Encased within a ring of formidable mountain peaks, Oaxaca City is an enclave of art, history, and culture. Those same mountains were considered an advantage to ancient societies who used their peaks to keep watch over the valley below. Without a doubt, Oaxaca possesses a certain allure worth guarding carefully. Within driving distance of Mexico City and far enough away from the gringo popular beaches of Cancun and Puerto Vallarta, Oaxaca is a tourist hub of a different sort. So whether you’re looking to take a break from the beach crowds, experience local cuisine at its finest, or just find that next perfect art piece for your collection, Oaxaca City is certain not to disappoint.
Just walking down the streets of downtown Oaxaca is an artistic experience in and of itself. Street art is almost a requirement in Oaxaca City.
It’s easy to spend a nice morning exploring all the lanes and cobblestoned streets in search of a new mural to admire. The best part is, there is always something new to discover. Getting lost has never been such a fun experience!
Oaxaca’s zocalo is the place to be in the evenings, especially during the city’s busy tourist season in the winter. Restaurants are happening, but you’ll want to go for some good old fashioned street food as an appetizer to your late night meal.
Elote (corn on the cob), cotton candy, fried chips, raspados (flavored ice), and pastries can be found in abundance and most cost less than a dollar. You’ll be so spoilt for choice, you may not even want to dine in a restaurant.
Night markets are an important part of local culture and artisans bring their fares in the evenings and line the street in front of the Santo Domingo Church. You’ll find everything from handmade jewelry, to Oaxacan style clothing, to whimsical wooden creatures known as alebrijes. The markets start late in Mexico, so expect them to begin setting up at around 9pm and closing after midnight.
If you’d rather do some solo shopping, there are plenty of little towns outside of Oaxaca dedicated to just this. Most tours will include at least one of these in their day tour itineraries, but you can also rent a car and go check them out yourself. San Martin Telcajete is highly recommended if you’ve gotten addicted to the fantastical alebrijes (and trust me, you will). This town is about thirty to forty minutes outside of Oaxaca and this is where all the alebrijes are made. You’ll have a chance to chat with the artisans and artists who dedicate themselves to creating these creatures and, better yet, you’re guaranteed to find lower prices than those in Oaxaca City’s night market!
If you want to get away from the city and take in some of the ruins Oaxaca is famous for, there are a couple which are just outside the city and very easy to access. Since Monte Albán is touted and sold as the must-see ruins of Oaxaca, tourists flock there by the droves. It’s beautiful but you’ll definitely find it crowded and less than peaceful.
Monte Albán’s little brother Aztompa is a definite must if you want something a with fewer crowds and the same stunning views of the city below. The great thing is that while Monte Albán charges an admission fee of 52 pesos, Aztompa is completely free! That’s a deal you just can’t beat.
You’re bound to get hungry eventually and Oaxaca offers some unique choices when it comes to food or drink. Famous for its cheese, you’ll find Oaxaca cheese on almost every dish, and it’s absolutely delicious! Pick up a ball of cheese at a local market and munch it solo, or order almost any type of food at a restaurant and you’re sure to find cheese featured in the dish.
When it comes to drink, you have to give Mezcal a chance. This is the stuff of legend and its reputation has traveled around the world. This alcoholic beverage is also made specifically in Oaxaca and you’ll probably see locals casually sipping it with their meals. If Mezcal is too strong for you, you can give Crema de Mezcal a try. This is a sweetened version and comes in a variety of flavors ranging from caramel to coffee and beyond! Our personal favorite? Tamarindo!
And if you’re feeling particularly adventurous ( I hope you are!), you MUST try one of Oaxaca’s best foods: crickets. Now, before you turn up your nose consider this: you can find pizza topped with crickets, chilis stuffed with crickets, and fried spicy crickets so there’s various options to choose from. What’s the point of traveling if you don’t put yourself a little out there with the local cuisine?
Visiting Oaxaca City is a huge highlight for any trip to Mexico and should definitely be included in your itinerary. You won’t regret spending days here just wandering the streets, admiring the art, and trying the local food. Before long you’ll find yourself immersed in the magical ambiance that gives this beautiful place its unique feel!