Short Breaks – Oaxaca, Mexico

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A history to rival any destination, diverse architecture, warm and welcoming locals, vibrant personality and a food culture that is so good it is World Heritage listed. And the best place to experience every aspect of Mexican life is Oaxaca.A history to rival any destination, diverse architecture, warm and welcoming locals, vibrant personality and a food culture that is so good it is World Heritage listed.

And the best place to experience every aspect of Mexican life is Oaxaca.

Find out why we think Oaxaca represents the best that Mexico has to offer and why you should make the effort to visit.

Where is it?
oaxaca-map

Why would you go?

If you have always wondered what it would be like to go to Mexico, or even if you have been to the more touristy areas like Cabo or Cancun and wanted a more authentic experience, then there is no better place than Oaxaca.

Laid back, colourful, historic and friendly, and with no shortage of amazing food to keep your strength up for all the walking your will want to do. Oaxaca is the best of Mexico in one small package.

Oaxaca has the best of Mexico wrapped up in one small package

How much time do you need there?

El Centro, the main area of the town is built around a tree studded park or Zocalo and is filled with churches, markets, restaurants and eye catching colourful buildings lining cobblestone streets.

You could “do” this area in a couple of days or you could get in to the local vibe and want to stay a week or more.

You will need more time than just enough to experience this part of town or risk missing out on some incredible experiences not to be had in many places around the world.

A day should be spent at the suitably impressive Monte Alban ruins. They spent many years leveling the top of a mountain before commencing the building of this once great city.

Another day or two is barely enough to experience the outer villages. Home of some world famous artisans honing their craft and creating most of the souvenirs Mexico is best known for. Pottery, textiles, clay statues and ornaments, and my favourites, the colourful wooden alebrijes are all created here. With entire villages devoted to the manufacture of a single type of product.

Sitting in one of the restaurants beside the Zocalo is a great way to experience Oaxaca

How do you get there?

Most people would utilise the local airport with flights arriving regularly from many destinations but in particular from Mexico City.

We chose a local bus line to take us from Mexico City so we could better get a feel for the everyday life of the locals. It is a trip of about six hours and no only cheap, but some beautiful scenery is to be witnessed during the trip.

The town centre is close to the airport and the bus terminal right in town. Taxis are available and reasonably priced but only really needed for the arrival and departure as Oaxaca is a perfect town for walking once you have settled in.

Oaxaca has the amazing ruins of Monte Alban

What are the “highlights”?

Mexico is famous for many things and most of them are available in Oaxaca. It’s like Mexico’s Greatest Hits (but not in a cartel kind of way, we are safe here and a long way from the crime in the north)

Many people would leave totally fulfilled by wandering the Centro area for a few days and chilling around the Zocalo. I say you really need to experience the whole package. You came a long way so why not do it properly?

Four things that we will never forget are:

  1. The ruins of Monte Alban – not only are you able to get a sense of the grandeur this ancient city once commanded but the incredible story that becomes obvious on arrival of the magnitude of the leveling of the mountain top.
    Not as famous as some of the other ancient cities like Chichen Itza but we can assure you it is every bit as breathtaking as any of them.
    Visit Monte Alban ruins on top of the mountains overlooking Oaxaca
  2. The Cathedral – may have been built by the Spanish but bears little internal resemblance to the great churches of Europe.
    While not as large as its continental cousins the Cathedral of Our Lady of the Assumption has a ceiling that has to be seen in person to truly grasp its beauty.
    Being surrounded by cobblestone streets and colourful buildings just adds to the unique charm.
    The ceiling of the Oaxaca Cathedral is like nothing I have seen before
  3. The Artisan Villages – not only will you watch world class craftsmen plying their trade and having a chance to purchase quality souvenirs at a fraction of the usual price, in many villages you will be given the opportunity for hands on demonstrations.
    There is nothing quite like bringing home a traditional Mexican souvenir you helped produce.
    Experience the artisans of Oaxaca as they ply their trade
  4. Cooking Class and the food – Mexican cuisine has names been named as one of the very few regarded as UNESCO Intangible Cultural Heritage of Humanity. So when in Mexico, eat local and authentic.
    We took a cooking class at La Casa de los Sabores with world reknowned chef Pilar Cabrera and it was one of the top foodie experiences of our lives. From shopping at the local market, through prep and then sharing a meal and finishing with Mezcal tastings.
    A food tour or cooking class should be at the top of the list.
    Oaxaca is the perfect place for a Mexican cooking class

What can you eat?

Well… Mexican food. And I don’t mean those piles of meat covered in weird, flourescent cheesy stuff they pass off in the States, I mean real Mexican food.

Mexicans cook with chili but that doesn’t necessarily mean it’s spicy. Unlike many of the Asian countries who use chili for the heat factor, in Mexico it is all about flavour. You can ask for it mild but don’t ask for no chili, the dish would lose so much.

Oaxaca is also highly regarded on the world stage for chocolate. So much so they have devoted an entire street to it where you will find manufacturers, growers, chocolate shops and hot chocolate vendors. How does that sound?

We also developed a taste for Paletas. Delicious blocks of frozen fruit and juice on a stick. So many flavours and so delicious, although you may find some strange combinations that could take some getting used to.

Finally one for the brave. Chupalines, or more commonly called grasshoppers, are a common sight in the markets and on the menus across the city. Most commonly you will find ladies carrying basket loads of them, fried in lime and chili to a crunchy texture and sold like potato crisps. I tried them… not bad but I won’t be rushing back for more.
I might try them on a taco next time though, hidden in a tortilla I can then claim what I can’t see can’t hurt me.

Be brave and try the chupalines in Oaxaca

 Where should you stay?

Anywhere around the Centro area is ideal as a base to explore and there are plenty of colourful, quality hotel choices that are amazing value for money.

We stayed in a small B&B a little further out of town and it was lovely but when we return we will stay closer to the centre of town purely for convenience.

How is the walkability?

Many of the streets around the Zocalo are blocked to traffic or at least limited which makes for a perfect walking adventure. The town centre is also quite level so the only challenge is navigating the cobbled streets.

There is a lot to see and do in a comfortable day of wandering. From vibrant and active markets to world class but cheap restaurants, from parks and fountains to colourful buildings and stunning churches.

Further afield the Monte Alban site is quite level once you take a bus to the top of the mountain and the outlying artisan villages are generally all on very flat land.

It is a place where you will walk all day without realising how far you have travelled. There is so much to see, smell, taste and do that time will fly by.

Oaxaca is one of the best cities for walking around without a plan

It’s just our opinion.

Mexico gets an undeserved bad wrap in the media. Don’t get me wrong… if you decide to travel through the drug and people smuggling regions along the USA border then you could be taking your life in your own hands.

But move further South and Mexico is one of the truly amazing experiences on Earth. It has everything you could want with historically significant sites, world class food, a colourful culture and family focused, friendly locals.

And if you want the best of Mexico in one small package then Oaxaca is the place to go.

Have you been to Mexico, or are you a bit wary? Join the conversation and leave a comment. Please share this post if you enjoyed it.

30 COMMENTS

  1. Hi Dean, Could be worth pointing out Mexican chocolate is a different animal to what we are used to. We are heading there again in October. Agree with everything you have said. Chapaulines are not bad at all and some cook them better than others. Tacos filled with Guacamole, chapaulines and a bit of oaxacan cheese and some chile with a cold beer are sensational. Can’t see them taking off in Australia though?

    • I think you are right about Aussies not being ready to embrace the whole insects as food thing just yet Tom. And to be honest I don’t think I’d be adding them to my diet on a weekly basis, but hopefully I get back to Oaxaca and I will definitely have another grasshopper taco!

  2. I have wanted to go to Mexico for some time now and this post has made it more so! Oaxaca looks like a fantastic place to visit – there’s so much going for it! Apart from those fried crickets! I never realised this was the home of chocolate – another great reason! Thanks for linking up with #MondayEscapes

    • It’s very family friendly as well. Lots of interesting things for everyone and I’m sure the monkey would love to have a go at some of the crafts in the artisan villages.

  3. I have never been to Mexico, but have read a number of articles on Oaxaca. Seems like a beautiful city to visit in Mexico. Thanks for sharing 🙂 #MondayEscapes

    • It is Kat. A perfect place for someone who wants to get away from the tourists and experience the real beauty of Mexico.

  4. Oaxaca is absolutely one of my favourite places in Mexico! There’s so much to see and do and it’s also just a lovely place to wander around. Did you go to the Botanical Gardens at all? They were one of the things I enjoyed most when we visited Oaxaca.

    • No, I didn’t see the Botanical Gardens Katja. I’ll add it to the list if I am lucky enough to go back one day. I enjoyed Monte Alban and visiting the artisan villages most.

  5. I would love to visit Oaxaca, it looks wonderful. I absolutely love Mexican food and would really enjoy the cooking class and learning more about the cuisine. Thank you for sharing #MondayEscapes

  6. Last year we did a road trip around the Yucatan Peninsula and I absolutely fell in love with Mexico; I really want to go back and explore other areas. I have only heard good things about Oaxaca so I think it is rising to the top of the list!

    • We have been to the Yucatan twice, didn’t think much of Cancun but would love to go back to spend more time at places like Merida and Valladolid. Next on my list though have to be San Miguel de Allende and Guanajuato which are amazing colourful towns like Oaxaca.

  7. I would really love to visit one day, I have only ever been to Cozumel. This place sounds amazing! Great photos! 🙂 #mondayescapes

    • I went to Cozumel last year and found it was a nice place, especially after the cruise ships leave in the afternoon. Oaxaca is very different, much less for the tourists and no beach. But Oaxaca is so laid back and the people genuinely more friendly.

    • We don’t get a lot of authentic Mexican in Australia either. Usually a poor imitation covered in cheese. The cooking class was one of our trip highlights.

  8. I haven’t been to Oaxaca, but I do love Oaxacan cheese. My college roommate volunteered there after graduation nine years ago, and she loved it. She learned how to salsa dance and ate mole. Between her stories and your post, Oaxaca sounds like a destination full of history, culture, and fantastic food that I’d like to visit someday.

    • Your last sentence described it perfectly Erin. It has something for everyone, maybe not for adrenaline junkies though!

  9. I have visited Oaxaca and loved the beautiful buildings. I remember I bought some lovely hand crafted jewellery (a birthday present for one of my sisters) at one of the local markets.
    Thank you for bringing back some lovely memories.

    • Those beautiful coloured buildings are what makes the city so quaint. My memories of the markets are the wonderful stalls that will prepare almost any type of food you could want right on the spot. Now i’m hungry again!

  10. Agree with what you have written about Mexico and Oaxaca. I was not expecting to fall in love with Oaxaca so hard but it just happened. At the end of my trip, I was even checking the prices of apartments in the area. Loved the food, the traditions, the markets and the natural beauty. Can’t wait to go back.

    • It’s a hard place not to love Ruth. It was the first town I went to in Mexico that wasn’t a resort town or major city and it changed my opinion of Mexico from being an interesting country to being my favourite. I have visited over 20 countries now and it still tops the list because of Oaxaca.

  11. I’ve wanted to go to Oaxaca for years and you’ve made me really desperate now! I’d love to do that cooking course and try the crickets. Thanks for reminding me to put it much closer to the top of my travel wishlist! #TheWeeklyPostcard

    • Clare, I generally have the philosophy that once I’ve been somewhere then there are too many other amazing places to spend time coming back, but Oaxaca is one of those rare places I will certainly get back to one day.

    • The cooking class was great, really hands on. As for the crickets Michelle, they were better than I expected, but I probably wont need to try them again.

  12. Oaxaca has an entire street for chocolate manufacture and tasting?! We’re going! 😉 But seriously, what a great post! When we visited Mexico, we stayed at a resort and only took a tour bus to Chichen Itza. None of us speak any Spanish, so we were a bit afraid to venture out too much. I wish we weren’t.

    • The main street for chocolate is Mina Street. It seems every second building is for chocolate of some type.
      You should never be afraid to do a little venturing out. In our travels we have found that a few words in the local language, please thankyou hello goodbye, and a smile will get you a long way. Then you can just point at things and nod or shake your head!
      We also used a Canadian Expat as a tour guide to go to the outer villages. He had great contacts.

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