If you know someone who’s been to Mexico, chances are they will be gushing about the blue waters and soft sand at the Mayan Riviera, the majestic ruins at Chichen Itza, the bustling Mexico City or the party lovers’ paradise Puerto Vallarta. But there is more to Mexico beyond these familiar tourist destinations and one of them is the quiet little gem of Oaxaca city in the south-central state by the same name. This city is widely considered the food capital of Mexico and provides that much needed respite from crowds of tourists pretty much most of the year, barring the Dia De Los Muertos (Day of The Dead) celebrations that occur on Nov 2 (which might also be a good time to visit if you want to witness this unique cultural event). Having recently been to this beautiful city, here are my top tips on how to have a great time there should you visit.
Tip #1. Best time to visit.
Mid-late November is your best bet since it is classic off-tourist season with a dry, warmish winter but with all restaurants and businesses still operating in full swing.
Tip #2. Accommodation
Zona centro/Zone 1 is the old town of Oaxaca and is closest to the Plaza de la Constitución or Zócalo (city plaza). This is the most centralized location possible and I highly recommend staying here at the Hotel Trebol, which is close to Zocalo, and more importantly, just a block away from Mercado 20 de Noviembre, possibly the most popular market place in Oaxaca city which is also it’s gastronomic epicenter. Most of the attractions are walkable distance from Hotel Trebol as well. Although the front desk speaks little English, the hotel architecture is resplendent in traditional Spanish colonial style beauty with a center courtyard, the rooms are spacious, the wifi has killer speed and they also provide free breakfast, although it is nothing short of a cardinal sin to resort to a hotel buffet when you are in a culinary mecca like Oaxaca city.
Tip #3. Transportation
I highly advice against renting a car in Oaxaca unless you plan to go to the beach or to other far flung spaces. It is also best to get a taxi voucher from the official taxi stand at the airport to avoid being hassled. Once in Oaxaca, get those stubs of yours going to visit all the local attractions, i.e. get ready to do some walking and so bring some sturdy shoes along to tread those cobbled streets. If you are visiting the ruins of Monte Alban or planning to venture out of Zone 1, you can get buses, but we simply hailed a cab since the American dollar was (and still is) going pretty strong against the Mexican peso. Your hotel should also help you get a cab on your way back to the airport.
Tip #4. Sightseeing
The ruins of Monte Alban (translates to White Mountain), a mere 3 miles from the city are a must visit to get a peak into Meso-American culture of the Zapotecs, prior to the arrival of the Spaniards. Old Town itself is a riot of colors thanks to all the Spanish colonial style buildings with their colorful exteriors beckoning you from every end and it is hard not to stop every few minutes and admire their beauty and architecture Some other attractions in Old Town/Zona Centro are the Baroque style Church of Santo Domingo de Guzmán, which is a UNESCO heritage building, the adjoining botanical garden and the cultural center of Oaxaca which is inside the monastery section of the Church now repurposed into a museum housing several artifacts from the pre-Columbus era. Other famous churches in this area are the Basílica de Nuestra Señora de la Soledad and Cathedral of Our Lady of the Assumption, but if you do not covet such holy aura you can spend some time at the tiny textile museum, tucked away in an alley which showcases the tapestries of Oaxaca and its rich history of traditional weaves.
Finally, if you are more of an art person, check out the local printing presses and stores that have very edgy and vibrant art prints on display. A visit to one of them will get you a map to other sister printing establishments. Even better, try to lookout for a seasonally organized art walk in the city and mural hunting for some dazzling street art. We followed this “Google map link” to locate the murals that still persisted on the walls and found many breath taking beauties.
Tip #5. Shopping
Oaxaca is known for its traditional handicrafts, the most famous being textiles, pottery and wooden figures called “alebrijes” which consist of whimsical creatures (mostly animals) that are then painted with intricate designs. I recommend going to co-operatives showcasing local artists such as Mujeres Artesanas de las Regiones de Oaxaca,La Casa de las Artesanias de Oaxaca and the most famous of all, Huizache Arte Vivo de Oaxaca on Avenida Independencia.
Tip #6. Dining
Oaxaca is the food capital of Mexico and is revered by some of the most famous chefs all over the world for its cuisine and culinary style that comprises of moles, i.e. rich sauces made of chocolates and spices. Also known as the land of seven moles, this city will knock your socks off when it comes to food, with street food that you’ve never ever heard of before. From the rapidly vanishing meso-American drink Tejate to local favorites such as tlayudas and Memelas to masa based atolls and chocolatey champurrados, Oaxaca will open your eyes and taste buds to a whole new world of deliciousness. Don’t forget to sample local chocolates and Oaxacan string cheese and do spend some time in their many local markets for even more delicious grub. You can read my ultimate guide to dining in Oaxaca city where I have covered markers, street food, cafes and fine dining in my blog post here.
This brings me to the end of my travel guide to Oaxaca. I hope you enjoyed reading it and will consider it as your next travel destination!
Text written and photos provided by guest author: Paroma Chakravarty from Year of the monkey.
Paroma is a scientist living in San Francisco with her husband and four legged son. When not sulking in the lab, she can be found dreaming of new travel destinations to visit, new restaurants and photography gear to try out. Visit her website or follow her on Facebook or Instagram.