Oaxaca is a food and culture powerhouse. To get under its skin, here are the best things to do in Oaxaca CIty, from market tours to pyramid hikes.
Colorful, spirited and deeply rooted in traditions: Oaxaca is the Mexico that many dream of. It truly captures the soul of the country like nowhere else, with its flamboyant festivals, indigenous culture and historic architecture. Surrounded by the Sierra Madre mountains of Southern Mexico, Oaxaca is a destination that is both culturally and visually captivating.
Oaxaca (pronounced ‘wa-ha-ka’) has become increasingly popular over the years, thanks to its vibrant markets and world-class gastronomy, including its famous mole sauces and artisanal mezcal. We traveled Oaxaca at Dia de los Muertos, the biggest festival of the year for Mexicans — and had a blast joining in the parades and celebrations. We dug deep to compile this list of places to visit in Oaxaca, hope you find it useful!
Table of Contents
- Things to Do in Oaxaca
- 1. Start at the Zocalo
- 2. Take a Free Oaxaca Walking Tour
- The New Copper Canyon Airport
- 3. Visit the Casa de la Ciudad
- 4. Sip Oaxacan Chocolate
- 5. Walk the Car-Free Macedonia Alcalá
- 6. Visit the Templo de Santo Domingo
- 7. See the Oaxacan Cultural Center
- 8. See the Lush Botanical Gardens
- 9. Browse the Atemporal Design Market
- Mexico Travel Requirements
- 10. Visit the Oaxaca Textile Museum
- 11. Snap Photos at Callejon San Pablo
- 12. Get Lost in the Smoke Alley
- 13. Sample the Legendary mole
- 14. Drink Tejate
- 15. Try the Netflix-Famous Memelas
- 16. Have a Nieve at Plaza de la Danza
- 17. Watch Sunset on a Rooftop Bar
- 18. Wander around Colorful Jalatlaco
- 19. Check out Xochimilco
- 20. Celebrate the Guelgaguetza
- 21. Celebrate Dia de los Muertos
- Things to Do Around Oaxaca
- Oaxaca Travel Guide
Things to Do in Oaxaca
There are so many incredible things to do in Oaxaca it’s worth spending at least 4-5 days in the city. We spent 10 days in Oaxaca, exploring both the capital city and the surrounding Mayan pyramids, Sierra Madre mountains and the laidback Oaxacan coast.
In this guide, I’ve compiled the best things to do in Oaxaca city (not the state) and have mapped them out like a walking tour. Feel free to print out this list and follow it like an itinerary. I also included things to do around Oaxaca, as well as best time to visit, safety tips and recommendations on hotels and restaurants.
1. Start at the Zocalo
The historic center of Oaxaca is a World Heritage Site, packed with over 1200 registered historic sites. The heart of the city is the Zócalo (or Plaza de la Constitución), or main square. It’s surrounded by some of the most important historic buildings in Oaxaca City, including the Palacio de Gobierno (Government Palace), the Catedral de Oaxaca (Oaxaca Cathedral), and the Templo de la Compañía de Jesús (Church of the Company of Jesus).
Regardless of when you visit, you’ll likely find street performers and musicians around the Zócalo, from folk singers to marimba bands. The Zócalo is often the site of festivals, concerts, and other cultural events throughout the year. Check the local calendar to see what’s happening during your visit.
2. Take a Free Oaxaca Walking Tour
I love doing these walking tours the in new cities I visit (especially when I’m traveling solo) as it’s a great way to get my bearings and meet fellow travelers. In Oaxaca, our guide shared with us plenty of interesting insights, including snippets about Oaxaca’s indigenous groups and their struggle for equal rights. These are things you won’t learn from wandering the streets on your own.
Oaxaca’s free walking tour runs three times a day from Monday to Saturday: 10am, 1pm and 4pm; and only twice a day on Sunday: 10am and 4pm. The meeting point is at Teatro Macedonio Alcala, just a block east of the Cathedral. . It’s a great first thing to do in Oaxaca for a general overview of the city.
TIP: Although they are ‘free’ walking tours, a tip is expected. The standard is around 100 MXN (US$5) per person.
The New Copper Canyon Airport
The US$65-million Creel International Airport has been under construction for years and is set to open in 2024. It was supposed to be completed in 2016, but disputes with local Tarahumara ejido owners have caused major delays.
3. Visit the Casa de la Ciudad
Casa de la Ciudad, located just off the Zócalo, houses a cultural center and museum dedicated to the history and architecture of Oaxaca City. The building itself is a beautiful example of colonial architecture, with a large central courtyard and ornate stonework.
You can explore the center’s galleries, which feature exhibits on everything from traditional crafts to contemporary art. If you’re celebrating Dia de los Muertos in Oaxaca, then make sure to pop in here as its courtyard garden gets decorated in orange magnolia flowers and eclectic alebrije sculptures.
4. Sip Oaxacan Chocolate
In the northern corner of the Zócalo stands the flagship store of the Mayordomo Oaxaca. Mayordomo is a local chocolate maker that has been in business for over 150 years, and it’s best spot to try the famous chocolate oaxaqueño. (It also has an excellent menu with traditional breakfast items like mole tamales.)
Chocolate has been produced in Oaxaca for thousands of years, and it was a prized commodity among the ancient Zapotec and Mixtec peoples. Today, Oaxacan chocolate is still an important part of local culture, and it’s often used in traditional Oaxacan dishes like mole and hot chocolate.
Rather than being processed into a smooth paste like most chocolate, Oaxacan chocolate is typically ground by hand on a stone metate, which gives it a slightly gritty texture and a more rustic appearance. The grinding process also helps to release the flavors and aromas of the spices, creating a rich and complex flavor profile. Hot chocolate at Mayordomo is served in a large clay jug and hand-spun using a wooden stirrer called molinillo.
5. Walk the Car-Free Macedonia Alcalá
From the Zócalo, amble along the pedestrianized Andador Turístico, Calle Macedonia Alcalá, which runs all the way to the Templo de Santo Domingo. You’ve probably seen photos of this street before: colorful papel picado (paper flags) dangling between rows of iconic pastel historic houses.
This bustling pedestrianized street is flanked by arts and craft shops, cafes, and restaurants, and it’s a great place to soak up the local atmosphere. Along the way, you’ll pass by some of the city’s most iconic landmarks, including the Palacio de Gobierno, which features a beautiful mural by the artist Arturo García Bustos depicting the history of Oaxaca.
6. Visit the Templo de Santo Domingo
One of the most iconic landmarks in Oaxaca, the Templo de Santo Domingo is a symbol of the city and a major gathering point. It was originally built in the late 16th century by the Dominican order and is considered one of the finest examples of Baroque architecture in Mexico. Many of Oaxaca’s buildings – including this church – were constructed with green volcanic stone, as evident from the greenish tint in the stonework.
The church’s ornate facade is covered in intricate carvings, while the interior is filled with stunning frescoes, gold leaf embellishments, and impressive altarpieces. The agave plants in front of the church make for cool photo ops — just be careful when walking behind the plants, their spikes are sharp!
7. See the Oaxacan Cultural Center
Attached to the Templo de Santo Domingo is the Casa de la Cultura Oaxaqueña, a fascinating museum showcasing the history and culture of Oaxaca. The museum’s collection includes an impressive array of pre-Columbian artifacts, colonial-era art, and contemporary works by Oaxacan artists. There are also occasional live music and dance performances, theater productions, and workshops on traditional arts and crafts.
One of the most notable aspects of Casa de la Cultura Oaxaqueña is its commitment to preserving and promoting indigenous culture. The center offers workshops in Zapotec and Mixtec languages, as well as traditional dances and other cultural practices. You can learn about the history and customs of the region’s indigenous communities through interactive exhibits and demonstrations.
8. See the Lush Botanical Gardens
Jardín Etnobotánico de Oaxaca, located next to the Santo Domingo Church, is a beautiful oasis in the heart of the city dedicated to the preservation and study of the indigenous plants of Oaxaca. The garden features over 1,200 species of plants, many of which have cultural and medicinal significance to the local people. Covering nearly 7 acres, the garden is home to a wide variety of plant species native to Oaxaca, ranging from towering cacti to towering hardwood trees.
The gardens only allow visits by guided tours; make sure to come early to have a spot. If you speak Spanish, there are regular tours throughout the day for 50pesos per person. English tours are only held at 11am Monday to Saturday, for 100pesos per person. There are also French and German tours. Refer to the website for details.
9. Browse the Atemporal Design Market
Just a few blocks from Santo Domingo is a cool, eclectic design market housed in a crumbling half-restored building. It features a curated selection of products, ranging from artisanal icecream to locally-brewed mezcal and trendy fashion.
The focus of Atemporal Market is on showcasing homegrown products of Oaxaca, with an emphasis on sustainable and ethical production methods. The vibes here are hip and alternative, in contrast to the traditional markets that Oaxaca is famous for (I’ll talk about below).
Mexico Travel Requirements
- Mexico has no travel restrictions, and there’s no need for proof of vaccine or PCR tests on the plane. Anyone is welcomed to travel to Mexico.
- However, I always recommend travelers to buy travel insurance, whether you’re traveling for a year or a week. These days, it is particularly important to have travel insurance that covers COVID-19. Read my travel insurance guide.
- Safety Wing is the most popular travel insurance company for COVID19-coverage. I use their Nomad Insurance plan, which covers COVID-19 as any other illness as long as it was not contracted before your coverage start date.
10. Visit the Oaxaca Textile Museum
Two blocks to the east of the Zócalo is the interesting Museo Textil de Oaxaca dedicated to the art of weaving in Oaxaca, with exhibits showcasing traditional techniques and textiles from different regions of the state. The small museum was founded in 2006 by the Alfredo Harp Helú Foundation and is housed in a beautifully restored 18th-century building in the historic center of the city.
The museum’s exhibits showcase the intricate designs, vibrant colors, and diverse techniques used by local weavers and artisans, as well as the cultural and historical significance of these textiles. Admission is FREE.
11. Snap Photos at Callejon San Pablo
Right next to the Textile Museum is an alley that leads to the Centro Cultural San Pablo. The art space is decorated with giant sculptures, mural art and colorful umbrellas hanging overhead. There’s a cafe with outdoor seating as well as a casual flea market selling handmade crafts, wooden art and locally designed clothings. See its location on Google Maps.
12. Get Lost in the Smoke Alley
Oaxaca’s biggest appeal is its food. Oaxacan food is known for being unique and completely distinctive from other Mexican cuisine. The largest markets in Oaxaca City are Mercado de Benito Juárez and Mercado 20 de Noviembre just to the south of the historic center (the two almost merge together) and both offer senses-assaulting experiences.
Benito Juárez has almost anything you could ever need – from artisan goods to electronic accessories – but I recommend Mercado 20 de Noviembre for their cooked food. Meat lovers should head straight to the Pasillo de Humo (Smoke Alley) at the eastern entrance of Mercado 20 de Noviembre. Stall after stall of meat vendors serve up succulent meat, grills blazing and smoke billowing out. The most common meats here are tasajo (thinly sliced beef), arrachera (steak), costilla (pork ribs) and chorizo (spicy sausage). They’re all good and portions are huge!
Another popular food to try here is the tlayuda, a massive tortilla covered in beans, cheese, and various meats or vegetables. Originally from Oaxaca, tlayuda is best shared with friends and it makes for a yummy traditional Mexican breakfast. Besides that, there are plenty of Mexican antojitos (street food) to try at Mercado 20 de Noviembre.
TIP: It’s worth noting that Mercado 20 de Noviembre can be crowded and overwhelming. However, the lively atmosphere and incredible food make it well worth a visit. If you’re nervous, join a food tour with a local guide or a cooking class that includes a market tour!
13. Sample the Legendary mole
I could write an entire article about the outstanding food of Oaxaca, but none is more iconic than mole. It’s part sauce, part marinade, often drenched over chicken or other meat. With seven definitive versions (each with its own unique recipe), mole is a complex and intricate dish that is quintessentially Oaxacan. Many foreigners struggle to like this dish, but I honestly cannot understand why. It’s sweet, spicy, sour, and bitter all at once!
Mole recipes vary, but in general, it’s made up of chocolate, chiles, red and green tomatoes, fruit, spices, nuts and seeds. The ingredients are blended into a paste, then watered down with stock, and slow-cooked for hours (or days) until it forms a rich flavorful sauce. Mole is usually eaten with chicken or meat and rice.
Here are the seven versions of mole that can be found in Oaxaca:
- Mole Negro: black mole is the most common type of mole.
- Mole Rojo: similar to the black mole, but this uses chilhuacle negro chiles.
- Mole Colorado: brown in color, featuring the secret ingredient of ripe plantain.
- Mole Verde: green mole colored by tomatillos, jalapenos and cilantro.
- Mole Amarillo: yellow mole is unsweet mole without chocolate.
- Mole Manchamantel: this ‘tablecloth-staining’ mole is made distinctive by the chorizo, ancho chiles, and pineapple.
- Mole Chichilo: this mole is made with beef stock, dried chiles de arbol, anchos and guajillos.
14. Drink Tejate
Another quintessentially Oaxacan staple is the tejate, a chocolate and corn-based drink. It has been enjoyed for centuries in Oaxaca since preHispanic days. Although the combination of ingredients might seem unusual, this traditional drink has withstood the test of time and is beloved by many in Oaxaca.
Its popularity among locals has even earned it the nickname of “bebida de los dioses” or “drink of the gods.” Despite its ancient origins, tejate continues to be a popular drink in Oaxaca and is a must-try for anyone visiting the region. You’ll find it in Mercado 20 de Noviembre, stored in a giant clay tub and served with a gourd scoop.
15. Try the Netflix-Famous Memelas
If you’ve seenStreet Food Latin America, you would have heard of Doña Vale. If not, watch the episode 3 of Season 1: “Oaxaca, Mexico”and learn all about the famous Doña Vale. This Oaxacan lady has been selling memelas for over 30 years and her memelas have becoming known as the best in town.
Memelas are a popular Mexican antojito (street food) from Oaxaca, and they are essentially tacos made with tortillas that are slightly thicker than usual ones. They’re usually cooked with a bit of pork lard, then with salsa and the stringy Oaxacan cheese.The meat is cooked separately, then added on top of your memela when it gets plated. Everything is cooked on a comal, which is a flat, circular cooking surface with charcoal underneath.
To taste Doña Vale’s memelas, you’ll have to navigate the chaos of the largest market in Oaxaca, Mercado Central de Abastos. Her stall is located on the southern side of the market, and you can see it here on Google Maps. When you take the taxi, just tell the driver that you’re going to Doña Vale, as he’ll know where to drop you off.
16. Have a Nieve at Plaza de la Danza
Four blocks to the west of the Cathedral is the Plaza de la Danza, flanked by the Basilica de la Solidad. All around the square are stalls selling nieves or traditional Oaxacan snow cones. Nieves are available in a plethora of flavors: from jamaica (hibiscus) to chilacayote (a pumpkin-like fruit). The ‘tuna’ flavor is made from a cactus fruit and is particularly good (don’t worry, there isn’t any fish in it!).
We tried the nieves at La Neveria la Oaxaqueña and were impressed by the unique, exotic flavors such as chapulines (grasshoppers) and tejate (a Oaxacan traditional drink). As we were in Oaxaca during Dia de los Muertos, they even had special flavors including cempasuchil (marigold) and pan de muerto made from a skull bread that’s commonly eaten during this time of the year!
17. Watch Sunset on a Rooftop Bar
One of my favorite things to do in Oaxaca is having dinner and drinks at a rooftop bar in town during sunset. Most rooftop bars are concentrated along Calle de Ignacio Allende, where you can take in sweeping views of the Templo de Santo Domingo and the historic center. I highly recommend booking a table in advance as these rooftop bars get busy.
We really enjoyed the food and drinks at Praga Oaxaca; their botaca oaxaqueña (snack platter) was filling and flavorful. Its rooftop bar is small though. The next-door Terraza los Amantes is bigger and more stylish (we didn’t go there as it was full). At the street corner is Gozobi, a colorful and eclectic restaurant with a huge rooftop and well-priced contemporary Mexican menu. We had dinner here on our last night and loved the grilled octopus in black squid ink and seafood risotto.
18. Wander around Colorful Jalatlaco
Just to the east of the historic center is the colorful and vibrant district of Jalatlaco. Even though it’s one of the oldest districts in Oaxaca, it’s becoming the hippest area in the city.
Wander through the cobblestoned streets, admiring the mural art, and stopping at one of the many cafes or restaurants for a bite to eat. The district has an artsy feel, thanks to the art studios and galleries that line its streets. Exploring this area is definitely one of the most fun things to do in Oaxaca for photographers and Instagram fans.
19. Check out Xochimilco
To the north of the historic center (across the highway) lies Xochimilco, the oldest neighborhood in Oaxaca. It’s also chocked full of multihued houses, street art and narrow cobbled alleys. A spot worth checking out is the 18th century aqueduct that runs along Callejon Rufino Tamayo.
Our absolute favorite restaurant in Oaxaca is also located here: Ancestral Cocina Tradicional serves reimagined Oaxacan dishes made from locally grown products and ingredients in a beautiful setting. In 2021 and again in 2022, the restaurant was recognized by the the Mexico Gastronomic Guide of Culinary Mexicana as one of the 250 top and best restaurants in Mexico. Book your table here.
20. Celebrate the Guelgaguetza
Held in July each year, Guelaguetza is the biggest festival in Oaxaca. Its arrival is highly anticipated, with various events that occur for weeks leading up to the start of the festival.
The Guelaguetza festival in Oaxaca predates the Spanish conquest, and continues to be the most important celebration for the indigenous population in Oaxaca. Its name is overtly indigenous in origin too, coming from the Zapotec, which loosely translated means ‘reciprocal exchange of gifts and services’.
Traditionally, Guelaguetza was a religious celebration honoring Centéotl, the goddess of maize, to ensure a bountiful harvest. In fact, to this day people from across Oaxaca gather in the Jardín del Pañuelito to elect a local woman to play the role of Centéotl. The main events occur on two consecutive Mondays, Los Lunes del Cerro (The Mondays of the Hill), at the Guelaguetza Auditorium.
21. Celebrate Dia de los Muertos
Oaxaca is home to the some of the biggest Day of the Dead celebrations in Mexico. We’ve celebrated Day of the Dead in Mexico City too and can safely say that the Oaxaca Dia de Muertos celebrations are much more rooted in tradition. Visiting the cemetery at night was an amazingly spiritual experience, as it was amazing to see families gathering under the candlelight with food, drinks and music to celebrate their loved ones.
Like any celebration in Oaxaca, there are incredible parades and other events throughout the city. During the day, the entire city is awash in the festivities, with altars and flower decorations taking over the buildings. On top of the visits to cemeteries and parades, there are colorful sand tapestries around the city, special foods for the occasion, mega altars, and outdoor markets. Read my guide to celebrating Day of the Dead in Oaxaca.
Things to Do Around Oaxaca
22. Climb the Pyramids of Monte Albán
One of the most popular things to do in Oaxaca is to do a day trip to the ancient Monte Alban ruins just outside the city. Built by the Zapotecs, this is one of the most impressive archaeological sites in all of Latin America.
The ancient city was built on the hilltop to the southwest of Oaxaca, and from here, you can get spectacular views of the Sierra Madre mountains. Unlike other famous ruins like Chichen Itza, you can actually climb the Monte Alban pyramids. From the top, you can see the sheer scale of the pyramids, temples, and ball courts. Read my guide to these Oaxaca pyramids.
As at any archaeological site, hiring a guide can give you much deeper insights to the Zapotec civilization. We drove our car rental here and it was an easy 20-minute drive from the center. But if you don’t have transport, it’s wise to book a guided tour as you will have transport and guide included. Book this simple half-day tour or a full-day tour that covers lunch and visits to artisan workshops.
23. Explore the Hierve el Agua
One of the most unique geological formations I’ve ever seen, Hierve el Agua was a highlight of our Oaxaca road trip. The mineral formations that resemble cascading waterfalls are absolutely unique, and the natural springs and pools are a refreshing place to cool off after a hike. Read my guide to Hierve el Agua.
While the name Hierve el Agua means “boiling water” in Spanish, the water can actually be a bit cold. It’s still nice and refreshing to take a dip, especially after hiking. There are short trails that weave all around the various pools and to the bottom of the falls. You don’t need to be fit to walk them; my 7-year-old loved traipsing up and down the trails. Most of the trails lead to glorious views of the stunning valley.
Hierve el Agua was closed for a period of time due to disputes between the ejido owners, but it is now opened to the public once again. It is a popular spot and gets crowded pretty fast, so try to get there as early as you can. It’s a 1.5-hour drive and it opens at 7am, it’s worth getting up early.
TIP: If you don’t have transport, I suggest booking a tour as and there is no public transport. You can get there by taxi for around 600 MXN (US$30). This day tour costs just 850 MXN (US$42.5)and brings you also to Mitla.
24. Explore the Mitla Ruins
If you’re heading to Hierve el Agua, definitely make a stop here on your way back to Oaxaca. Mitla is just a 30-minute drive from Hierve el Agua and it’s known for its archaeological site.
While Monte Alban was the political centre for the Zapotecs, Mitla was the religious centre. Mitla archaeological site features intricate geometric patterns and designs carved into the stone walls, which are believed to have had religious significance for the Zapotec people. Its name comes from the Nahuatl word meaning the place of the dead, or the underworld.
Right outside the archaeological site is a big market where handmade crafts and textiles are on sale. This is also a great spot to get some local food, snacks or icecream.
25. Learn Weaving in Teotitlán del Valle
Another worthwhile stop enroute back to Oaxaca is Teotitlán del Valle, 30 minutes from Mitla by car. This artisan village has gained fame for its traditional Zapotec weaving techniques and colorful textiles. In the local workshops, you can learn about the process of making the textiles. We visited the Centro de Arte Textil Zapoteco Bii Dauu and learned how they use natural dyes made from plants, insects, and minerals to create yarn that is then woven into textiles.
26. See the World’s Biggest Tree Trunk
On the road back to Oaxaca city, stop at the Tree of Tule, a massive Montezuma cypress tree that has the world’s widest trunk with a diameter of 46 feet (14m). It takes at least 30 people to wrap around it.
According to scientists, the Tule tree is almost 2,000 years old. But the Zapotec people believe that the Wind God Ehécatl sowed the seeds of the tree around 1,400 years ago. Today, you can still find it standing tall in front of the Templo Santa María de la Asunción church in the pueblo (small town) of Santa Maria del Tule, in the peripheries of Oaxaca city.
TIP: You can easily combine Hierve el Agua, Mitla, Teotitlan del Valle and the Tule tree into one day trip. We did that on our own as we had a rental car. If you don’t drive, check out this day tour that brings you to all four sites.
27. Take a Mezcal tour
Oaxaca is known to produce some of the best mezcal in Mexico. Mezcal has a unique, smoky taste I absolutely love, thanks to the underground roasting of the plant. Currently undergoing a revival of sorts, mezcal is gaining fame all around the world, even though it’s long been popular in Mexico.
The backcountry of Oaxaca is dotted with plenty of mezcalerias where you can learn about the production process from local farmers and taste different kinds of mezcal. But some can be pretty tacky and inauthentic. For a more genuine and immersive experience, join this tour to visit an artisanal local farm where you get to walk in the agave fields and watch how the farmer harvests the agave. This highly-rated experience is one of the best things to do in Oaxaca for couples and solo travelers.
Here are a few mezcalerias in Oaxaca where you can visit on your own:
- El Rey de Matatlán — El Rey de Matatlán is one of the oldest and most respected distilleries in Tlacolula (where many distilleries are concentrated). Granted, it’s a hot spot on the tour-bus circuit, but the smoky-flavored mezcal is authentic.
- Real Minero — This family-run distillery that has been making mezcal for over four generations. Their tours and tastings are a great way to learn about the artisanal production process and sample some truly exceptional mezcals.
- Shluuna Parador Ecoturístico & Fábrica de Mezcal — A beautiful agave farm with a mountainous setting, where a guide can bring you on hikes and show you how mezcal is produced here.
28. Visit the Nearby Artisan Villages
With a large indigenous population, Oaxaca has a rich handicraft-making tradition. The villages that surround the city all specialize in a different form of artisanal work. If you want to understand more of Oaxacan life or buy souvenirs, these art towns in Oaxaca are the places you need to go.
The most popular art villages are:
- San Bartolo Coyotepec — 20 minutes south of Oaxaca centro, this is where the famous barro negro (black clay) comes from, and many artisans live here and display their work in the numerous workshops here.
- San Martín Tilcajete — This town 40 minutes south is famous for their alebrijes. Alebrijes are crafted from either paper maché or carved from wood, and at first glance, they appear to be animal figures. However, upon closer inspection, you’ll discover that each figure is a combination of several animals. The wooden Oaxacan alebrijes, which have become incredibly popular, were first created by artist Manuel Jiménez Ramírez, As each one is handmade, no two alebrijes are alike.
- Santo Tomás Jalieza Oaxaca — Further south, this town is known for its textiles. Here you’ll see the entire textile-making process — from hand-dying the yarn with natural materials, to how the famous Oaxacan rugs are made on a loom.
TIP: As these three villages are located all along Hwy175 south of Oaxaca, you can easily visit all three in a day trip. I suggest booking this private tour of the artisan villages where a guide can share his knowledge on the artisanal history of the area.
29. Visit the Zaachila ruins
Once considered the capital of the Zapotecs, the Zaachila ruins often tend to be overlooked by tourists. The exact history is still debated, but it’s generally believed that the Zapotecs and Mixtecs occupied the region from the 1100s until Spanish conquistadors arrived in 1521. Much of the Zaachila ruins remain unexplored because most of the ancient city are still buried underneath people’s current homes. The ruins are located just 30 minutes outside of Oaxaca City and have a couple of tombs with well-preserved carvings.
To get to Zaachila, simply go to the Central de Abastos market in Oaxaca to grab a bus or colectivo share taxi. We recommend heading there on a Thursday to see the local market. At Dia de los Muertos, the streets of Zaachila are decorated with elaborate sand tapestries that lead the dead ones from the cemetery to their home.
30. Do a Temazcal Ceremony
At the end of our Oaxaca trip, book yourself a temazcal session to experience the indigenous practice. A temazcal is not just a sweat lodge, it is an ancient Mayan purifying and healing ritual. Traditionally, it takes place in a dome-shaped structure made of adobe or stone, heated with hot stones and water.
During a temazcal ceremony, participants enter the dome-shaped structure and sit in a circle around the center, where the hot stones are placed. An experienced guide leads the ceremony, pouring water onto the hot stones to create steam and chanting or reciting prayers. The heat and humidity inside the temazcal are believed to help purify the body, eliminate toxins, and promote relaxation and mental clarity.
The best place to go in the city is Ceviarem Temazcal Oaxaca, but you’ll want to make sure to reserve a spot well ahead of time as they tend to fill up.
Oaxaca Travel Guide
How to Get to Oaxaca
The most convenient way to get to Oaxaca is by flying into the Oaxaca International Airport (OAX), located just outside of the city. The small airport serves mainly domestic destinations (Mexico City, Guadalajara, Monterrey), but also has flights from Los Angeles, Houston and Dallas.
Direct flights from Los Angeles to Oaxaca cost around US$300 return. Flights from Mexico City to Oaxaca cost only $50 return(1hour). Budget travelers can also just take a bus from the Terminal de Autobuses del Sur in Mexico City to Oaxaca; it takes 6-7 hours depending on traffic. Pre-book your bus tickets here.
Getting Around Oaxaca
If you’re staying in Oaxaca’s historic center, you can get around mostly on foot. Many Oaxaca attractions are within walking distance of each other. Exploring the city on foot also allows you to soak up the local atmosphere and discover hidden spots that you might miss if you’re in a car or bus.
If you’re just exploring Oaxaca city, you won’t need a car. Traffic within the center can be crazy and navigating the narrow, clogged streets is stressful. I recommend hiring a car only if you intend to do a Oaxaca road trip and explore the coast. We rented a car for our entire 10 days in Oaxaca, but hardly used it in the city as we walked everywhere.
I always book my car rental from Discover Cars as they offer the best prices and excellent customer service. An economy rental car in Oaxaca costs around $100 for a whole week, which is less than $20 a day. The current price for gas is 23.50 MXN (around $1) per liter.
You can easily flag down a taxi from anywhere in Oaxaca, but taxi drivers tend to jack up the price with foreigners. It helps a lot if you speak Spanish. Make sure you negotiate and agree on a rate before starting the ride.
There is no Oaxaca Uber service, and no Lyft in Oaxaca either. They do have DiDi Taxi through the DiDi Rider app, which lets you call a Oaxaca taxi via the app. Download DiDi Rider for iPhone.
How Many Days to Visit Oaxaca?
To really experience everything that Oaxaca has to offer, I recommend spending at least 4-5 days in Oaxaca. This will give you enough time to explore the historic center, visit the museums and galleries, and venture out of the city to see the stunning natural beauty of the surrounding area. We spent 10 days in Oaxaca and the coast and still wished we had more time!
Best Time to Visit Oaxaca
The best time to visit Oaxaca is from October to April, when the weather is dry and mild. This is also the time of year when many of the city’s festivals and cultural events.
In general, Oaxaca has a desert climate with hot days and cool nights. Pack a light jacket regardless of the time you visit as the temperature drops drastically in the evening.
The busiest time of the year runs from late October for the Day of the Dead, through mid-January. It’s also crowded in July, when Oaxaca celebrates the Guelaguetza, the biggest Oaxaca festival.
Is it Safe to Travel to Oaxaca?
Oaxaca is generally considered a safe destination for travelers. According to Mexico’s National Institute of Statistics and Geography, the state of Oaxaca had a homicide rate of 8.6 per 100,000 inhabitants in 2023, lower than the national average. The state government also reports that the number of homicides decreased by 33% from 2022 to 2023.
However, it’s worth noting that as with any destination, there is still a risk of crime, particularly in certain areas and at certain times. Petty theft, such as pickpocketing, is one of the most common types of crime reported in Oaxaca. Travelers should also be cautious when traveling on highways at night or in isolated areas, as there have been reports of armed robberies.
Where to Stay in Oaxaca
Luxury: Hacienda Los Laureles
Located just outside of the city, Hacienda Los Laureles is a peaceful oasis surrounded by lush gardens and fruit trees. Cool whitewashed walls, terracotta floors, and wrought-iron furniture lend a rustic authenticity. Check rates here.
Luxury: Parador San Miguel Oaxaca
This historic hotel, housed in a restored 16th-century mansion, is a true icon of Oaxaca City. The rooms are spacious and elegantly decorated, with antique furnishings and traditional artwork. The hotel also boasts a beautiful courtyard and rooftop terrace. Check rates here.
Mid Range: Hotel Azul de Oaxaca
We stayed at this beautiful boutique hotel with a central but quiet location. The stylish and modern hotel with a focus on sustainability and local art. The rooms are bright and colorful, and the hotel’s restaurant is known for its innovative takes on traditional Oaxacan cuisine. Check rates.
Mid Range: Hotel Casa Antigua
Just 2 blocks from the central Zócalo Square, Hotel Casa Antigua is a restored 19th-century house with a traditional central courtyard. The hotel’s rooftop restaurant serves delicious breakfasts and dinners using fresh, locally sourced ingredients. Most things to do in Oaxaca are steps from this hotel. Check rates here.
Budget: Paulina Youth Hostel
A great budget option for travelers looking for a clean and comfortable place to stay in Oaxaca. Located in the heart of the historic center, the hostel offers private rooms and dorms at very affordable rates. Check rates.
Where to Eat in Oaxaca
Oaxaca is a culinary powerhouse, and you can have an equally amazing experience eating at a street-side stand as you would at a fine dining establishment. One thing’s for sure, you’ll never go hungry in Oaxaca!
TIP: The best restaurants in Oaxaca get booked up quickly, so make sure to reserve a table in advance especially if you’re traveling at high season.
Tlayudas Libres Doña Martha
One of the best things to do in Oaxaca is eating street food. This streetside stand on Calle de los Libres has a loyal following. Their tlayudas sizzle with pork lard and drip with the perfect combination of melted Oaxacan cheese and grilled meat. They’re open early, it’s a great spot for a traditional Mexican breakfast! Find its location here.
Itanoní Flor del Maiz
One of the best places in Oaxaca for a rustic and genuine culinary experience. The setup is humble with women cooking over the comal (flat metal pan), and serving up memelas made with heirloom-corn tortillas, rich pozole and a three-chile mole. Read reviews.
With locations in Oaxaca City and nearby San Agustin Etla, Los Danzantes is a popular restaurant and mezcal distillery that serves contemporary Mexican dishes with unique Oaxacan flavors. Its gorgeous setting right next to Templo de Santo Domingo makes it a hot favorite. Book your table here.
Ancestral Cocina Tradicional
This restaurant in Xochimilco serves reinvented Oaxacan dishes, prepared with locally grown produce and ingredients in a beautiful setting. In 2021 and again in 2022, the restaurant was recognized by the the Mexico Gastronomic Guide of Culinary Mexicana as one of the 250 top and best restaurants in Mexico. Book our table.
Las Quince Letras
Las Quince Letras is one of our favorite places to eat at in Oaxaca for the traditional menu and surprisingly good prices. The proudly Oaxacan restaurant is famous for its seven moles. You can even try 2/3 moles at once with their duo/triologia de moles.
Further Reading on Mexico
I hope you’ve found this list of things to do in Oaxaca city useful! Let me know in the comments field below if there are any other fun activities in Oaxaca worth adding to this article. Oaxaca truly is the cultural heart of Mexico, with so many fascinating museums, sensory-overloading markets and outstanding restaurants to make any trip here a fulfilling one.
For those who are planning to travel more of Mexico, check out other articles I’ve written on Mexico:
- Oaxaca Road Trip: My 10-Day Oaxaca Itinerary
- Oaxaca Day of the Dead Guide
- The Ultimate Day of the Dead Guide
- Monte Alban: My Guide to the Oaxaca Pyramids
- Hierve el Agua: Oaxaca Waterfalls Guide
- 25 Mexican Antojitos to Try in Mexico
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