• Lena Claeys

Oaxaca City, Mexico: The Travel Guide You Need

Located in southwestern Mexico, Oaxaca City is the capital of the state of Oaxaca. It’s truly one of the best places to visit in Mexico thanks to its mix of interesting history, world-class cuisine, and colorful examples of indigenous and colonial cultures. Beautifully-colored buildings line the streets, each as lively as the next. This, combined with a temperate climate and a breathtaking surrounding mountain scenery, is why we love Oaxaca City so much. In this article, we’ll break down the most important things to know before you go, where to eat, drink and sleep, and the 10 best things to do in and around Oaxaca City.


things to do in Oaxaca City Mexico
The colorful streets of Oaxaca City

 

Check out our video about Oaxaca City to get a sense of what it's like there!



Oaxaca City Table Of Contents



Important Things To Know


Best time to travel to Oaxaca City


The best time to visit Oaxaca City is September-October or April-May. During these months you'll have the best weather and not too much tourists. If you're planning on going in June, July, or August beware that it's the rain season so make you bring a rain jacket and umbrella.


Cost & currency in Oaxaca City


Oaxaca City is a budget friendly place to travel to. Food, transport, and accommodation is very affordable here. In Mexico they use Mexican pesos .


Safety in Oaxaca City


Oaxaca City is relatively safe. At night you can walk around the tourist places without having to worry. If your hotel is a bit further from the city center we recommend taking a taxi instead of walking to be safe.


Where To Stay In Oaxaca City


Where To Eat And Drink

  • Los Pacos Oaxaca: the best Mole

  • El Escapulario: traditional Oaxacan food

  • Gozobi Restaurant: a cool rooftop restaurant

Best Things To Do In Oaxaca City


Without further ado, let's jump into the best things to do in Oaxaca City! Since there is so much to do in and around this city, we recommend staying at least 5 days. From our selection you can pick and choose which ones fit your travel style best... or do them all like we did!


If you're traveling to Oaxaca and want to save time searching for directions to all of the places we mention in this article, then look no further than our custom map. Simply click on a point in the map below to get directions there for yourself!



10. Watch the sunset


At number 10 we recommend watching the sunset. Since Oaxaca city is surrounded by mountains, it’s possible to enjoy wonderful sunsets and sunrises here. Go to any rooftop in the city or hike up to the “Auditorio Guelaguetza” for an amazing view. The latter option gives you a scope of how big the city actually is, with neighborhoods lining the beautiful hillsides of Oaxaca.


Sunset oaxaca city
Sunset on the outskirts of Oaxaca City

9. Indulge in the Oaxacan Cuisine


Known as the culinary heart of Mexico, Oaxaca is a food lover’s paradise. From some of the best experimental restaurants to delicious street food, the Oaxacan cuisine is uniquely influenced by its cultural diversity. The area is best known for its 7 varieties of mole, which is a complex, sweet sauce often served with chicken and rice. Other must-try dishes include “tlayudas” and “tamales Oaxaqueños”. One of the things we loved most about the cuisine was its affordability, even at high-end restaurants. And if you can’t get enough of the Oaxacan food, then take a cooking class!


Local food Oaxaca city
Tamales: tastes way better than it looks haha

8. (Multi)Day hike at Pueblos Mancomunados


About a 1.5 hour drive from Oaxaca City, you can find the Pueblos Mancomunados. This is a community-run ecotourism reserve located in the Sierra Norte mountains. The reserve is made up of seven mountain villages, which are connected by gravel roads and hiking trails at an elevation sometimes reaching 10,000 feet or 3050 meters. We visited the largest village, named Cuajimoloyas, which was easiest to get to by local bus from Oaxaca City. There are a wide variety of outdoor activities you can do here including hiking, mountain biking, ziplining, and bird watching. The park offers local guides who will explain the history and biology of the different forests as well as ensure you get around easily and safely. You can come for the day, but we highly recommend staying at least two days here.


Tip: the bus to Cuajimoloyas leaves from the “La Central de Autobuses de Segunda Clase” bus station in Oaxaca City a few times every day. The driver will drop you off near the tourist office where you can book your activities and accommodation.


sunset hike pueblos mancomunados oaxaca city
The sunset at Pueblos Mancomunados

7. Visit the Local Markets


Another incredible thing to do in Oaxaca City is to visit its local markets. “Mercado veinte de Noviembre” and “Mercado Benito Juárez” are great places to start and dive into the extraordinary food this area has to offer. They are both located in the historic center, just one block from the main square Zócalo. You can find fresh produce, beautiful handcrafts, stacks of dried chiles, mounds of mole paste, and plenty of Mezcal. But you can also find many food stalls that serve Oaxacan traditional dishes.


local markets Oaxaca City
Local market in Oaxaca City


6. Visit a mezcalería


It would be a shame to visit Oaxaca and not try its most famous spirit made from agave plants. There are many mezcalerías in the city where you can taste mezcal. But for a real authentic experience, head out of town and visit one of the surrounding mezcal distilleries, also called “palenques”. Here, you learn how mezcal is made: from the process of cooking the hearts of the agave plants underground to the actual fermentation. You can find hundreds of distilleries within a 100 kilometer radius, and many are to be found along the “ruta de mezcal”.


Fact: Tequila is a type of Mezcal, much like how scotch and bourbon are types of whiskey. Mezcal is defined as any agave-based liquor, which includes tequila. Tequila is made in specific regions of Mexico and must be made from only blue agave (agave tequilana).


mezcalería oaxaca city
A field with Agave plants with in front the place where they cook them

5. Day trip to Mitla


Another awesome thing to do is taking a day trip to Mitla, located about 31 miles, or 50 kilometers to the south of Oaxaca City. Mitla comes from the word “Mictlan”, and one of its meanings is “the underworld”. It is therefore believed to be a sacred place and the gateway to the afterlife by the local Zapotec culture. Today, you can visit ruins that are of Zapotec and Mixtec origin in the center of the town. Another lesser-visited site is the Prehistoric caves, which provided shelter for centuries with rock-art evidence from 10,000 years ago. We had an interesting conversation with our guide here describing the area in his own words.


Mitla daytrip oaxaca city
The town of Mitla

4. Visit the Historic Downtown


At number 4, we recommend taking a free walking tour through the historical center of Oaxaca City, which is a UNESCO World Heritage Site. The city of Oaxaca has been able to preserve its unique character thanks to its beautiful colors and interesting architecture. From the beautiful Church of Santo Domingo to the vibrant Zócalo square and Oaxaca’s Museum of Contemporary Art, there is so much to explore. We recommend doing a free walking tour of the city. Every day at 10AM and 5PM you can meet a local guide at the Pañuelito Garden to do a free walking tour. During the 2 hour tour, you’ll learn a lot about Oaxaca’s culture, history, gastronomy, political arts, and challenges.


historic downtown oaxaca city
The historic colorful houses in downtown Oaxaca City

3. Join local festivities


Oaxaca is known to have some of the most incredible festivities where the creativity of the locals is expressed at its best. The most important ones include Días de los Muertos in November, the Holy Week during Easter, the Fiesta Guelaguetza in July, and the night of the Radishes on the 23rd of December. But besides these celebrated holidays, you can find entertainment in the city throughout the entire year whether it’s a traditional Oaxacan wedding or a vibrant graduation party in the streets.


festivities oaxaca city
Días de los Muertos

2. Monte Albán


The historic settlement of Monte Albán is located on a mountaintop just 8 kilometers or 5miles to the west of Oaxaca City. It combines Zapotec architecture with amazing panoramic vistas of the city. Founded in the 6th century B.C., it’s one of the most important archeological zones in Mesoamerica. It functioned as the Zapotec's capital between 500 B.C. and 800 A.D. and was once home to some 35,000 people. The highlights of the site include many terraces, pyramids, and canals - with the structures around the Grand Plaza being the most impressive ones. You can easily get to the ruins by taxi, by local bus in front of the Hotel Riviera del Angel, or by tour bus.


Monte Alban oaxaca city
Monte Alban ruins


1. Hierve el Agua


Our favorite thing to do near Oaxaca City was to visit the petrified waterfalls of “Hierve el Agua”. Located 1 hour and 45 mins from Oaxaca City, this is truly one of the most unique natural wonders in Mexico. You can hike to the top and the bottom of the waterfalls or freshen up at the infinity pool, which offers some amazing views of the surrounding mountains. To get to Hierve el Agua from Oaxaca City, you can drive yourself, take a tour, or come by public transportation via Mitla. We recommend driving yourself as this site can get extremely crowded by tour buses during the day. Having a rental car allows you to come early or stay until sunset, which is the best time to visit. You can also combine a visit to Mitla or Ruta De Mezcal on the same day. We stayed at Hierve el Agua until 6PM and had the pool almost all to ourselves from 5PM onwards.


Hierve el Agua Oaxaca City best thing to do
The petrified waterfalls

 

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Free Giveaway


Did you enjoy our article on Oaxaca City? Download our free giveaway, which includes our summer travel packing list so you know perfectly what to pack when going to Oaxaca City.


what to pack to oaxaca city


Other Top Oaxaca City resources:


If you're looking for some other suggestions and tips on Oaxaca City, here are some great articles that will help you:


  1. 27 unmissable things to do in Oaxaca City by Let's Travel To Mexico

  2. 34 EXCITING Things to do in Oaxaca City, Mexico by Destinationless Travel

  3. 25 Incredible Things to Do in Oaxaca City, Mexico by Maddy's Avenue



Need more travel inspiration? Check out our other destinations and articles on Mexico!

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