Nov 11, 7 years ago

Fall in love with Oaxaca, Mexico in love with Oaxaca, Mexico

Trust me, there is plenty to fall in love with in Oaxaca. First, erase every stereotype of Mexico that may be floating around in your head-drug violence, dusty desert, whatever it may be. Then, think thriving, cultured, small colonial town nestled in a mountain valley.

Located in southwestern Mexico, in a state of the same name, Oaxaca is known for its rich indigenous presence, mountainous terrain, thriving craft trade, and legendary cuisine that has survived nearly unchanged for dozens of generations. The colonial city of Oaxaca has incredible architecture and wonderfully preserved Spanish colonial buildings and churches, all set against a relaxed vibe. Here are a few must-do things while in Oaxaca that aren’t necessarily in your guide book.

Visit Monte Albán

Just outside of the city are some of the most impressive ruins of Monte Albán, named a UNESCO World Heritage Site. Built by the Zapotecs on a leveled mountaintop, this site boasts several pyramids in the classic style, many of which visitors may still climb.

Eat, Eat Eat!

The state of Oaxaca contains a huge diversity of landscapes, stretching all the way to Puerto Escondito on the Pacific Coast. What this means for you is that every kind of food is available – from tropical pineapple, cacao, and seafood to maize of the mountains. Oaxaca is known as the “Land of the Seven Moles” and it is mandatory that you eat mole, a delectable sauce of chilies and chocolate. On the street grab tacos al pastor or the traditional tlayuda, a flat tostada smothered in lard, beans, and cheese. You also must try queso oaxaqueño, known locally as quesillo, which is a fresh mozzerella-style string cheese that is rolled into balls and sold everywhere. Pay a visit to a Chocolate Mayordomo shop to taste some of the best chocolate in the world and don’t leave Oaxaca without having an evening hot chocolate as well. Taste a local specialty, chapulines, grasshoppers that are netted by hand, roasted, and seasoned with garlic, lime, and chile. The flavor is pungent and not that agreeable to most, so I’d suggest accepting a sample from one of the women who are selling.


Although I haven’t been on a tour with them, Fundación En Vía consistently recieves rave reviews from travelers. As their mission states, “Fundación En Vía combines tourism and micro-finance to fight poverty in Oaxaca, Mexico. By providing interest-free micro-loans to help women in Oaxaca start or expand their small businesses, we facilitate social change, and generate real impacts and authentic cultural experiences.”

Take one of their weekly tours into Oaxacan communities to meet borrowers, learn their craft, and understand the region and its people on a deeper level.


Head to the main square, the Zócalo, to watch the street performers, eat an ice cream, pick up a newspaper, or get a shoe shine. It’s the hub of social life in Oaxaca. On hot afternoons, I like to get a table in the shade at one of the many restaurants that flank the square and enjoy a cold beer with complimentary peanuts. Catch the danzón every Wednesday evening, when all of the best-dressed dancers of Oaxaca turn out while hordes of folks look on.


Stroll the permanent markets that dot Oaxaca like Mercados Benito Juárez and 20 de Noviembre. If you’re hungry, don’t miss the carne asado – just follow your nose to the alley lined with grills and guys selling meat.

The Mercado de Artesañas sells textiles and crafts admittedly targeted at tourists, but its worth a look. I particularly like Pochote Mercado in Xochimilco on Fridays and Saturdays, which is sometimes referred to as ‘the organic market.’ Buy the best mezcal, lead-free pottery, textiles, and pastries here. Set in the plaza of a church under huge shade trees, it’ a great place to grab brunch or lunch.

After you’d seen what there is to offer at local markets around town, head to Mujeres Artesanías de las Regiones de Oaxaca (Craftswomen of the Regions of Oaxaca) at 204 Cinco de Mayo. This grassroots organization of women sells everything from the region from one convenient store front.


Locals don’t do tequila; this is mezcal country. Made from maguey, a form of agave, mezcal has a distinctively smoky flavor and is drank neat in shot glasses or small gourds. Don’t be scared off by the stuff in unmarked bottles sold at countryside markets – this is the real deal. Ask for a taste before you buy. I particularly like mezcal de cedrón, which is flavored with an herb that adds a fresh flavor. You’ll know it by the green tint of the mezcal.

I enjoy tasting house mezcals at La Biznaga (their food is excellent too) on García Vigil as well as the incredible rooftop patio at Casa Crespo.


If you’re lucky enough to be in Oaxaca in July, you can experience that party which is the Guelaguetza. Everyone converges on the city for this week of dancing, music, and revelry. Don’t forget the International Mezcal Fair.

Photo Credits: Ryan Plantz


Ryan is a writer, photographer, and teacher living and volunteering throughout Latin America.

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