Oaxaca de Juárez is located 470km south of Mexico City. About a decade ago, not many people would consider visiting this state, but Oaxaca wonders aren’t a secret anymore to those who seek more than just the typical resort cocktail-in-hand vacation in Mexico.
Visitors come to Oaxaca for many reasons. Culture, tradition, and food are some of the highlights, but there is so much more. Phenomenal (less touristy) beaches and very unique mountain towns are also awaiting you in this state. If you’re planning a trip to Oaxaca City, you are in luck. In this article, I have summarized the best things to do in Oaxaca de Juárez and its surroundings. This 5-Day Oaxaca Itinerary is designed for those who want to experience real Mexico.
You might also be interested in checking this Complete Oaxaca Guide with recommendations on things to do in Oaxaca during a longer stay, and this other article with some tips and tricks to get by like a local, including a list of the best coffee shops and bars.
What to do in Oaxaca Mexico?
Oaxaca de Juárez is considered a cultural hub in Mexico. When visiting this city, you’ll be able to learn about ancient traditions, explore Zapotec ruins, and visit indigenous communities. You will also have the opportunity to witness the production of one of the world’s most famous spirits (Mezcal). The city is very much alive. Oaxacans are some of the most cheerful and welcoming Mexicans I have ever met and they love to share their culture and traditions with those visitors who are eager to learn.
Our Lady of Solitude Basilica, Plaza de la Danza, Oaxaca de Juárez
The city of Oaxaca is an explosion of colors and delicious smells all around. It is a dream for photographers and a paradise for foodies. From local markets to top-notch restaurants and from small towns’ artisanal crafts to new art galleries popping up every couple of months, Oaxaca has something for us all.
5 Days is the perfect amount of time to visit the highlights
How long do you need to visit Oaxaca de Juárez? I have been asked this question so many times. I personally wouldn’t do less than 5 days in Oaxaca if you have the time. Of course, you can visit the city in fewer days, but it will feel rushed, and believe me you will leave thinking that you wish you would have extended your stay for a couple of nights.
Oaxaca Itinerary Day 1: Walk around the city center and admire the colorful streets
The best way to start your visit to Oaxaca is by walking around the city center, this way you’ll get an overview of what the city has to offer.
Oaxaca is a walkable city, you don’t need a car or any means of transport to get to know it. This makes it super easy when it comes to moving around all the main streets in Centro. There are several free city tours and companies that offer a city tour service in Oaxaca, but you can definitely discover the city by yourself. Either way, you’ll probably be hitting the same spots, since the city ain’t that big. If you choose to tour the city by yourself, here is an itinerary I suggest you could follow for your first hours in Oaxaca.
Me, walking at Plaza de Santo Domingo, Oaxaca de Juárez
Start your day at Plaza Santo Domingo where the iconic Temple of Santo Domingo is located. Walk towards the main square (Zocalo) along Calle Macedonio Alcalá. This is one of Oaxaca’s most known streets. It is full of colorful buildings on both sides and some of the museums and top-notch restaurants in town are located here.
The Zocalo is one of the best spots to people-watch! Grab a tasty elote (cooked corn on the cob) and sit down to enjoy the atmosphere. Shoe cleaners, mariachis, and vendors, all gather around to please locals and foreigners with their talents. You can visit Oaxaca’s Cathedral too, as it is located right beside the main square.
Continue your walk towards “Mercado de Abastos or Central de Abastos” which is the largest market in the city. Although impossible to visit in just one morning, I totally recommend getting lost in the many corridors to get a glimpse of the many products you can find here!
Mercado de Abastos, Oaxaca de Juárez
The moment you feel hungry, you can start heading back to Centro towards 20 de Noviembre market “Smoke Alley”. This is the exact definition of meat paradise. As touristy as it may sound, the place is mostly frequented by locals and the quality of the meat is incredible too. If you don’t eat meat, there are other options in the market. Benito de Juarez Market is right beside, this is a great place to buy souvenirs.
Smoke Alley or Pasillo de Humo at 20 de Noviembre Market, Oaxaca de Juárez
You’ll now be walking towards “Plaza de la Danza” to get your dessert – delicious nieves (iced ice cream!). The place is beautiful and the highlight is the two churches in the square facing each other (you’ll see what I mean).
Continue your visit to Jalatlaco borough, considered by many the most beautiful borough. It feels like you have suddenly arrived at a smaller version of Oaxaca. Full of street art, coffee shops, and colorful streets, Jalatlaco is now becoming very trendy.
Graffiti at Jalatlaco borough, Oaxaca de Juárez
For the last part of this self-guided tour in Oaxaca, you will be heading back to Centro by crossing the beautiful vibrant parks of “El Llano” and “Jardín Conzatti”, up until the end of Xólotl street, where the famous Aqueduct stands. This aqueduct is a symbol in the city and dates back to the 17th Century.
Consider grabbing a mezcal cocktail in one of the rooftops overlooking Santo Domingo church in Centro. This will be the cherry on top for a perfect first day in Oaxaca!
Oaxaca Itinerary Day 2: Discover Hierve el Agua and the city of San Pablo Villa de Mitla
The unique petrified waterfalls and natural pools of Hierve el Agua have been closed during the first 18 months of the Pandemic, not only due to covid but also because of some political discrepancies between the indigenous communities running the site and the Mexican government.
Nowadays, Hierve el Agua is officially open and you can visit the place with a tour company or by yourself. Taking into account that the access to this area is not the best and the political conflict is still going on, as a suggestion, booking a tour might be the best idea. Here is a suggestion for a well-rated tour to Hierve el Agua. This tour also includes a visit to the Tule Tree, the city of Mitla, and a Mezcal distillery.
Petrified waterfall at Hierve el Agua, Oaxaca
Tree at at Hierve el Agua, Oaxaca
One of the activities you could do next is visiting the small village of San Pablo Villa de Mitla. Here you will find the second most important Zapotec ruins in the state. Mitla has a beautiful church too and some prehistoric caves (part of the UNESCO Heritage) holding paintings that date back to 12.000 years.
Mitla Archeological Site at San Pablo Villa de Mitla
Oaxaca Itinerary Day 3: Visit a local family-run Palenque and learn about Mezcal
Oaxaca is the number one mezcal producer state in Mexico. One cannot say they’ve been to Oaxaca if they haven’t visited a palenque (mezcal distillery) and tasted mezcal.
There are many ways to visit a palenque. Most of the tours start in Oaxaca Centro and take you to Santiago Matatlán, but palenques here are already very “tourist-oriented”. Many are owned by big corporations and to be honest, these tours have nothing to do with the real “Mezcal Experience”.
Maestro Mezcalero and his son at the Palenque
Consider joining an off-the-beaten-path mezcal tour. This is what I did and it was a phenomenal experience! I have the best memories from this day! I joined a tour that took me one hour away from the city Centre to a Palenque at Santa Catarina Minas. I got to know the «Maestro Mezcalero» (Palenque Owner and Mezcal producer) and his family. During the tour, I visited the Agave fields, ate a delicious local meal with the family, learned about the distillation process, and all while drinking Mezcal! One of the best tours I’ve done in Oaxaca!
After the tour, you’ll still have some free time in Centro. Since you’ve already tried mezcal, this could be the perfect day to continue the party and experience the fun Oaxacan nightlife. Some of the best bars in Oaxaca are in Centro: Archivo Maguey, La Nueva Babel, Txalaparta, Aloha, and Zapotec are some of them.
Oaxaca Itinerary Day 4: Learn about Textiles with a local family and Experience a Temazcal Ceremony
Depending on how hard you’ve gone partying the previous night, you could either take it easy in the morning and later in the day join a Temazcal Ceremony or consider doing an activity in the morning before the Temazcal. No matter what, this could be a Temazcal day, and, believe me, even if you’re not a very spiritual person, you are going to love this!
Whether you’re visiting Oaxaca for a short period of time or you are coming for a decent amount of days, I would 100% recommend visiting one of the textile family-run workshops on the outskirts of the city.
Me, weaving my own piece of fabric at the local family textile workshop, Oaxaca
Oaxaca is the state with the largest number of indigenous communities in Mexico. Some of these communities are genuinely proud of their heritage, this is the case of the Zapotec indigenous community living in Teotitlán del Valle, who has specialized in the making of fabrics for generations!
I joined a half-day tour and meet a local family who taught me the complete traditional weaving process. One of the things I really liked about this tour is that I had the chance to take part in several of the processes.
The family explained to me how to create the wool threads and how to obtain the colors to dye the wool. I also had the chance to weave different types of textiles and I was even able to create my own handmade fabric (and take it home as a souvenir!). Before returning to Oaxaca Centro, the family will serve you a delicious local meal at their house/workshop. I can’t recommend this tour enough!
Now let’s get serious. Have you ever been to a Temazcal Ceremony? I never thought I would say this, but it is actually a pretty amazing thing. There are many Temazcals in Mexico and every experience is different and very unique. The ceremony follows the ancestral rituals of cleansing the mind and the body. The Chaman will lead you throughout the process and the duration might be different each time, but it can go between one or two hours. This is the Temazcal that I went to while in Oaxaca – it was a super experience!
Oaxaca Itinerary Day 5: Explore Monte Alban and learn about Oaxaca art crafts
To my view, this is one of the top 3 highlights in Oaxaca. These Zapotec ruins are part of the Unesco World Heritage, and also they play an important role in the history of the country – I won’t spoil here why, but I was mind-blown by what I learned visiting the ruins!
You can rent a car and get here on your own or join any of the many tours running this activity from Centro. Either way, the entrance costs 80 pesos (4usd) and I would totally recommend a guided visit to these ruins.
Me, overlooking the ruins of Monte Alban
After lunch, I suggest visiting any of the indigenous towns surrounding Oaxaca de Juárez to admire their art crafts. Some good options are Teotitlán del Valle (for the textiles if you haven’t done this yet); San Bartolo Coyotepec (for the Barro Negro or Black Pottery) or San Martin Tilcajete (to visit the Alebrijes workshop).
There are local tour companies running one-day tours that will take you to Monte Alban and to the indigenous art craft workshops in the nearby towns. If you have limited time in the city, this tour is a great option.
Man working in to create a piece of Black Pottery, Oaxaca
Once you’re back in town, consider going for a street food hunt! Keep reading to see what is the best food you can eat in Oaxaca and where to find it!
Foods of Oaxaca Mexico
Oaxaca is known to have absolute first-class food! Mexicans and foreigners come to Oaxaca to taste the delicious gastronomy. We’re not even talking about high cuisine, but also incredibly fresh and good-quality street food. You can find here a list of the best food in Oaxaca and where to find it – go straight to the “where to eat section”.
Memelas at Mercado de Abastos, Oaxaca de Juárez
Mole at a restaurant in Centro, Oaxaca de Juárez
Where to stay in Oaxaca
Oaxaca de Juárez is a medium-size city, but you would probably like to stay where the action is. I would recommend staying in Oaxaca Centro since 5 days is a short period of time and is best to have everything handy. Boroughs like Xochimilco or Jalatlaco are two good alternatives in case you are traveling on a budget – both are close to Centro anyways. Some hotel suggestions from low to high budget are:
- Selina Oaxaca great hostel alternative that offers co-working solutions
- Casa Angel Hostel one of the best hostels in town, located in Centro
- Las Mariposas Eco-Hotel & Studios is a sustainable hotel right in Centro
- Casa Carlota unique style and a wonderful rooftop
- Casa de las Bugambilias B&B Oaxacan-style hotel in Centro
- Boulenc Bead & Bread well located modern and minimalistic hotel.
- Casa de Sierra Azul is a Hacienda-inspired hotel
- Quinta Real Oaxaca is a very unique and historic hotel that was part of a former convent.
Me, during my stay at Hotel Las Mariposas, Oaxaca de Juárez
Since I wrote this article I get a few questions now and then. Here is a compilation of the most frequently asked questions:
Best time to visit Oaxaca
You can visit Oaxaca pretty much all year long. The city will probably be more crowded than usual during certain times of the year. Three of the most important festivities take place during the months of July (Guelaguetza), October (Day of the Dead), and December (Night of Radishes). Carnivals are also big in Oaxaca and they take place and the end of February.
Me, wearing the Catrina while I walked along Jalatlaco borough, Oaxaca de Juárez
How many days do you need for Oaxaca?
Five days is the perfect amount of days to visit Oaxaca de Juarez and the surroundings. However, if you would like to visit the Southern Mountains of San Jose del Pacífico or the Coast of Oaxaca, you will probably need at least 10 to 12 days total.
Is a week in Oaxaca too long?
Absolutely not! The more days you have in Oaxaca, the more you’ll be able to experience it. There is always an event or a festivity being celebrated in Oaxaca. Do not hesitate and book your entire week’s vacation in Oaxaca.
Is 2 Days enough in Oaxaca?
If you only have 2 days and you are already in the area, then you might be able to spend one day in the city for what I recommend the first day in the above itinerary and for your second day, maybe a visit to Monte Alban would and a Mezcal tasting would be perfect to complete your stay. However, I would totally recommend you book at least a couple more nights in Oaxaca City to be able to make the most out of your time there.
Is Oaxaca Safe?
I consider Oaxaca de Juárez a safe place to visit and a safe state to travel around, also by car. However, you are still in Mexico, so the little tips and tricks to be safe in the country, also apply to the city of Oaxaca de Juárez.
Do you have any questions related to traveling in Oaxaca? or need further information? Feel free to post a comment below or send me a DM on Instagram! I’ll be delighted to help you prepare for your upcoming trip.
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