (tiny caterpillers that feed on the agave plant) into the mezcal to set the two liquors apart. The maguey worm is 100% edible by the way and is said to enhance the flavors of the mezcal post-consumption.

HOW TO DRINK MEZCAL

Steer clear of taking shots of mezcal, as it is seen as disrespectful. In order to respect the mezcal, one must “kiss” the mezcal. A glass should be finished in three spaced out sips. Swish the liquor in your mouth a bit before swallowing to extract the smoky essence. If the mezcal is too strong for your liking, you can chase each sip with a slice of orange and sal de gusano (salt ground with maguey wormnot vegan). Mezcal is typically served at room temperature so hold the ice, unless it’s a cocktail with mezcal.

NOTABLE MEZCAL DRINKERIES IN OAXACA

  • LOS AMANTES MEZCALERIA (Calle de Ignacio Allende 107, RUTA INDEPENDENCIA) The pregame spot in Oaxaca where you down some mezcal before heading out for the rest of the evening. This a true neighborhood hole-in-the-wall and the atmosphere after 8 PM is all hype thanks to the live music and the banter of friends reuniting for some evening fun. The “Los Amantes” mezcal label is by far one of the best in the country so you can grab a bottle for much less than the exported costs at stores. If you want to try a mezcal tasting, they have a 1.5-ounce set featuring 3 different varieties for 200 MXN pesos (~$10 USD).
  • LA MEZCALOTECA (Reforma No. 506, RUTA INDEPENDENCIA) Known for their next-level, by-appointment-only mezcal tastings, La Mezcaloteca is the place for a crash course on mezcal, as it’s more of a mezcal library than a traditional bar. All the employees are industry experts and true lovers of the libation and will happily equip you with everything you need to fully appreciate the drink. And you can’t go wrong with over 100 different mezcals to sample.
  • LA MEZCALERITA (Calle Macedonio Alcalá, RUTA INDEPENDENCIA) A trendy spot with rooftop seating, pandering to a younger crowd with a robust, mostly domestic, craft beer stock and mezcals in all price ranges. The bar food here is cheap, hearty, and a great accompaniment to any alcohol you sample.
  • MEZCALERIA IN SITU (José María Morelos, Av. José María Morelos 511) For those looking to get intimate with mezcal, head over to In Situ. The owner Ulysses, is sort of a local legend when it comes to mezcal and even wrote a book about mezcal that you can buy at this bar. Their tasting flight comes with informational cards about every variety you sample and you can also purchase full-sized bottles if you find a favorite among the lot.

city guide hidden gems in the city

city guide oaxaca shopping textiles crafts

  • The number one thing to do in Oaxaca is attend the annual GUELAGUETZA FESTIVAL, a cultural showcase of indigenous folk dances, music, and song that happens the last two Mondays of July at the open-air ampitheater perched high above Oaxaca de Juarez. This is one of the busiest traveling seasons and hotels will be booked well in advance. (TIP: You can watch the festival for free if you sit in sections C and D, but you won’t be able to see much. For closer seats, you have to book far ahead so coordinate with your hotel to acquire tickets on your behalf).
  • If you see a giant crowd of dancers, a brass band, and massive puppets, roaming the streets, feel free to join in the fun known as a CALENDA. The parade is thrown to announce happy occasions, typically weddings, graduations, and even a new presidency. We’ll be throwing our own wedding calenda too!
  • To experience an authentic cantina, head to CANTINA EL SALON DE LA FAMA () and order a suerito, what the Oaxaquenos call a michelada, made by Don Chato who has been serving these sueritos since 1958.
  • Cleanse your soul, body, and mind at CEVIAREM TEMAZCAL (Prol. de Camposanto 119 Barrio, Callejon San Antonio, 7ª Sección, 68270 Tlalixtac de Cabrera), an ancient Mayan thermal spa that facilites holistic healing through traditional and ritual baths. You will leave feeling relaxed, detoxified, and reenergized. They also offer postpartum therapy, as well as rehabilitate those who have suffered from physical injuries. The traditional cleanse begins at 700 MXN pesos (~$35 USD) and you will need to book in advance and spots tend to fill up quickly.
  • Get your creative juices flowing at TALLER-GALERIA CODIGO TONAL (Avenida Benito Juárez 107), part-gallery, part-workshop where you can explore new techniques in every type of medium, ranging from woodcutting to photography basics.
  • If you’ll be spending a good amount of time in Oaxaca, why not invest in learning Spanish at OLLIN TLAHTOALLI (Melchor Ocampo 710, Zona Feb 10 2015, Barrio de la Noria), a language and Oaxacan culture school founded on the principals of civic engagement. Your money will go right back to the community, in the form of free English classes for indigenous Oaxacan artists and professional development opportunities for rural teachers. They also have a very good cafe inside the school.
  • Oaxaca is also known as “la tierra de artistas,” or the Land of the Artists. Scattered all over Oaxaca are small townships that specialize in one craft. Go on a tour of of the towns, the RUTA DE ARTESIAS, to see handmade rugs, green/black/red pottery, the famous ‘alebrijes,’ and embroidered textiles. These towns include San Antonia Arrazola, San Martin Ticajete, Santo Tomas Jalieza, San Marcos Tlapazola, Ocotlan de Morelos, and San Antonino Castillo Valesco.
  • A FREE WALKING TOUR of the city center commences in front of The Santo Domingo Church every day at 10 AM. This tour is only 2 hours long and is an inexpensive way to get a lay of the land. Even though it’s technically free, it’s still recommended to tip the voluntary tour leader. Learn more here.
  • A recommendation from a fellow Oaxacan bride and friend, Mayra, SABINE SABE (5 de Mayo 209, RUTA INDEPENDENCIA) is a great wateringhole for non-mezcal drinkers, with a fantastic selection of cocktails. She shared, “Our server was really helpful…you can’t go wrong with any drink here.”
  • Oaxaca is also one of the best places in Mexico to celebrate DIA DE LOS MUERTOS, or The Day of the Dead, which takes place every year from October 31 to November 2. This is more a celebration of life than it is about death, with merrymaking in the streets and locals donning the Catrina look, or skull face painting, to honor their deceased loved ones. FUNDACION EN VIA, a non-profit organization empowering Oaxacan women, runs a fantastic informational Day of the Dead tour for $90 USD. Book the tour here.
  • Oaxaca’s multicolored buildings make a great canvas for STREET ART and if you’re in the mood for some graffitied backdrops, including but not limited to political activist illustrations and religious murals, check out this short video for some inspiration on where to go (the addresses are found in the video description on Youtube).
  • Pick-up some new skills in Oaxaca while backing women-owned small businesses at TLAYUDONA (Miguel Hidalgo 100, Barrio de Jalatlaco), a cultural exchange cooperative organizing everything from tamale kneading demonstrations to painting your very own alebrijes (a great family event on a rainy day). Connect with like-minded travelers while learning more about Oaxcan customs and traditions. You can book a unique private experience for a small group or look at their calendar of events here.
  • Oaxaca is famous for its textiles and in order to discern high quality, fair trade goods from the fakes, read through this guide for the best TEXTILE SHOPPING in Oaxaca and save the map to your phone. And if you are a true lover of global threads, consider visiting the MUSEO TEXTIL DE OAXACA (Miguel Hidalgo 917, Centro Histórico). Every textile on display is a window into the distinct identities of each of Oaxaca’s 16 formally recognized ethnic groups.
  • Not a “must-see” but if you’re a fan of record-breaking achievements, EL ARBOL DE TULE in Santa Maria is a 2,000 year old tree holding the title for the world’s thickest tree trunk—it’s so large that it was believed to be several trees before scientists confirmed that this is only one tree (TIP: not worth the 20-min taxi ride in my opinion, but if you’re on a tour to Mitla, chances are it will be on the itinerary).

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city guide where to stay

city guide hotels in oaxaca where to stay in oaxaca

While I was wedding scouting, I tried out a handful of hotels for research purposes. So here’s a list of my favorite spots from my whirlwind hotel tour and I’ll be posting a separate, more extensive accommodations list soon.

LUXURY

Los Amantes is a a perfect fusion of contemporary and classic Mexican design aesthetics.  The restored colonial building’s sophisticated rooms feature hardwood floors, sun decks, stunning city views, and bonus: all the Junior Suites come with an outdoor bathtub on their private terraces. There is also a restaurant, wellness facility, and cocktail lounge on the rooftop open to the public. Each room also style with local art made by world-class Mexican creatives, all available for purchase. (Rooms starting at $140 USD per night)

BOUTIQUE

Hotel con Corazón is one of my favorite hotels I’ve ever stayed at in the world! Recently celebrating its one year anniversary, the social impact hotel puts a large amount of its capital towards educatio initiatives, hence the name “a hotel with heart.” From a delightful staff that will attend to any need (shout-out to Dulce, the manager for her amazing customer service) to the gorgeous multi-course breakfasts and can’t forget that all the toiletries in the rooms are eco-friendly and made locally, I give this hotel all the love in my heart. (Rooms starting at $70 per night)

City Centro Oaxaca located in the sleepy neighborhood of Barrio de Jatatlaco (the neighborhood of the tanners) is a hot pink paradise. The former tannery was converted into a 114-room property and features an ancient tree in the courtyard, bubbling fountains, two bars, free bicycles, and complimentary breakfast. You won’t see another property like this in Oaxaca. We were so captivated by the personality of this hotel that we chose it to be the site of our 2019 wedding. (Rooms starting at $120 per night)

Casa Antoineta is another fairly new boutique hotel in the the city center with six, well-appointed suites decorated in contemporary art. No two rooms are alike and some also have patios. The building is a traditional Mexican patio-house, with an inner square atrium that brings light inot the space. There is also a new cafe on-site called Muss Cafe, where you can take your morning coffee in peace. (Suites starting at $140 USD per night)

HOSTELS

Hotel Selina Oaxaca is part of a string of budget accommodations found all over Latin America and Greece, but low costs doesn’t mean cheap rooms. The lifestyle, travel, and hospitality brand has a flair for bright and inviting spaces and you’ll find a nice balance of private rooms and dorm rooms (that they call community rooms instead.) Their co-working lounge makes this a great option for digital nomads. And their staff also commit 2% of their time to volunteering, a program known as Selina Gives Back. My friend Cheyenne stayed at the Selina in Jaco, Costa Rica and loved it so much she rebooked a stay at the Oaxaca branch. (Private rooms start as $35 USD per night; Community rooms start at $9 USD per bed)

city guide oaxaca hotel con corazon

city guide traveling to the city

FLYING TO OAXACA

The direct international flights to Xoxocotlán International Airport (in Oaxaca) are next to none apart from Los Angeles, California; Houston, Texas; and Dallas, Texas. The best way to get to the Oaxaca de Juarez is to fly from Mexico City (a short one hour flight) but you can also travel to Oaxaca from other domestic locations, like Puerto Escondido, Huatulco, Guadalajara, Merida, Ixtepec, Tijuana, and Monterrey. The low season is February while the peak season for flying is December.

The cheapest option is flying directly to Mexico City, then buying a roundtrip flight with one of the domestic airlines. The average roundtrip flight from MEX-OAX costs $100 USD (as of June 2019). I highly recommend flying with Interjet, I’ve flown with them twice and love their fast check-in service. The other domestic carrier I would suggest is Volaris.

  1. Interjet – Reliable and smooth in-air service. Sometimes the online check-in doesn’t work so you must wait in line at airport, but the airport line is quick and easy and the flights typically board on time.
  2. Volaris – Automated kiosks for easy check-in but issues with airline punctuality. If your flight is delayed more than 2 hours, you will be given compensation for the delay.

TAKING A BUS TO OAXACA

For the more adventurous, you can take a bus from Mexico International Airport to TAPO Bus Station (Terminal de Autobuses de Pasajero de Oriente) which can be reached via the metro (only if you are desperate), authorized taxi (not suggested) or Uber. An authorized taxi costs $200 MXN pesos (~$15 USD) and you must pay in advance. If you want to take the metro, the “Terminal Aérea” metro station is near Terminal 1. Take the metro 5 stops away on Line 1 to San Lazaro (the pink line, approx. 7 min) for $10 MXN pesos (~$.50 USD). A 10-minute Uber ride is approximately $160 MXN pesos (~$9 USD) but due to persistent traffic, it can take you 30 minutes and you will need to download the app beforehand.

From the bus station, the ADO Bus Line goes to Oaxaca, but there are different bus classes. The most luxurious offering is ADO Platina (super plush, very comfortable) starting at $1000 MXN pesos (~$55 USD) one-way. ADO GL (not as roomy but still comfortable) starts at $800 MXN pesos (~$43 USD) one-way and the standard ADO ride goes for $600 MXN pesos (~$35 USD) one-way. Because we didn’t book ahead, we ended up riding the cheap, local bus called AU with no TV or toilets. The ride was slated to be 7 hours long, but it ended up being 10 HOURS INSTEAD due to a closed road, so if you are really pressed for time, DO NOT TAKE THE BUS.

city guide getting around the city

city guide oaxaca getting around monte alban

FROM THE AIRPORT

From the airport, a taxi ride into historic center takes around 20-25 minutes and costs about $300-330 MXN pesos (~$15-17 USD) one-way. Transportacion Terrestre Aeropuerto is a van service with a kiosk right outside the baggage claim. You can book a shared van seat from the city to the airport for $85 MXN pesos (~$4.50) one way to Zone 1. The cost depends on what zone you are traveling to, so the prices may vary the farther out you have to travel.

TAKING A TAXI

Once you’re in the city center, everything is within walking distance. But if you need a taxi, you can ask your hotel to call you one. Most taxi rides within the city cost $50-70 MXN pesos (~$2-3 USD). All the taxis that go into the city are yellow.

If you see two-color taxi, those taxis are normally shared rides and go to nearby towns.

If you find yourself needing a taxi, you can call any of these companies:

  • Radio Taxi Antequera +52 1 951 515 4355 / +52 1 951 503 8434
  • Radio Taxi Alameda+ 52 1 951 516 2190  / +52 1 951 501 0541
  • Radio Taxi Reforma +52 1 951 515 5368 / +52 1 951 518 7484

PRO-TIP: Most taxi drivers do not use GPS so it is best to have your final destination’s address written down somewhere to show them, instead of verbally telling them the address.

HIRING A PRIVATE SERVICE

You can hire taxis to take you to nearby destinations for an hourly rate. My go-to driver is Jorge Ocampo, who we booked for 5 hours to take us to Monte Alban and Arrazola. We paid $200 MXN pesos (~$5 USD) for each hour. The best way to reach him is through WhatsApp and his number +52 1 951 222 5440. He speaks good English, and wants to practice speaking English more, so I highly recommend his service!

city guide extra resources

Oaxaca is calling you! Continue building your to-do list with help from these resources:

👉 Have you ever been to Oaxaca? Share your tips about visiting this Mexican state below!

Give me a shout-out on Pinterest pretty please?

A comprehensive guide to the best of Oaxaca with @The Next Somewhere


Millette Pulido is a Bay Area-based, Boston-bred Filipina who loves to vagabond. At 29, the former expat has traded in her nomadic ways for a semi-grounded life in San Jose, CA. These days, she's focusing on balancing travel with a full-time job, all while planning her 2019 destination wedding in Oaxaca, Mexico. She lives for good times, good food, and good peeps. Find out her #wheretonext on Instagram @thenextsomewhere.

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  1. Jim

    27 June

    Wow! Great read! Looks like my next trip is going to be to Oaxaca!

    • Millette

      15 July

      I hope you have the BEST time in Oaxaca Jim! 😀

  2. Kay

    29 June

    HAVE I MENTIONED HOW MUCH I LOVE YOUR WRITING AND HOW CREATIVE YOUR POSTS ARE?!!? You made me fall in love with Oaxaca without even going there! Amazingly detailed – thank you so much for all the tips!

  3. Alicia

    18 July

    Your writing is amazing! I had never heard of Oaxaca before reading this and one day I would love go! So many helpful tips so thank you for sharing! I can see why you love it so much and it really shows in your writing too!

    • Millette

      30 July

      Awww, thank you so much Alicia! I get so self-conscious about my writing style (I’m very wordy hehe) but so long as my readers are happy, I’m going to keep putting myself out there so thanks for the encouragement 🙂

  4. Sierra

    18 July

    Wow! Oaxaca looks likes a wonderful spot for a variety of food and culture opportunities! I love how detailed you are and how FUN your posts are to read! Can’t wait to try some authentic street food there someday-yum!

    • Millette

      30 July

      It truly is one of the best cultural experiences I’ve encountered on my travels! And yay to fun posts! I love storytelling with my graphics, as well as my words. Crossing my fingers that one day, you get to enjoy all of the beauty of Oaxaca for yourself 🙂

      • Marj W Stark

        14 August

        I hope I do get to Oaxaca someday to experience the beauty that you found there!

  5. Brianna

    18 July

    Oaxaca sounds like a fantastic destination in Mexico! I’m used to reading about resort visits so this independent travel in Mexico sounds amazing. And the food, wow. Sounds like a great destination for foodies, and now I’m craving tacos!

    • Millette

      30 July

      I might be partial but Oaxaca is my fave so far in Mexico! I am hankering to visit San Miguel de Allende. And thank you for your compliment about feeling like is more of an independent travel resource. I couldn’t agree with you more that I’m a bit tired from only resort offerings, which is why I put together this post in the first place 🙂

  6. Love your blog layout! This is so creative and unique. Oaxaca was never really on my list, but looks great.

    • Millette

      30 July

      Thank you so much Lauren! It really is a super special place 🙂

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