Oaxaca City: a magical place from old times. A place that hasn’t succumbed to globalization like other places have done. That is probably why it has been on the radar of savvy travelers in the last few years. You can see its name all over the place. It is unquestionably one of the best places to travel to in Mexico. Don’t take our word for it. Earlier this year, it was featured on Travel + Leisure, one of the most prestigious travel magazines worldwide.

But what’s the hype about it? What is there to do and see? Isn’t it just any typical Mexican destination? What’s so special about it? Don’t worry. I understand your doubts. That’s why today I’ll present you with a list of things to do in Oaxaca City. By the end of this post, you will be able to draw your own conclusions and decide if it’s a place worth visiting.

 

Its Beautiful Church

Golden facade of the Templo de Santo Domingo de Guzman in Oaxaca City.

The Church of Santo Domingo de Guzmán in its historic center is one of the most beautiful churches, if not the most beautiful, in all Mexico. No wonder it’s one of the most photographed churches online. If you like what you see on the outside, you will love its interior even more.

The church was part of a complex along with a monastery under the Dominican order. Its construction began in 1575 and took 200 years to finish. It boasts a Baroque style. The interior is decorated with golden motives and impressive paintings. Take your time to admire the ceiling medallions and all the details around you. The whole place takes on a different look at night when they lit up the hundred of candles inside.

Would you like to get married there? Well, you will have to sign up for a waiting list, and the wait could take up to 2 years! So, if you’ve made up your mind about getting married in this church, the sooner you register, the better.

Address: Calle de Macedonio Alcalá s/n, Centro, 68000 Oaxaca de Juárez, Oax., Mexico.

Golden altar with saints inside a church.

Several saints carved in the ceiling of a church.
The Tree of Life.

Museo de las Culturas de Oaxaca

You will find this museum right next to the church. It occupies what was once a convent. There are exhibits from various periods in Mexican history, starting from pre-Hispanic times up to our days.

The architecture is simply amazing. Lose yourself in its various halls and rooms. It’s a huge museum. You will need at least 2 hours to tour it all.

The museum is open Tuesday through Sunday, from 10 a.m. to 6:30 p.m. Admission costs only 80 pesos ($4). Sundays are free for Mexican residents.

Address: 1a. Cerrada de Macedonio Alcala s/n, RUTA INDEPENDENCIA, Centro, 68000 Oaxaca de Juárez, Oax., Mexico.

Main patio of an ex-convent.

Ancient Zapotec statues.

 

Jardín Etnobotánico

You will find the Jardín Etnobotánico behind the museum. This ethnobotanical garden offers spectacular views for plant lovers and non-lovers alike. Many couples choose this place for their wedding photos.

The garden occupies 2.32 acres of land. All the trees and plants found here come from various parts of Oaxaca, which is one of the most biodiverse states in Mexico.

All the visits are guided to preserve the facilities. There are tours in English, French, and German. Below are the exact days and times for your reference:

English tours: Tuesdays, Thursdays, and Saturdays at 11 a.m.

French tours: Tuesdays at 5 p.m.

German tours: Wednesdays at 5 p.m.

The tour lasts one hour. Admission is 100 pesos ($5) per person and is free for minors under 12.

Address: Reforma Sur n, RUTA INDEPENDENCIA, Centro, 68000 Oaxaca de Juárez, Oax., Mexico.

Botanical garden with various cacti and other desert plants.

Its Historic Center

Theater on a corner with a green dome.
Teatro Macedonio Alcala.

Due to its cultural and historical significance, Oaxaca’s historic center was named a World Heritage Site by UNESCO in 1987.

The 3 places mentioned above are all located in the historic center, but the historic center has way more things. Other points of interest include:

  • Casa de Benito Juarez, one of Mexico’s most renowned presidents.
  • Museo Belver Jimenez, hosting a private jewelry collection.
  • Casa de las Artesanias de Oaxaca, where you can get cool handicrafts.
  • MACO, Museum of Contemporary Art.
  • Zocalo, the city main square.
  • Teatro Macedonio Alcala, one of the most beautiful theaters in Mexico.
  • Centro Cultural San Pablo, a cultural center.

Luckily, you can tour all these attractions on foot as the city is highly walkable. Take your time to admire the views and take lots of photos. Chill at a coffee shop or amuse yourself at one of the art galleries. Be it day or night, the historic center is a must when visiting Oaxaca.

This walking tour is a good start. You don’t have to follow it to the letter. Feel free to add or delete places from the list.

Oaxaca historic center with its main church and other colorful buildings.

Monte Albán

Monte Albán is Oaxaca’s most important archaeological site. It’s located on a low mountainous range in the Valley of Oaxaca and can be seen from a long distance.

Monte Albán was an important socio-political and economic center in the Zapotec civilization. The original name is unknown. Its current name is attributed to the Spanish conquerors, who claimed it looked like the Alban Hills in Italy.

Something that characterizes this site is the number of carved stone monuments throughout the main plaza as well as the symmetry in its structures.

Monte Albán is one of Oaxaca’s most visited attractions. It’s located barely 10 km (6.2 miles) from the city center.

For history buffs like me, there is an onsite museum where you can learn more about the ancient civilizations that occupied this territory as well as some exhibits with tools, jewels, and other artifacts.

Monte Albán is open Monday through Sunday, from 8 a.m. to 6 p.m. Admission is 80 pesos ($4) per person. Sundays are free for Mexican residents.

Address: Carretera a Monte Albán s/n, San Pedro Ixtlahuaca, Oaxaca, Oax.

Pyramid ruins in Monte Alban, Oaxaca.

Various steles and the entrance to an ancient tomb.
Ancient Zapotec tomb.

==>Check out available tours!<==

Mitla

The second most important archaeological site in the state is a little farther from Oaxaca City, about 44 km (27.3 miles).

Unlike other archaeological sites, there are no pyramids in Mitla. Instead, you will find palace ruins with lots of details in their facade. It’s incredible how the Zapotecs were able to build such amazing patterns with a perfect symmetry with the technology they had at the time.

While Monte Albán was an important economic center, Mitla was an important religious center. Its name comes from Nahuatl Mictlán, which means “underworld” or “place of the dead.”

Mitla is open Monday through Sunday, from 8 a.m. to 5 p.m. Admission costs 75 pesos ($3.75) per person.

Address: Camino Nacional, Los Presidentes, Centro, 70430 San Pablo Villa de Mitla, Oax., Mexico.

Facade of an ancient palace with detailed brickwork.

El Tule

El Árbol del Tule is a Montezuma cypress (known in Mexico as ahuehuete) that is famous for being the largest girth tree in the world. It has a circumference of 42 meters (137.8 ft).

The age of the tree is unknown, although most experts agree it is between 1,200 and 3,000 years old.

El Tule, as it is known by locals, is nicknamed “The Tree of Life” due to the number of animals you can see in its trunk, with some imagination that is.

The tree is located in the church grounds in the town center of Santa María del Tule, about 11 km (6.8 miles) from Oaxaca City. Admission is 10 pesos ($0.50).

Address: 2 de Abril, 8va Etapa IVO Fracc el Retiro, Santa María del Tule, Oax., Mexico.

A tall tree besides a white church.

A bump in a tree trunk that resembles a lion's face.
What do you see?

Hierve El Agua

Hierve El Agua is famous for having the only petrified waterfalls in the world besides Turkey. On top of the falls, there are a couple of natural pools where you can relax. Some claim the water is a little cold, but once you enter you get used to it.

The views of the valley are stunning, to say the least. No wonder it’s one of the most photographed attractions all over the world. Just do a quick Instagram search, and you will find tons of incredible photos.

If you’re into hiking, there is a hiking trail you can take. The walk takes about 20 minutes each way. Just make sure to wear comfortable, non-slipping shoes.

Hierve El Agua is one of Oaxaca’s most visited attractions. To avoid the crowds, I recommend visiting on weekdays as weekends tend to see a lot of activity.

Hierve El Agua is open Monday through Sunday from 9 a.m. to 6 p.m. You have to pay 10 pesos ($0.50) to the locals, and then 25 pesos ($1.25) for admission, making a total of 35 pesos (around $4) per person.

This attraction is located about 62 km (38.5 miles) from the capital, and it takes around 1 hour and 40 minutes to get there.

A tree trunk by the side of a natural pool.

==>Hierve El Agua Tours<==

Its Impressive Handcrafts

Oaxacan handcrafts are famous for their designs and colors. The artisans are highly skillful and make beautiful decorations from various materials such as wood, metal, stone, paper, and leather. The quality of the products is amazing.

Out of all the handcrafts available, there are two that stand out above the rest: alebrijes and barro negro pottery.

Alebrijes are colorful Mexican folk art sculptures of fantastical creatures. They were originally made from paper, but the current alebrijes are carved from wood.

Various colorful amorphous creatures.
Alebrijes.

Regarding barro negro pottery, it is a style of pottery where each piece is polished before firing. The result is a piece with a shiny black, elegant look. You can find all sorts of things made of barro negro.

An artisan showing how to make barro negro pottery.
Barro negro pottery.

Some tours take you to various local shops so you can watch the making process. Don’t forget to buy a few items. These souvenirs aren’t something you get to see on every corner.

The Guelaguetza

The Guelaguetza is a cultural festival that takes place in Oaxaca City every year. The word Guelaguetza comes from Zapotec and means “reciprocal exchanges of gifts and services.”

The Guelaguetza is all about celebrating and preserving Oaxaca’s past. it includes traditional dances, walking bands, parades, native costumes, and local foods. People from all over the state gather in the capital during these days to proudly show their local culture.

This festival draws thousands of Mexican and international tourists and is probably Oaxaca’s busiest season. It is held in mid-July.

Various young women dressed in their regional costumes and holding baskets with flowers on their heads.
Guelaguetza.

The Delicious Gastronomy

Oaxaca’s gastronomy deserves a whole article of its own. It’s one of the richest and most varied cuisines in Mexico. It’s considered Mexico’s best regional cuisine by many.

With so many delicious options to choose from, only the sky is the limit. There are food options for all budgets, whether you’re looking for cheap eats or gourmet options.

For those looking for a gourmet experience, I recommend Casa Oaxaca. This restaurant is located in the downtown area and offers local dishes with a gourmet touch. The average ticket per person is between 300 and 600 pesos ($15-$30). Address: C/ de la Constitución #104-A, RUTA INDEPENDENCIA, Centro, 68000 Oaxaca de Juárez, Oax., Mexico.

Another great option is Las Quince Letras. Prices are a little lower than Casa Oaxaca, but the food is delicious nonetheless. The average ticket per person is between 150 and 300 pesos ($7.50-$15). Address: Calle de Mariano Abasolo 300, RUTA INDEPENDENCIA, Centro, 68000 Oaxaca de Juárez, Oax., Mexico.

However, if you want the real thing, there’s no better place than the local markets. You can head out either to Mercado Benito Juarez or Mercado 20 de noviembre in the downtown area. You will find lots of traditional dishes at super affordable prices. If you like to try new things, then you can try grasshoppers and mezcal worms. They’re a delicacy in Oaxaca.

Mercado Benito Juarez’s address: Las Casas S/N, OAX_RE_BENITO JUAREZ, Centro, 68000 Oaxaca de Juárez, Oax., Mexico.

Mercado 20 de noviembre’s address: 20 de Noviembre 512, OAX_RE_BENITO JUAREZ, Centro, 68000 Oaxaca de Juárez, Oax., Mexico.

A basket full of cooked grasshoppers.
Grasshoppers.

When visiting Oaxaca City, you shouldn’t miss:

Mole. A kind of sauce made from various ingredients such as peppers, nuts, and chocolate and served with chicken or pork. Moles can be sweet, spicy, or somewhere in between. Oaxaca is famous for mole negro, which is on the sweeter side.

Three different kinds of mole with chicken and rice.
Mole negro, mole colorado, and mole almendrado.

Tlayuda. A kind of large tortilla topped with black beans, meat, and cheese. Known as the Mexican pizza.

A kind of large tortilla topped with beans, meat, cheese, lettuce, tomato, and avocado.
Tlayuda.

Caldo de piedra. A kind of soup made with fish, shrimp, and vegetables.

A kind of soup with fish, shrimp, and vegetables accompanied by hibiscus tea.
Caldo de piedra.

Oaxaca is also famous for its cheese (they call it quesillo, not Oaxaca cheese), chocolate, and mezcal.

There is so much we could say about Oaxaca’s cuisine that this post would be super long. I’d rather do it in another post.

Just so you have an idea about the popularity of Oaxacan cuisine, TV and internet celebrities have visited Oaxaca City and become enamored with it. The list includes Anthony Bourdain, T.J. Steele, Mark Wiens, and Trevor James.

==>Click here to book a food tour!<==

How to Get There

Oaxaca City is located in southern Mexico, approximately 462 km (287 miles) from Mexico City. The drive takes about 6.5 hours.

Oaxaca City is served by Xoxocotlán International Airport. The airport has only one terminal that handles both national and international flights.

All the major Mexican airlines fly to Oaxaca. There are also direct flights from Houston, Chicago, and Los Angeles operated by Volaris and United.

==> Book your flight now!<==

 

Where to Stay

Our two recommendations are Quinta Real Oaxaca and Hotel Abu, both in the downtown area.

Quinta Real Oaxaca is a beautiful boutique hotel that occupies the restored 16th-century ruins of the Convent of Santa Catalina de Siena. The amenities include Wi-Fi, a swimming pool, a gym, a business center, a restaurant, a bar, and meeting rooms. You can rent the main hall for a wedding or another big event. Oh, did I say their breakfast buffet is to die for?

The average price per night starts from $120, but keep in mind that it varies depending on the season.

Address: 5 de Mayo 300, RUTA INDEPENDENCIA, Centro, 68000 Oaxaca de Juárez, Oax., Mexico.

Hotel Abu is a 3-star hotel that offers stylish rooms with free Wi-Fi and cable TV. There is a restaurant on the first floor where you can eat at affordable prices. The average night costs $50. It’s strategically located, and the staff is super nice.

Address: Murguía 104, RUTA INDEPENDENCIA, Centro, 68000 Oaxaca de Juárez, Oax., Mexico.

Don’t forget to get travel insurance! Better safe than sorry.

Wrap-up

This list of things to do in Oaxaca City is but a glimpse of what you can do and see during your visit. Oaxaca City is rich in history and culture. Its people strive to survive and preserve their identities in a globalized world.

It doesn’t surprise us that this destination made it to the top of travel lists in recent years. With so much to offer, it would surprise us if it didn’t.

Oaxaca City has it all. Whether you’re a history buff, a foodie, an adventure seeker, a solo traveler, a regular tourist, a backpacker, or someone in between, you will fall in love with this destination. The thousands of people that have visited it and sung its praises can’t be wrong.

Have you been to this amazing city? If not, did I convince you to go? Let me know in the comments below. Also, feel free to leave any questions and comments, and I will be more than happy to help. Bon voyage!

Things to do in Oaxaca City.

8 Replies to “Things to Do in Oaxaca City”

  1. Oaxaca is one of those places I must visit one day. Although I live in Mexico I have never been there, but it is definitely on my list. It has always seemed like a magical place to me. I have heard about the great food there. Sometimes, we get a travelling market from Oaxaca here and then I always buy homemade mole from them, it is so good!
    I’ve always wanted to visit Monte Alban. I also love history and I love visiting ancient ruins and learn more from them (and the tour guides) on site.
    The town center looks absolutely beautiful, and the church is a work of art. I can just imagine that the waiting list to get married there is 2 years long … wow! It must be an amazing experience to get married in that church.
    I hope that one day soon I will visiti Oaxaca!

    1. Hi, Christine,

      You have to visit it yes or yes. Everyone that visits it falls in love with it. As you said, it’s a magical place. I can never recommend it enough.

      Since a history buff and foodie like me, this place is a must on any Mexican travel bucket list. I hope you visit it someday.

      Thanks for commenting. 🙂

  2. What a beautiful location, this Oaxaca! What caught my attention most is the tree, el Arbol del Tule, that really looks beautiful. And the petrified waterfalls, Hierve el Aqua, with the view of the valley, wow! I’m more into nature than buildings so these things are definitely those I’d like to see there. Plus some nice local food. Mole sounds good to me.
    Do you think a weekend in Oaxaca would be enough or would you recommend staying there for a week?

    1. Hi, Lenka,

      No problem, Oaxaca has it all. If you’re into nature, there’s lots of that. For instance, you can also visit mezcal plantations where you can see the plants they make mezcal from as well as the making process. I’ll keep this in mind for a future post.

      Mole is delicious! But so are tlayudas, quesadillas, chocolate, everything! You will gain a few pounds lol.

      In answer to your question, definitely not, a weekend is not enough. A week is more reasonable. There is so much to see and do.

      I hope you visit someday. You will love it. Thanks for commenting. 🙂

  3. Enrique,

    I once visited Mexico (Cancun & Chitchen Itza) and have fond memories of my time there. Reading your piece brings back those experiences and you have sold Oaxaca to me! If anything I am intrigued by the food and would really like to try those grasshoppers 🙂 Do you know if they are available all year round or are likely to feature on the menu at certain times of the year?

    Cheers
    Femi

    1. Hi, Femi,

      If you liked Cancun, you’ll love Oaxaca! It has it all.

      In answer to your question, you can find them at any time of the year. They’re rich in protein and good for snacks.

      Hope you visit someday. Feel free to check my blog for more info and tips on travel to Mexico.

      Thanks for commenting.

  4. Wow! What a great informative information post!

    Really enjoyed reading this information. I’ve never been to Mexico, never mind Oaxaca City.

    I would love to visit the place one day, it looks beautiful.

    Loved breakdown of details, really enjoyed reading.

    Cheers,
    Adam

    1. Hey, Adam,

      I hope you visit Oaxaca one day. I’m sure you’ll love it.

      Feel free to check out my other posts for more information and tips on travel to Mexico.

      Thanks for commenting.

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