Oaxaca is one of the most beautiful cities in Mexico. The city is pieceful and has a nice bohemian atmosphere. While walking through the city, you will pass museums, churches, art galleries, colorful street art and many cool coffeeshops and restaurants. You can stroll around for hours. Besides that Oaxaca is famous for its delicious cuisine. Discover the best things to do in Oaxaca Mexico in this article, including tips for tours in the surroundings, hotels, restaurant and best time to visit.
- Welcome to Oaxaca Mexico
- Things to do in Oaxaca Mexico – 15 tips
- Things to do in Oaxaca Mexico surroundings – 3 tips
- Mini travel guide Oaxaca Mexico
- More about Mexico
- Pin things to do in Oaxaca Mexico
Welcome to Oaxaca Mexico
Before we go into the list of best things to do in Oaxaca Mexico, I would like to tell you a bit about the this city. Oaxaca is the capital of the Oaxaca state in Mexico and has always attracted many artists, scientists, poets and writers. Oaxaca is also the birthplace of two notorious Mexican presidents: Benito Juarez, the first Mexican president of native descent in the late 19th century) and Porfirio Diaz (dictator from the early 20th century). Oaxaca’s inhabitants are descendants of the Zapotecs and the Mixtecs, Pre-Columbian civilizations who built cities like Monte Alban and Mitla, hundreds of years ago. Both are archaeological sites with beautifully preserved ruins that you can visit nowadays.
Oaxaca City, along with Mexico City and Guadalajara, is seen as one of the cultural capitals of the country. There are plenty of events, exhibitions and festivals taking place throughout the year, such as the famous Guelaquetza festival with traditional dance, music, costumes and parades. Oaxaca is also called the City of the Mezcal. Mezcal is a kind of tequila, only it’s made from a different type of agave plant. Besides this, Oaxaca is famous for its moles, delicious herbal sauces, a grasshopper snack, colorful ceramics and the alejibres, little wooden sculptures with dots. that are used during the annual Día de los Muertos celebration.
Things to do in Oaxaca Mexico – 15 tips
Explore the center
One of the best things to do in Oaxaca is to walk around, sit on benches and enjoy local life pass by. The Zócalo, the central center, dominated by the cathedral, is a great start for a walk into the surrounding old little streets. Calle Alcala is a pedestrian zone with many shops, art galleries and coffeeshops. Be sure to check out the 17th-century Santo Domingo church. The botanical garden behind it, is worth a visit during the rainy season, when everything is very lush and green.
Tips: On Sundays the Zócalo in Oaxaca Mexico is the place for local people to get together. And if you’re lucky, there is a band playing and everyone is dancing.
Admire Pre-Columbian art – cultural things to do in Oaxaca Mexico
You do not have to be a history lover to appreciate the Museo Rufino Tamayo in Oaxaca Mexico. In a few rooms you will be taken on a journey through Pre-Columbian Mexico: From the Olmecs, the first inhabitants, to the Maya’s, one of the last Pre-Columbian civilizations before the Spaniards arrived. The images, figures, masks and other finds are very impressive. Depending on your interest you can spend 30 minutes to 1.5 hours in this museum. Definitely one of the best things to do in Oaxaca Mexico, if you are interested in art and history. Another interesting museum fousing on contemporary art is the Museo de Arte Contemporáneo.
Visit the markets
I love to stroll around local markets, to go shopping but especially to observe local life. Oaxaca has two major markets. Mercado Benito Juarez is located just two blocks from the Zocalo. The biggest market is the Mercado Central de Abastos, where you can get lost in a maze of streets. This market is located a little further away, just outside the colonial center, at the end of Calle Las Casas. You will find a mix of local products and souvenirs including traditional moles, bottles of mezcal, Frida Kahlo bags, Día de los Muertos gadgets and local chocolates.
Taste the mole – culinary things to do in Oaxaca Mexico
Oaxaca is famous for its delicious cuisine. And you can’t leave without trying the mole, a traditional sauce. There are seven varieties that originated in Oaxaca, something that makes this city the perfect place to try it. You have moles in all colours and flavours. Most varieties consist of more than twenty ingredients, varying from onions, tomatoes, (dried) chili, raisins, almonds, spices and even chocolate. The trick for the perfect mole is to find the right balance between all these ingredients.
I recommend that you have dinner at La Casa de la Abuela, on the Zócalo. There are different moles on the menu here, but if you order the mole tasting, you can taste different flavors and recipes.
Taste mezcal – best local drink in Oaxaca
If you want to go for a typical Oaxaca drink, visit one of the Mezcalerias, such as La Casa del Mezcal. Mezcalerias are bars serving countless varieties of Mezcal, a kind of tequila, only from another agave plant. But even if you do not drink alcohol, it is nice to have a look inside.
Do you want to learn more about the mezcal production process? This is an interesting tour where you get to meet authentic artisanal producers and taste different agave spirits.
Try local snacks
If you want to go local in Oaxaca Mexico, one of the best things to do and try is the dried grasshoppers with lemon. You will find it in different street stalls. This might not sound very tempting, but believe me, people love this local treat. Buen provecho!
Things to do in Oaxaca Mexico surroundings – 3 tips
Monte Albán – best things to do in Oaxaca Mexico
One of the best cultural things to do in Oaxaca Mexico surroundings is to visit the ancient ruins of Monte Alban, half an hour drive outside the center. When you go early in the morning you might even have the place for yourself. Monte Albán was built around 200 BC and used to be the religious, political and economic center of the Zapotec empire for 2000 years. The city is located on a hill, and if you look out over the complex, you want to go back in time and see how impressive it must have looked.
The complex includes the central plaza, a ball playing field, the buildings of the elite and the tombs near the entrance. Stroll around the ruins and pay some special attention at the frescoes called “Los Danzantes”. And don’t forget to take a seat on the hill and spot different birds of prey. You can read more about a visit in my Monte Albán article.
Do you want to learn more about the history of Monte Albán in Mexico? Then I recommend going on a Monte Alban tour. You will experience the ruins in a different way, as the stones come to life and you’ll get a better idea of how people must have lived in those days. Moreover, your transportation is included. This is an overview of different tours where you can also check availability and prices.
Hierve el Agua
One of the best things to do around Oaxaca in Mexico is to visit Hierve el Agua. Hierve el Agua means the water that boils. Only it has nothing to do with boiling water, it looks more like a frozen waterfall. Water comes down from a hotspring and attaches itself to the rocks, due to its high concentration of calcium. Something that makes for an interesting formation of relief and colors.
Hierve el Agua consists of three plateaus with pools where the color of the water, has taken on a deep greenish blue color. The first point is often the busiest because you can swim there. The second point, also called the eye is quieter and offers an imprressive view of the surrounding mountains. At the third point, you have a view of the unusual shaped waterfall.
Hierve el Agua can be reached from Oaxaca Mexico within two hours. You can book a tour here or rent a car and drive yourself. (Note: do take the route over the paved road). If you decide to rent a car, combine your visit with the archaeological site of Mitla and Tule, the widest tree in the world. You can book your tickets for Mitla here.
Beaches on the Pacific coast
If you like beaches, a laid back vibe and good food, visit the beaches on the Pacific coast of Mexico. The coast here is rougher than on the Riviera Maya and less visited. Hotels and restaurants are also much cheaper than in for example Tulum. Puerto Escondido is a surfer’s paradise and Mazunte is a smaller town with a nice bohemian vibe. In addition, the beaches around Mazunte are known for its many sea turtles that frequently gather here to breed. Just like in Oaxaca, you can enjoy the delicious Zapotekian dishes here. Think of tasty moles and corn tortillas.
Looking for a place to stay in Mazunte? This is an overview with hotels in and around Mazunte.
Puerto Escondido is a 7-hour drive from Oaxaca. If you find this too challenging (the road goes through the mountains and is not great at some parts), you can also fly with the small planes of Aerotucan. Mazunte is an hour’s drive from Huatulco airport, to which you fly from Oaxaca with Aerotucan.
Looking for special tours around Puerto Escondido? Here you book a tour where you go dolphin and whale watching and here you book a tour where you help release baby sea turtles. Both very recommended.
Mini travel guide Oaxaca Mexico
Restaurant tips Oaxaca Mexico
One of the best things to do in Oaxaca Mexico is to sit down in one of the restaurans and enjoy the delicious cuisine. These are a few of my tips for restaurants and coffeeshops in Oaxaca Mexico.
- Boulenc is a nice place for different types of breakfast or a healthy lunch, such as salads, sandwiches, quiches and pies. It’s a popular place so you might have to wait for a table. There is also a bakery where you can get fresh bread.
- Los Danzantes is the little sister restaurant of the restaurant Los Danzantes in Mexico City. You will enjoy a modern fusion cuisine, including local cocktails in a lovely setting.
- La Casa de la Abuela is located on the first floor on one of the corners of the Zócalo. Make sure to get a table near the window so you can observe the lively plaza. Make sure to try the moles here.
- La Biznaga is a modern restaurant with a mixed menu, combining Western and Mexican dishes, including super cocktails. You can sit outside in the courtyard.
Hotel tips Oaxaca Mexico
- Pug Seal Oaxaca
- Majagua Hotel Boutique
- Hotel con Corazón
- Grana B&B
- Casa Antonieta
- Nardazul “Casa de Sueños”
- Boulenc Bed and Bread
- Hotel Casa Santo Origen
Tours in Oaxaca Mexico
These are my tips for tours in Oaxaca Mexico:
- Hierve el Agua
- Mitla Skip the line
- Monte Alban tour
- Mezcal tour
- Dolphin watching tour in Puerto Escondido
- Release of baby sea turtle tour around Puerto Escondido
Best time to visit Oaxaca Mexico
Oaxaca is located at an altitude of 1,550 meters above sea level and is surrounded by the Sierra Madre mountain range. This gives it a pleasant climate year-round. Climate wise, the best time to visit Oaxaca is during October and November, or during February and March. Temperatures are moderate and it’s low season, in case you want to avoid crowds. June and August, as well as the holiday season between mid-December and early-January, are part of the high season. The rainy season usually lasts from May through September, and the rest of the year is quite dry.
Festivals in Oaxaca
No matter when you visit, chances are you’ll stumble upon some type of cultural celebration or religious processions in the streets of Oaxaca Mexico. But there are two major festivities in Oaxaca you should be aware of when planning your trip. The famous Día de los Muertos, Day of the Dead, spanning one week from the end of October until the beginning of November. And the Guelaquetza festival, an indigenous cultural festival with traditional costumes and dancing, native food and artisanal crafts. I highly recommend it, if you’re visiting the city in the second half of July.
Transportation in and around Oaxaca
I find it easy to rent a car and travel around Mexico. The roads are in good shape and you are free to stop whereever you want. If you go for this option, it is important to be well informed about the safety on certain routes. Need a rental car for your trip to Mexico? Use Rental Cars to search and compare your car rental options. A quick and easy tool and no need to have up multiple tabs trying to figure out which company is the most affordable. They also have great discounts and cancellation policies.
Do you want to know how to include Oaxaca in your trip to Mexico? Check out my Mexico itinerary for 3 weeks, bringing you from Mexico City all the way to the Yucatán peninsula. I will show you beautiful cities, places in nature, archaeological sights, activities and cultural highlights to include in your trip. Enjoy and get inspired to visit Mexico.
More about Mexico
Did you enjoy reading this article with tips and things to do in Oaxaca Mexico? In the next articles you can read more about this amazin country.
- 30 things to do in Mexico
- Itinerary Mexico 3 weeks
- City Guide Valladolid
- Things to do in Izamal, the yellow city of Mexico
- What to do in San Cristóbal de Las Casas
Interested in art, culture and archaeology? Read my articles about:
- Yaxchilán, the remote Maya site in Mexico
- Monte Albán, the ruines near Oaxaca
- The best ruins to visit in Mexico
- Frida Kahlo house and museum
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