The best things to do in Oaxaca City, Mexico
What are the best things to do in Oaxaca City? Is two weeks too long to spend in Oaxaca? Where are the best places to stay on a budget in Oaxaca? Oaxaca is a city that begs to be explored. From the delicious local food scene to the unique street art on every corner it is a city that takes time to get to know. Many people stop here for a day or two before heading on to the Pacific coast or elsewhere in Mezcal country. But they miss out on so much of Oaxaca’s charm, sit in a cafe for a while and soak up the atmosphere.
Where to eat in Oaxaca City
The main reason anyone wants to visit this region of Mexico is the food. Oaxaca state is infamous for some of the best food in the country and is the home of Mezcal production.
The best places to eat in Oaxaca City
Brunch is my favourite meal of the day in Oaxaca City. Cafe culture is at its best here and there are a few favourites you have to try. Pan:am has a brunch menu to drool over with favourites like Huevos Al Gusto and Chilaquiles. With muffin a caballo (which isn’t horse as the name suggests but actually pork), Choripan and Pibil sandwiches for lunch and fresh juices you can’t go wrong. Boulenc bakery is another trendy spot to grab brunch with freshly baked croissants, waffles, cookies, brownies and, well, everything you could dream of. Other popular brunch spots in Oaxaca include Jaguar Yuu cafe, Nuevo el Mundo, Hierba Dulce (vegan) and Mondo Cafe.
Where to get street food in Oaxaca City
Street food is everywhere in the city. There are a lot of hamburger, hot dog and “friend-chips” stands around the Zocalo and the north of the city but venture further south and you can find great local food. Calle Novembre de 20 has some local restaurants offering 60 peso “menu del dias”, a very budget friendly place to get lunch at around $3. Or head north to La Cosecha Mercado for empanadas and local food within an artisan market.
Mercado 20 de Noviembre is the most famous lunch stop and for good reason. Stroll down an aisle full of cooking meat and pick between chorizo, tasajo, steak or tripe. Grab a dimly lit table with some locals and add sides of cactus and guacamole. The smoke from all the BBQs will sting your eyes but it’s worth it for a truly unique and delicious experience. Easily one of the best places to eat in Oaxaca City.
I think it would be harder to find a bad place to have dinner in Oaxaca than to find a good one. But some of the best are Los Danzantes, try the shredded duck tacos, Restaurante Casa Oaxaca, traditional Mexican food, and Pitiona and Origen for new fusion twists on traditional dishes. Expect to wait for a table and pay around $10/25 a main at these top end restaurants in Oaxaca.
Uber eats is also available here if you want a simple night in with some great food from local restaurants.
What local food to try in Oaxaca City
Here are the top five locals food you have to try in Oaxaca City;
Tlayudas- huge tortillas served with refried beans, lettuce, cheese and avocado.
Mole- A chocolate based sauce with up to 20 ingredients depending on the variety including chile, liquorice and nutmeg. There are seven varieties to try; negro, amarillo, verde, colorado, rojo, mancha manteles, and chichilo negro.
Chapulines- Are easy to find in abundance at the local markets and a great crispy accompaniment to a taco. They are in fact fried grasshoppers and actually quite tasty.
Quesillo- Another staple of Oaxaca cuisine. Similar to mozzarella it’s a salty, stringy local cheese.
Tasajo- Dried beef often found on tacos or as a meal on its own.
Where to stay in Oaxaca on a budget
Stay anywhere within a 20 minute walk of the Zocalo and you can easily walk anywhere in Oaxaca, There’s not much public transport other than collectivos, but taxi’s are easy and reasonably priced. Airbnb is a great option in Oaxaca as they are very affordable, $200 a week for an fully furnished apartment. It’s also a great way to feel fully at home while visiting the city. If you prefer to get to know other travellers some of the best hostels in Oaxaca are Yabanhi Hostel, with it’s large bright rooms or Iguana Hostel, with it’s great location and very reasonable rates at just $13 per night. Hotels can be a pretty pricey option if you are staying more than two weeks in Oaxaca.
How to spend two weeks in Oaxaca
There is so much to see and do in Oaxaca you’ll struggle to fit it all in to two weeks. There are no rules to how long you should stay in Oaxaca, but I would argue the longer the better. The food is obviously the main priority, as previously mentioned. But what is there to do when you aren’t filling your belly? Shopping! The Mercado 20 de Noviembre is great for street food but the Mercado Benito Juarez next door is equally as good for local crafts. You can get anything from a leather belt to a pinata, and will struggle to leave without a bag of crickets or worm salted nuts.
The best things to do in Oaxaca City
People watching features pretty high on the list of free things to do in Oaxaca City. Whether it’s sitting at one of the amazing cafe’s or grabbing a bench in the main square at dusk you’re sure to spot some great local culture. Calle Macedonio Alcalá is a hive of activity at anytime of day but comes alive at night with fiesta’s and wedding street parades complete with Mariachi bands. If you really want to get under the skin of the place visit one of the Lucha Libre shows, posters are up everywhere in the city with the latest events. Mexican culture is vibrant and inclusive to everyone but make sure to know the correct etiquette with these travel tips for Mexico.
Another one of the cool things to do in Oaxaca City is attending one of Oaxaca’s language schools. Oaxaca International Spanish Language School are a top choice, catering to all levels, flexible with your schedule, and a pretty cheap way to learn Spanish in Oaxaca. Find out where to learn Spanish in Oaxaca City depending on your price range, location and fluency level.
The street art in Oaxaca City is awesome. Wander around side alleys and backstreets and you are sure to find some great work. One of the best areas for street art in Oaxaca City is a couple of blocks north of Templo de Santo Domingo with a variety of works spanning several backstreets. Coyote Aventuras do street art bike tours if you prefer to be shown all of the best ones with a bit of an explanation.
If you want to do some volunteering in Oaxaca City be sure to check out En Via. A micro finance program for local women in the community. If you’re short on time you can also take a tour which highlights artisanal trades, traditional foods, local economy, and of course En Vía’s micro-finance model. Tours cost $50 and run Thursdays and Saturdays.
Drink Mezcal! I don’t really need to tell you about this one. Oaxaca is famous for Mezcal. It’s on every menu and surely one of the most fun things to do in Oaxaca City. But doing a Mezcal tour is a fun way to learn more about the product and the method of production. And who knows you might even get to try a Mezcal marinated caterpillar or “gusano”. Tours can be picked up from almost anywhere but for something authentic that supports locals try Mezcal Educational Tours.
Day trips from Oaxaca City
The best and most well known easy day trip from Oaxaca is taking a tour to Hierve el Agua. A huge petrified waterfall with swimming holes overlooking the surrounding mountains. Although this trip is possible with collectivo, via a change in Mitla, taking a tour means you get a few extra stops.
The first stop is Tule where you can find the widest tree in the world. Next Teotitlan del Valle is famous for it’s hand dyed and woven rugs. With traditional methods each rug can take months to complete and are decorated with Zapotec designs and local animals. Now on to the best part, Mezcal tasting and a tour to find out how the famous liquor is made using cactus and fermentation. Try Mezcals (similar to Tequila but using different methods) ranging from 40/50% proof, some with caterpillars inside for extra “flavour”. Mitla is an ancient city unlike any other in Mexico, not as big as Teotihuacan nor as crowded as Chichen Itza, it’s famous for its unique carvings from the Zapotec people. Some walls even still have original paint visible.
Lastly you will arrive at Hierve el Agua. For a refreshing dip in a natural pool overlooking the beautiful mountains walk 10 minutes down the path from the parking lot. You will be greeted with some of the most stunning pools you have ever seen along with a huge petrified waterfall that the area is most famous for. Tours cost around 200 pesos and run from 10:00-17:00 daily, you can pick one up easily from stands in the Zocalo. Be sure to take extra cash for shopping and entry fees, sun-cream, and plenty of snacks and water as it’s a long day in the sun.
Another great day trip from Oaxaca City is Monte Alban. Monte Alban is one of the most popular Oaxaca tours or day trips for ruins. It’s located just a 15 minute drive from the city center on a mountain. It boasts an amazing view over the city, which makes the trip worth it on it’s own. But the ruins are huge and you can climb over most of the pyramids and get even better views. Tours do run but it’s easily done by collectivo.
There are so many fantastic places to hike in Oaxaca. The Pueblos Mancomunados are eight villages in the mountains that you can hike from. They use eco-tourism programmes to make sure your money is going back to the communities and helping to preserve the beautiful landscapes. Some of the best day trips from Oaxaca are simply to visit the nearby villages and experience local culture away from the city. Whether it’s the textiles in Teotitlan del Valle, the stilt dances of Villa de Zaachila or the intricate Alebrijes of San Martin Tilcajete (read below for more on the San Martin Tilcajete Carnival) you are sure to find something extraordinary.
When to visit Oaxaca
There are several events in Oaxaca that can’t be missed if you are in the area. Oaxaca is surely most famous for its Day of the Dead celebrations. The Dia de los Muertos takes place every year over Halloween, between 31st October and the 1st/ 2nd of November and brings in crowds from around the globe. Second only to Mexico City, this celebration has it all; fireworks, costumes, dancing, and plenty of Mezcal.
For something just as unique without the crowds head to Oaxaca in February for Carnival. Although this festival is celebrated throughout Latin America and Southern Europe, nowhere does it quite like the small town of San Martin Tilcajete just outside of Oaxaca City. Bodies painted with motor oil, grotesque wooden masks depicting the devil, and loud cowbells tied around revellers waists. This is one event in Oaxaca that needs to be seen to be believed. Have a look at the full post below.
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