27 Truly Special Things to Do in Oaxaca, Mexico + Day Trips

collage of oaxaca photos

I’ve been living and traveling through Oaxaca with my family for years. And I’m here to give you the scoop on all the Oaxacan gems to explore for travel, food, culture, and history. Oaxaca is the capital city of the Oaxacan state, we’ll be focusing on things to do in Oaxaca City + day trips in the surrounding area!

Please note: As tourism grows, it’s important to visit respectfully and support local businesses. We’ll explore some history and cultural context as well as dig into important logistics like how to arrive, the best times to visit, and the best places to visit in Oaxaca.

BTW… Are you traveling to Mexico City? Don’t miss our local historian’s guide to fun facts & interesting things to know about Mexico City.

Table of Contents

I. Understanding Oaxaca State

Oaxaca state is the fifth-largest state in Mexico in land area and the most culturally diverse, with 8 recognized regions. In this article, we’ll primarily focus on Oaxaca City and the Valles Centrales (Central Valley) in the center of the state. Beyond Oaxaca City and the Central Valley, the other most popular tourist destinations in the state include Puerto Escondido, Huatulco, and the many beach towns in the Oaxacan coastal region.

There’s also San José del Pacifico – a high-elevation mountain town in the Sierra Sur, Pluma Hidalgo – the most famous coffee-growing region in Oaxaca state; and the Isthmus – the low-elevation and culturally distinct region between Chiapas and the rest of Oaxaca. There are just so many things to do in Oaxaca!

II. Getting Around Oaxaca City

Getting around Oaxaca city is quite easy. The historic center, where most of the tourist sites are located, is all walkable. But if you need a quick ride, you can order/hail a taxi on the street or have your hotel arrange one for you.

Download this taxi app: Even though Uber does not currently exist in Oaxaca, Didi is a similar Uber-style app that works. It’s easy and you can use it to get around the city. A 15-minute ride across town is about $59 pesos ($3 USD).

When doing day trips and activities outside Oaxaca City, you have a couple of options.

  • Guided Tours: The easiest is to arrange a guided tour, which you may want to do anyway to learn history, meet local artisans, and have access to English translation. Here are our favorite tours in Oaxaca.
  • Car Rental: This is a popular website to rent cars in Mexico.
  • Private Driver: Hiring a taxi for the day. Gerry (our editor) hires Carlos’ taxi services and he has been amazing! He charges about $10-15/hour and can take you anywhere. Even up the mountains! This is his Whatsapp number: +52 951 269 0998. Or you can also contact his colleague Monica at +52 951 576 4870. Monica also helped take some amazing photos! Which is helpful for solo travelers.
  • Public Transportation (Buses and shared taxis or colectivos): This is only worth it if you have more time than budget to spare.

III. Things to Do in Oaxaca City + Day Trips

1. Go to La Sierra Norte Mountains ★ (Editor’s Favorite)

Just 30 minutes to an hour north of Oaxaca city is a high-elevation pine forest. Starting from the city of Oaxaca, located at 5100 feet elevation, you can climb to over 9000 feet in just a 45-minute drive to the Sierra Norte mountains (aka Sierra Juarez).

Here the air is chilly and fresh. The forest is filled with tall pines but also scattered with some huge agaves. You’ll find dramatic sweeping views of the valley and mountains.

For a quick visit, you can head to La Cumbre in Ixtepeji for some day hiking. Or you can stop by for the specialties in the area: some delicious trout fish and/or some hot chocolate. There are several beautiful restaurants like Restaurante Colibri for some delicious soups and hot chocolate with epic views.

Or head to Restaurante Los Encinos. At Los Encinos, you can go to a wood workshop to see how they make molinillos (a traditional frother). Then you can see a demonstration of this tool at their restaurant.

For an even more immersive and cultural visit, you can arrange a trip to the Pueblos Mancomunados, a local collective of small villages in the Sierra Norte that offer ecotourism experiences.

They will arrange overnight stays in simple cabins in each town, meals, and guided hikes between the villages. Their hikes range from 1 to 3 to 7 days, you choose. Your local guides will also give you insight into plants that are used by their community and other beautiful cultural context.

2. Learn Oaxacan Cuisine in a Cooking Class

A great way to get a deeper understanding of Oaxacan cuisine is to take a market-to-table cooking class. Casa de los Sabores is an excellent class run by famous local chef, Pilar Cabrera. First, you’ll accompany Pilar to the local market to pick up your ingredients, and then you’ll follow her to the kitchen where you’ll gain a hands-on appreciation for the techniques, tools, and skills to create some of Oaxaca’s most delicious dishes.

Pictured above is our editor’s our editor’s cooking/food experience with Sonia Silvia. This class is located in her home in Villa de Etla Oaxaca. Her son picks you up in the city center and takes you to spend the day eating, trying different foods, learning how to make tortillas and iconic Oaxacan salsas (from scratch), and much more. This is a great way to learn Oaxacan traditions from a local family.

3. Shop for Artisan Goods (Downtown) ★

The variety and quality of artisan goods in Oaxaca are impressive. You’ll find everything from pottery, to woven wool rugs, cotton textiles, wooden figurines called alebrijes, and more. We’ll discuss options for day trips to visit artisan villages further below, but here are some shops and stores in Oaxaca City:

  • Huizache is an artisan collective conveniently located on the main tourist pedestrian street. Shopping at artisan collectives means you know the artisans are receiving a fair wage for their work.
  • Aripo is another great shop. It is run by a government organization dedicated to promoting the value of the work of artisans in Oaxaca.
  • Colectivo 1050 Grados for pottery
  • Marias Arte & Diseño for a variety of goods
  • Casa Itaa for well-curated home goods
  • Fe Y Lola for woven rugs
  • Hilo de Nube for huipiles (traditional blouses or dresses)
  • Origen Textil for woven and naturally dyed clothing.

4. Teotitlan del Valle Day Trip for Weaving & Candle Making ★

Oaxaca is quite famous for its textiles. One of the most famous textile traditions is the weaving of wool rugs in the Teotitlan del Valle. You can visit the village to tour some of the many shops selling their wares, and take a guided tour like this one, which includes a workshop to understand the process.

Head to Huella Carmin (contact to make an appointment or arrange to visit via a guide), and learn the process from start to finish. You’ll see how the wool is cleaned and then spun. Then the natural dyes are used to create an array of vibrant colors.

Finally, you’ll see and get to try your hand at weaving the rugs and intricate patterns on the large wooden looms. After, you’ll have a chance to view their work and purchase some items to take home.

For candle-making, Gerry LOVED the experience at Casa Viviana. Here, you see the entire traditional art of making candles from natural beeswax. It’s a beautiful process that can takes days or weeks. One of the sisters can show you and at the end, you’re able to buy all sorts of beautiful candle artwork.

This was also a part of this women-led guided tour that Gerry took.

5. Santo Tomas Jalieza for Backstrap Weaving ★

Other famous textiles from Oaxaca include woven cotton textiles created from a backstrap loom. Visit the Navarro Sisters in Santo Tomas Jalieza (call ahead to book an appointment (+52 951 528 1114), or arrange to visit with a guide if you don’t speak Spanish). These three immensely talented sisters will show you their intricate work and how the backstrap loom works.

A backstrap loom is a traditional method of weaving that uses a belt to secure behind the back of the weaver, while the opposite end of the loom is tied to a pole or a tree to create tension. The loom is then extended in front of the weaver so they can work. The Navarro sisters create everything from belts to table cloths, purses, camera straps, and textile art.

6. Hang Out at Oaxaca’s Best Cafes

Oaxaca is also famous for its local coffee. There are coffee regions all around the state – the Mixteca, Sierra Norte, and Sierra Sur, and many great coffee shops in the city that feature these tasty local beans.

Check out Caracol Purpura for a chance to choose from a wide variety of beans from different regions, and brewed with your choice of method. If you’re visiting on a weekend, pass by El Llano Park in the morning to catch the Nomada cart, who’ll brew you a delicious cup from their well-sourced beans. Other great coffee shops to check out: Cafe Brujula, Marito & Moglie , Kiyo, and El Filemon.

7. San Bartolo Coyotepec & San Marcos Tlapazola for Pottery

If you are a pottery enthusiast, there are many day trips to visit traditional artisan workshops around the valley. Oaxaca is famous for its pottery and there are many different styles.

  • San Bartolo Coyotepec ★ is famous for its black pottery. This pottery is made from a specific black clay and is fired at a low heat and has a matte finish. This pottery is mostly decorative because of its fragile nature. You can find many shops to visit in the town’s central square.
  • San Marcos Tlapazola ★ is famous for its red or brown clay. Stop at Mujeres de Barro Rojo, a women’s collective that sells everything from dishes, to large comals (large round plates used for cooking), cups, and decorative items.
  • Santa Maria Atzompa is famous for their traditional green glazed pottery. You will also find many modern interpretations here including mezcal glasses and flower pots with cute faces, and sleek minimalist dishes. Stop for a visit at Coatlicue taller.

8. Wander the Many Markets! (Downtown)

Now it’s time to get a closer look at local life by visiting some local markets. Mercado Benito Juárez and Mercado 20 de Noviembre are two markets right next to each other, only two blocks south of the Zocalo. Benito Juarez specializes in produce, meats, dairy, mezcal, flowers, and some artisan goods. 20 de Noviembre is more focused on prepared foods, with a few stalls selling packaged traditional foods. 

Spend some time zigzagging through the aisles of Benito Juarez. Check out the huarache (traditional shoe) aisle on the west side of the market. Then stop for some delicious tejate, a traditional non-alcoholic drink made from toasted corn, fermented cacao, toasted mamey seed, and flor de cacao, laboriously ground into a paste and then mixed by hand with water, at Flor de Huayapam.

Stop at one of the queserias (cheese and dairy shops) to try quesillo, Oaxaca string cheese. Buy a small bag of chapulines, or toasted grasshoppers, a popular snack that pairs well with beer or mezcal. Then swing by Candiza, a stand with some of the best mezcal in Oaxaca. Here you can ask to try a couple varietes and then pick up your favorite bottles to bring home.

Then head across the street to 20 de Noviembre Market. Here you can have lunch at any of the many stands serving up local dishes like mole or tlayudas.

One of the most fun places to dine is the Pasillo de Humo. Here you’ll buy your choice of meat from the butcher stands where they will grill it in front of you. Then you can take a seat, order salsas and veggies, fresh tortillas, and enjoy it all family style.

9. Visit San Martin Tilcajete (to Learn about Alebrijes) ★

Alebrijes are a famous Mexican art of carving small fantastic creatures out of wood, and painting them in vibrant colors and designs. You can visit the most famous alebrije artists at the workshop of Jacobo and María Ángeles in San Martin Tilcajete, about 45 minutes south of Oaxaca city. After learning about alebrijes, take advantage of your day trip and stop for lunch in nearby Almu, a delicious outdoor restaurant run by the same family.

10. Tour the Ethnobotanical Garden (Jardin Etnobotanico de Oaxaca)

Next door to Santo Domingo is the Ethnobotanical Botanical Garden, a beautiful and impressive garden featuring hundreds of native plant species from all over Oaxaca State. This isn’t the typical botanical garden that you wander around and then leave, visits here require a guided tour that lasts about 2 hours. The guided tour gives heaps of context about the history and cultural significance behind many of the plants, including corn and the predecessor of corn, teocintle. If you love plants or are big on history, this is a great experience.

11. Check out The Rufino Tamayo Prehispanic Mexican Art Museum

El Museo de Arte Prehispánico de México Rufino Tamayo is a relatively small museum but has an excellent collection of pre-hispanic relics from the famous Mexican artist, Rufino Tamayo’s private collection.

12. Eat, Eat & Eat (Top Dishes & Restaurants to Try)

Oaxaca is known as the food capital of Mexico. So one of the most important things to do in Oaxaca is to eat and learn about the local cuisine! Below are some of the local dishes to try and my favorite places to try them:

  • Mole: These are complex salsas usually made from more than 20 ingredients. Oaxaca is famous for 7 of them, two of which: mole negro and mole coloradito, are delicious and perfectly prepared at Levadura de Olla.
  • Tlayudas: These are a popular evening meal featuring a huge tortilla, with a layer of lard and bean paste, then quesillo, and sometimes cabbage or a few veggies, then folded and grilled over an open flame. The best place to try this street food is Tlayudas Libres or La Chinita. There’s even a Netflix episode of La Chinita!
  • Memelas: These are a common breakfast item, made from tortillas that are a bit thicker, topped with lard and bean paste, and then crumbled queso fresco or shredded quesillo. The best place to try these is Mercado La Merced or Alfolí.
  • Enmoladas: Here is another shot to try traditional mole, but in a different presentation. Head to Cabuche to try enmoladas, rolled tortillas filled with shredded chicken, drowned in mole negro, and drizzled with crema and queso fresco. This is typically a breakfast dish.
  • Tacos: Oaxaca isn’t as famous as Mexico City for its tacos, but there are still a few great ones to be found. Head to Lechoncito de Oro for nighttime street tacos featuring tender suckling pig and chicharron (pork skin). Or try carnitas, tender slow-roasted pork, at Carnitas La Luz. If you are still hungry for more tacos, consider a taco tour like Perrito de Mercado.
  • Barbacoa: Oaxaca is famous for its spicy style of barbacoa, slow-cooked goat or sheep, and there is no better place to try it than Tlacolula. Head to the Sunday market, and try the steaming rich broth and tender meat from one of the stalls.
  • Garnachas: Now we’ll try a famous dish from another region of Oaxaca, the Isthmus. Garnachas are crispy deep-fried small tortillas topped with beef, cabbage, crumbled cheese, and salsa. Try these at Zandunga, a restaurant that specializes in food from this region.
  • Chocolate: Hot chocolate is an important traditional drink in Oaxaca, especially consumed on holidays and other special days. Made with either water or milk, the chocolate is then whipped or beat with a special tool called a molinillo that creates a foamy top. Try this delicious drink at Rito Chocolateria.

Fancy restaurants: If you feel like adding some fine dining or tasting menus into the mix try Cocina de Humo, Levadura de Olla, Criollo, Casa Oaxaca, Los Danzantes ★, or Origen. Gerry’s favorite place was Los Danzantes!

13. Visit Santo Domingo & the Museum of Cultures

El Templo de Santo Domingo & El Museo de las Culturas is one of the most important central points in the UNESCO world heritage site of Oaxaca centro. The construction of Santo Domingo started in 1575, continuing for 200 years, and was an active monastery until 1857. Now, the monastery portion has been converted into a museum that houses pre-hispanic artifacts, and other items of cultural, historical, and archaeological significance. Santo Domingo is a dramatic Baroque church that often has events or people gathering outside.

14. Visit the Jalatlaco & Xochimilco Neighborhoods

Oaxaca Centro is full of colorful beautiful buildings, but there are two neighborhoods that have the highest concentration of murals and colorful corners, Jalatlaco and Xochimilco. Jalatlaco is located on the eastern side of the city center and is full of narrow winding cobblestone streets and impressive murals featuring cultural scenes.

Xochimilco is named after the aqueducts built in the 18th century to bring fresh drinking water to the center. The neighborhood of Xochimilco also has cobblestone streets and lots of murals by local artists, as well as cafes and restaurants. It’s a beautiful place to take photos.

15. Mezcal Palenque Day Trip & Tastings

Outside of its surging international popularity, mezcal is a sacred and important traditional drink in Oaxaca’s Central Valley. A day trip to visit a mezcal palenque, or mezcal farm and distillery, is the best way to get a deeper understanding of the process and culture behind this beverage.

If you don’t speak Spanish, you’ll likely want to hire a guide to translate, provide transportation, and give you further context behind mezcal culture. My favorite two palenques to visit are Mezcal Macurichos in Santiago Matatlan (a town known as the world capital of mezcal), and LaLocura in Santa Catarina Minas.

At a palenque, you can learn the process from start to finish. What kinds of agaves are used and how they are grown and harvested, how they are slow-roasted for days in a huge underground pit, then smashed either by hand or a horse-drawn stone, fermented in large wooden barrels, and then finally distilled in copper or traditional clay. It’s a fascinating and laborious process that you will gain a lot of appreciation for during your tour.

Finally, you’ll get a chance to taste many different varieties, compare different agave varieties and distillation processes, and purchase your favorite bottles to bring home.

In the city center, you can also arrange mezcal tastings to learn some history, context, and appreciation for this special drink. Make a reservation at Mezcaloteca and/or visit In Situ to try a tasting with a variety of agaves and regions.

16. Visit the Sunday Tlacolula Market

We had a chance to check out some local markets in the Centro, but visiting a traditional village market is a bit of a different experience. Head to the weekly Sunday market in Tlacolula, the biggest traditional market outside of Oaxaca city, about 45 minutes from the city center.

Here you’ll find everything from fresh produce, to farm tools, to livestock, beautiful artisan work like textiles and pottery, and deliciously prepared food. Tlacolula is famous for their barbacoa, slow-roasted goat or sheep cooked underground and then served in consome or in taco form. Try some here at the market after you work up an appetite. Also be sure to try pulque here, a fermented beverage made from the sap or nectar of agave.

17. Visit CASA in San Agustin Etla

CASA or Centro de las Artes de San Agustin, is an ecological art center founded by beloved Oaxacan artist, Francisco Toledo in San Agustín Etla. Housed in a former factory, the building and grounds have been beautifully restored to display art exhibitions and hold artist workshops.

18. Work at a Co-Working Space (Editor’s Addition)

Tired of working from your hotel room? Consider a change of scenery. Gerry, our editor, primarily used the Centrico co-working space to work! Their rates are as follows:

  • Day Pass = $150 pesos
  • Private office (per day) = $250 pesos
  • Monthly 24/7 access = $1,500 pesos

19. Tour Monte Alban

After getting a handle on the historic center, it’s time to get out to some of the most important and best places to visit around the Oaxaca valley. First, we’ll head to Monte Alban, the former capital city for Oaxaca’s largest Indigenous group, the Zapotec people, for 13 centuries. This city was one of the earliest in Mesoamerica and is now a UNESCO World Heritage Site.

This impressive archaeological site is only about a 20-minute drive from the city center but is perched upon a mountain with sweeping views of the city and valley. You can book a guided tour for your visit. The pyramids, terraces, and tombs were all literally carved out of the mountain. This site extends over 4 miles.

20. Visit Mitla

The next most important archaeological site in Oaxaca is called Mitla, located in a small town of the same name about a 45-minute drive east of Oaxaca city. Mitla came to power after the fall of Monte Alban and continued as a Zapotec central hub until the Spanish conquest. To learn more, you can book this guided experience.

Mitla is famous for its intricate geometric carvings and mosaics throughout the site. It was a religious center and a sacred burial site for important Zapotec leaders and priests.

21. Check out Hierve el Agua (Swimming + Hiking)

Next, it’s time to check out an incredible natural phenomenon, petrified waterfalls in the remote mountains on the edge of the Central Valley. Hierve el Agua is a site of natural mineral springs on the top of the mountain. Over thousands and thousands of years of these springs dripping over the mountain’s edge, mineral deposits collected that now appear in the form of a petrified or “frozen” waterfall. There is only one other site like this in the world.

It takes about 90 minutes to reach Hierve el Agua by car, and a guided tour like this one is recommended, as the current open road is a steep dirt road that climbs up a mountain via switchbacks. Swimming is possible in the pools, and there is a short, but steep hike down the mountain and around the petrified waterfalls if you want to get a view from below.

22. Get a Massage in Oaxaca (Editor’s Addition)

There are several places in town to get a massage at an affordable rate (about $10-20 USD). This is one of our editor’s favorite things to do after lots of walking and exploring in a new city. If you’re in Oaxaca and looking to soothe your sore muscles, here are some locations to choose from:

23. Watch and Celebrate in a Calenda

A well-loved tradition in Oaxaca is celebratory parades called “calendas.” If you are walking around the historic center on a weekend, chances are you will run into one. They can be public calendas celebrating a village or an event, or private calendas for weddings or other events.

They feature people in traditional dress, dancing, monos de calenda (huge paper mache puppets), marmotas (huge globes made from fabric held up by a long pole), and a live band. If you visit during Guelaguetza, the large Oaxacan cultural festival in July, you will have a chance to see many of them.

24. Experience a Temazcal Ritual

You might want to take an afternoon to relax, and the best way to do so is to also experience a sacred traditional ritual called a temazcal. This is a sweat lodge, a small clay building you enter for a period of time with a guide who will lead you through a ceremony to cleanse you. Herbs are used for cleansing and also fill the air with a delicious scent.

Try the temazcal at Temazcal Mariana, located just in the north end of the city in a beautiful leafy garden.

Our editor tried Ceviarem Temazcal. This is run by a family who has been passing down the traditional and ancestral knowledge for generations. The dad is both an allopathy and holistic doctor. So he incorporates his knowledge of both types of medicine with indigenous traditions.

If you prefer a woman to lead you in this experience, then you can specifically request for his grandmother instead.

25. Manuel Alvarez Bravo Photo Center

The Centro Fotográfico Manuel Álvarez Bravo is a photography museum and center founded by the famous Oaxacan artist Francisco Toledo.  This great museum always features an exhibit from the museum’s private collection as well as a rotating artist exhibit.

26. Graphic Art Institute

Also founded by beloved Oaxacan artist, Francisco Toledo, The Instituto de Artes Gráficas (IAGO) has one of the most important collections of graphic arts in Latin America, as well as a library, and a beautiful leafy courtyard. This relaxing space also offers tables that can be used for working or studying. And they also have a lovely book collection. The library is closed on Sundays.

27. Ancestral Medicine Workshop (Editor’s Addition)

Learn all about local medicinal plants and facets of Zapotec indigenous spirituality at this traditional Mexican medicine workshop. Gerry (our editor) learned about traditional local plant medicine while engaging in cultural exchange with the facilitator. The experience begins with a PowerPoint presentation and then herbs/teas are brought out for tasting, and it ends with some spiritual indigenous practices.

28. Visit the Zocalo (Central Square)

The most popular site in Oaxaca Centro is the Zocalo, or central square. The Zocalo is lined with the Cathedral of Our Lady of Assumption, government buildings, and some restaurants and shops. This is a popular place to start your Oaxaca City journey.

IV. Boutique Hotels to Stay in Oaxaca City

There are some beautiful boutique hotels and rental homes in Oaxaca, but there are a few that stand out from the rest. However, to ensure that you can stay at one of these, be sure to book it ahead of time! Especially if you’re traveling during the high peak tourism season.

Hotel Con Corazon (Budget)

Reserve a room at Hotel con Corazón, which is a social good hotel that invests 75% of accommodation profits back to the local community. They’re a little farther out from the city center, but just a 5-minute taxi ride. Their communal areas are spacious, bright, and beautiful; perfect for getting some work done. Make sure to get a room upstairs to get the most natural lighting.

Grana B&B (Mid-Range)

Book a room at Grana B&B, which is a boutique hotel housed in a gorgeous large colonial building. The central courtyard is stunning, with tile accents, leafy plants, and hammocks and tables to relax.

The rooms are tastefully decorated with warm earthy tiles, minimalist furniture, and local textiles. Snag a room with the dramatic round bathtub if you can! Breakfast is also included here and the kitchen is stunning with its deep teal tiles and large communal table.

Casa Antonieta (Luxury)

You would love staying at Casa Antonieta, which is another gem of a boutique hotel in Oaxaca city center. The dramatic central patio has perfectly filtered light, archways and columns, tropical plants, and beautiful seating. Around the patio you’ll find well-decorated rooms with sleek furnishings and warm local accents. Luxurious details like plush robes and slippers will make you feel at home.

In front of Casa Antonieta is the tasty coffee shop, Muss Cafe. Here you can grab your morning coffee, and afternoon snack, or head up to the rooftop at Ama Terraza for an evening mezcal.

Other Cute Places to Stay in Oaxaca:

V. Other Places & Things to Do in Oaxaca State

Staying longer in Oaxaca state? Consider visiting some of the other interesting destinations and best things to do in Oaxaca state below:

  • Puerto Escondido: This surfing town has grown into a popular beach destination. Visit beautiful cove beaches, try your hand at surfing, release baby turtles, eat delicious seafood, and visit the nearby bioluminescent lagoon.
  • Chacahua: Visit a national park filled with mangroves and a remote beach reached only by boat.
  • Mazunte/San Agustinilllo/Zipolite: These tiny beach towns will allow you to disconnect and enjoy nature. Hike Punta Cometa peninsula for sunset, take yoga classes, arrange a boat tour to see dolphins, sea turtles, and whales, or simply relax and enjoy the peaceful location.
  • Huatulco: This national park includes nine distinct bays full of picture-perfect turquoise ocean. This is a good option if you prefer a resort-like vacation, but the nature is also stunning and there are many remote beaches to explore.
  • Pluma Hidalgo: The most famous coffee growing region in Oaxaca state, this small picturesque town is located just 45 minutes drive from Huatulco, but perched high in the mountains. This is a great day or side trip from the coast to learn about coffee growing in the region.
  • San José del Pacifico: Visit a high elevation mountain town located at 8360 feet, in the mountains between Oaxaca city and the coast. This is a great stop-over if you are making the journey overland between the two destinations. San José is famous for its magic mushrooms used traditionally for ceremonies but is also a stunning natural place with dramatic views and great hiking.
  • The Isthmus: For a completely different perspective on Oaxaca, you can visit the Isthmus region, the narrow land between the rest of Oaxaca and the state of Chiapas. This low-land region is tropical and has its own distinct culture, food, and traditions.

VI. The Best Time to Visit Oaxaca

Oaxaca city is a great place to visit almost any time of the year, but there are a couple of factors to keep in mind when planning your trip.

Oaxaca City by Season

  • The dry season is between November through May. This time of year is almost always sunny and quite dry.
  • The hottest months of the year are April and May.
  • The rainy season starts around June and goes through September. This can still be a lovely time to visit, as most days it only rains for a short period late afternoon/evening. However, if a tropical storm comes through the rain can be more consistent. September is typically the rainiest month.

Oaxaca Holidays

Many holidays are very busy times when the city will be fuller than usual. These can still be great and festive times to visit but will be more crowded, and potentially a bit more expensive. The biggest holidays are:

  • Dia de los Muertos (late October/early November)
  • Semana Santa (Holy/Easter week)
  • Christmas
  • Guelaguetza (a major Oaxacan cultural holiday that lasts for two weeks in late July)

VII. Getting to Oaxaca

By air or by land, there are several ways to arrive in Oaxaca, depending on where you are coming from. 

From Mexico City to Oaxaca City

  • Air: The fastest way to arrive is by plane. There are currently 3 international flights that arrive directly from the USA. Outside of that, you will likely arrive via a layover in the bustling Mexico City airport. Once you land at Oaxaca Xoxocotlan International Airport, it is about a 30-minute drive from the city center.
  • Airport Taxi: You must buy a ticket at the registered taxi stand inside the airport to get a taxi! It’s about $10-20 USD (shared/private). Or you can arrange a private taxi to your hotel. There are no Ubers here.
  • Bus: Frequent first-class buses arrive from Mexico City and Puebla from comfortable bus lines like ADO. These buses have plush seats that recline and more legroom than planes. The trip from Mexico City to Oaxaca is about 6-7 hours.

From Puerto Escondido/Oaxaca Coast to Oaxaca City

  • Flight: There are two small private planes that make the quick 45-minute flight from the coast. These are 8-12 seat passenger planes. Contact Aerotucán or Aerovega for more information.
  • Shared Passenger Van: These shared vans are called “suburbans” and take you through the 7-hour windy trip up and down the Sierra Sur mountains. If you are prone to car sickness, this might be too uncomfortable for you. Dramamine is recommended!
  • Long Bus: The final option is taking a 12-hour bus via ADO that takes you on the long route that avoids the Sierra Sur mountains.

VIII. History of Oaxaca City

Oaxaca’s history is profound, with the first evidence of humans dating back to 11,000 B.C. By 500 B.C., the Zapotec and Mixtec groups were the largest ethnic groups and continue to be the largest Indigenous cultures in Oaxaca state until this day.

Monte Alban was one of the first major cities in Mesoamerica, flourishing from 500-750 A.D. as the capital for the Zapotec people. You can visit this impressive archeological site during your visit, as well as many other sites around the valley.

The Spanish invasion in the early 1500s changed everything, with the arrival of Catholicism, disease, and enslavement; drastically decreasing the Indigenous population. Because of this, the Spanish brought in enslaved Africans: present-day Afro-Mexicans are still an important ethnic group in Mexico, especially in coastal regions of Oaxaca.

The Spanish Dominican Order settled in Oaxaca City, and colonial-style architecture (including monasteries and churches) began to be built.

Compared to other parts of Mexico, Indigenous Oaxacans were able to hold on to much of their culture and identity, in part due to the rugged geography and isolation of the Oaxaca state.

Oaxaca is the type of destination that people return to again and again. There is so much to see, learn, taste, and do, that you will likely start planning your return trip before you even leave!

IX. My Related Blog Posts

X. About the Author: Susan Metenosky

Susan Metenosky is a travel blogger and social media marketer living in Oaxaca, Mexico. Formerly a fashion designer in NYC, she left in 2016 and forgot to return. Passionate about culture, connection, and responsible travel, you’ll usually find her eating or exploring Mexico or other parts of Latin America. Follow her on Instagram @BrooklynTropicali.

XI. About the Editor: Gerry Isabelle

Gerry is the founder of Dominican Abroad – a culture and travel blog that loves to educate, amplify multicultural/BIPOC voices, support local small businesses, and explore natural wonders. She is currently spending some time traveling through and falling madly in love with Oaxaca! Follow our adventures on Instagram @DominicanAbroad.

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