Traveling to Oaxaca, Mexico: Your ULTIMATE Oaxaca Travel Guide

Planning on traveling to Oaxaca, Mexico?

Well then, you are indeed a wise traveler! Oaxaca is truly one of the best travel destinations in Mexico; one not enough people have experienced. (Note: The correct Oaxaca pronunciation is wa-ha-kah!)

Let me also say, you’ve also come to the right blog — and the right blogger! 👋 I’m Shelley, and I have been a living and enjoying solo travel in Mexico since April 2018. In total, I’ve spent about four months in Oaxaca, my hands down favorite state in Mexico.

My four months were divided between a month in Oaxaca City during Día de Muertos (Day of the Dead), and then three months on the beaches of Oaxaca. I even did a 10-day silent meditation retreat in Mazunte while traveling to Oaxaca, Mex.

As most people will be traveling to Oaxaca City, Mexico, this article focuses on that city. There is also some information about visiting the best beaches in Oaxaca, located about 100 miles from the city on the Oaxacan coast, and San Jose del Pacifico, a popular destination for magic mushrooms in Oaxaca.

In this article, you’ll learn everything you need to know about visiting Oaxaca City. If this will be your first Oaxaca trip, you’re going to feel like a Mexico travel pro in no time… so let’s get to it!

🎧 Prefer podcasts? This article is available as a Oaxaca podcast!


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TRAVELING TO OAXACA: OAXACA TRAVEL GUIDE

Where is Oaxaca, Mexco?

You may hear Oaxaca City referred to by a few names. Officially, it’s Oaxaca de Juarez, though most people will just say Oaxaca. As this is both the name of the city and state, you may want to clarify when someone says “Oaxaca,” to find out if they mean the city or state.

Oaxaca state is located in Southern Mexico, and Oaxaca City is in the center of the state. It is the capital city, as well as the cultural, historic, artistic and agricultural hub of Oaxaca.

Where to Stay in OAXACA CITY

When traveling to Oaxaca City, you’ll want to stay in or around Centro Historico, the historic city center, or the nearby neighborhoods of Jalatlaco or Xochimilco.

As this area is walkable, you won’t need a Oaxaca car rental if you’re just staying in Oaxaca City and not doing many day trips.

🚕💨 Oaxaca Travel Tip: There’s no Uber in Oaxaca, though there are plenty of taxis if you’re not renting a car in Oaxaca.

oaxaca map


large agave plant in front of a colonial church
Colorful buildings in downtown Oaxaca City, Mexico
Two girls in traditional Oaxacan clothing
TRAVELING TO OAXACA: Oaxaca Travel Guide

What’s the best time of year to visit Oaxaca?

The best time to travel to Oaxaca is during the dry season, October to May.

However, unlike many places on the Earth, the temperate weather in Oaxaca City means this city can be a year-round destination. While it will definitely rain during the Oaxaca rainy season from June-September, you’ll still enjoy warm days and cool nights — and lower prices — as this is the off-season.

If you want to avoid the crowds, Oaxaca City’s busy season runs from about late-October for Day of the Dead, through March. Many also visit Oaxaca City for the Guelaguetza, Oaxaca’s second biggest annual festival, in July.

OAXACA CITY weather


A cemetery during Day of the Dead, Oaxaca.
Woman in traditional Mexican dress doing a dance
A dancer at the Guelaguetza Festival, Oaxaca.
TRAVELING TO OAXACA: Oaxaca Travel Guide

Festivals in Oaxaca City, Mexico

• GUELAGUETZA Oaxaca: 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 Americas 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 and 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 Oaxaca Dia de los Muertos (Day of the Dead), the Guelaguetza is a beautiful festival.

Day of the Dead Oaxaca colorful altar
Day of the Dead cemetary with flowers and lit candles

RELATED ARTICLE 🌺💀🌺 Day of the Dead in Oaxaca: Everything You Need to Know

• DiA DE MUERTOS: OCT. 31-Nov. 2

Dia de los Muertos (Day of the Dead) is one of the biggest festivals, not only in Oaxaca, but in all of Mexico. I went in 2018, and can’t recommend it enough.

What is Day of the Dead?

Each year, for a few days in late-Oct./early-Nov., many Mexican people believe the veil to the spirit world is lifted and our departed family members return Earth-side to visit us.⁠ While in many cultures, this would be a somber event, in Mexico, it’s a giant party, and the biggest festival in Oaxaca.

Different Mexican states, with their ties to different indigenous peoples, will celebrate it differently. Oaxaca, and its native Zapotec peoples, are known as having the country’s most festive, colorful, and fun!, celebration.


TRAVELING TO OAXACA: OAXACA TRAVEL GUIDE

Traveling to Oaxaca

When traveling to Oaxaca City, use Oaxaca International Airport (code: OAX). It has flights from several U.S. cities., including Dallas/Fort Worth, Houston, LA and Chicago. If you’re already in Mexico, you can fly here from major cities including Mexico City, Guadalajara, Tijuana and Monterrey.

The Oaxaca airport is just 20-30 minutes from downtown, and you can take a cab, colectivo (small, shared van) or private transportation service to your accommodation in Oaxaca. If you’re planning to take a lot of day trips, or just need a car rental in Oaxaca, the airport is the best place to get one.

🚕💨 Oaxaca Travel Tip: There’s no Uber in Oaxaca.


TRAVELING TO OAXACA: OAXACA TRAVEL GUIDE

Mexico City to Oaxaca

• Driving your Rental Car

For those who love a good road trip, pick up your rental car in Mexico City, and hit the road.

The drive from Mexico City to Oaxaca City will take about 6-8 hours; while Mexico City to Puerto Escondido will take closer to 11-12 hours.

You can do the Mexico City to Oaxaca drive in a day, but if you’re heading to the beaches, consider a hotel for one night as it’s not considered safe to drive at night.

Is it safe to drive in Mexico?

As a general rule, Mexico road trips are safe, though you’ll obviously be driving in another country. This means you should take the time to familiarize yourself with Mexico driving laws, ask the agent at your Mexico car rental for advice, and check out the 12 Mexico driving tips below.

🚗💨 12 Useful Mexico Driving Tips

1. Rent with a reputable company! As they say, “you get what you pay for.” For a reliable Cancun car rental company, go with Discover Cars.

2. Avoid driving at night. When you live in Mexico long enough, you start to realize many people simply avoid driving at night, if they can. If you do drive at night, stick to only main roads and highways.

3. Always use the couta, or toll, roads. Yes, they cost money, but they are much better maintained and generally considered safer. Pro tip: Bring cash for the tolls.

4. Download an offline map. Your signal will go in and out as you travel through rural areas of the Yucatan Peninsula, so download an offline map from Google or Maps.Me. You’ll also want to download some podcasts and music while you’re getting that map.

5. Speed limit signs are in kilometers per hour, not miles per hour. You don’t have to worry about conversion math here; just make sure the speed limit sign number matches your speedometer number.

6. Do not use your cell phone while you’re driving. Not only is this unsafe, it is also illegal. In fact, even having your phone in your hand is a ticket-able offense, so try not to even hold your phone while driving.

7. The rumors are true about the cops expecting bribes. If the cops pull you over, and they only will if you give them a reason to, they will expect a cash “payment” in exchange for not ticketing you.

8. Mexican roads are notorious for their abundant amount of topes (speed bumps). Make sure you keep your eyes on the road, as topes don’t always have signs alerting you to them.

9. Mexico’s gas stations are not self-serve. When you stop for gas, an attendant will pump it for you and take your payment. These people don’t actually work for the gas station, and live off tips. When they finish, it’s customary to tip them at least $10-20 pesos ($0.50-$1).

10. Mexico’s traffic lights go from green to yellow, to flashing yellow for a few seconds, to finally, a red light.

11. Make sure you purchase Mexican car insurance. You are generally not covered in any way through your U.S. company when you drive in any other country.

12. Most travel insurance policies cover driving. In case you’re wondering Should I get travel insurance for Mexico?… The answer is hell yes! There’s a whole page of this website dedicated to travel insurance, because it’s just that important — maybe even more so when traveling during the pandemic.


• Mexico City to Oaxaca BUS

Bus transport in Mexico is safe, inexpensive and convenient. Mexico’s largest bus company, ADO, has comfortable buses for the eight hour trip to Oaxaca City, and 12-14 hour drive to Puerto Escondido.

Make sure to opt for their luxury class bus option on longer rides like this one. In this class, you’ll enjoy the comfy, large, recliner-style seats and outlets at each seat for your gadgets. The ADO bus from Mexico City to Oaxaca has overnight trip options, which some travelers prefer.

• MEXICO CITY TO OAXACA Flights

With numerous low cost Mexico carriers, the best way to get from Mexico City to Oaxaca, is by plane. Though costs fluctuate, this 90-minute flight is relatively inexpensive when compared to the bus.

On average, the Mexico City to Oaxaca bus costs about $35USD, and takes 8+ hours; whereas you can find plane tickets for as little as $55USD, and flights are only 1.5 hours. ✈️ Search for your Mexico City to Oaxaca flight now!

Torre Latinoamerica skyscraper and buildings
colorful trajineras, gondola-style boats, at Xochimilco.
European style Bellas Artes building

RELATED ARTICLE 🇲🇽 4 Day Mexico City Itinerary: The Ultimate CDMX Travel Guide


TRAVELING TO OAXACA: OAXACA TRAVEL GUIDE

Best Neighborhoods in Oaxaca City

Centro Historico (Downtown)

Downtown Oaxaca City isn’t very big — think 40 square blocks. For first time visitors, you’ll find staying in Centro (Downtown), as close to the Zocalo as possible, very convenient. This area gives you the convenience of walkability.

There’s no Uber in Oaxaca, though you can always hail a cab. The city has public buses, though Oaxaca public transportation isn’t great overall.

Best hotels in Oaxaca

As with most downtown areas, Oaxaca’s Centro Historico neighborhood is equipped to host visitors — with accommodations for every budget.

The breathtaking view from the rooftop pool at Hotel los Amantes! (Photo: Hotel los Amantes)

Xochimilco, Oaxaca City

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 Callejon Rufino Tamayo street.

You will still get the old school colonial city feel and look here in this neighborhood, but you’ll be further away from the crowds. Being slightly on the outskirts of Centro Historico means great value at Oaxaca boutique hotels — like Casa de Arte and El Callejón Hotel.

Jalatlaco, Oaxaca City

The hippest neighborhood in Oaxaca City! Colorful Jalatlaco (pronounced ha-lat-lack-oh) is just outside of Centro. It is very safe, with amazing restaurants and cafes, unique street art, colonial buildings and some of the best Oaxaca hotels — like City Centro Hotel Oaxaca and Hotel Cazomalli Oaxaca.

💝 The pretty, pink Oaxaca hotel — City Centro Hotel Oaxaca! (Photo: City Centro Hotel Oaxaca)

TRAVELING TO OAXACA: OAXACA TRAVEL GUIDE

Best Things to Do in Oaxaca, Mexico

Oaxaca UNESCO WORLD HERITAGE SITES

There are not one, but three, Oaxaca UNESCO World Heritage Sites — Historic Downtown Oaxaca City, Monte Alban Ruins, and the Prehistoric Caves of Yagul and Mitla. Of the three, most people traveling to Oaxaca have the first two on their What do do in Oaxaca list, as the caves aren’t easy to access.

1. Monte Alban, Oaxaca

Located about 30 minutes outside of the Oaxaca City Center, Monte Alban is the most-visited of all archeological sites and ancient ruins in Oaxaca.

You can visit on your own, but a tour means having a guide explain all the ways this site is so important — and there are many. If you’re visiting on your own, arrive early to want to beat the crowds. Monte Alban opens at 8am, and arriving when they open also means avoiding the blazing afternoon sun.

When visiting, remember to wear a hat, eco-friendly sunscreen, sunglasses and comfortable shoes. Don’t forget to bring your LifeStraw Filterable Water Bottle, which filters your water so you don’t get sick in Mexico, and keeps you hydrated.

Monte alban tours


2. Centro Historico Oaxaca

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.

historic colonial spanish church and plants
Templo de Santo Domingo
Yellow building with balcony
Calle de Macedonia Alcala
Colorful buildings in downtown Oaxaca City, Mexico
Centro Historico Oaxaca City
TRAVELING TO OAXACA: OAXACA TRAVEL GUIDE

3. 10 Best things to do in Oaxaca Centro Historico

1. Zocalo Oaxaca/Plaza de la Constitucion/Catedral: The Zocalo in Oaxaca is the main “Town Square,” where you’ll find historic Constitution Plaza, and the Oaxaca Cathedral.
2. Templo de Santo Domingo de Guzman: 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. Jardin Etnobotanico de Oaxaca: Oaxaca Botanical Garden, located at the Templo de Santo Domingo.
5. Mercado de Artesanias de Oaxaca: Oaxacan Artisan Market, traditional Oaxacan market with textiles, clothing, handcrafted art and more.
6. Rufino Tamayo Museum: Museum with pre-Hispanic artifacts.
7. Mercado 20 de Noviembre: November 20th Market, traditional market with plenty of Oaxaca food to sample, shops and more.
8. Calle de Macedonia Alcala: Macedonia Alcala Street, a lively, pedestrian-only street with galleries, shops, cafes, bars and more.
9. Mercado Benito Juarez: Benito Juarez Market, traditional Mexican/Oaxacan market with food, shops and more.
10. Museo Textil de Oaxaca: Oaxaca Textile Museum, showcasing the state’s famous textiles.

Oaxaca tours


4. Hierve el Agua, Oaxaca

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, or you can hike down for a closer look.

HIERVE EL AGUA TOURS

The easiest way to experience Hierve el Agua? On a tour, of course! Check out the great, and varied, tours of Hierve el Agua below, ranging from half- and full-day trips.

Water and a tree on a cliff at Hierve el Agua in Oaxaca City - Traveling to Oaxaca

5. Mitla Pueblo Magico

After Monte Alban, Oaxaca’s second most important archaeological site is the ancient city of Mitla, Oaxaca.

Rather than a group of pyramids, like many Mexico ruins and archeological sites, Mitla is a collection of buildings with elaborate and intricate carved stone and geometric designs.

Mitla is one of the holiest sites for the native Zapotec and 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.”

Ancient city with red-roofed buildings

🇲🇽 Join the Mitla, Tule, Rugs & Mezcal Tour!


6. El Tule Tree

El Tule (The tree of enlightenment) is a giant Montezuma cypress tree on the grounds of a gorgeous church in the Santa Maria del Tule pueblo (small town).

It holds the world’s record for biggest trunk diameter on Earth, at 46-feet, which takes at least 30 people with clasped hands 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.

very big tree

🚲 Join the Biking to The Ancient Tree of El Tule Oaxaca Tour!


7. Oaxaca Botanical Garden

To see more of Oaxaca’s famous plants, head to the Jardin Etnobotanico de Oaxaca (Botanical Garden), located in downtown adjacent to the Templo de Santo Domingo.

This 2.5-acre garden showcases Oaxaca’s immense biodiversity with hundreds of local plant and cactus species.

🌵 Oaxaca Travel Tip: Due to the fragility of the garden’s ecosystem, you can only enter with a guided tour. English tours take place several times per week, for $100 pesos ($5USD) per person.

tall cacti reflecting on a lake
The Botanical Garden in Oaxaca

TRAVELING TO OAXACA: OAXACA TRAVEL GUIDE

Oaxaca 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. #TRUTH

High atop the list of best Mexico foodie destinations, you’ll find Oaxaca. So what exactly does one eat in what some call the “Foodie Capital of Mexico?” Well, everything — especially Oaxaca street food, and all the incredible, authentic cheap eats in Oaxaca mercados (markets).

Oaxacan cuisine, like most Mexican food, is regional. It is unlike other foods in Mexico because Oaxaca has numerous indigenous groups that all add their unique flavors and styles. Besides that, Oaxaca has an incredible variety of produce year-round because of its many microclimates and growing seasons.

From mercados (Oaxaca markets) to street food stands, and traditional Oaxacan family-style restaurants to 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, followed by a list of the best Oaxaca restaurants.

Oaxaca Cooking Classes & Food Tours


Must Try Oaxacan Foods

SNACKS

• 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 in Oaxaca). Chapulines are very common in Oaxaca, and eaten like popcorn.

• Memelas (mem-mel-las): Often eaten as a snack, memelas are kind of open-face tacos. They are cooked on a comal (circular, flat cooking surface) and served on a thick corn tortilla and topped with beans, melted quesillo and sometimes meat.

• Quesillo (kay-see-yo): Outside of Oaxaca, this famous cheese is known as queso Oaxaca or quesillo Oaxaca (Oaxaca cheese), but in Oaxaca, it’s just called quesillo. Quesillo is a soft, meltable, stringy cheese that looks like a ball of fresh mozzarella, and tastes similar.

Tortillas with salasa and cheese on a plate
Memelas are one of the most popular snacks in Oaxaca.

MEALS

• Mole (mole-lay): Mole is both a marinade and a sauce. There are seven types of mole, all with different combinations of spices, fruits, nuts and more. The most popular type of Oaxaca 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 and 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

Mexican pizza
Tlayuda AKA Mexican pizza
red, black and green mole enchiladas
Enmoladas are enchiladas covered in mole sauce

Oaxaca DRINKS & SWEETS

Tejate (tay-ha-tay): Tejate is a pre-hispanic chocolate and corn drink, which may sound weird, but this ancient drink has stood the test of time. In fact, it is 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.

• Aguas Casilda (cass-ill-da): These fruit flavored-waters are a Oaxacan favorite dating back almost 100 years, and a must-try in Mercado Benito Juarez. There are several flavors, but do try the chilacayota, a melon-type fruit from Oaxaca.

• Chocolate Oaxaqueño (wa-ha-ken-yo): Oaxacan chocolate has a slightly crunchy texture as it’s stone ground by hand with cinnamon, nuts and sugar. It is often made as hot chocolate, and served with pan dulce (sweet bread) for dipping.

• Cafe de Olla (oy-ya): Cafe de olla is a traditional Mexican coffee preparation, common in Oaxaca and Chiapas states. It is made in an olla (large clay pot) with cinnamon and piloncillo (cane sugar).

dunking a piece of bread into a cup of hot chocolate
Chocolate Oaxaqueño made into a hot chocolate and served with a piece of pan dulce (sweet bread) for dipping.

TRAVELING TO OAXACA: OAXACA TRAVEL GUIDE

Mezcal in Oaxaca

What is mezcal?

Mezcal is a distilled spirit that 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 from the city of Champagne, France, tequila is a kind of mezcal 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 in Oaxaca: Para todo mal, mezcal. Para todo bien, tambien, which means, “For everything good, mezcal. For everything bad, mezcal.” Check out the best tours and places to try Oaxaca mezcal below.

Man pouring mezcal into shot glass

oaxaca Mezcal Tours

The Mezcal Journey: Join Ricardo, a Oaxaca native to learn about mezcal in Matatlan, Oaxaca, considered the “Capital of mezcal.” Enjoy a tour of the picturesque Oaxaca agave fields and head to a distillery to see the whole process, step by step, before drinking some mezcal.

Pre-Hispanic Mezcal & Distilleries: Tour host, Antonio, is a Master Mezcalier, and will take you through a sensory journey to see, smell, touch, and finally, have a Oaxaca mezcal tasting. After, you’ll head to a local Zapotec community market for a traditional lunch.

• Mezcaloteca Oaxaca: Mezcaloteca is part mezcal school, part tasting room, located in downtown Oaxaca. After your experience here, you’ll have a great understanding mezcal, and can take your knowledge to all subsequent mezcalerias in Oaxaca you visit. 🥃 Note: Reservations required.

Best Oaxaca Mezcalerias (Mezcal Bars)

For a more casual, locals vibe head to La Mezcalerita and Los Amantes Mezcaleria. These places will have some cocktails, but they are more about sipping on a straight mezcal.

If you’re looking for places to enjoy some mezcal mixology, head to Los Danzantes and Sabina Sabe. Both places are famous for their mezcal cocktails. At Sabina Sabe try the Guayabo Verde, and at Los Danzantes Oaxaca, the Danzantes 43 reigns supreme.

🤕 Planning to drink a lot of mezcal? Don’t forget your anti-hangover meds.


TRAVELING TO OAXACA: OAXACA TRAVEL GUIDE

Best Restaurants in Oaxaca

It’s hard to eat a bad meal in Oaxaca City, but there are standouts like Casa Oaxaca Restaurant (located at Casa Oaxaca Hotel), Itanoni and Lechoncito de Oro (for Oaxaca tacos), to name a few. Below you’ll find a more complete list, separated by price, as well as an overview of the Oaxaca City mercados (markets).

The mercados offer a fun, authentic Oaxacan experience and also have plenty of food stalls to eat all of Oaxaca’s famous foods. One particular food stall was even featured in an episode of Netflix’s Street Food: Latin America show.

🌮 Join the Eating with A Local at the Markets Tour!

Oaxaca Map: Food & Drink

Here are 33 places in Oaxaca to get your fix of mole, mezcal and more. The map includes all the best restaurants in Oaxaca City, as well as the best street food in Oaxaca, mercados (markets), fine dining and mezcalerías (mezcal bars).

🌯 Join the Oaxaca Street Food: Eat Like A Local Tour!

FOOD STANDS/CASUAL EATERIES ($)

Itanoni: Order tetelas, de ese, tamales, memelas and wash it all down with tascalate or agua fresca (fruit water).

Lechoncito de Oro: A must try Oaxaca taqueria! This late-night street taco stand only serves chicharron (fried pork skin) and pierna (pork leg), so try one of each.

Tlayudas Libres: Order a tlayuda and top it with cecinatasajo or chorizo, if you eat meat.

RESTAURANTS ($$)

Las Quince Letras: Owned and run by Oaxaca culinary legend, Celia Florián. Order the trilogía de moles (trilogy of moles) to sample three types of mole in one meal.

La Olla: The menu changes seasonally, so try the menu del dia (menu of the day).

Boulenc: Order shakshuka for breakfast, a brick-oven pizza for lunch, and a pastry at what’s possibly the best bakery in Oaxaca. 

GOURMET DINING ($$$-$$$$)

Casa Oaxaca: Alejandro Ruiz’s famed Oaxacan eatery. Order a bottle of Mexican wine, the crispy duck tacos, any of their moles and do not skip dessert. 🍷Tip: Make a reservation for a rooftop table.

El Destilado: Splurge and do the 12-course chef’s tasting menu with drink pairing, for an amazing Oaxaca meal.

Criollo: The seven-course tasting menu at Criollo Oaxaca changes daily, but you can expect an elevated spin on classic Oaxacan foods from chefs Enrique Olvera (of Pujol fame) and Luis Arellano.

Oaxaca City MERCADOS ($)

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 and authentic cheap eats.

Mercado Benito Juarez: This is a traditional Oaxacan Mexican mercado (market), selling a mix of fresh produce and cheeses, artisanal items, prepared foods and more.


TRAVELING TO OAXACA: Oaxaca Travel Guide

Oaxaca Trip Planning

Best Beaches in Oaxaca

The two most visited places in Oaxaca are Oaxaca City and the Oaxaca beach towns of Puerto Escondido, Huatulco, Mazunte, Zipolite, Lagunas de Chacahua, etc.

Oaxaca, while not a huge state, is quite spread out. If you have four or less days, stick to one place. For travelers with five or more available days, you can divide your time up between Oaxaca City and the Oaxaca coast.

As there isn’t a great roadway that connects Oaxaca City to the Coast of Oaxaca, inter-state travel can take 6-8 hours by car, 8-9 hours by colectivo, and 10-12 hours by bus.

There is a short flight from Oaxaca City to Puerto Escondido, though it’s the most expensive option.

oaxaca, Mexico map

RELATED ARTICLE 🏝 Oaxaca to Puerto Escondido & Huatulco: 5 Transportation Options

Stairs leading down to a tropical beach in Mexico
Puerto Escondido, Oaxaca
beautiful blue water in a bay and beach cove in the small beach town of Bahias de Huatulco, Mexico, in Oaxaca state, a safe solo Mexico travel destination in southern Mexico on the Pacific Ocean
Bahias de Huatulco, Oaxaca
beach shack style cafes and some thatched roof palapa style homes on a cliff overlooking Mazunte, one of the Best Mexican Beach Towns
Mazunte, Oaxaca pueblo magico

San Jose del Pacifico: Oaxaca Mushroom Town

As an off the beaten path Oaxaca destination, San Jose del Pacifico, Oaxaca, has been gaining in popularity in recent years. This town is located between Oaxaca City and the Oaxacan beaches, so many stop in this pueblo (small town) to enjoy nature and magic mushrooms.

🍄 Rather go with a group? Check out the Mushrooms in the Southern Highlands Tour!

Though only semi-legal, mushrooms are used as plant medicine in San Jose del Pacifico, so you can find them in shops all over town. If you’re looking to partake, the best months for fresh magic mushrooms in San Jose del Pacifico is June-August, during the rainy season.

As with all medicines, make sure you’re taking the correct dose in the correct way, so you don’t harm or endanger yourself. Prices vary, but one dose costs about $200-250 pesos ($10-15USD).

mountain town of San Jose del Pacifico, Oaxaca Mexico
San Jose del Pacifico, Oaxaca, located in the verdant southern highlands of the Sierra Madre de Oaxaca. (Photo: Kyle Pearce via Flickr)

Oaxaca Mexico Travel FAQs

1. Is Oaxaca safe for travel?

Short answer: Yes!

Longer answer: Aside from big surf waves, mosquitoes and not drinking too much mezcal, you’re in little danger in Oaxaca. In fact, Oaxaca is one of the safest states in Mexico. Oaxaca City is the country’s 67th largest city, with a population of about 275,000, but retains a humble, pueblo (small town) vibe.

💁‍♀️ OAXACA SOLO TRAVEL: Head to Mexico Solo Travel: 20 Amazing Destinations for Female Travelers, to read Rebecca’s first-hand account of traveling to Oaxaca solo.

As no place on Earth is 100% safe, you’ll want to follow the 10 General Travel Safety Tips below — you know, the same ones you’d follow when traveling anywhere. You should also register for the STEP Program and put your mind at ease with travel insurance.

Mexico Travel Insurance

Wondering, Should I get travel insurance for Mexico?

The answer is of course yes, it will give you an added level of security and peace of mind during these strange travel times.

Just as you insure your car, home and body, you can also insure your luggage, belongings and health while traveling. If Mexico and Oaxaca travel safety are on your mind, get your free quote below from World Nomads, one of the biggest names in travel insurance.

10 General Travel Safety Tips
  1. Don’t walk home alone at night if you can help it; take a taxi.
  2. Always listen to your intuition because your intuition is always right.
  3. If you get a sketchy or uneasy feeling about a person or place, get away from that person or place immediately. If you feel you’re in danger, don’t worry about making a kind, nice, or politically correct exit from a creepy person or bad situation — Just get away ASAP.
  4. Don’t keep your phone, keys, wallet, passport, or anything valuable in your back pocket.
  5. Learn some basic Spanish. If you can’t learn it, save the infographic below as an image on your phone so you have something to use even if you’re off-WiFi.
  6. Take all of your belongings into the bathroom with you, rather than asking a cafe/bar neighbor to watch your things.
  7. Speaking of bar neighbors, don’t take drinks from strangers and/or leave your drink unattended near one.
  8. Don’t wear flashy clothes, expensive jewelry, designer sunglasses, etc.
  9. Keep some cash in your pocket so you don’t have to pull your whole wallet out every time you need to pay.
  10. This should be a no brainer since you’re traveling during a pandemic, but get Travel Insurance!
List of useful spanish words and phrases
PIN THIS FOR LATER

Register for the STEP Program

Make sure you enroll in the FREE STEP Program before your trip. The Smart Traveler Enrollment Program, or STEP, allows U.S. citizens traveling to Mexico to document your trip with the nearest U.S. Embassy or Consulate.

After you’ve registered, the U.S. Embassy or Consulate can contact you in the event of an emergency, including natural disasters, civil unrest, etc. STEP can also put you in touch with your family and friends back home, in the event of an emergency while abroad.

Do I need to speak Spanish to visit Oaxaca?

Many Oaxaqueños don’t speak English, however, with so many U.S. and European tourists, they get by.

If you stick to the popular areas of Oaxaca, like Oaxaca City, Puerto Escondido and Huatulco, tour operators and people in the service industry will speak English. However, when venturing off the beaten path in Oaxaca, you can expect little to no English.

However, it is good manners to learn at last some basic Spanish when traveling to Oaxaca. 🎧 Listen to Episode 13 of the podcast as travel blogger Elizabeth talk about how she learned eight languages, and gives great tips for how to learn language basics in easy, fun ways.

If learning Spanish isn’t in the cards for you, #NoJudgement! Pin and/or save the infographic below on your phone so you’ll always have the words and phrases you need, even if you’re off-WiFi.

List of useful spanish words and phrases
PIN THIS FOR LATER


🇲🇽 Need Mexico travel safety info? This is the mexico podcast for you!


2. Do I need a visa for Mexico?

No, U.S. passport holders don’t need a visa to travel to Mexico. This is just one reason Mexico is one of the best travel destinations for Americans.

When you arrive in Mexico and go through Customs and Immigration, you’ll receive a 180-day (6 month) FMM tourist card. This is a small piece of paper that you need to hold on to so you can give it back to an Immigration officer when you leave the country — so don’t lose your FMM!

3. What do I pack for Oaxaca?

For the most part, Oaxaca is hot all year-long with 80-90°F days. At night, temperatures drop to about 65°F in Oaxaca City, but remain warm on the beaches. ☀️ Get more Oaxaca, Mexico weather info here.

🧳 Related Article: The Ultimate Packing List for Mexico + FREE Printable Checklist

As far as how to dress, Oaxacans are modest dressers, so pants/jeans with long sleeve tops are the norm. However, sundresses, flowy, breathable, cotton, and light-colored clothing works; bonus points for anything that doesn’t show sweat. At night, you’ll want a jacket and boots in Oaxaca City.

With Oaxaca’s sunny, hot (and humid 😥) days, definitely pack a LifeStraw Filterable Water Bottle to stay hydrated, and eco-friendly sunscreen to avoid sunburns and practice responsible tourism in Mexico. If you plan on drinking a lot of mezcal, don’t forget your anti-hangover meds.

🧳 FREE Printable Packing List for Mexico

Wondering exactly what to pack for Oaxaca and all of Mexico?

Download your FREE printable packing list for Mexico below — it covers both Mexico beach packing and packing for Mexico cities. This multi-page Mexico packing checklist covers everything you’ll want to bring, and more importantly, what not to bring to Mexico.

Final thoughts: Traveling to Oaxaca

Is Oaxaca worth visiting?

As you’ll usually need to take at least two flights to Oaxaca, Mexico, or even a flight and a bus, you might be wondering if traveling to Oaxaca is worth it.

The short answer is: OMFG, HELL YES IT IS.

Longer answer: Oaxaca, in a word, is magical. Oaxaca is the Mexico people imagine Mexico to be. This state has it all: rich history, gorgeous beaches, colorful festivals, UNESCO World Heritage Sites, locally-made mezcal, beautiful nature, colonial architecture, artisan communities — and of course, the food 🤤

If possible, try to visit during Dia de Muertos (Day of the Dead), the most fun, festive and best time of year to visit Oaxaca City. As one of the most bucket list Mexico festivals, you’ll want to book your travel plans for this as early as possible — even as early as January — though the festival is Oct. 31-Nov. 2.


HAVE QUESTIONS ABOUT TRAVELING TO OAXACA?

If there was anything I didn’t cover, please join the conversation and ask away in the comments down below!


Enjoy these related Oaxaca blogs!


Please join me on my Solo Travel & Mexico Travel adventures


¡Hola Chicas!

I’m Shelley, a former Miami travel magazine editor who ditched the office for the world!

I started this Blog and Podcast to help women like you cross Solo travel and Mexico travel off your bucket list… READ MORE

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55 Comments

  1. Elena Pappalardo

    I absolutely love how colorful Oaxa is! I never knew how many natural wonders were there! I love how you shared the must-know words and phrases too – super helpful!

    Reply
    • Shelley

      Mexico is full of surprises! I feel like its gorgeous nature is hardly ever shown, especially in the mainstream media.

      Reply
  2. Danielle

    Wow- I have been to Mexico but totaly missed this – will have to go back nowand follow your guide! thank you!

    Reply
    • Shelley

      Oaxaca is still off the beaten path, but it’s gaining more popularity with each passing year. I think Oaxaca is definitely one of Mexico’s best states & cities.

      Reply
  3. Jackie

    I’ve visited CDMX and the Yucatán and I really want to see more of Mexico. Oaxaca has been on my bucket list for awhile and I’m thinking I need to plan a trip here ASAP!

    Reply
    • Shelley

      You’re going to love Oaxaca…. it’s basically a different country compared to CDMX & the Yucatan.

      Reply
  4. Devin Held

    Did I read this right – you’ve been travelling in Mexico for over two years?! That is so amazing! I’ve actually never heard of this destination. I love how informative your guide is. Saving for when I travel to Mexico! 🙂

    Reply
    • Shelley

      hehe, yes! Two years, three months, & counting…

      Reply
  5. Anna Meanders

    Awesome guide – so comprehensive! Oaxaca is one of my favourite places in the world and I spend time based out of Oaxaca City (and sometimes the beaches!) every year. You’ve done so well to cover to much, makes me excited & impatient to get back for my next visit.

    Reply
    • Shelley

      Thank you for your kind words, Anna! I love getting feedback from others who have traveled to Oaxaca & know it well. There is a lot to cover & I’ll keep adding to this blog to make it even more comprehensive for visitors.

      Reply
  6. Alexandra

    You had me at “foodie capitol of Mexico!” omg. I love the food everywhere in Mexico, so I can imagine this place is heaven on Earth. I am also dying to go to the beaches there. They look nothing short of magical!

    Reply
    • Shelley

      I’ve been to 1/2 of the states in Mx & yes, Oaxaca ranks at the top as far as food is concerned. I hope you get to experience the food & the beaches soon.

      Reply
  7. Simply Madeleine

    I´d love to visit Oaxaca one day! Thanks for sharing this guide! 🙂

    Reply
    • Shelley

      You’re very welcome!

      Reply
  8. Bisola

    Oaxaca looks so pretty!! I didn’t know much about it before this post but joe I want to visit! And love all the detailed tips you shared too. I’ll def be saving this for the future!

    Reply
    • Shelley

      I think it’s one of Mexico’s best states… there’s something for everyone in Oaxaca. I hope you get to visit soon.

      Reply
  9. Alma

    Such a comprehensive guide, not only for solo travelers! Beautiful colours at Oaxaca – so cheerful.

    Reply
    • Shelley

      You are so correct — this will hopefully be a useful guide for ALL Oaxaca travelers!

      Reply
  10. Michelle

    This is such a fabulous post! We love visiting Mexico so much and we couldn’t agree more that Mexico is safe! We just love the people, the food, and the beautiful countryside. I would so love to visit Oaxaca during one of the many festivals. Guelaguetza really sounds awesome!

    Reply
    • Shelley

      I was supposed to be at the Guelaguetza right now actually! It has been postponed for 2020, but I’ll be there in 2021 for sure.

      Reply
  11. Jackie

    Such a comprehensive guide to all-things-Oaxaca! (Plus, I’ve been pronouncing it wrong all this time…who knew?) Your article has sparked a new appreciation for this “Foodie Capital of Mexico” for me. While it might be a while before I get there, Oaxaca high on my bucket list. Can’t wait to check it out first hand using all your helpful tips and suggestions. Many thanks!
    “”

    Reply
    • Shelley

      You’re not alone… everyone pronounces it wrong! I did too, until someone corrected me. Glad you enjoyed the blog & I hope you make it to Oaxaca soon… if nothing else, for the food 🤤🤤🤤

      Reply
  12. Katie Diederichs

    I absolutely LOVED Oaxaca City, and the surrounding countryside. Such vibrant culture, incredible food, and beautiful architecture. I have been itching to get back to see the nearby beaches as well. Great guide!

    Reply
    • Shelley

      The beaches are amazing! I’ve been to a good amount of Mexico’s beaches now, and I think Oaxaca’s are the best.

      Reply
  13. Lamara Travels

    Thanks for your super informative post! I love your solo travel tips, especially the idea of popping in to a cafe and buying a drink if you feel uncomfortable out and about somewhere. The photos don’t do this place justice. It’s not somewhere I’ve ever thought about going, but Oaxaca looks rich in culture and especially the good food!

    Reply
    • Shelley

      Mexico is a beautiful country, with the very best food!! I hope you’ll consider adding Mexico & Oaxaca to your travel list.

      Reply
  14. The Globetrotting Detective

    Hi Shelley,

    What a detailed guide! I find it awesome. Mexico is one of my dream destinations.

    By the way, I don’t know what the U.S. news and Netflix show about Mexico because I don’t really watch them.
    But, as a European I know, the media all over the world picks some places such as the Middle East and they want to depict them as evil or just simply bad. But it’s all just a game. For example, I have been to Iraq and Iran and they are really the most amazing places in the world.

    Thank you for this lovely blog!
    Diana

    Reply
    • Shelley

      Thank you for the compliment on the blog. Yes, fear sells. Unfortunately. The U.S. mainstream news basically shows Mexico as the most dangerous country in the entire world… so I can only imagine what you’re saying about the portrayal of the Middle East in European news. I’m sure Iraq & Iran were amazing places, so I’m glad you got to see that first hand. So few others will!

      Reply
  15. Clazz - An Orcadian Abroad

    Wow, what a comprehensive guide! Colour me impressed, honestly this must have taken you so long haha. Oaxaca looks like such a fantastic area to visit, can’t believe how much there is to do! Have you done the bioluminescent swim? That sounds incredible!

    Reply
    • Shelley

      This blog did take me a while lol! And yes, I have done that swim in 2 places in Oaxaca… once at the place I mentioned in the blog (Laguna Manialtepec) & a few times in a truly off the beaten path Oaxacan place called Lagunas de Chacahua National Park.

      Reply
  16. Jen Ambrose

    As an American, I’m so embarrassed by how little time I’ve spent in Mexico! Oaxaca is one of the places I’ve always really want to go – soon, I hope!

    Reply
    • Shelley

      Don’t be embarrassed! But definitely do visit Mexico, when the time is right. It’s such an amazing country.

      Reply
  17. Jenny

    What a comprehensive guide! I particularly like the look of those beautiful beaches and releasing baby turtles would be amazing.

    Reply
    • Shelley

      The turtle release was super cool… the baby turtles are just adorable 🐢

      Reply
  18. Shay

    This is such an awesome comprehensive guide. Going to Mexico for Día de los Muertos is a HUGE dream of mine. Hope I get to make that a reality someday! It looks like so much fun and the ultimate cultural experience.

    Reply
    • Shelley

      I hope you make it in 2021! I think this year might be an abridged celebration, if it’s not cancelled altogether.

      Reply
  19. Lauren

    Thanks so much for sharing such an informative guide!

    Reply
    • Shelley

      You are most welcome

      Reply
  20. Helena

    I want to go just to do the Bioluminecent night swim, i’ve always wanted to do one and didn’t know you could in Mexico! I’ve never been to Mexico but definitely putting Oaxaca on my list

    Reply
    • Shelley

      It was super cool!! You can do it in a few places in Oaxaca, the one mentioned in the blog (Laguna Manialtepec) & another place called Lagunas de Chacahua National Park. There might be others, but I have personally done the bioluminescent swim in both of those places.

      Reply
  21. Maya

    I loved Oaxaca when I was there a long time ago. It had such an air of authenticity. Such wonderful markets and the nicest people. Puerto Escondido was such a hidden gem, I hope it still is. A great guide to the area! I wish I’ll get to visit it again soon!

    Reply
    • Shelley

      Hi Maya: Glad you enjoyed Oaxaca! I wish I could have experienced it years ago when you did…

      Reply
  22. The Spicy Travel Girl

    What an amazingly thorough guide! I’ve heard very good things about Oaxaca, I just saw it listed somewhere as the top travel destination in the world! The photos look stunning, especially the ones from Guelaguetza. Would definitely love to visit some time.

    Reply
    • Shelley

      Oaxaca is amazing! I hope you get to travel there, especially in July for the amazing Guelaguetza festival.

      Reply
  23. mohana and aninda

    I have heard great things about Oaxacan food and would love to try some! Your post is very detailed and the photos are lovely. We’d love to explore the mercados; the produce looks fresh and colourful. And maybe go for a bioluminescent swim!

    Reply
    • Shelley

      The swim is sooo cool! And yes, Oaxaca is known as one of the best states for food in Mexico!

      Reply
  24. Portia Jones

    I am blown away by this detailed guide! this is the level that travel bloggers should be striving for! I think it would be great to get you on my travel podcast – Travel Goals to talk about travel in Mexico if you are up for it? Drop me a line. x

    Reply
    • Shelley

      This is such an amazing compliment & amazing offer. I love your podcast & I’d be honored to be a guest ❤️

      Reply
  25. galatia

    Girl you had me hooked on the food and gorgeous beaches! I am SOLD! 😍 guides like this are aoooo helpful especially in off the beaten path destinations like this!

    Reply
    • Shelley

      Hi Galatia: Thank you so much for the compliments. I know you’d love Oaxaca…. and I hope you make it to this amazing city one day.

      Reply
  26. Courtney

    I love your Oaxaca food guide! Eating my way through Mexico is on my bucket list. Tlayudas and enmoladas sound delicious! Thanks for sharing, and I am saving your guide for when we can safely travel again. 🙂

    Reply
    • Shelley

      Enmoladas are great!! I truly believe we need mole on more foods. You’re going to enjoy Oaxaca!

      Reply
  27. Angelina Dorian

    It’s great that you share your experience. I am a novice traveler, and for me your blog is an aid in planning my trip. Thanks!

    Reply
    • Shelley

      Angelina: Thank you for saying that! I hope you make it to Oaxaca & have the trip of your life.

      Reply
  28. Tracey Fleming

    Nicely put together guide…Oaxaca is on my list…

    Reply

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