The Best Of Oaxaca, Mexico
There is no doubt Oaxaca is a gem waiting to be explored! Oaxaca quickly rose to being our #1 choice in best places to visit in Mexico. We can't believe Oaxaca is still so unexplored, so if I were you, I would pay it a visit before it becomes like other places…overrun by tourists. Lets start of with why we believe Oaxaca is one of the best places to visit in Mexico:
1) LA GUELAGUETZA
It is known as “La Fiesta De Los Lunes Del Cerro” and it takes place the last 2 Mondays of July. What is La Guelaguetza and what exactly will you experience? Unbelievable amounts of culture, tradition, great food, and welcoming Oaxacans ready to show you a good time! One of the best experiences of our lives. La Guelaguetza is a festival of indigineous dances represented by 8 different regions of Oaxaca: Mixteca, Istmo, Cañada, Papaloapam, Sierra Norte, Valles Centrales, Sierra Sur, and Costa. Each year the best dances are selected to be shown off at the Guelaguetza, a show that lasts about 3-4 hrs and takes place in the Auditorio Guelaguetza. There are a lot more other festivities that take place during July like the Desfile de Delegaciones, La Leyenda de la Princesa Donaji, La Feria Del Mezcal and Gastronomia and many more. A detailed post of La Guelaguetza coming soon!
2) HIERVE EL AGUA
My second favorite thing in all of Oaxaca is this gorgeous spot. Hierve El Agua translates to “Boiling Water”. Although it really doesn’t boil, it might seem like it due to the underground pressure. It is very safe to get in and take a dip in the two natural mineral pools. So make sure you bring a swimsuit if you plan on jumping in. Hierve El Agua is known for having one of the only two petrified waterfalls in the world. This waterfall was formed from minerals that hardened into calcium carbonate over thousands of years. There are plenty of tours that can take you here, but we recommend renting a car and getting here before everyone else does to truly enjoy this place. For full details on how to best visit Hierve El Agua click here.
3) MONTE ALBAN
Monte Alban is the most famous archeological site in all of Oaxaca. If you like ancient ruins Monte Alban is a must! The site sits on top of a flattened mountain giving you sweeping views of the valley below. This site was inhabited by Mixtecs, Zapotecs and Olmecs for over 1,500 years. It is even located on the $20 Mexican Peso bill. There are many tours that can take you to Monte Alban or you can rent a car and get there on your own. This archeological site is only 20-30 minutes away from Oaxaca City. Make sure to bring SPF and good walking shoes since there is a lot to see and very little shade.
4) TEMPLO DE SANTO DOMINGO
This place is quite the work of art! Dripping in gold with ornate wooden carvings, this place will leave you speechless. You heard that right…gold! More than 60,000 sheets of 23.5 carat gold leaf.
5) MUSEO DE CULTURAS DE OAXACA
One of the best museum I have ever visited! Why do we love it? It has over 10,000 years of Oaxacan history in this beautiful space. If you love history, you will need at least 2 hours or maybe half a day. What did I love most about it? The explanation of the Spanish conquest. It really opens up your eyes to the impact colonization had on Oaxaca and all of Mexico. The place not only holds precious history, but it is also located on the second floor of the Temple de Santo Domingo which is great for pictures. There are signs in this museum, but just a heads up until now they are only written in Spanish.
Cost of museum entrance: The cost to enter is 70 MXP ($3.74 USD) per person. Entrance is free every Sunday.
6) JARDIN ETNOBOTANICO
Located right behind the Museo De Culturas de Oaxaca, this place will give you lots of information of the diverse flora of Oaxaca. Known famously on Instagram for its super tall cactus garden, make sure you come prepared with your cameras. When we visited, we were only allowed inside with a tour. You can’t go in on any day with your camera and snap pictures. The reason? The Botanical Garden is pretty new, they also have some precious ancient crops they don’t want people stealing or ruining. Lets be glad at least we get the opportunity for a tour. It’s a large space in the middle of Oaxaca City that at one point was going to be turned into a Parking Garage by a big corporation. (Crazy right??!) Luckily, there are still good people in this world who fought for the space to be turned into a garden. There are various tours offered through out the day in English, Spanish and even French. Check the times located outside the doors of the garden since the times might change.
Cost of Tour: $50 MXP ($2.66 USD) per person.
7) HANG OUT IN OAXACA CITY’S ZOCALO
Full of life, vendors and food this is a place you will definitely not miss even if you wanted to! It is surrounded by local artisan vendors eager to sell you their goods, great restaurants to enjoy a drink, some food and even some music in the afternoon. There are some great restaurants with balconies giving you a great view of the zocalo below.
8) VISIT THE UNIQUE ARCHEOLOGICAL SITE OF MITLA
Located in the town of San Pablo Villa de Mitla, you will find the archeological site with some very unique pyramids! Now this archeological site was pretty cool and different from anything we’ve ever seen. This is the second most important archeological site in Oaxaca, behind Monte Alban of course. It was a main religious center during the time it was in use. These pyramids have some intricate and elaborate geometric designs that adorn tombs and even walls! There is nothing like this in all of Mexico. It’s something you’ve got to check out if you are in Oaxaca. Most tours also make a stop at the Mitla Archeological site. The town of San Pablo Villa de Mitla has a huge outdoor market too. Don’t forget to try the delicious ice cream sold in this town and the delicious agua de pepino (cucumber water) which I recommend you get with chili and chamoy! It will help cool you off on a hot day.
9) CHECK OUT THE WIDEST TREE IN THE WORLD IN THE TOWN OF EL TULE
They say this tree is over 2,000 years old! It is located outside the church right in the town of El Tule, only 20 minutes away from Oaxaca City. There is fence surrounding this tree and there is a charge of $20 MXP ($1.07 USD) to go inside. There are even guides available if you wish. Aside from them giving you statistics of the tree, they will also point out a few look a likes on the tree itself. Although we did not pay the fee to go in, we were able to perfectly see the tree from outside and snap a few shots. There were guides pointing out an alligator shaped root which was pretty cool to see. The town itself is full of life and has a beautiful park you can relax at. The market is within eye sight of the tree. You can do some souvenir shopping or enjoy some good local food like the famous Tlayudas! We recommend combining this visit with a visit to Hierve El Agua or Mitla. Most tours also make a stop at El Tule.
10) EX-CONVENT OF CUILAPAM DE GUERRERO
If you opted for the car rental, you should make a pit stop at this picturesque place. This Ex-Convent is famous for its impressive architecture and because it had no roof. There is a legend that says a roof was never built because the devil kept knocking it off every time they put one on. Although there are many legends as to why it has no roof, the main purpose of the building was to attract the largest amount of indigenous people possible with the intention of converting them to Catholicism many many years ago. There is a museum you can visit if you’d like as well.
11) THE LOCAL MARKETS
I think by now, you already know I love myself a good market. Fresh juices, good food at a great price, artisan goods? I am in heaven! Oaxaca markets offer this and more. My favorite mercado in Oaxaca City had to be Mercado La Merced and Mercado Benito Juarez.
12) TRY THE FOOD & MEZCAL
We just could not get enough of the food in Oaxaca! From Tlayudas, Tasajo, Memelitas, Jumping Beans and Grasshoppers. Oaxaca is becoming internallitonally known for it’s delicious gastronomy and we can taste why! There are tons of different foods you must try when you visit Oaxaca. Here are some of our top favorites:
Mole: Although Puebla is known for its Mole Poblano, Oaxaca has Mole as well and in many different flavors!
Tlayudas: This is a must try when in Oaxaca. They are very easy to find and you will spot them at almost every market. Our friend from Oaxaca described these as the “Mexican Pizza”. Which they basically are. They are hugeeee tortillas (pizza sized) filled with veggies and your choice of meat like carne de tasajo, cecina or chorizo. They are folded in half and made over hot coals. Perfect for sharing or if you are really hungry I dare you to eat it all. One of our all time favorite and well known places to eat Tlayudas is at Tlayudas Doña Marta.
Quesillo: This is a famous string cheese made in Oaxaca. Ask for it in your Tlayudas!
Chapulines: You will find ladies selling seasoned chapulines all over Oaxaca and to be honest…they are pretty tasty! Eat them as a snack or in a quesadilla. Most of them come spicy or with lemon and salt. I mean, did you even go to Oaxaca if you didn’t try the Chapulines?
Lechon: Although this is not a big thing in Oaxaca, we couldn’t not, not recommend this place! After all, we did eat here like 5 times. This place does not have an actual restaurant or a sit down place, but you will easily be able to recognize it by the long lines of people waiting to get their lechon. El Lechoncito De Oro is located on the same street at Tlayudas Doña Marta.
Mezcal: Just like Tequila is for Tequila, Jalisco…Mezcal goes hand in hand with Oaxaca. There are many mezcalerias in Oaxaca, but the best part is the free tastings! Many places will also show you the process of how Mezcal is made.
Chocolate Shakes: Oaxaca is known for chocolate and their shakes are the most delicious we’ve ever tasted! Going to the mercado and grabbing a shake was part of our breakfast routine. When a mercado was not near by, we opted for a shake from Chocolate Mayordomo. They have plenty of spots through out Oaxaca. Give them a try, you won’t regret it!
In Oaxaca you will find a small amount of locals that speak English.
Download the XE Currency App to get live exchange rate info anytime, anywhere!
CREDIT CARDS AND BANKS
Cash is best for buying at mercados, street food or small stores as these do not accept credit cards.
ATMs are readily available.
VISA REQUIRED FOR US CITIZENS:
No, if you are staying less than 180 days.
(Make sure to check with your local embassy for visa updates.)
The easiest way to get to Oaxaca is to fly into the Oaxaca City International Airport. The airport is about 20-25 minutes away from the city center. We took a bus from Mexico City to the Oaxaca Bus terminal. It was an estimated 7 hrs on the road with OCC Bus Company. The ticket per person one way was $650 MXP ($34.60 USD). If you do travel via bus to Oaxaca make sure to take motion sickness medicine because the roads are very curvy. Taxis are readily available in Oaxaca, but we preferred to walk since everything was walking distance.
Although there are several travel warnings on the U.S. Travel website, I found it quite disappointing that many people are afraid to travel to Mexico due to this. We have traveled through Mexico for 3 months and have felt completely safe. Always keep in mind the advisory, but take it with a grain of salt. Use common sense like you would in any country. We always traveled in bus by day and made sure to steer clear of the roudy neighborhoods.