Are you planning to travel to Oaxaca soon? Then you’re in the right place! I’ve put together a complete Oaxaca travel guide that includes a list of 30 things to do in Oaxaca. For 9 months I lived and worked as a digital nomad in the city of Oaxaca de Juárez.
See, I didn’t plan to stay there for long, in fact, I was only visiting the state of Oaxaca for 10 days during February 2021, but once I landed in Oaxaca de Juárez, I completely fell in love with the city, and on my second day there I decided to move to Oaxaca and had my big backpack delivered to my new Mexican base from my former house in Playa del Carmen, in the state of Quintana Roo.
This blog post is a compilation of things to do and see in Oaxaca. Recommendations on where to stay and where to eat (including what to eat!). Tips for your visit and some safety guidelines that will help you move around easily.
Consider checking this 3-Day itinerary in Oaxaca if you’re coming for a very limited time or if on the contrary, you’re planning a move to Mexico, know that I just wrote the ultimate Oaxaca Digital Nomad Guide with all the essential information you need as a digital nomad, including a list of resources that will be very handy during your stay.
Street in Oaxaca Centro
Why visit Oaxaca?
Oaxaca is the perfect combination of ancient and new history, it is a mix of tradition and vibrant cultures. Oaxaca is an explosion of colors and delicious smells all around. It is the place where all (Mexicans and foreigners) come to taste some of the best food and mezcal in the whole of Mexico. From local markets to top-notch restaurants and from handcrafted indigenous products to new art galleries popping up every month in the city, Oaxaca has something for us all.
Overall, if you’re planning to travel around Oaxaca, prepare to visit one of the most amazing Mexican states – no joke!
Things to do in Oaxaca Centro
I have itchy feet (surprise!). During my months in Oaxaca, I can confidently say I took every opportunity to check different markets, street food stalls, monuments, and visit indigenous towns and communities. Here is a list of the best things to do and see in Oaxaca Centro and its surroundings.
View of Santo Domingo Temple
Rugs store in Oaxaca Centro
Abastos Market or Central de Abastos
This is the largest and most important local market in Oaxaca. Prepare for the explosion of colors and mix of smells of all foods and goods from the state of Oaxaca. I thought I saw it all related to markets, but I was clearly wrong. Come check and judge by yourself, Abastos Market won’t disappoint.
Man feeding his child at Abastos Market
Benito Juárez Market
I like to call this the souvenir central of Oaxaca. It is indeed a local market but it has higher prices than Abastos. I would actually recommend visiting this place since sometimes is the only way to find very nice local handmade products coming from the surrounding towns in Oaxaca. Even if a bit pricey, It is worth the visit.
20 de Noviembre Market
Closer to Oaxaca’s main square (Zócalo), this is a great option for eating out and local for a very affordable price. My favorite thing here is eating at the smoke corridor or “pasillo de humo” which is a corridor full of locals cooking several types of meat. You just buy your food per gram and sit to enjoy the amazing meal!
Smoke corridor at 20 de Noviembre Market
Artisans Market of Oaxaca
This local market has really good prices. All fabrics, rugs, bags, textiles, etc come from the different parts of the state of Oaxaca.
Oaxaca became famous thanks to the movie “Nacho Libre” in which a young Jack Black becomes a luchador wandering the streets of Oaxaca. You can’t miss the opportunity to go to a Lucha Libre event! You can check this Lucha Libre Facebook group to see if there are any events happening when you’re in town!
Eat your way through Oaxaca and don’t forget to drink Mezcal
One comes to Oaxaca to eat. To eat in restaurants, drink mezcal in bars (called Mezcalerias), to try all the street food, including chapulines (grasshoppers). Check below what are the meals you shouldn’t miss while in Oaxaca.
Memelas at Abastos Market
Experience Oaxaca Nightlife
There are so many options to choose from! My top three places are Convivio (in my view, the best bar in town – always a safe bet), Archivo Maguey (two different floors with different music styles), and Txalaparta (also two floors with a rooftop). Many times, I have partied in these three places in just one night, right in the exact order I have named them here! La Nueva Babel (great Michelada and sometimes life music) Aloha (great cocktails) or Zapotec (life music) are other great alternatives.
Teatro Macedonio Alcalá
This one is not an easy one to visit on the inside, however, is one of the most amazing buildings in the city. Sometimes there are a few events happening and it is the chance for visitors and locals to get a glimpse of the inside.
One of the gems of Oaxaca Centro. Here you will be able to find hundreds of species, all endemic from the state of Oaxaca. Due to Covid-19 restrictions, there is a limited number of daily visitors, so I would recommend coming in the early morning (around 8 am) to assure your spot.
Me, enjoying a visit to the botanical garden, Oaxaca
Textile Museum & San Pablo Cultural Centre
These two museums are now connected in one. During the pandemic, it is necessary to book a reservation online (both are free entrance), so I would recommend checking if this is still the case when you’re visiting.
Street art hunt in Jalatlaco borough
This stunning borough in Oaxaca is considered by many a little Oaxaca. Is more peaceful than Centro and it is incredibly colorful and beautiful (yes, even more than Centro!), can you imagine that? Moreover, it is the hotspot for Oaxaca graffitis! If you love street art and cute coffee shops, this is your place!
Street art in Jalatlaco borough
Street in Jalatlaco borough
Museum of Cultures
As part of Santo Domingo’s Temple structure, this is one of the most important museums in town since it helds very significant archeological findings, such as the “Tomb Number 7 of the Treasure of Monte Alban”.
Hike around Guelaguetza Auditorium
There is a wonderful hike you can start by climbing the stairs of the Guelaguetza. It is a 2h round hike from where you’ll get amazing views of the city and the mountain range surrounding it.
This Oaxacan celebration enhances the traditional costumed dances of the various indigenous peoples of the state. It takes place yearly during most part of July and includes parades of indigenous walking bands, several handicrafts, and food coming from the different parts of the state of Oaxaca.
Día de Muertos
Although this is celebrated in all of Mexico, Oaxaca plays an important role as it is considered one of the best places to celebrate Muertos. Mexicans and foreigners from all over the world travel to Oaxaca to celebrate this festivity. Events take place for several days, being 2nd of November the most important day.
Street painting of a skeleton
Me celebrating Dia de Muertos
Discover Xochimilco & Reforma boroughs
Xochimilco is a small borough with gorgeous coffee shops and beautiful street art! I love coming to this area and sitting on any of the rooftops, the views of the city are stunning from here!
Reforma is a mix of local and modern globalization. Shopping malls, international food chains, local coffee shops, and much more co-live in this borough. It is not far from Centro and is the place where most locals live.
Noche de Rábanos (Night of the radishes)
This is also an annual event that takes place every 23rd December and it is dedicated to the carving of radishes and harvesting of flowers that are used to create different scenes all around town.
Things to do near Oaxaca Centro
There are countless activities you could do in the surroundings of Oaxaca City, here are some suggestions
Monte Albán Archeological Site
This is a must-see monument in Oaxaca. I would say it is in my top 3 list of things to do in Oaxaca. These Zapotec ruins not only are the most important in the state of Oaxaca, but they also have a very vital role in the history of modern Mexico. It was after the discovery of the “Treasure of Tomb 7” that the INAH realized the importance of uncovering more of the ruins in the country. Thanks to this, we can visit today Chichén Itza and many others.
Visiting the ruins of Monte Albán
Lake area of Huayapam
This is part of the eco-tourist park of Huayapam. Located less than 40 minutes away from Oaxaca Centro, this is the perfect place to escape from the city and connect with nature. Many people come here during the weekend and to walk their dogs, etc. There are also structures to do barbeques too. Although a wonderful activity, I wouldn’t prioritize this as one of the things to do in Oaxaca as long as you are not coming for a long period of time.
Teotitlán del Valle
This is one of the most interesting towns to visit in the surroundings of Oaxaca Centro. It is known for its inhabitants to have a large tradition in the making of textiles and other types of art crafts such as flower candles, etc. If you’re looking to learn about the traditional weaving process to create unique textile pieces, or you want to buy beautiful rugs, Teotitlán del Valle is your place!
Hierve el Agua
The petrified waterfalls and natural pools of Hierve el Agua have been closed during the Covid-19 Pandemic. Nowadays, Hierve el Agua is partially open. There are political discrepancies between the communities running the place and the Mexican government, hence traveling with local tour companies is nowadays the best bet.
Natural pools of Hierve el Agua
Petrified waterfall of Hierve el Agua
Tlacolula de Matamoros Sunday Market
This is one of the top markets in the state of Oaxaca. The market covers all the main streets in this Mexican town. Indigenous communities come from all over to sell their products. Prices are very affordable. I have been told that it was even bigger and more impressive before Covid, but nowadays is also a very nice market to wander around.
Be part of a Temazcal Ceremony
There are many Temazcals in Mexico and Oaxaca is one of these states where you can do a proper Temazcal Ceremony. Every experience is different and very unique. The ceremony follows the ancestral rituals of cleansing the mind and body. There is a Chaman leading you throughout the process and the duration might be different each time, but it can go between the hour and the 2 hours. This is the Temazcal that I went to and I would totally recommend it.
San Pablo Villa de Mitla and surroundings
Also known as Mitla, this town is a big deal. I would recommend spending at least a day visiting this area. You can visit the Zapotec ruins of Mitla, drink amazing micheladas (some of the best I have ever had in Mexico), and buy very affordable indigenous handmade clothing in the town street market.
Outside town, you will find something very fascinating. The Prehistoric Caves of Yagul and Mitla are part of the UNESCO Heritage and hold paintings dating back to 12.000 years.
Man in a sombrero sitting down in one of the caves
El Tule Tree
This is another UNESCO Heritage natural monument. This tree is famous because it is considered to have the widest trunk in the world. These are surely big words but wait to see the tree for yourself, it is quite impressive.
Barro Negro (Black Pottery) at San Bartolo Coyotepec
This is a very particular art craft that has passed through many generations in families in this little town of San Bartolo Coyotepec. The interesting thing to do when coming here is to visit one of the local family workshops and see the elaboration process of the “Barro Negro”.
Hiking in Sierra Norte
This is one of my favorite things I have done out of Centro. Sierra Norte is quite a special region that promotes ecotourism. The area has one of the best-preserved biospheres in Mexico, as well as a number of interesting towns and villages, some of these are spread all over the mountain range and are considered completely autonomous. They are referred to as “Pueblos Mancomunados de Oaxaca” and they work together to maintain themselves with the resources they naturally grow.
You can actually hike through several of them and stay in the cabins and ecolodges that the communities have prepared purposely for visitors. Note that some of these towns are still closed due to the pandemic, it is always better to check if they’re open to tourism before you travel to the area.
Sierra Norte Viewpoint - Santa Catarina Ixtepeji
Visit an Alebrijes workshop at San Martin Tilcajete
This is the town that inspired some of the characters in the Disney movie Coco. San Martin Tilcajete is known to be one of the pioneers in developing the wooden colorful figurines called Alebrijes. If you’re looking to find some beautiful alebrijes, you might want to come to check this little Oaxacan town.
Marigold flower fields in Zimatlán de Álvarez
Marigold (Cempasúchil) is the flower used in the Dia de Muertos celebrations in Mexico. You can visit the fields and buy them to decorate the house, the altars, and more. Many Instagrammers come here for beautiful photo opportunities too. If you are coming during the month of October this is definitely one of the things to do in Oaxaca.
El Viejo, posing for a photo in his marigolds fields
Where to eat in Oaxaca and Oaxaca’s best restaurants
Nationals and foreigners, all come to Oaxaca for the food. Is one of the richest states regarding the variety and quality of its Mexican cuisine. Oaxaca holds a good amount of top-notch restaurants, but I have to be honest here – for 9 months I have tried food all around town and there is nothing like Oaxaca’s street food!
Street food in Oaxaca
Here is a hint on where to find the best street food in town!
When in Oaxaca, you’ll have to try tlayudas (best are between Mina and Bustamante streets) memelas (found the best in Abastos Market), tortas (my favorite are climbing Panorámica del Fortín street, only 5 minutes away from Centro), and tacos (seems incredible but there aren’t many good options – the best are Tacos de Carmen between Calle Quetzalcóatl and Manuel Garcia Vigil)! You can also find good tacos near the bus station too.
But let’s get serious, Oaxaca owns a kick-ass street burger: the Cangreburger! (usually found in front of Santo Domingo or at Calle Ignacio de Allende with Manuel Garcia Virgil) and before leaving town, I discovered my new favorite thing that I have personally nick-named el “Tortaco” which is a Torta with 4 tacos inside it that can be found between streets Bustamante and Aldama. Honestly, street food is heaven in this city!
Tacos de Carmen street stall, Oaxaca
Oaxaca’s best restaurants
Some pretty good restaurants in Oaxaca are Los Danzantes Oaxaca (high-end Mexican food), Casa Oaxaca El Restaurante (pretty good Oaxaca food), Casa Taviche (nice quality / decent price Mexican meals), Boulenc (best pizza and bread), and La Popular (very affordable and good quality local food). Try the seven types of mole in a restaurant too! One of my favorite restaurants for mole is Restaurante Coronita. There are so many food options that it is actually quite difficult to cover it all if you’re coming for just a few days!
Of course, drinking Mezcal is a very Oaxaca thing to do, so that’s one you cannot miss! Some of the best Mezcalerías in town are Mezcalerita, Mezcalogía, and Mezcalería Los Amantes (this last is a bit pricy), but again, there are many options, especially in Centro.
Man, playing his guitar in Mezcalería Los Amantes
Where to stay in Oaxaca: Best Oaxaca Hotels
When coming to Oaxaca, especially for a short period of time, I always recommend staying in Centro. However, there are other nice alternatives. Many people choose the boroughs of Jalatlaco or Xochimilco and others stay in Reforma too. Any of these areas are a good option and the closer you can be to Centro, the better, no matter which borough you choose to stay.
Here are some ideas depending on your budget (from low to high budget)
Me, chilling in a hammock at Casa Bumgabilias B&B, Oaxaca Centro
Casa Carlota is located in a calm area in Centro with a wonderful rooftop
Casa de las Bugambilias B&B This is a beautiful Oaxacan style hotel in Centro
Boulenc Bead & Bread Modern hotel in Centro, close to Zocalo and Santo Domingo
Casa de Sierra Azul is a beautiful Hacienda-inspired hotel
Quinta Real Oaxaca is a historic hotel that was part of a former convent. This is, in my opinion, the most unique hotel in town
Tours in Oaxaca
There are so many things to do in Oaxaca that it is overwhelming! It has taken me some time to create a sensitive list of companies to recommend when visiting Oaxaca. As travelers, when we are in a new area and we don’t know what is best, we sometimes get trapped into massified/generic tours that often result in being pointless to experienced travelers.
While in Oaxaca, I’ve seen and done a bit of everything myself, but the longer I stayed in the city, the better choices I made regarding the companies I would do tours with. Some are more pricey than others, but I have personally joined all of the tours that I recommend below and therefore I can safely say that these experiences are really worth it.
THE BEST MEZCAL EXPERIENCE I had in Oaxaca. Mezcal is a synonym of Oaxaca and vice versa. You haven’t really experienced the wonders of this Mexican state if you haven’t visited a Mezcal distillery or Palenque. This tour will take you to a Palenque owned by a local family that has worked in the distillation of the Agave (mezcal plant) for generations. You will visit the agave fields, plant your own baby agave (my favorite thing on this tour), be part of the distillation process, and all of this while drinking Mexico’s best spirit! Want to learn more about mezcal? I have written a detailed article as a brief Mezcal guide!
Maestro mezcalero, looking at the agave fields with his son
EAT WORLD-CLASS CHOCOLATE & MAIZE while you learn about the origin and legends around them. This is one of the most original (and tastiest) tours in Oaxaca! It is absolutely engaging from minute one. Chris (the guide) is very knowledgeable and definitely knows his stuff when it comes to teaching you all about cacao & maize. I personally, didn’t know how much I didn’t know about these two millenary foods! I would totally recommend booking a tour with him. If you’re interested, send me an email or a private IG DM and I will connect you with Chris.
OAXACA ARTISAN TOURS. This was my third experience having Victor as a tour guide and my favorite of all! Victor is a natural storyteller. He is also very well connected and has friends all over Oaxaca. Thanks to his connections, local families and businesses open their doors to visitors offering very intimate experiences that will surely stick with you forever! In this tour, you will visit several Oaxacan artisans and learn about their work and the arduous process to get their products and art crafts out the door for everyone to admire. You can learn more about his tour here! you can also contact me privately for a discount on this tour as Victor has become a good friend!
Join a TEXTILE TOUR in Teotitlan del Valle. Since my arrival to Oaxaca, I heard about the many textile tours being run from Centro to some of the surrounding towns. I had the chance to do a couple of tours and I absolutely recommend the Traditional Weaving Tour in Teotitlan as one of the best things to do in Oaxaca. You’ll spend half a day with a local Zapotec family who has been working for generations on the making of different textiles. You will learn the complete process of how to create the wool threads and obtain the colors to dye the wool. The best part for me was learning a few words in Zapotec and creating my own textile piece using a 90+ year loom. Eating with the family was also something very special. Overall it was a beautiful and very intimate experience and you can read my complete review here
Me, learning to wave my own coaster
Full day tour of MONTE ALBAN & THE OAXACAN ARTISAN HERITAGE
I consider this tour to be a must-see and I would prioritize this as one of the things to do in Oaxaca. One cannot comprehend the importance of the Mexican archeological sites as a whole without visiting the magnificent ruins of Monte Alban. This tour will include a guided visit to the ruins, a visit to several local artisans outside Centro, where you will learn about alebrijes (colorful wooden figurines) and about the working techniques used during generations to create unique pieces of black pottery.
This is a full-day tour, but it is totally worth it, especially if you’re coming for a short period of time to Oaxaca! The tour is run by a local tour company, so there is no website to link you to, but you can text me and I will be delighted to connect you with them.
Barro Negro artisan working
Get your best Oaxaca souvenir by getting a PHOTOSHOOT in the best spots in the city. During my months living in Oaxaca, I met several photographers, one of them was Juan Pablo. I had the opportunity to work with him and I completely fell in love with his work and the dedication and passion he puts into everything he does! Not only is he a photographer but a wonderful person – you will love hanging out with him!
If you want a different experience in Oaxaca and would like to have proof of the memories for life, I would recommend booking a photoshoot with Juan Pablo, I consider him to be the best photographer in town!
Best time to visit Oaxaca
Oaxaca is an all-year-round destination. Depending on the season, the city is preparing for a different festivity. I personally think Oaxacans have always a wonderful cheerful attitude – they love to celebrate life! Proof of that is the many Calendas (public celebrations of private events that take place around town) where everyone is invited to join the party.
Three of the most important festivities take place between the months of July and December, making this period the best time to visit Oaxaca. These are the Guelaguetza Festival (all of July), Día de Muertos (the last week of October and the beginning of November), and Noche de Rábanos (23rd of December). If you come during this period you will find an incredible amount of new events and things to do in Oaxaca – sometimes is even overwhelming!
How to get to Oaxaca
Oaxaca has an international airport located less than 1h from the city center. However, not many international cities have direct connections to Oaxaca. Most of the US, LATAM, and European flights connect directly with Mexico City instead. Here is how to get to Oaxaca Centro from:
- Mexico City
There are daily buses with several companies. I would recommend taking the Ado buses. They’re comfortable and take around 6h to get to Oaxaca main station. A great alternative is using the GuateGo transfers. They are really professional and work pretty well all around Mexico.
You can also fly from Mexico City to Oaxaca’s international airport. This is a 1h approx duration flight. It can be more expensive than the bus, but it worth checking prices before flying tho.
- Puerto Vallarta / Baja California / Caribbean Coast
Always better to fly to Oaxaca’s International airport from any of these areas since the journey is incredibly long. Due to covid, connections are now very limited, so probably the way to go is flying to Mexico City and then choosing either to fly from there to Oaxaca or take the bus.
If you still prefer traveling on land, again GuateGo transfers are great to travel from Puerto Vallarta to Oaxaca City.
If you’re traveling from Chiapas, flying from Tuxtla International airport is one option. Ado buses are good too. Here is another way to travel from Tuxtla to Oaxaca City by land.
- Puebla or Guerrero
There are several buses that connect Oaxaca with the surrounding states. From Puebla City, you’ll spend around 4h on the bus, whereas from Acapulco, your journey will take up to 12h. Again, an alternative to these transfers is the Ado Buses.
How many days do you need for Oaxaca
The number of days recommended to visit Oaxaca will depend on your desired travel itinerary. If you’re only visiting Oaxaca de Juárez, I would say 5 days would be ideal, you can check my 5-Day Itinerary to visit Oaxaca City. However, many travelers don’t have that much time, so as an alternative, here is a suggested 3-Day Itinerary I have put together that will help you maximize your days in Centro.
The state of Oaxaca offers very different sceneries. You might want to check the Pacific coast, where you’ll find incredible seafood, less crowded beaches, and more affordable prices than the Mexican Caribbean side. You will also be able to catch some pretty good waves and surf every day in Puerto Escondido and do yoga and relax in the small Mexican town of Mazunte. I would say, 7 days around the coast would be the minimum stay to properly cover this area.
Playa Carrizalillo drone shot, Puerto Escondido
If on the contrary, you’re more of a mountain person, you might prefer the pure/fresh air and breathtaking sunsets over the neverending pine fields of San José del Pacifico or hike across the small independent towns of Sierra Norte. A 2-night extra stay would be more than enough for any of the two mountain areas from Oaxaca Centro.
Sunset in San José del Pacifico, Oaxaca
Is Oaxaca safe?
I consider Oaxaca a safe place to visit. I have never had a bad experience living and traveling in Oaxaca, but you are still in Mexico, so the little tips and tricks to be safe in the country, also apply to Oaxaca de Juárez.
Depending on the time of the year, I would recommend taking more precautions. Festivities like Guelaguetza or Día de Muertos congregate more people than usual so the number of muggings also increases. Taking a “Didi” home (the equivalent of Uber) especially if it’s dark and you’re a bit drunk or avoiding dark/isolated streets, are things that you can do to play it smart and avoid unwanted situations.
Living in Oaxaca
Have I already convinced you? If you have already traveled to Oaxaca or simply are willing to take the leap and move to Oaxaca Centro, know that I couldn’t recommend it enough. I had the most amazing experience living in Oaxaca and I loved my life every day. I would be very happy to answer any questions you may have related to this topic, but in the meantime, I would suggest reading my Oaxaca Digital Nomad Guide.
Did you find these things to do in Oaxaca useful? Let me know in the comments if you have any questions or need any further information about visiting or moving to Oaxaca.
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