The Ultimate Guide to Travel to Oaxaca
Oaxaca always leaves you with a good taste in your mouth
Visiting Oaxaca City
I wrote this ultimate guide to travel to Oaxaca with a happy heart. Whenever I visit Oaxaca, the warmth of its people makes me feel at home. Its extraordinary gastronomy and its authentic mezcal are a pair I don’t want to part with. And its archaeological sites, handicrafts, festivities, and markets make me want to return again and again.
When you travel to Oaxaca, a city full of color, you have to go with your eyes wide open. You will be amazed by the immense range of colors found in its traditional markets, in the clothes of Oaxacan women, and in the sky during sunsets. Indeed, it is one of those destinations that still preserve the spirit of colonial Mexico; you will notice it by its monuments.
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A warm and colorful city in a valley between mountains.
When starting a trip, I always recommend taking a map and locating the destination we want to reach. In this case, Oaxaca is located right in the southwest of Mexican territory. From Mexico City, it is approximately 5 hours by road. To the north of Oaxaca, are the states of Puebla and Veracruz, with the south it borders the Pacific Ocean, to the east with the picturesque state of Chiapas, and to the west with Guerrero.
Oaxaca is the fifth-largest state in the country and its weather varies according to the region. Although to be honest, there is no single season when it is best to travel to Oaxaca. In other words, every month has its charm, and I assure you that you will find magic in this destination.
However, it is essential to know that the weather is enjoyable the first months of the year, and the last two months, with a bit of cold. The rain arrived by June, July, August, and September and could affect some of your outdoor activities.
Keep in mind that in July, Oaxaca turns into a big parade, as the Guelaguetza begins; a tradition that has remained since pre-hispanic times, being a ritual to the gods.
Get the most out of Oaxaca
Museums and mezcal
What museums to visit in Oaxaca City?
To start getting to know Oaxaca, you should definitely visit one of the city’s museums:
- El Museo Textil de Oaxaca
- Museo de las Culturas
- MACO – Museo de Arte Contemporáneo de Oaxaca
All three have interesting exhibits that will allow you to delve deeper into Mexican culture. Moreover, don’t forget to visit the Jardín Etnobotánico and one or two mezcalerías to warm up your throat.
If your thing is the beverage of the gods, you can’t miss the mezcal route. During one day, you will learn about the ritual behind mezcal, where the planting and harvesting of mezcal becomes a cult.
You will visit Matatlán, a place where farmers bring offerings to the cross and offer their agaves. Inside the fields, you will learn about some of the varieties of agave used in the production of this drink and then enter the elaboration and decoration of the traditional mezcal cantaritos.
Among agave landscapes, the mezcal tour will take you through communities of small local producers that allow you to meet the people who produce mezcal in a very authentic way. You will continue to Chichicapam, where a local family will welcome you to their table for a traditional meal.
Finally, in Ocotlán you will visit a cantina where they make cured mezcal; one of the last places where the tradition of putting fruit in the mezcal bottles for tasting is still preserved.
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Between flavors and aromas
Authentic Oaxacan gastronomy
Of course, in this guide to travel to Oaxaca City I can not fail to recommend:
- La Terraza los Amantes and its spectacular view of the Temple of Santo Domingo.
- Los Danzantes Oaxaca is one of the most traditional restaurants in the city.
- Tierra de Sol Casa Restaurante, where you can enjoy the “mixteco” flavor, tradition, and a lot of love. Grandmothers like Doña Chonita, besides their wisdom, have a fantastic seasoning that they transmit to the new generations.
But I can’t leave behind the gastronomic offer found inside the markets either. The traditional visit to the “Mercado 20 de Noviembre” and its smoky aisle will whet your appetite in just a few seconds. The tlayudas are the most classic; they are these gigantic tortillas of 30 centimeters in diameter, usually prepared with lard, quesillo, beans, jerky, avocado, and salsa.
And please, when you visit the market, don’t forget to have a typical yolk bread in one hand and a cup of hot chocolate in the other.
Another great recommendation I have for you is the restaurant “Las Quince Letras” where you will find a selection of meals from every corner of the state, including the emblematic mole negro.
Strolling along the Andador Turístico is a pleasure. It is found along Macedonio Alcalá Street, the same street that leads to the Templo de Santo Domingo, whose exterior is a fantastic example of baroque ecclesiastical architecture. Formerly a monastery, it now houses a museum dedicated to pre-Columbian artists and artifacts, as well as the Jardín Etnobotánico.
Enjoy the afternoon in a café in the zócalo or go in search of one of the best ice creams you will ever taste in your life. I’ll give you a hint, they are in the tianguis, right next to Santo Domingo.
Do you still have energy left? If your answer was yes, of course, you have to see the city at night. A drink at Selva Oaxaca Cocktail Bar is a unique experience for its richness and diversity of local ingredients and Mexican distillates. Or, an esquite banquetero is always a good idea to end the day.
*The word “banquetero” means to eat an esquite right on the sidewalk
Rural cooking workshop in Oaxaca
If you are one of those who like to put your hands in the dough, there is a rural cooking workshop in Oaxaca, where in a country atmosphere, you will discover the authentic flavors of Oaxaca traditional cuisine with a wood stove, always with seasonal products and some of them harvested in the plots or patios of the families you will visit. The workshop takes place in a Zapotec community in the Valley of Oaxaca, in the home of a family that will welcome you with open arms to teach you all their secrets. You will have the opportunity to prepare 3 dishes and sit down to taste your creations.
Traditional handicrafts of Oaxaca
Of course, the Mercado de Artesanías is a must-stop to see the variety of handicrafts that Oaxaca has; which is one of the most extensive in the country.
Also, from the Mercado Benito Juárez, you will be able to admire the colorful typical costumes, such as the guayaberas and huipiles, the result of a mixture of indigenous culture and colonial techniques. You will be able to acquire an endless number of handicrafts, which have become a tourist attraction. From cloth dolls, wooden toys, clay dishes and the famous alebrijes, these imaginary beings formed with the parts of different animals, with very bright colors.
Getting to know the surroundings of Oaxaca City
I definitely recommend you stay in downtown Oaxaca and dedicate one or two days getting to know the surroundings of the city.
Visit the great Zapotec city of Monte Albán
The pre-Columbian archaeological site of Monte Alban, south of Oaxaca City; one of the largest Mesoamerican cities of its time (100 B.C. to 200 A.D.). In about 3 hours you can visit Monte Alban, the great Zapotec city developed on a hilltop in the center of the Central Valleys of Oaxaca, which had a great influence on the development of Mesoamerica.
Discover Mitla and the majestic Tule Tree
The second recommendation I have for you is a tour where archeology and nature meet in synergy. You start the day visiting the millenary Tule tree with more than 45 meters in circumference and 2000 years of life; then continue to Mitla, where you will find the most important religious center of the Zapotecs during the post-classical period. Its buildings were decorated with geometric shapes and are a clear example of the splendor and development of this ancient civilization.
Hike and tour of the handicraft village of Teotitlán
And finally, the hike and tour of the artisan village of Teotitlán is a must. You will be able to get to know the town of Teotitlán del Valle very closely; from its diverse nature around the lake, to its traditional handicrafts and the secrets of its production (weaving and dyeing of natural colors).
The tour begins at the town’s dam at the foot of the imposing Sierra Norte mountains, where sunrise is a spectacular time for bird watching. You will hike to the top of the nearest mountain, where you will have a view of the entire eastern valley of Oaxaca.
A local family will welcome you into their home to eat traditional meals together. They will then show you the authentic craftsmanship that has been in the family for more than five generations of carpet weaving; actual weavers at heart! You will learn how the wool is cleaned, prepared, and dyed using natural materials such as plants, insects, leaves, and lime to create a rainbow of brilliant colors.
In conclusion, I assure you that with this ultimate guide to travel to Oaxaca, you will end up filling your eyes with color, your mouth with authentic flavors, your nose with unique aromas, your ears with joyful music, and your hands with handcrafted souvenirs to take home with you.