TRAVELING TO OAXACA?! OR PLANNING A TRIP THERE?
Let me just say, you are a wise person! Oaxaca (pronounced wa-ha-kah) is truly one of Mexico’s travel destination treasures; one not enough people have experienced.
Let me also say, you came to the right blog — and the right blogger!
👋 I’m Shelley, and I have been a solo traveler in Mexico since April 2018! I spent about four months total in Oaxaca throughout my 2+ years of solo travel in Mexico.
Those four months were divided between a month in Oaxaca City during Día de los Muertos (Mexico’s famed Day of the Dead festival), and then 3 months on the beaches.
📿🧘♀️ I even did a 10 day silent meditation retreat while traveling to Oaxaca!
In fact, Oaxaca is my hands down favorite Mexican state. When I decided I was going to live in Mexico full time, I knew I wanted to put my roots down in Oaxaca.
WHY OAXACA? YOU MIGHT BE WONDERING.
Oaxaca, in a word, is magical. I really believe that Oaxaca is the Mexico people imagine Mexico to be!
This state has it all: ahhh-mazing Mexican food, rich indigenous history (Aztec, Zapotec & Mixtec), gorgeous beaches, colorful festivals, pre-hispanic archeological sites, locally-made mezcal, beautiful nature, colonial architecture, artisan communities — and did I mention the food!?
Let’s just say that Oaxaca is known as the Foodie Capital of Mexico 🤤 for good reason! …but we’ll get to the food. In fact, this blog covers everything you need to know to plan the ultimate vacation for traveling to Oaxaca.
If you’re ready to plan your trip, or just get a better understanding of Oaxaca for future travel, let’s dive in with the #1 question that seems to be on everyone’s mind about Mexico travel…
TABLE OF CONTENTS
Traveling to Oaxaca:
Oaxaca, Mexico Travel Safety
Oaxaca is generally considered one of the safest states in Mexico. My experience as a solo female traveler there was no different.
I did, however, follow the same general safety measures I put in place for myself, and used all over Mexico. Truthfully, these tips pretty much apply to travel in any location!
- Always listening to my intuition to avoid risky situations.
- Not walking home alone at night.
- Taking group tours when exploring the places outside of the city center.
- Knowing some Spanish.
- Not joining a cartel.
RELATED BLOG ✈️ Mexico Solo Travel: How To Be Safe & Crush It
GENERAL SOLO TRAVEL SAFETY TIPS
I believe personal safety is a two-way street, and that I need to do my part. For this reason, I took measure to ensure my own safety as much as possible.
Below are a few more standard travel safety tips that will help ensure your safety while traveling to Oaxaca (and anywhere).
1. Use a cross body bag instead of a shoulder bag, and keep it at your side or on your chest, instead of on your back.
2. Don’t put your phone in your back pocket!
3. Take your purse or book bag into the bathroom with you, rather than asking a café/bar neighbor to watch it. This is annoying, for sure, but it works to not get your stuff stolen.
4. Don’t pull your phone out in a giant crowd and/or if the vibe feels sketchy. Remember, your intuition is always right!
5. If the vibe feels sketchy, duck into a cafe, buy a water, and wait a bit until you feel better about your surroundings.
6. Not wearing flashy clothes or jewelry. Side Note: Mexicans are relatively modest dressers.
7. Keep some cash in your pocket so you don’t have to pull your whole wallet out every time you need to pay.
8. Double check to make sure you have your “PKW” (or, Phone, Keys, Wallet) whenever you’re leaving one place to go to the next… I borrowed PKW from an episode of Broad City! I miss that show.
CHECK OUT EPISODE #03 | My Take On Solo Female Travel Safety in Mexico
Traveling to Oaxaca:
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Traveling to Oaxaca:
Oaxaca Travel Tips
Oaxaca City or the Beaches of Oaxaca
Here’s one thing I really wish I knew before my first Oaxaca Trip:
Oaxaca is a pretty big state.
Also, there aren’t many direct roads connecting the central part of the state to the coast! In fact, inter-state travel is a little inconvenient.
The beach and the city are not near one another! They are, however, both popular travel destinations.
HOW MUCH TRAVEL TIME DO YOU HAVE?
There are several ways to get from one to the other, which we will get to in this blog. However, keep in mind that the slowest way takes about 12 hours 😳 so plan to sacrifice some time to travel in between them both.
So right off the bat, decide if this will be a city or beach (or both!) trip.
If you have 4 or less days, stick to one place. For travelers with 5 or more available days, you can divide your time up.
Best time of year to visit Oaxaca
OAXACA CITY: OCT.-MAY
Unlike many places on the Earth, Oaxaca City’s temperate climate means this city is basically a year-round destination!
Oaxaca City’s crowds appear in late-October for Day of the Dead and linger through March.
As a general, the best times to visit Oaxaca are from April-May and Sept.-Nov. The spring and fall seasons tend to have fewer tourists and moderate temperatures.
Typical of a desert, you can expect hot days and cool, crisp nights — think 85°F (30°C) and sunny during the day, and 60°F (16°C) at night.
The city does have a short rainy season from July-Sept., though typical of a desert climate, it usually doesn’t tend to rain much.
BEACHES OF OAXACA: NOV.-MARCH
The beaches, however, are a different story!
You really do not want to visit the coast of Oaxaca during the rainy season of April-Oct. It rains A LOT; torrential, tropical storm rain. Ruin-your-vacation rain ☔️
Nov.-March are the best months to head to the coast, with December being the peak month for tourism.
Oaxaca’s biggest festivals
GUELAGUETZA FESTIVAL: EARLY TO MID-JULY
The Guelaguetza (pronounced geh-la-get-zah) is Oaxaca’s most famous folk festival. In fact, it has been called the largest folkloric festival on the American continent!
This annual event takes place on two Mondays in early/mid-July; its dates vary from year to year.
The Guelaguetza festival brings together people from all regions of Oaxaca to share their food, textiles & culture through dances, presentations and gift exchanges.
In fact, Guelaguetza comes from the Zapotec word, guendalezaa, meaning an offering or a gift.
Though overshadowed by the fame of Dia de los Muertos (Day of the Dead), the Guelaguetza is actually Oaxaca’s most colorful, celebratory festival.
DÍA DE LOS MUERTOS: LATE-OCT. TO EARLY-NOV.
Dia de los Muertos (Day of the Dead) is one of the biggest festivals, not only in Oaxaca, but in all of Mexico.
Different Mexican states, with their ties to different indigenous peoples, celebrate it differently. Oaxaca, and its native Zapotec peoples, are known as having the country’s most festive celebration.
Each year, for a few days in late-Oct./early-Nov., many Mexicans believe the veil to the spirit world is lifted and our departed family members return Earth-side to visit us.
Rather than a somber funerary event, Dia de los Muertos is a days-long celebration!
Families and friends join together to create an elaborate ofrenda (altar), filled with marigold flowers, candles, copal incense, photos of their loved ones and whatever food and drink they would want to consume on their arrival.
I attended in 2018, and can’t wait to go again. This was one of those hyped things that more than exceeded the hype!
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Traveling to Oaxaca:
Oaxaca Flights, Driving & Bus Travel
Flights to Oaxaca
OAXACA INTERNATIONAL AIRPORT (OAX)
Oaxaca International Airport has flights from several U.S. cities. These include Dallas/Fort Worth, Houston, LA & Chicago. If you’re already in Mexico, you can fly here from major cities including Tijuana, Mexico City, Guadalajara & Monterrey.
☀️🏡 NEED AN AIRBNB? I stayed in this cool rooftop apartment in Oaxaca City’s hippest & most colorful neighborhood, Jalatlaco. It is located a short 4 blocks from the historic city center!
There are two additional airports on the Oaxacan coast: Bahías de Huatulco International and Puerto Escondido International.
PUERTO ESCONDIDO INTERNATIONAL (PXM)
Now, though it’s called Puerto Escondido International, this airport doesn’t really have international flights 🤷♀️ For this airport, you’d have to connect through Mexico City, Oaxaca City or Guadalajara.
☀️🏡 NEED AN AIRBNB? I stayed in this beautiful apartment only a few blocks from the beach in Puerto Escondido’s boho chic La Punta neighborhood!
BAHIAS DE HUATULCO INTERNATIONAL (HUX)
The town of Huatulco has international flight service to/from Canada, with occasional flights from Dallas/Fort Worth & Minneapolis/St. Paul.
Depending on what parts of the Oaxacan coast you’re planning to visit, might determine your airport choice. Obviously, if you’re staying in Puerto Escondido, you’ll want to opt for that airport.
If you’re staying in Huatulco, Mazunte, Zipolite, San Agustinillo and/or Puerto Angel, those towns are closer to the Huatulco Airport.
☀️🏡 NEED AN AIRBNB? I stayed in this very instagrammable apartment in Mazunte! It is located just minutes from the beach & right across the street from a yoga/meditation studio.
Traveling to Oaxaca:
Mexico City to Oaxaca Travel
DRIVING YOUR CAR: 6-7 HOURS
Traveling with friends? This is a long drive, and honestly, I don’t recommend doing it solo. It is generally considered safe, though I wouldn’t do it alone… as I always err on the side of caution.
The drive is about 6 hours in a rental car, or 8 hours by bus. If you’re planning to drive, remember these two things:
1) Only drive on the Couta (toll) roads; and have cash for them! These roads are well maintained and generally safer to travel on.
2) Only drive during daylight hours. I have found Mexico to be a very safe country overall, but driving at night isn’t considered very safe.
If you’re driving, plan to leave Mexico City by 8am-9am, to be on the safe side.
TAKING A BUS: 7-8 HOURS
Bus transport in Mexico is safe, inexpensive and convenient. Now, I know the thought of bus travel can be unsettling to my fellow American, however, in Mexico, bus transport is much more mainstream.
Mexico’s largest bus company is ADO.
Make sure to opt for their first/luxury class bus option on longer rides, such as this one. In this class, you’ll enjoy the comfy, large, recliner-style seats and outlets at each seat for your gadgets.
The Mexico City to Oaxaca route has overnight trip options, which some travelers prefer.
TAKING A PLANE: 1.5 HOURS
When I traveled to Oaxaca, I flew. Domestic flight travel within Mexico is very convenient & relatively inexpensive when compared to the bus.
For example, the Mexico City to Oaxaca bus costs around $35 (on average), and can take 8 hours. However, you can find plane tickets for as little as $65, and flights are only about 90 minutes.
RELATED BLOG ✈️ 150 Best Things to Do, See & Eat in Mexico City
Traveling to Oaxaca:
Oaxaca City to Puerto Escondido Travel
You have a few options when traveling to Oaxaca’s beaches from Oaxaca City: 1) Car, 2) Colectivo, 3) Bus and 4) Plane.
Every option listed below gives instructions for getting to Puerto Escondido, Oaxaca’s most visited beach town, but they apply to all Oaxacan beaches.
DRIVING YOUR CAR: 7-8 HOURS
This is a beautiful drive!
…But Real Talk:
If you are someone prone to car sickness, you must plan strategically here! The distance between Oaxaca City & the coast is only about 100 miles — but on this drive, it seems to take forever!
THIS IS A WINDY ROAD!
You are taking narrow, windy, bumpy mountain roads full of switchback turns & curves. ⬇️ Check out the image below to get a mental picture of the roads.
These are the kind of roads that will get someone car sick who doesn’t even regularly get car sick, and for someone who does, this could be an agonizing drive.
However, if that doesn’t apply to you, this drive is gorgeous & you have a chance to see parts of Mexico so few see!
A FINAL FEW WORDS OF CAUTION
These roads are also mostly not lit at night, so be aware you should start this drive as early as you possibly can. To err on the side of caution, be on the road by 8-9am.
Mexico, for me, has been a very safe country — despite what the mainstream U.S. news, movies and shows depict. However, I believe I have stayed safe by always erring on the side of caution.
So here’s the deal:
This is not known to be a safe drive during nighttime hours. During the day, you should have no issues.
TAKING A COLECTIVO: 8-9 HOURS
What exactly is a colectivo?
Basically, it’s a van that seats 12-15. Think Nissan Urvan on average, and Dodge Sprinter for nicer companies.
Now, the car sickness risk remains.
However, since you’re not driving the colectivo, you can sleep through the drive, or at least keep your eyes closed. While I’ve never been carsick myself, I have heard closing your eyes is one of the best ways to lessen the symptoms.
COLECTIVO PRO TIPS:
- Buy your tickets 1-3 days ahead of time so you’ll get to select your seat. I have also heard from people prone to car sickness that you should pick the front seats for the most comfortable ride.
- Schedule your trip for the off-days of the week & an off-time of the day, ie. Wednesday at 6am. There’s no guarantee, but usually less people travel on Mon.-Wed., so your van will likely be less full!
There are several companies you can find in downtown Oaxaca City that offer this route. The cost for a one-way ticket is about $250-300 pesos ($12-15USD).
TAKING THE BUS: 11-12 HOURS
The last over-land option is the bus!
Some pros to taking the bus are the big comfy recliner-style seats, there are plugs to keep your phone & gadgets charged, a bathroom onboard & the overall comfort of the drive itself.
🤔 🚌 You may have also noticed, however, this route adds up to 4-hours to the trip… and you’re probably wondering why & how.
Well, the bus takes another route that avoids the mountains altogether. The bus is actually too big to safely make some of the turns that the smaller colectivo can, so it can’t take the same route.
Meaning this: You get much more comfort by taking the bus, if you don’t mind sacrificing more time.
The good news:
You can take the overnight bus. The main bus company offering this route, and also Mexico’s largest bus company is ADO. The cost for a 1-way ticket is about $500-600 pesos ($25-30USD).
TAKING A PLANE: 30-45 MINUTES
Your final option is the most convenient, quickest, and most expensive. I took this flight, so everything I’m saying here is from my personal experience.
With both companies, you’d be taking one of their 10-or-so seater, small planes — and to be clear, these are small planes!
If you’ve never been in a 1-pilot, 1-propeller plane before, make sure this option is comfortable for you. The YouTube video below might be helpful!
I booked with AeroToucan*… and I really loved this short flight! The views are so cool & the overall experience is much different than being in a large plane because you really feel like you are flying.
*Note: You have to book in person or via phone.
HOW MUCH ARE THE FLIGHTS?
One-way AeroToucan flights are about $125-$150USD. Yes, this is a lot more than driving… but it is also a lot more convenient.
If your schedule allows, AeroToucan offers a 15% discount on all Thursday flights.
The final consideration I’ll bring up is that you want to keep your luggage weight in mind.
You are allowed 15kg/33 lbs., which is almost 20 pounds less than a larger airline allows. My luggage was over and I ended up with a surprise $50 fee.
Traveling to Oaxaca:
Everything you need to know about Oaxaca City
You may hear Oaxaca City referred to by a few names!
Officially, it’s Oaxaca de Juarez; though I’ve very rarely heard it called that. To further confuse, I usually only hear people say Oaxaca, though that is the name of both the city and state.
If you want to be safe, you should use Oaxaca City, so it’s clear you mean the city and not the state as a whole. Do keep in mind though that most people will just say “Oaxaca” when they are referring to Oaxaca City & its surrounding areas.
🤪 I hope that made sense!!
OAXACA CITY: LOCATION & CULTURE
Oaxaca City is located in the center of the state. It is the cultural, historic, artistic and agricultural hub of this state.
Overall, Oaxaca feels like you’re going back in time. The pace is slower in Oaxaca and life feels more natural. This is apparent in the abundance of farm-to-table food, hand-crafted arts, small production mezcals, etc.
In fact, 50% of Oaxaca’s inhabitants still identify with their indigenous ancestry & do not refer to themselves as Mexicans; compared to about 20% in Mexico as a whole.
While Oaxaca is one of Mexico’s top destinations for European travelers, Americans are only starting to really catch on.
After the immense success of the 2017 Disney movie, Coco, more and more Americans have added Oaxaca to their bucket list to experience the Dia de Muertos (Day of the Dead) festival.
Traveling to Oaxaca:
Where do I stay in Oaxaca City?
Oaxaca City’s Best Airbnbs
Full disclosure: I’m an Airbnb traveler — as opposed to hostels or hotels.
I traveled solo through Mexico for years, and only stayed in Airbnbs; no shade on the other options, Airbnb is just my preferred lodging style.
With years of experience under my belt, I’m really good at combing through reviews, and figuring out the best Airbnb option… including this adorable rooftop apartment I stayed in!
Oaxaca City’s Best Neighborhoods
Oaxaca City’s downtown isn’t very big — Think 40 square blocks. For your first trip, I’d strongly recommend staying in Centro (Downtown), as close to the Zocalo as possible.
Staying in Centro gives the convenience & ease of being able to walk everywhere.
There’s also no Uber service in Oaxaca, so keep that in mind. It’s easy to hail a cab, of course, but I always opt for Uber over taxis. The city does have public buses you can take as well.
As with the downtown area in nearly all cities, Oaxaca’s Centro neighborhood is the most equipped to host visitors. It has Airbnbs, hotels, luxury hotels, boutique hotels, hostels — basically every accommodation, for every budget.
This is Oaxaca City’s oldest and most historic neighborhood!
Xochimilco (pronounced so-chee-mill-co) is located just north of Centro. One of the coolest things in this barrio (neighborhood) is an 18th century aqueduct that runs along Callejón Rufino Tamayo street.
You will still get the old school colonial city feel & look here in this neighborhood, but you’ll be further away from other tourists.
Some of the benefits of being just outside of the tourist center, at least for me, include being away from the overpriced tourist trap restaurants. Also, you tend to get a better feel for Oaxaca City by being surrounded by more locals!
My personal favorite neighborhood outside of Centro is Jalatlaco! It is very safe, with amazing restaurants, cool street art, and colorful buildings.
This very photogenic area should be on your radar, even for just a visit during your trip. It is not far from Centro proper, but has a little more of an artsy vibe.
I stayed in an adorable rooftop Airbnb in this neighborhood when I visited Oaxaca City. This place was so perfect for me as a solo traveler, that I ended up extending my stay there from one week to one month!
⬆️ Check out some photos of the amazing rooftop view I had each day from this apartment.
Here are a few more Airbnb options, in case that apartment isn’t available during your stay. I carefully curated this list for you, so you don’t have to do any searching.
I’ve used all of my knowledge of Oaxaca City, and did the research for you, so all you have to do is book your perfect place!
Never used Airbnb before? Try it out using my discount code, and get up to $65 off your first booking.
Traveling to Oaxaca:
Best Things to Do in Oaxaca City
UNESCO WORLD HERITAGE SITES
Oaxaca has not one, but three UNESCO World Heritage sites!
This designation, presented by the United Nations Educational, Scientific and Cultural Organization, or UNESCO, is awarded to sites of “outstanding universal value.”
In total, Mexico has 35 such sites. To make the list, all of these World Heritage Sites have met at least one of UNESCOs 10 criteria, including that they represent “a masterpiece of human creative genius.”
Since these caves aren’t exactly easy to get to, we’ll focus on the two that are in this blog: Historic Downtown Oaxaca and Monte Alban.
Located only about 30 minutes outside of the city center, Monte Alban is Oaxaca’s most-visited archeological site.
As you might imagine, this is a very popular place to visit!
It’s easy to visit with a tour group or on your own. The advantage of the tour is having a guide explain all the ways this site is so important — and there are many!
Monte Alban is the most important archaeological site of the Valley of Oaxaca. Inhabited over a period of 1,500 years by a succession of peoples — Olmecs, Zapotecs and Mixtecs… [this] grand Zapotec capital flourished for thirteen centuries, from the year 500 B.C to 850 A.D. when, for reasons that have not been established, its eventual abandonment began. ~UNESCO
If you want to beat the crowds, arrive early. This also works to your favor because you’ll avoid the blazing afternoon sun. When visiting, remember to wear a heat, sunscreen and comfortable shoes, and bring your water bottle.
While it may just look like a beautiful colonial city now, Oaxaca City and Centro de Oaxaca (Downtown Oaxaca), dates back to 1529 when it was originally occupied by Oaxaca’s native Zapotec Indians.
Today, it is a mix of old and new. Out of the hundreds of sites listed on UNESCO’s World Heritage Site list, very few entire cities have made the cut.
The centre of the city remains the centre of economic, political, social, religious and cultural activities that give dynamism to the city. It retains its iconic architecture and the buildings representative of a cultural tradition of more than four centuries of art and history. ~UNESCO
TOP 10 THINGS TO DO & SEE IN CENTRO HISTORICO
1. Zocalo/Plaza de la Constitución/Catedral: Oaxaca’s main square/Constitution Plaza/Cathedral.
2. Templo de Santo Domingo de Guzmán: Saint Domingo’s Temple, a 16th century Spanish Baroque-style church.
3. Museo de las Culturas de Oaxaca: Oaxaca Cultural Museum, located in the Templo de Santo Domingo.
4. Jardín Etnobotánico de Oaxaca: Oaxaca Botanical Garden, located at the Templo de Santo Domingo.
5. Mercado de Artesanías de Oaxaca: Oaxacan Artisan Market, traditional Oaxacan market with textiles, clothing, handcrafted art & more.
6. Rufino Tamayo Museum: Museum with pre-Hispanic artifacts.
7. Mercado 20 de Noviembre: November 20th Market, traditional Mexican/Oaxacan market with food, shops & more.
8. Calle de Macedonia Alcala: Macedonia Alcala Street, a pedestrian-only street with galleries, shops, cafes, bars & more.
9. Mercado Benito Juárez:Benito Juarez Market, traditional Mexican/Oaxacan market with food, shops & more.
10. Museo Textil de Oaxaca: Oaxaca Textile Museum, showcasing the state’s famous textiles.
Hierve el Agua
Located about 45 miles from Oaxaca City, is perhaps Oaxaca’s most famous natural wonder — Hierve el Agua (boiling water).
While the natural mineral pools are the most photographed places here, you should also check out the amazing “cascadas” (waterfalls).
Now, “cascadas” is in quotes for a reason!
There are two cliff faces at Hierve el Agua that look like waterfalls because they are covered in calcified minerals deposits, which just so happen to look like falling water.
You can see this from afar at the pools, but can hike down for a closer look.
HIERVE EL AGUA TOURS
The easiest way to experience Hierve al Agua? On a tour… like this one.
You’ll also find Hierve el Agua included in a multisite day trip, which I did, and why I can tell you from my experience that if you have the time, make Hierve el Agua a whole day trip in itself. If you don’s have time, the trip I liked is a great option.
As you can imagine, Hierve el Agua gets very crowded.
If you want those Instagram money shot photos with no one in them — you really need to go in the early morning hours right at sunrise.
This works out in your favor because you can do the long hike down to the “cascadas”, then hit up the pools and cool off!
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Mitla: Pueblo Magico
After Monte Alban, Oaxaca’s second most important archaeological site is the ancient city of Mitla.
Rather than a group of pyramids, like many of Mexico’s famous archeological sites, Mitla is a collection of buildings with elaborate and intricate carved stone & geometric designs.
Mitla is one of the holiest sites for the native Zapotec & Mixtec peoples. It was used in centuries past as a holy burial site. In fact, the word mitla comes from the Aztec word mictlán, which means “underworld” or “place of the dead.”
El Tule (The tree of enlightenment) is a gianormous Montezuma cypress tree on the grounds of a gorgeous church in the pueblo (small town) of Santa María del Tule.
When I say “gianormous,” I mean it!
El Tule holds the world’s record of the biggest trunk diameter of any tree on Earth, at an astounding 46 feet. For perspective, it would take at least 30 people with their hands clasped to wrap around it.
Scientists date this tree at about 2,000 years old. However, Oaxaca’s native Zapotec people say it was planted about 1,400 years ago by Ehécatl, the god of the wind.
Oaxaca Botanical Garden
To see more of Oaxaca’s famous plants, head to the Jardín Etnobotánico de Oaxaca (Botanical Garden), located in downtown adjacent to the famous Templo de Santo Domingo.
This 2.5 acre garden showcases Oaxaca’s immense biodiversity with hundreds of local plant and cactus species.
Due to the fragility of the garden’s overall ecosystem, you’re only allowed in with their guided tour.
They are offered in English several times per week, and cost $100 pesos ($5USD) per person.
Traveling to Oaxaca:
Oaxaca’s Best Food & Mezcal
Your Free Food & Drink Map!
Here are 33 places in Oaxaca to get your fix of mole, mezcal and more! The map includes everything from street eats and mercados (markets), to fine dining and mezcalerías (mezcal bars).
Oaxacan Food Guide
In 2010, UNESCO declared Mexican food as an Intangible Cultural Heritage of Mankind. In their words, Mexican food is “a crucial element of national identity.”
Translation: The freakin’ United Nations declared Mexican food one of mankind’s cultural treasures! …and I, personally, couldn’t agree more.
Topping the list of most notable cities to eat in the country is Oaxaca.
So what exactly does one eat in Mexico’s Foodie Capital?
Well, kind of everything. Oaxacan cuisine, like most Mexican cuisine, is very regional. However, the food is similar to the food in the rest of Mexico with a lot of corn and chiles.
In the case of Oaxaca, all of its numerous indigenous groups influence the rich flavors in the food. Besides that, Oaxaca has an incredible variety of produce year-round because of its many microclimates.
From mercados (markets), to food stands, and traditional Oaxacan family-style restaurants and even fine dining, Oaxaca has it all. But first, let’s explore all the unique foods and beverages you’ll want to try while traveling to Oaxaca.
OAXACA’S FAMOUS FOODS
• Chapulines (chap-pull-lean-es): Chapulines are Mexico’s infamous grasshoppers! You’ll find vendors selling them on the streets and in the mercados (markets). Chapulines are super common in Oaxaca, and eaten as a snack like popcorn.
• Memelas (mem-mel-las): Often eaten as a snack, memelas are kind of open-face tacos. They are cooked on a comal (flat round cooking surface) and served on a thick corn tortilla and topped with beans, melted quesillo and sometimes meat.
• Quesillo (kay-see-yo): Oaxaca’s famous cheese! Outside of Oaxaca, this cheese is known as queso Oaxaca (Oaxaca cheese), but in Oaxaca, it’s called quesillo. Quesillo is a soft, meltable, stringy cheese that looks like a ball of mozzarella, but tastes more like a Monterey jack cheese.
MEALS & DISHES
• Mole (mole-lay): Mole is both a marinade and a sauce. There are 7 types of mole, all with different combinations of spices, fruits, nuts & more. The most popular type is mole negro (black mole), which gets its color from chocolate.
• Tamales (tam-mal-lays): Tamales are an ancient pre-hispanic food made of masa (corn dough), then steamed in a corn husk or banana leaf. Tamales are served throughout Mexico, though Oaxacan tamales are cooked in a leaf and considered among the country’s tastiest.
• Tlayudas (tuh-lie-you-das): Tlayudas are sometimes called a Mexican pizza — and they do look like a pizza — but that’s the only similarity. Tlayudas are assembled on large tortillas, and topped with beans, lettuce, tomatoes, onion & cheese, and cooked over carbon (charcoal) to impart a smoky flavor.
• Enmoladas (en-mole-laa-das): Enmoladas are basically enchiladas, but smothered in a mole sauce instead of the traditional salsa of enchiladas.
• Tasajo (tash-sa-hoe): Tasajo is a thin, dried beef steak. It is sort of a cross between a flank steak/skirt steak and beef jerky. You can order it as a tlayuda topping or as a stand alone dish.
DRINKS & SWEETS
• Nieves (nee-yev-es): Nieves is a water-based frozen dessert. It’s basically a cross between ice cream & a snow cone, and mixed with fresh fruits and ingredients.
• Cafe de Olla (oy-ya): Cafe de olla is a traditional Mexican coffee preparation, commonly served in the states of Oaxaca & Chiapas. It is made in an olla (large, earthen clay pot) with cinnamon & piloncillo/panela (unrefined cane sugar).
• Tejate (tay-ha-tay): Tejate is a pre-hispanic chocolate & corn drink. It might sound weird, but this centuries-old drink has clearly stood the test of time. In fact, it is also known as the “bebida de los dioses” (drink of the gods). Tejate is served cold, so it’s super refreshing on a hot Oaxaca City day.
• Chocolate Oaxaqueño (wa-ha-ken-yo): Oaxacan chocolate has a slightly crunchy texture because it’s traditionally stone ground by hand with cinnamon, nuts and sugar. It is commonly consumed as hot chocolate, and often with a piece of pan dulce (sweet bread) for dipping.
• Mezcal (mez-kal): Last, but certainly not least… mezcal! Though tequila is Mexico’s most famous distilled alcoholic beverage, mezcal is very similar & also made from agave. In fact, tequila is basically mezcal, but it is made in the city of Tequila, Mexico.
Traveling to Oaxaca:
Where to drink mezcal in Oaxaca
So what exactly is mezcal?
This distilled spirit is gaining in popularity in the U.S., so you’ve likely heard of it. Mezcal can be made from more than 30 varieties of the maguey (agave) plant.
If mezcal sounds like tequila to you — it kind of is.
Much like how champagne is essentially a sparkling wine that is exclusively from the city of Champagne, France, tequila is a kind of mezcal that is exclusively from the city of Tequila, Mexico.
If Tequila, Mexico, is the home of tequila, Oaxaca is the home of mezcal!
There’s a common saying you’ll likely hear in Oaxaca: Para todo mal, mezcal. Para todo bien, tambien. This means, For everything good, mezcal. For everything bad, mezcal.
Below is a list of some of Oaxaca’s best places to drink it.
MEZCAL TOURS & TASTINGS
Mezcaloteca: This is the hands-down place to start in Oaxaca. It’s part mezcal school, part tasting room. After your experience here, you’re going to really understand mezcal & can take your knowledge to all your subsequent mezcalerias in Oaxaca!
NOTE: Reservations required!
El Rey de Matatlan: This distillery is a little outside of downtown Oaxaca City, but you’ll get to see the whole mezcal farm-to-table process! During the tour, we saw everything from the agave harvest to the distillation and then of course, taste the final product.
MEZCALERÍAS (MEZCAL BARS)
At Sabina Sabe try the Guayabo Verde, and at Los Danzantes, the Danzantes 43 reigns supreme.
Traveling to Oaxaca:
Oaxaca’s Best Restaurants
WHERE SHOULD I EAT IN OAXACA?!
In fact, I ate at each of those places multiple times during my month in Oaxaca City! Below you’ll find a more complete list, separated by price.
I am also adding a brief explanation of Oaxaca’s mercados (markets). The mercados offer a fun, authentic Oaxacan experience & also have plenty of food stalls to eat all of the Oaxaca’s most famous foods.
One particular food stall was even featured in an episode of Netflix’s Street Food: Latin America show.
FOOD STANDS/CASUAL EATERIES ($)
- Itanoni: Order tetelas, de ese, tamales, memelas & wash it all down with tascalate or an agua fresca… but honestly, order everything. I ate here five times in a month, because it’s that good!
- Lechoncito de Oro: This late-night street food stand only serves chicharrón (fried pork skin) & pierna (pork leg), so try one taco with each.
- Tlayudas Libres: Order a tlayuda & top it with cecina, tasajo or chorizo, if you eat meat.
- Las Quince Letras: Owned & run by Oaxacan culinary legend, Celia Florián! Order the trilogía de moles (trilogy of moles) and sample three types of mole in one meal.
- La Olla: The menu changes seasonally, so you can never go wrong by ordering their menu del día (menu of the day).
- Boulenc: One of the best bakeries in Oaxaca! Order sushika for breakfast or a brick-oven pizza for lunch, and of course, a pastry for dessert.
FINE & FINER DINING ($$$-$$$$)
- Casa Oaxaca: Alejandro Ruiz’s famed Oxacan eatery! Order a bottle of Mexican wine, the crispy duck tacos, any of their moles and do not skip dessert. Pro Tip: Make a reservation & ask for a rooftop table.
- El Destilado: Splurge & do the 12-course chef’s tasting menu with drink pairing. I did this & loved every minute of my 3.5-hour experience!
- Criollo: The seven-course tasting menu atEnrique Olvera (of Pujol) and Luis Arellano’s Criollo changes daily, but you can expect Oaxacan comfort foods, like tamales & mole.
MERCADOS / MARKETS ($)
- Central de Abastos: Order the memelas with morita salsa from Las Memelas de Doña Vale — the same ones featured in the Oaxaca episode of Netflix’s Street Food: Latin America.
- Mercado 20 de Noviembre: More of a food hall than traditional mercado, meaning this is a great place to sample many different & authentic cheap eats.
- Mercado Benito Juárez: This is a traditional Mexican/Oaxacan mercado (market), selling a mix of fresh produce & cheeses, artisanal items, prepared foods & more!
Traveling to Oaxaca:
Oaxaca’s Best Beaches
I have been to a good amount of Mexico’s well known beaches, and for my money, nothing beats Oaxaca! It’s such an interesting mix of beach with desert.
I mean, how many places have cacti growing on their beaches?! Oaxaca does.
As a whole, coastal Oaxacan beaches are slow-paced, beautiful and relaxing. Though they are on the Pacific Ocean, the water averages at a warm 80°F (27°C) nearly year-round. Most beaches are swimmable, or located right next to a swimmable one.
Here is a quick rundown of Oaxaca’s most popular beach towns to help you plan your ultimate Oaxaca vacation.
THINGS TO DO
This is the most popular of Oaxaca’s beaches. One of the things that put Puerto Escondido (meaning hidden port) on the map are its surf waves.
Puerto Escondido’s famous big wave surf spot is Playa Zicatela beach. This wave regularly reaches 10-feet in height, and is known as the Mexican Pipeline.
If it’s not already obvious: This is not a wave for beginner or intermediate surfers! However, you can watch the pros surf it.
For those new to surfing, there are smaller, more manageable waves at La Punta, Carrizalillo, and Playa Marinero, as well as several surf schools.
2. BEST BEACHES
La Punta and Carrizalillo are actually two of Puerto Escondido’s most famous beaches.
Carrizalillo is arguably the prettiest, but not the easiest to get to! You must walk down (then back up) about 155 stairs to access this beach — though it is worth it.
This beach is great for swimming, and could honestly be on a postcard, it’s that beautiful.
Located on the opposite end of Puerto Escondido, La Punta has a cool boho chic vibe. It’s one of the best places to watch the sunset, followed by a nice dinner & stroll through this lively part of town.
☀️🏡 NEED AN AIRBNB? I stayed in this beautiful apartment only a few blocks from the beach in La Punta!
Besides surfing and beaches, there’s plenty of other things to do in Puerto Escondido… including the baby turtle release and bioluminescent night swim. ⬇️ Keep scrolling to learn about those!
Never used Airbnb before? Try it out using my discount code, and get up to $65 OFF.
3. BABY TURTLE RELEASE
One of the most popular activities takes place on the beach right at sunset — the Vive Mar baby turtle release program at Playa Bacocho. Playa Bacocho is a quieter beach on the extreme western edge of Puerto Escondido.
I actually spent the day at Coconuts Beach Club, then walked to the turtle release at sunset. The club is only a 1 minute walk from Vive Mar, so this was a perfect itinerary!
A day pass to Coconuts Beach Club was $700 pesos ($35USD), but that cost is applied towards your food & drinks.
As far as the turtle release, you will see a thatched-roof hut on the beach with Vive Mar’s sign. Sign up for the release starts at 5pm, and this does usually “sell out,” so do sign up as early as possible for the (approx.) 6:30pm sunset release.
Vive Mar is a nonprofit organization, but there is a nominal fee to participate in the turtle release. When I visited, they were asking for a $100 peso ($5USD) per turtle donation, with all proceeds benefiting conservation efforts.
4. BIOLUMINESCENT NIGHT SWIM
Each night when the sun goes down, the water lights up with sparkling bioluminescent plankton. While this phenomenon is visible nightly (to some extent), the effect is most visible during the New Moon, when we can’t see the moon in the sky.
You’re going to need to book a tour for this because you go out into the center of the lagoon by boat. There are several tour operators you can book with located along the popular Puerto Escondido street, Avenida del Moro, and it will run you about $300 pesos ($15USD).
Traveling to Oaxaca:
Huatulco, Mazunte & More!
BAHIAS DE HUATULCO
Located about two hours west of Puerto Escondido is Bahias de Huatulco, usually just called Huatulco (pronounced wa-tool-co).
This is for those who want beautiful, nearly-empty beaches, and resort-style accommodations!
MAZUNTE: PUEBLO MÁGICO
Mazunte is one of Mexico’s 120 or so Pueblos Mágicos (Magic Towns).
The Mexican Tourism Board awards the prestigious distinction of Pueblo Magico to pueblos (small towns) in the country with certain characteristics like exceptional natural beauty, unique culture, well-preserved folklore and historic relevance.
☀️🏡 NEED AN AIRBNB? I stayed in this very instagrammable apartment in Mazunte! It is located just minutes from the beach & right across the street from the yoga/meditation studio.
RIVIERA OAXAQUEÑA: ZIPOLITE, SAN AGUSTINILLO & PUERTO ANGEL
These three beaches are known as the Riviera Oaxaqueña (Oaxacan Rivera), because they are some of the most beautiful beaches on the Oaxacan coast.
Despite increasing tourism, these small fishing village beach towns have retained their old school vibes. Visiting these three towns offers a glimpse into old school Mexican life!
Zipolite also has Mexico’s only legal public nude beach. However, not all of the town’s gorgeous beaches allow nudity, it’s really just the portion of the beach outside of the appropriately-named, Hotel Nude.
LAGUNAS DE CHACAHUA NATIONAL PARK
My favorite off the beaten path beach destination in all of Oaxaca is Lagunas de Chacahua (Lagoons of Chacahua). In fact, Chacahua is so off the beaten path that I’ve found even many Mexicans don’t know it exists!
To get there, you must take a boat from the small pueblo of Zapotalito, located about an hour east of Puerto Escondido. You can opt for a direct route, or take the tour route, where the boat captain will point out some interesting sites along the way.
This island sits on the Pacific Ocean, so it’s popular with surfers. The waves are medium-sized, but there are locals that offer board rentals & lessons for beginner surfers.
For those who don’t surf, there’s a small crocodile zoo, a lighthouse you can climb up to, a boat tour through the mangroves, and at night, you take another boat tour to see the bioluminescence.
🏝☀️🏡 NEED AN AIRBNB? I stayed in this beautiful beach cabana! You can’t get any closer to the beach than this house, which also happens to be the nicest place to stay in all of Chacahua! ⬆️It’s the place in the photo up there.
Have any tips for traveling to Oaxaca?
Please let me know what they are in the comments down below.
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