Have you ever dreamt of immersing yourself in a city dripping with culture, history, and tantalizing cuisine? Say hello to Oaxaca City! From the ruins of Monte Alban to its vibrant markets and rich culinary scene, Oaxaca City is a destination awaiting your exploration. But how does one spend an ideal 4-5 days here, ensuring no stone is left unturned? Having lived in Oaxaca City for a little over one month, we’ve curated the best 4-day or 5-day comprehensive guide to help you navigate and explore the city like a pro. Let’s dive in.
Day 1: Embracing Oaxaca City Attractions and Culture
Morning: Santo Domingo Temple & the Surrounding Wonders
Your introduction to Oaxaca starts at the Santo Domingo Temple, a testament to the city’s rich history and religious significance. But once you’ve savored its architectural wonders, it’s time to wander and get lost in the nearby attractions.
- Oaxaca’s Ethnobotanical Garden Guided Tour: A garden that tells a story. Walk through this green haven and discover the diverse plant life native to Oaxaca. You can only visit my purchasing a tour and they are only in a certain window.
- Tours in English are priced at $100 pesos and are available from Monday to Saturday at 11 am.
- Tours in Spanish are $50 pesos and take place Monday to Saturday at 10 am, 11 am, or 12 pm.
- Museo de las Culturas de Oaxaca: Located adjacent to the temple, this museum offers a deep dive into Oaxaca’s rich cultural and historical tapestry. From pre-Hispanic artifacts to colonial-era art, it’s a must-visit for history buffs.
- Oaxacan Artisans’ Streets: As you wander around, you’ll find numerous little alleys and streets teeming with artisan shops. Look out for the famous Oaxacan textiles, ceramics, and alebrijes (colorful mythical creatures carved from wood).
- Oaxacan Markets to Explore: Just a short walk from the temple, the bustling Benito Juárez Market is a sensory delight. From local crafts, and textiles to fresh produce and snacks – it’s a maze of vibrant stalls. Another gem nearby is the Mercado 20 de Noviembre, famed for its rich assortment of local snacks, especially the smoked meats section.
Lunch Recommendation: Satiate those taste buds at El Quinque Known for its traditional Oaxacan dishes, it’s close to the market area and offers delightful culinary creations like tasajo (dried meat) and chapulines (roasted grasshoppers) for the more adventurous!
Afternoon: A Meander Through Streets & Shops
- Shopping: Post-lunch, meander through Andador de Macedonia Alcala, a pedestrian street laden with shops, galleries, and eateries. From handmade jewelry at Mujeres del Barro Rojo to vibrant textiles at La Jícara, each shop holds unique treasures.
- Coffee Break: Need to recharge? Café Brújula on Alcalá offers delicious Oaxacan coffee – the perfect pick-me-up.
Evening: Traditional Oaxacan Dinner
Close your day with local Oaxacan dishes. Ever tried tlayudas or mole negro? Here’s your chance! As evening descends, the vibrant city lights set the perfect ambiance for a culinary journey. From crispy tlayudas to the intricate flavors of mole negro, prepare to be serenaded by Oaxacan cuisine.
Dinner Spot: Saunter over to Los Danzantes. Close to Santo Domingo Temple, this place is a treat for both the eyes and the palate. With its modern architecture, peaceful water feature, and curated menu, you’re in for an evening to remember. Don’t forget to explore their mezcal selections!
Day 2: Delving into the Past and Tantalizing Your Tastebuds
Morning: Monte Alban Exploration
One of Oaxaca City’s premier attractions. Marvel at the ancient ruins and get a panoramic view of the city. Monte Alban, a UNESCO World Heritage site, stands as a silent sentinel to the Zapotec civilization’s grandeur. With its ancient temples, plazas, and tombs spread across a flattened hilltop, the archaeological site provides a peek into the lives of Oaxaca’s earliest inhabitants.
Unlike the famed pyramids of Teotihuacan near Mexico City or the well-known Mayan ruins of Chichen Itza in the Yucatán Peninsula, Monte Alban speaks to a different era and a unique socio-political dynamic. As you walk its grounds, you’re not merely treading on stones, but on tales of power, trade, and astronomy.
Distinctive Features of Monte Alban:
- Astronomical Significance: The Zapotecs, much like other Mesoamerican cultures, held a deep reverence for celestial bodies. Monte Alban’s structures and plazas were meticulously oriented with astronomical events in mind, serving both religious and agricultural purposes.
- Ball Court: Imagine a game where the outcome decided fates, often tying in with ritualistic practices. The ball court in Monte Alban is one such significant arena.
- Danzantes: These stone carvings, originally thought to depict dancers, are now believed to portray tortured war prisoners, revealing a glimpse into the city’s martial prowess.
When compared to other ruins, what sets Monte Alban apart is its hilltop location. While many Mesoamerican cities were built strategically along trade routes or in fertile plains, Monte Alban’s high perch suggests it was meant as both a fortress and ceremonial center. The panoramic views from here are not just breathtaking but serve as a reminder of the city’s dominance over the entire valley below.
So, as you wander among the ruins, imagine the bustle of ancient marketplaces, the whispered dealings of elite priests, and the wide-eyed wonder of a commoner as they witnessed the grand ceremonies that once colored these very grounds. The echoes of the past, if you listen closely, still resonate in the wind.
Getting to Monte Alban: While buses are the most pocket-friendly way to reach, the comfort and convenience of taxis can’t be beaten. For a modern twist, opt for the DiDi Rider app – Oaxaca’s answer to Uber. This Oaxaca Ride Share App is reliable and will get you to Monte Alban without any hitches. It’s about $100 pesos one way.
If you’re keen on learning the site’s deep history, consider a guided tour – these often include transport, making the experience hassle-free.
Afternoon: Market Wonders and a Taste of Chocolate
Submerge yourself in Oaxaca’s heartbeat: its markets.
- Mercado de Abastos: A universe of colors, sounds, and aromas. From handcrafted textiles to fresh produce, it’s a sensory treat.
- Chocolate at Mercado de Abastos: No visit to Oaxaca is complete without diving into its chocolate culture. Head over to Chocolate Mayordomo within the market. Here, the tradition meets the present, with cacao beans being ground into velvety chocolate, a hint of almonds and cinnamon lifting the flavor.
Evening: From Delicious Fare to Mezcal Delights
As the sun dips, the city’s culinary scene comes alive.
- Dinner at La Olla: Just a short walk from the market, La Olla is more than a restaurant; it’s an experience. Run by renowned chef Pilar Cabrera, the eatery offers a taste of authentic Oaxacan cuisine with a modern twist. Do try their mole, it’s legendary!
- Nightcap at Los Amantes: Finish your day with a smooth sip of Oaxaca’s renowned mezcal. Los Amantes mezcalería, with its intimate ambiance, offers the perfect setting. Get a tasting flight; it’s an eloquent introduction to the smoky allure of mezcal. But don’t drink too much, because your day 3 is a Mezcal journey that you will not want to miss.
Day 3: Mezcal – The Spirit of Oaxaca
Dive deep into the smoky allure of Mezcal, a spirit that’s woven into the very fabric of Oaxaca’s culture.
The Artisanal Mezcal Distillery Tour: When in Oaxaca, there’s one experience you simply cannot miss – diving into the world of Mezcal. From its smoky aromas to its complex flavors, Mezcal isn’t just a drink but an experience, a tale of Oaxaca’s heart and soul distilled into a glass.
Why This Tour Stands Out:
- Curated by Local Experts: The Artisanal Mezcal Distillery Tour is led by passionate locals who’ve seen Mezcal evolve and grow over the years. They don’t just guide; they narrate, weaving tales of tradition, craftsmanship, and love for the land into the experience.
- Hands-On Exploration: Rather than a standard walkthrough, this 6-hour escapade immerses you in every step of the Mezcal-making process. From harvesting the heart of the agave, called ‘piñas’, to witnessing the ancestral methods of distillation, you’re in for a tactile treat.
- Meet the Maestros: Beyond the processes, it’s the people behind the scenes that make Mezcal so special. Interact with the Maestro Mezcaleros – the master distillers who’ve carried forward age-old techniques, often passed down through generations.
- Mezcal Tastings: And of course, what’s a Mezcal tour without tastings? Delve into the nuances of this rich spirit, understanding the notes and flavors that make each variant unique. Can you distinguish the smoky undertones from the earthy flavors or the hints of citrus?
- End on a Culinary Note: After the sensorial ride, satiate your appetite with traditional Oaxacan dishes. Because, after all, what complements Mezcal better than the region’s gastronomic delights?
As you sip on your Mezcal at the day’s end, take a moment. Close your eyes. Can you feel Oaxaca, with its vibrant culture, rich history, and warm-hearted people, dancing on your palate?
Day 4: A Culinary Fiesta
Oaxaca, with its rich tapestry of flavors, scents, and textures, beckons the foodie in you. Ready to explore?
Morning: Farm-to-Table Cooking Class:
An Experience to Cherish: Upon our visit to Oaxaca, we decided to dive deep into its culinary heritage, and what better way than to immerse oneself in a genuine Farm to Table Cooking Class?
- A Day on the Farm: The day began with the warmest of welcomes on a lush, verdant farm. Surrounded by nature’s bounty, it felt like stepping into another era – where food wasn’t just about eating but celebrating life.
- Foraging and Learning: Guided by passionate locals, the journey from picking fresh produce to understanding their significance in Oaxacan culture was enlightening. The vibrant tomatoes, the fragrant herbs – every element had a story, and I was all ears.
- Cooking, the Oaxacan Way: Under the tutelage of a seasoned chef, the kitchen came alive. The sound of sizzling, the aroma of spices, and the joy of creating something from scratch – it was magical. And guess what? I learned to make mole, that complex sauce Oaxaca is famed for. Not bragging, but it was delightful!
- Feasting & Celebrating: The culmination of the morning was a feast. Every bite was a celebration of the land, its people, and the love they pour into their food. It wasn’t just a meal, but an emotion.
Evening: Relishing the Streets:
As dusk painted Oaxaca in hues of gold, set out to continue your culinary journey.
- Street Food Galore: Oaxaca’s streets are a gastronomic paradise. From tlayudas, crispy tortillas loaded with toppings, to spicy chorizo tacos, every corner promises a new flavor. Don’t miss the elotes, grilled corn slathered in creamy sauce and chili – simple yet oh-so-delicious.
- Cozy Diners: Tucked away from the bustling streets are quaint diners, offering a more relaxed setting. One place that stood out was “A.M. Siempre Cafe“. With its charming courtyard and fusion of Oaxacan dishes, it’s a must-visit.
- Mezcal to Wind Down: Remember our Mezcal day? Why not end today with a glass too? Head to “Mezcaloteca“, a cozy spot offering an array of artisanal mezcales. The ambiance, coupled with their expertise, ensures you find the perfect mezcal to suit your palate.
Day 4 is not just about food; it’s about connecting with a culture, one bite at a time.
Day 5: The Farewell Day
Morning: City Square Strolls and a Gastronomic Start
Boulenc: Kickstart the day with breakfast at Boulenc. The moment you step in, the scent of freshly baked bread envelops you, hinting at the gastronomic delight that awaits. Whether it’s their artisanal toast smothered in local preserves, the avocado-filled croissants, or the organic coffee, everything on the menu is an ode to Oaxacan flavors. As I sat there savoring each bite, I couldn’t help but marvel at how the local ingredients played a symphony on the palate.
Zócalo – The Heartbeat of Oaxaca: Post breakfast, a leisurely stroll through Zócalo feels just right. The pulse of the city beats the loudest here, with musicians setting the tone, kids playing around, and vibrant stalls painting a colorful picture.
Treasure Hunting: This is your chance to bag some souvenirs. Alberly Sombreros stands out, offering handcrafted hats that are more than just headgear. Each hat, made with dedication and passion, embodies the spirit of Oaxaca. As I tried on a few, I could feel the love and meticulousness that went into its creation. Apart from hats, the city square stalls have other souvenirs like hand-woven textiles, intricate jewelry, and unique pottery. Habitáculo Diseño + Arte was my favorite pottery and ceramics store to pick up some small and unique souvenirs.
Afternoon: Cafe Leisure
Sip on a local coffee or perhaps one last Mezcal? Reflect on your Oaxacan journey.
Parting Words and Travel Tips
Every journey, no matter how delightful, eventually comes with a pause, preparing us for the next adventure. But before I recount the magic of Oaxaca in the silent corners of memory, there are some pearls of wisdom I’d like to share. These are the notes that shaped my experience, from serendipitous moments to little hiccups.
Best time to visit Oaxaca City:
While Oaxaca beams with life all year round, October and November stand out due to the spellbinding Dia de los Muertos (Day of the Dead) celebrations. The city gets draped in marigolds, sugar skulls, and beautiful altars. However, if bustling crowds aren’t your thing, consider traveling between May and September. This is when the rainfall paints the town even greener, and the temperatures are just right. Having said that, the radiant spirit of Oaxaca can be felt throughout the year. Each season, like a skilled artist, paints the city in its own unique hue.
Keeping Safety in Check:
Oaxaca City, for the most part, is a peaceful city full of friendly faces. But, like any other travel destination, it’s important to stay vigilant. Some tips I swear by include:
- Not flashing valuables.
- Opting for registered taxis over hailing one on the street.
- Avoiding isolated areas post-sundown.
- Keeping a digital copy of essential documents.
Embracing Local Etiquettes:
Oaxaqueños are known for their warmth, and as a visitor, respecting local traditions goes a long way in cementing bonds. Some etiquettes I learned include:
- Greeting people. A simple “Hola” (hello) or “Buenos días” (good morning) can work wonders.
- In local markets, while bargaining is okay, it’s essential to remain polite and not push too hard. Remember, many items are handcrafted and are worth every peso.
- During communal festivals or events, wait for locals to initiate or invite you to participate. It ensures you aren’t intruding on private or sacred rituals.
And with that, dear wanderluster, I pass on the torch of exploration to you. Immerse yourself, dance with the city’s rhythm, and let Oaxaca City etch an indelible mark on your traveler’s soul. Adios, until our paths cross again in another corner of the world.
Oaxaca City, with its blend of history, culture, and culinary delights, tends to evoke a myriad of questions in the curious traveler. Here are some of the most frequently asked ones, answered to give you a clearer picture of this mesmerizing destination:
1. What is the ideal time of the year to visit Oaxaca City? The ideal time largely depends on what you’re seeking. If vibrant festivals and a bustling atmosphere appeal to you, October and November are perfect, thanks to the Dia de los Muertos celebrations. However, for a more serene experience with a touch of greenery, the May to September rain-soaked months are wonderful. Whichever you choose, Oaxaca’s charm is perennial.
2. How safe is it for solo travelers? Oaxaca City is relatively safe, even for solo travelers. The locals are amiable and always willing to help. However, it’s essential to adhere to general travel safety rules: don’t flaunt valuables, stay away from isolated areas after dark, always opt for registered taxis, and keep digital copies of essential documents.
3. What’s the culinary dish not to be missed in Oaxaca City? Ah, diving into Oaxaca’s culinary scene is a feast! While there are countless dishes to try, the “mole negro” stands out. This rich, dark sauce with over 20 ingredients, including chocolate, is an explosion of flavors and is often served over chicken or turkey. And if you’ve got a more adventurous palate, do give the local delicacy “chapulines” (roasted grasshoppers) a try!
4. Any day trips recommendations from Oaxaca City? Certainly! Hierve el Agua, the petrified waterfalls, is a unique natural wonder and a must-visit. The ancient village of Mitla is another gem, known for its intricately patterned ruins. For those inclined towards nature, the Sierra Norte Mountains offer a refreshing escapade with eco-tourism projects and beautiful hiking trails.
5. Which market is best for authentic Oaxacan crafts? For genuine Oaxacan crafts, the Mercado de Artesanías is your go-to spot. From intricately woven textiles to beautifully crafted pottery and wooden carvings known as “alebrijes”, this market is a haven for art lovers and those searching for that perfect souvenir. Remember to engage in friendly bargaining, and you might land a good deal!
With these answers in tow, may your Oaxacan journey be even more enriched and delightful! Safe travels! 🌟
Want to immerse in more such adventures? Don’t forget to browse through other guides on Aqua Apple, like our guide on Tulum!