Oaxaca families enjoying another lovely evening near the Cathedral

Is Oaxaca Worth Visiting in 2024? Things to do & Reasons to Visit

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A history to rival any destination, diverse architecture, warm and welcoming locals, vibrant personality, and a food culture that is so good it is World Heritage listed.

And the best place to experience every aspect of Mexican life is Oaxaca.

So is Oaxaca worth visiting? Find out our reasons to visit Oaxaca and why it represents the best that Mexico has to offer.

Where is Oaxaca?

Is Oaxaca worth visiting in 2024?

The simple answer to this question is without doubt a resounding YES! Oaxaca is not only worth visiting, but should be one of the first places you consider visiting when you decide to come to Mexico.

If you have always wondered what it would be like to go to Mexico, or even if you have been to the more touristy areas like Cabo or Cancun and now want a more authentic experience, then there is no better place than Oaxaca.

If you would like to know more about safety in Oaxaca then we have a detailed guide.

Laid back, colourful, historic, and friendly, and with no shortage of amazing food to keep your strength up for all the walking you will want to do. Oaxaca combines the best of Mexico in one small package.

Oaxaca has the best of Mexico wrapped up in one small package

How many days do I need in Oaxaca?

El Centro, the main area of the town is built around a tree-studded park or Zocalo and is filled with churches, markets, restaurants, and eye-catching colourful buildings lining cobblestone streets.

You could “do” this area in a couple of days to really appreciate this beautiful town you will want to stay a for week or more.

Realistically a few days is barely enough to fully experience just the centre of town and you would be missing out on some incredible nearby experiences not to be had in many other places around the world.

A day should be devoted to the suitably impressive Monte Alban ruins. The ancient locals spent many years levelling the top of a mountain before even commencing the building of this once-great city.

Another day or two at least could be spent experiencing the outer villages and their local markets. Some of these villages are also home to some world-famous artisans honing their craft and creating most of the souvenirs Mexico is best known for.

Pottery, textiles, clay statues and ornaments, and my favourites, the colourful wooden alebrijes are all created here. With entire villages devoted to the manufacture of a single type of product.

Sitting in one of the restaurants beside the Zocalo is a great way to experience Oaxaca

How do you get there?

Most people would utilise the local airport with flights arriving regularly from many cities in Mexico and a handful of foreign airports.

On our first visit to Oaxaca we chose a local bus line to take us from Mexico City so we could better get a feel for the everyday life of the locals. It is a trip of about six hours and not only cheap and comfortable, but some beautiful scenery is to be witnessed along the way.

Our recent visit had Oaxaca as one of our major stops on a 100-day 5000km / 3000 mile epic Mexico road trip. And we found that having the car gave us the opportunity to stop and really appreciate that scenery along the way.

The town centre is close to the airport and the bus terminal is right in town. Taxis are available and reasonably priced but only really needed for arrival and departure as Oaxaca is a perfect town for walking once you have settled in.

Best things to do in Oaxaca

There is no shortage of amazing things to do in and around Oaxaca. Here is a list of the most popular activities and places, including our personal favourites.

1. Explore the Zócalo

The Zócalo, or main square, is the heart of Oaxaca City. It’s a bustling hub where you can enjoy people-watching, live music, and street performances. Surrounding the square are numerous cafes and restaurants, perfect for soaking in the local atmosphere.

2. Visit the Santo Domingo Church and Cultural Center

The Santo Domingo Church is a stunning example of baroque architecture. Adjacent to the church is the Centro Cultural Santo Domingo, which houses the Museo de las Culturas de Oaxaca.

The museum offers extensive exhibits on the region’s history, from pre-Hispanic times to the present.

If you only visit one church during your time in Oaxaca then we recommend this place. The interior is quite incredible and matches anything you will find in Europe.

3. Stroll Through the Ethnobotanical Garden

Located next to the Santo Domingo Church, the Ethnobotanical Garden showcases the diverse plant life of Oaxaca.

Guided tours are available several times per day and provide fascinating insights into the traditional uses of plants by the indigenous peoples.

4. Wander the Markets

Oaxaca’s markets are a feast for the senses. The Mercado Benito Juárez and Mercado 20 de Noviembre are perfect for experiencing local life, trying traditional foods, and shopping for souvenirs such as textiles, pottery, and alebrijes (colorful wooden carvings).

Make sure to visit he meat section in the market and take advantage of the chance to select your meat platter and have it grilled on the spot. The smells and flavours are amazing.

5. Sample Oaxacan Cuisine

Oaxaca is known for its rich culinary tradition. Be sure to try dishes like mole, tlayudas, and chapulines (fried grasshoppers). For an in-depth culinary experience, consider taking a food tour.

6. Discover Monte Albán

Monte Albán, a UNESCO World Heritage site, is one of the most significant archaeological sites in Mexico. Located just a short drive from downtown Oaxaca, this ancient Zapotec city offers breathtaking views and a fascinating glimpse into pre-Hispanic civilization.

Oaxaca has the amazing ruins of Monte Alban

Not only are you able to get a sense of the grandeur this ancient city once commanded, but the incredible feat of engineering that was used in the levelling of the mountain top before the building commenced.

7. Visit Mitla

Another important archaeological site, Mitla is known for its intricate stone mosaics and unique architectural style. It’s located about 45 km / 30 miles from Oaxaca City and is well worth a visit, especially if you are heading to our next suggested place.

8. Relax at Hierve el Agua

Hierve el Agua, a set of natural mineral springs and petrified waterfalls, is one of Oaxaca’s most stunning natural attractions. The site offers natural infinity pools where you can take a refreshing dip while enjoying spectacular views of the surrounding mountains.

One of only two petrified waterfalls in the world, Hierve el Agua is a must-do if you have a spare day during your Oaxaca stay. It is one of the most awe-inspiring places we have ever been.

9. Explore the Artisan Villages

The villages surrounding Oaxaca City are renowned for their handicrafts. Visit places like Teotitlán del Valle for textiles, San Bartolo Coyotepec for black pottery, and San Martin Tilcajete for alebrijes.

Not only will you watch world-class craftsmen plying their trade and have a chance to purchase quality souvenirs at a fraction of the usual price. In many villages you will be given the opportunity for hands-on demonstrations.

There is nothing quite like bringing home a traditional Mexican souvenir you made for yourself.

10. Hike in the Sierra Norte Mountains

For outdoor enthusiasts, the Sierra Norte Mountains offer excellent hiking, mountain biking, and bird-watching opportunities. The Pueblos Mancomunados, a network of indigenous villages, provide eco-tourism experiences that support local communities.

11. Enjoy the Nightlife

Oaxaca’s nightlife is lively and varied. Enjoy a drink at a local mezcalería, listen to live music at a bar, or dance the night away at one of the city’s many clubs. The city also hosts various cultural events and performances throughout the year.

If you are looking for something a little more peaceful and easy-going then grab an icecream, beer or cocktail at one of the Zocalo restaurants and do some people-watching.

12. Take a Mezcal Tour

Oaxaca is the birthplace of mezcal, a traditional Mexican spirit. Several distilleries near Oaxaca City offer tours where you can learn about the production process and sample different varieties of mezcal.

If you are driving out to Hierve el Agua you will follow much of the Mezcal Route and find plenty of distilleries for sampling and learning about the manufacturing process.

Most organised day trips will also include some Mezcal tasting… and you won’t have to worry about driving back!

13. Take a cooking class

We try to participate in a cooking class any time we head to a new country as we feel it’s the best way to truly experience the local food culture. So it makes perfect sense to join a cooking class while you are visiting the heart of Mexican cuisine, Oaxaca.

cooking class in Oaxaca with top chef Pilar Cabrera

14. Attend a Guelaguetza Festival

If you visit in July, don’t miss the Guelaguetza Festival, one of the most important cultural events in Oaxaca. This festival features traditional music, dance, and costumes from the region’s various indigenous communities.

15. Relax in a Temazcal

Experience a traditional temazcal, a type of pre-Hispanic sweat lodge used for purification rituals. Several spas and wellness centres in and around Oaxaca City offer temazcal sessions, providing a unique way to relax and rejuvenate.

What can you eat?

Well… Mexican food. And I don’t mean those piles of meat covered in weird, fluorescent cheesy stuff they pass off as Mexican north of the border, I mean real Mexican food.

Mexicans cook with chilli but that doesn’t necessarily mean it’s spicy. Unlike many of the Asian countries that use chilli for the heat factor, in Mexico it is all about flavour. You can ask for it mild but don’t ask for no chilli, the dish would lose so much.

Oaxaca is also highly regarded on the world stage for chocolate. So much so they have devoted an entire street to it where you will find manufacturers, growers, chocolate shops, and hot chocolate vendors. How does that sound?

We also developed a taste for Paletas. Delicious blocks of frozen fruit and juice on a stick. So many flavours and so delicious, although you may find some strange combinations that could take some getting used to.

Finally one for the brave. Chupalines, more commonly called grasshoppers, are a common sight in the markets and on the menus across the city. Most commonly you will find ladies carrying basket loads of them, fried in lime and chilli to a crunchy texture and sold like potato crisps.

Be brave and try the chupalines in Oaxaca

The first time I tried them this way and it was hard to get my head around. They weren’t unpleasant but I wouldn’t be eating them every day. During our recent visit we tried them as a crunchy element on tacos… really good, and in an icecream with chamoy… really disgusting!

Best Oaxaca Mexico Hotels

Oaxaca, Mexico has a good variety of accommodations, from small motels to private apartments and luxury 5-star hotels where you can spoil yourself. Here are a couple of options for your trip:

✅ Hostel Option: Azul Cielo Hostal is one of the highest-rated hostels in Oaxaca that offers a central location, budget-friendly prices, and is walking distance to many restaurants and the best things to do. The hostel also has quirky common areas and includes breakfast.

✅ Budget Option: Parador San Agustin is one of the best-located hotels in Oaxaca and comes with a budget-friendly price. It is a short walk from the Zocalo, many restaurants and top attractions. The hotel is housed in a 16th-Century building.

✅ Apartment Option: Suites Parador Santo Domingo de G. is within easy walking distance of the Zocalo and all major attractions. It includes all facilities you would expect from a self-contained property including onsite parking, fast internet, kitchenette and a washing machine.

✅ Mid-Range Option: Hotel Casa Antigua is a 4-star hotel located 2 blocks from the central Zócalo Square, Hotel Casa Antigua is a restored 19th-century house with a traditional central courtyard. Breakfast is included.

✅ Luxury OptionPalacio Borghese Hotel Boutique is a 5-star colonial building in the centre of Oaxaca, less than 2 blocks from the Santo Domingo de Guzman Temple. Each luxurious room is decorated with elegant furniture. All come with satellite TV, hydromassage bathtub, soft feather pillows and a range of amenities. Slippers and a bathrobe are also provided.

How is the walkability?

Many of the streets around the Zocalo are blocked to traffic or at least limited which makes for a perfect walking adventure. The town centre is also quite level so the only challenge is navigating the cobbled streets.

There is a lot to see and do on a comfortable day of wandering. From lively markets to world-class but cheap restaurants, from parks and fountains to colourful buildings and stunning churches.

Further afield the Monte Alban site is quite level once you take a bus to the top of the mountain and the outlying artisan villages are generally all on very flat land.

It is a place where you will walk all day without realising how far you have travelled. There is so much to see, smell, taste, and do that time will fly by.

Oaxaca is one of the best cities for walking around without a plan

Is Oaxaca Worth Visiting? Our opinion.

Mexico gets an undeserved bad wrap in the media. Don’t get me wrong… if you decide to travel through certain parts of the country then you could be taking your life in your own hands.

But Oaxaca and the surrounding area is one of the truly amazing experiences on Earth. It has everything you could want with historically significant sites, world-class food, a colourful culture, and family-focused, friendly locals.

And if you want the best of Mexico in one small package then Oaxaca is the place to go. It’s one of our favourite places anywhere and will probably become one of yours.

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