A few months ago, I had the pleasure to visit the lovely state and city of Oaxaca in Mexico. I decided to give this state a try because I ONLY heard wonderful things about it, so it was time to see it for myself….and everyone was right, Oaxaca is absolutely BEAUTIFUL!
Oaxaca is a state located in Southwestern Mexico and its capital city is also named Oaxaca. Did you know that Oaxaca is the state with largest number of indigenous tribes in all of Mexico? That is why this state is so unique and rich in culture. The best-known indigenous tribes in this state are the Zapotecs and the Mixtecs, but there are sixteen total tribes that are officially recognized, and they all have their own language.
How to get there:
Since Oaxaca is still a bit under the radar, there are not that many direct flights from the US to Oaxaca. However, there is one direct flight on United from Houston-Oaxaca, but they only offer one flight per day. A good alternative is to just to fly to Mexico City and make little trip out of it (for tips on CDMX check this post) and then go to Oaxaca. Some nice and affordable Mexican airlines that you can use to travel within Mexico are Volaris and Interjet.
What to see:
Church of Santo Domingo de Guzman: This Baroque church and monastery were founded by the Dominican Fathers in 1575 and it took over 200 years to build! I have been to many churches around the world, and I must say THIS one is one of the most impressive churches I have ever seen.
Museum of Cultures of Oaxaca: The rooms that were part of the monastery now house this museum. This museum includes an important collection of pre-Columban artefacts, among them the contents of Tomb 7 from the nearby Zapotec site of Monte Albán.
Ethnobotanic Garden of Oaxaca: The former monastery garden is now this ethnobotanical garden, which contains a large collection of plants native to the region. Pro Tip: They have a super weird schedule, so make sure you check it before showing up.
Cathedral of Our Lady of the Assumption: This beautiful cathedral began construction in 1535 and opened in 1640. This church is located across from Oaxaca’s Zocalo where you can find many artisanal shops and yummy traditional snacks!
Around the city center they have a lot of tour operators that offer different options. To better explore the region, we decide to take 2-day tours with Zapotecos Tours for $350 pesos ($18.75 USD Jan/20) per person each tour. We highly recommend them! There were less than 15 people on our tour in mid-May.
The first day, we took the tour that takes you to:
Monte Alban: These ancient Zapotec and Mixtec ruins date back to the 8th century BCE. These ruins contain plazas, pyramids, a court for playing the ball game tlachtli, underground passageways, and about 170 tombs!
Alebrijes Shop: These colorfully painted wooden imaginary creatures are inspired by animals such as dragons, bas, birds and dogs. These colorful creatures can also be found in the movie Coco!
Convent of Cuilapam: The ruins of the former convent from the 16th century complex now remain as a national monument.
Barro Negro Shop: During the tour you will visit a “black clay” shop where you be able to get a demonstration. This style of pottery is very popular in Oaxaca.
The second day, we took the tour that takes you to:
Hierve el Agua: Literally means “the water boils” and they are a set of natural rock formations made from freshwater springs that have been over-saturated with calcium carbonate and other minerals. AMAZING!
Tule Tree: This famous tree is over 2,000 years old, 42 meters tall, 14 meters in diameter and weights 636,107 tons!
Teotitlán del Valle: This community is known for its woven rugs that are made from wool and use natural dyes that come from by the cochineal insect.
Artisanal Mezcal Factory: During the tour to the Mezcal Factory, you will learn the main difference between how Tequila and Mezcal are made…. Spoiler Alert! It’s the type of agave that you use!
Mitla: This Pueblo Magico “Magical Town” is the second most important archeological site in the state of Oaxaca in Mexico, and the most important of the Zapotec culture.
Events to consider:
Día de Muertos: The “Day of the Dead” is a popular Mexican holiday that is celebrated every November 2 throughout Mexico to remember loved ones who have passed away. Oaxaca is one of the states that celebrates it the most. Read more about this colorful holiday in this post!
Guelaguetza: Each year the Guelaguetza is celebrated on the two Mondays following July 16. La Guelaguetza originated from the Mexica-Aztec conquest of Oaxaca, where the native Oaxacan worshiped the goddess of tender corn called Xilonen.
Where to eat:
Criollo: This chic restaurant is located in an old colonial mansion and is another creation of famous chef, Enrique Olvera (Pujol in Mexico City, Cosme in New York). They offer a seven-course tasting menu and each day the menu is different!
Mercado 20 de Noviembre: Is a local market that sells fresh produce, baked goods & local street food. One of the most interesting things to experience in this market is walking by the hall where they sell the “carne asada”! The smoke of the grilled meat is enticing and a whole experience of its own. Note: The meat, tortillas, salsas and sides are all sold separately!
Make sure you try the following things in the mercado:
Chocolate Caliente (Hot chocolate) and Pan de Yema
Where to stay:
We stayed at this Airbnb that was conveniently located downtown in the historic district. It had a great panoramic view of the city and was very affordable. BUT it did not have an elevator, so keep that in mind.
Other great options are:
El Callejón Hotel Boutique
I hope you have fallen in love with this beautiful state as much as I did and that you will consider adding it to your bucket list!