Oaxaca City, or Oaxaca de Juárez, is the Capital City from the State of Oaxaca, its ranked fourth in the poverty rate of all Mexican States. Nevertheless, Oaxaca City is one the most fascinating Mexican Cities, with a vibrant indigenous identity, inspiring culinary art scene and a beautiful colonial city centre.
Despite the ever-present poverty, especially in the outskirts of the city, the people of Oaxaca City are amongst the most welcoming in the whole country and travelling here is safe.
Flying in nowadays is pretty simple, Mexico has a few budget airlines, Interjet is our favourite because of the reliability of its services and the good value. Oaxaca City (OAX) is well served from Mexico City as well as a few other major Mexican and US cities.
A bus is always a good way to travel in Mexico, the buses are of good quality and service is good and prices are fair. The distances are long so the journey from Mexico City to Oaxaca City takes 6 to 7 hours. We arrived from Puebla in 4.5 hours driving through beautiful landscapes. We found that “ADO” has good quality buses and an efficient network throughout the country.
Walking is the best way to discover the city, the Unesco World Heritage centre is rather compact, and many streets are good for pedestrians. Uber is also available, and prices are fair.
A rental car is a good option if you want to travel out of the city. Roads are generally in a dubious condition, so good nerves are required. You can save some money by booking in advance through Rentalcars (the earlier the better). Cancellations can be done, often up to 36 hours before arrival in case you change your plans.
There are many boutique hotels in the centre of Oaxaca, beautifully set in old colonial houses, such as Casa Oaxaca, Los Amantes or El Callejón. One thing you need to know is that in Mexico, double beds are usually not very large so make sure you book a king size bed. Also, sound insulation is often not good so make sure you ask for a quiet room when you book or have ear plugs to hand.
Oaxaca City has maybe one of the most intriguing cuisines after Mexico City. The main food specialty is “mole”, a sauce based on nuts, chili and spices. This is usually served with meat, but the sauce remains the main attraction. There are many varieties depending on the ingredients and they are usually specified with different colours (black, yellow, green, red…). The main drink here is the Mezcal, experiencing a revival as we speak.
Many restaurants offer an interesting mix of styles granting the city the label of a culinary capital.
Our favourite is the Pitiona, where we had one of the best meals in the whole of Mexico. In addition to the very innovative Mexican food with a local touch, the setting, plates and cutlery are beautiful.
Another must see is the Casa Oaxaca. Make sure you book a table on the beautiful rooftop terrace, weather permitting. Here you will be able to try the chili sauce of the house with ground “Chapulines”, the grasshoppers, prepared freshly in front of you at your table.
We also liked the Los Danzantes set in a beautiful courtyard, which is covered in case of rain, although the covering didn’t quite work when we were there during heavy rain. Here again, the food is traditional Mexican with a twist.
A good spot for breakfast and coffee is the Café Brujula with a lovely courtyard and delicious sandwiches.
Boulenc. They also sell tasty sourdough bread and serve lunch and delicious pizzas.
Walk, walk and walk! The historic centre is safe, has beautifully restored colonial buildings and many streets have large sidewalks to enjoy your walk without hassle.
Visit the Cathedral (of Our Lady of the Assumption) next to the Zocalo square, there is usually some kind of cultural happening taking place here. The Palacio de Gobierno on the south side of the Zocalo has beautiful wall murals to visit if it is not closed due to a protest (frequent in Oaxaca City).
The Templo de Santo Domingo is actually the main church for the “Wow” effect in Oaxaca City. The adjacent Museum of Cultures of Oaxaca does the rest so plan at least half a day here. The complex also hosts the Jardín Etnobotánico de Oaxaca, a beautiful botanic garden filled with sumptuous cacti. A preview of what to expect is visible from the museum windows.
In addition to the Museum mentioned above, Oaxaca boasts a proud number of excellent museums, of which we recommend the stunning Museo Rufino Tamayo (beware the awkward opening times), the compact MACO (Contemporary Art Museum) and Oaxaca Textile Museum.
If you are into ruins, as you should be if you are visiting Mexico, the nearby Monte Alban will not disappoint you. The ancient capital of the Zapotecs should be visited with a guide, readily available on site and you should reserve at least half a day here. (Go early to avoid the masses) If you are into esoterism, you will find a lot of your fellows trying to find the energy touching them on the summits of the temples. Avoid the museum coffee shop and instead drive back to town for a real coffee.
Back in Oaxaca City, take a tour of the Mercado de 20 de Noviembre and enjoy amongst other culinary offerings, a Tasajo or a Cecina Enchilada in the “Pasillo de Carnes” (the meat-eaters alley) Wander back and forth a few times to check the offerings ignoring the screaming vendors to make your own opinion of which is the best stand to order your food.
Beaches (yes, beaches!)
The wonderful beaches of the southern coast of Oaxaca at the Pacific Ocean offer a welcome tropical alternative to the Valles Centrales de Oaxaca. You can fly there in less than an hour (a road trip takes a lot longer) and enjoy various ambiences offered by villages such as Puerto Escondido, San Augustinillo, Mazunte or Zipolite.
Did you know
Mexico is not only about Tequila. The other beverage on the up is Mezcal and it is mainly produced in the state of Oaxaca, its origin granting it its name. Around 20 varieties of Agave plant, some more than 70 years old, can be used to distil the bebida espirituosa with various methods (with or without worms or other constituents). It can be enjoyed in many mezcalerias either pure or in creative cocktails. Its smoky taste is an enchantment for some, a torture for others. In any case, it will not leave you cold. “Para todo mal, mezcal. Para todo bien, también!”
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