traveling to oaxaca mexico

Traveling to Oaxaca City: Your Ultimate Travel Guide [2021]


Planning to visit Oaxaca City, Mexico?

Well then, you are a wise traveler! I’ve had some of my best Mexico experiences while traveling to Oaxaca, and you will too. You’ve landed on the right blog — and with the right blogger — because I live in Mexico, and I also spent four months in Oaxaca, my hands down favorite state in Mexico.

💁‍♀️Oh, and in case you were wondering, the correct Oaxaca pronunciation is waa-haa-kah!

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

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!

TRAVELING TO OAXACA City

Where is Oaxaca Mexico?

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. Oaxaca City is the Oaxaca capital, as well as the cultural, historic, artistic and agricultural hub of Oaxaca.

OAXACA MAP

Oaxaca is located in Southern Mexico, with Chiapas state to the east, and Puebla state to the north.
TRAVELING TO OAXACA City

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. Get Oaxaca hotel recommendations and info on these three Oaxaca City best neighborhoods by clicking the links!

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 tours. If you are, I recommend, and use, Discover Cars for all my Mexico car rentals. They compare both local Mexican companies and big international companies, so you get the best rates.

🚕💨 Oaxaca Travel Tips: There’s no Uber in Oaxaca, though there are plenty of taxis if you’re not renting a car in Oaxaca. There’s also Oaxaca public transportation, but it’s not great.

Colorful buildings in downtown Oaxaca City, Mexico
Downtown, or Centro Historico Oaxaca, is one of about 35 UNESCO World Heritage Sites in Mexico.
TRAVELING TO OAXACA city

Best Hotels in Oaxaca City, Mexico

As with most downtown areas, Oaxaca’s Centro Historico neighborhood is equipped to host visitors — with accommodations for every budget. If you prefer a quieter neighborhood, away from the main tourist center, check out these two Oaxaca neighborhoods, Jalatlaco and Xochimilco.

Booking.com

Best Neighborhoods in Oaxaca City

Oaxaca 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. ▶︎ NEED A RENTAL CAR IN OAXACA? I recommend, and use, Discover Cars for all my Mexico car rentals.

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

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, in the Jalatlaco neighborhood. (Photo: City Centro Hotel Oaxaca)

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.

Casa de Arte, in the quiet Xochimilco neighborhood, offers a nice oasis away from the main tourist area. (Photo: Expedia)
TRAVELING TO OAXACA

Best Things to Do in Oaxaca City, Mexico

Oaxaca UNESCO World Heritage Sites

There are not one, but three UNESCO World Heritage Sites in Oaxaca — Historic Downtown Oaxaca City, Monte Alban Ruins, and the Prehistoric Caves of Yagul and Mitla — and all three belong on your What to do in Oaxaca list!

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 beat the crowds. Monte Albán 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 Water-To-Go Bottle, which filters your water so you don’t get sick in Mexico, and keeps you hydrated.

Monte alban tours


2. Centro Historico Oaxaca City

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, but Oaxaca City does! You can get to know it on the Oaxaca Free Walking Tour (Note: Though “free” is in the name, tips are customary).

Best Oaxaca tours in the city

historic colonial spanish church and plants
Travel guide Oaxaca: Don’t miss the Templo de Santo Domingo in Oaxaca City!
TRAVELING TO OAXACA

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 Culture 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 Mexican 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.

Yellow building with balcony
Colorful Calle Macedonia Alcala, a pedestrian-only street with shops, restaurants, bars and more.

3. Mitla Pueblo Magico

After Monte Alban, Oaxaca’s second most important archaeological site is Mitla pueblo magico (magic town). It is a Oaxaca Mexico UNESCO World Heritage site, along with Prehistoric Caves of Yagul. As Mitla is easy to access, and the caves are not, most tours and visitors will only go to Mitla, Oaxaca.

Want to visit the Yagul Caves? This is one of the few tours that goes to them!

Ancient city with red-roofed buildings

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. It is one of the most beautiful and fascinating places to visit in Oaxaca.

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.”

Oaxaca Mitla tours


4. Hierve el Agua Oaxaca

⭐️ NOTE: The Hierve el Agua petrified waterfall is closed for now, and will hopefully reopen soon!

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 mineral 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 to one of the best Oaxaca places to visit!

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

5. Oaxaca El Tule Tree

A must see Oaxaca vacation site! El Tule (The tree of enlightenment) is a giant Montezuma cypress tree on the grounds of a the gorgeous Templo Santa María de la Asunción church, located in the pueblo (small town) of Santa Maria del Tule, Oaxaca.

very big tree

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.

el tule Oaxaca tours


7. Oaxaca Botanical Garden

To see more of Oaxaca’s famous plants, head to the Jardin Etnobotanico de Oaxaca (Botanical Garden), which is 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 some water
One of the top things to see in Oaxaca Mexico travel, is the beautiful Botanical Garden in Oaxaca!

TRAVELING TO OAXACA

Oaxaca Food & Drink Guide

In 2010, UNESCO declared Mexican food as an Intangible Cultural Heritage of Mankind. This honor is shared with only one other country that’s also perfect for foodie travel, France. In plain English, basically the freakin’ United Nations has declared Mexican food one of mankind’s cultural treasures.

High atop the list of best Mexico foodie destinations, sits Oaxaca. So just what does one eat in the “Foodie Capital of Mexico?” Well, everything — especially Oaxaca street food, and all the incredible, authentic cheap eats in Oaxaca mercados (markets), and you imbibe the amazing Mexico drinks.

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.

Best Oaxaca Food Tours

Best Oaxaca Cooking Classes

Must try Oaxaca Foods & Drinks

Below are just some of the most popular Oaxacan cuisine staples that you must try when traveling to Oaxaca City! For a complete guide, head to this article, Oaxaca Food: 15 Best Traditional Oaxacan Food & Drinks.

Oaxaca Food: 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 (Oaxaca cheese) and sometimes meat.

Memelas are one of the most popular snacks in Oaxacan cuisine.

Oaxaca Food: Full Oaxacan 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.

Mexican pizza
Tlayudas are the Mexican pizzas of traditional Oaxaca City food!

Oaxaca Foods: Oaxacan Drinks

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 Mexican drink favorite, dating back almost 100 years, and a must-try in Mercado Benito Juarez. There are several flavors of aguas frescas, but make sure to try the chilacayota, a melon-type fruit from Oaxaca.

Aguas frescas at a Oaxaca market, one of the most common and traditional Mexican drinks.

TRAVELING TO OAXACA

Best Restaurants in Oaxaca City Mexico

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 the best tacos in Oaxaca! 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.

Oaxaca Map: Best Bars & Restaurants in Oaxaca

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).

Oaxaca RESTAURANTS & 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.
  • 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. 

Oaxaca fine DINING for foodies

  • 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.
Unusual things to do in Oaxaca: Venture off the beaten path to the Pasillo de Humo (Smoke Alley) in Mercado 20 de Noviembre for some carne asada in Oaxaca.

Oaxaca City Markets (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 City

Best Mezcal in Oaxaca City

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.

Man pouring mezcal into shot glass

There’s a well-known Mexico QuotePara todo mal, mezcal. Para todo bien, tambien — which means, “For everything good, mezcal. For everything bad, mezcal.

Best Oaxaca Mezcal Bars (Mezcalerias)

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.

man cooking agave plant
Smoking the agave plant to make mezcal in Oax Mexico.

Best Oaxaca Mezcal Tours

The Mezcal Journey: Join Ricardo, a Oaxaca native to learn about mezcal in Matatlan, Oaxaca, considered the “Mexican mezcal capital.” 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 of mezcal, and can take your knowledge to all other mezcalerias in Oaxaca you visit. 🥃 Note: Reservations required.


TRAVELING TO OAXACA City

What’s the Best Time to Visit Oaxaca?

The best time to travel to Oaxaca Mexico 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 weather

Guelaguetza Festival Oaxaca

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 one of the most exciting and beautiful festivals in Oaxaca City, Mexico.

Woman in traditional Mexican dress doing a dance
A dancer at the Guelaguetza Festival, Oaxaca, a large folk festival held in mid-July each year.

Day of the Dead Oaxaca City

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. For a complete guide to the festival, as well as the history and symbolism of Dia de Muertos, head to the article linked below ⤵

When is Day of the Dead?

The holiday takes place Nov. 1-2, beginning technically at midnight on Nov. 1, so some arrive on Oct. 31, or even earlier. The city begins prepping for the holiday about 10 days before the actual festival.

What is Day of the Dead?

Each year, for a few days in late-Oct. and early-Nov., many Mexican people believe the veil to the spirit world is lifted and our departed family members return Earthside 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.

Oaxaca Day of the Dead is one of the most fun times to visit Oaxaca City, Mexico!

OAXACA travel guide

Traveling to Oaxaca: Beyond Oaxaca City

Best Beaches in Oaxaca

The two most visited places in Oaxaca are Oaxaca City, and the Mexico beach towns of Puerto Escondido, Huatulco, Mazunte, Zipolite, Lagunas de Chacahua National Park, etc. These are the best beaches in Oaxaca, located on the Oaxacan Coast.

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 rental car, 8-9 hours by colectivo, and 10-12 hours by ADO bus. There is a short flight from Oaxaca City to Puerto Escondido, though it’s the most expensive option.

Stairs leading down to a tropical beach in Mexico
Pretty Playa Carrizalillo Beach in Puerto Escondido, Oaxaca.

Oaxaca Pueblos Mancomunados

For a unique, off the beaten path Oaxaca experience, head into the Sierra Norte mountains on a trekking adventure to the Pueblos Mancomunados. These eight self-governing indigenous Zapotec villages, located only a few hours from Oaxaca City, provide immersive Mexico ecotourism experiences.

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.

Though technically illegal, mushrooms have been used as plant medicine in San Jose del Pacifico for centuries. The government is fully aware of what’s going on with them — and they look the other way — and you can buy medicinal mushrooms in shops all over town.

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

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 of mushrooms in San Jose del Pacifico costs about $200-250 pesos ($10-15USD).

🍄 Oaxaca Travel Tip: If you’re looking to partake, the best months for fresh mushrooms in San Jose del Pacifico is from June to August, during the Oaxaca rainy season.

san jose del pacifico tours


traveling to oaxaca
Colorful papel picado flags hung up during the Day of the Dead in Oaxaca.
Oaxaca Travel Guide

Flights to Oaxaca City Mexico

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.

🚕💨 Oaxaca Travel Tip: There’s no Uber in Oaxaca, but there are plenty of taxis.

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.

Travelling to oaxaca

Mexico City to Oaxaca City Travel

• 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, Huatulco and the other Oaxaca beaches 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 many say it’s not 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’ll want to familiarize yourself with Mexico driving laws, ask the agent at your Mexico car rental for advice, and check out the 10 Mexico driving tips in the linked article below ⤵

• 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 the 12-14 hour drive to Puerto Escondido. Note: The ADO website is not easy to use, so book your tickets with the button below

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!

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

Traveling to Oaxaca FAQs

1. Is Oaxaca safe for travel?

Short answer: Yes, for the vast majority of travelers, it is.

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.

SOLO TRAVEL OAXACA: 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 and Safety Wing, two of the biggest names in travel insurance.

  • Safety Wing: Perfect for general travel coverage, and digital nomad who travel for extended periods of time.
  • World Nomads: Perfect for those who want to do adventurous activities while traveling.
10 General Travel Safety Tips
  1. This should be a no brainer given the state of travel and the world, but get Travel Insurance!
    • Safety Wing: Perfect for general travel coverage, and digital nomad who travel for extended periods of time.
    • World Nomads: Perfect for those who want to do adventurous activities while traveling.
  2. Don’t walk home alone at night if you can help it; take a taxi.
  3. Always listen to your intuition because your intuition is always right.
  4. 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.
  5. Don’t keep your phone, keys, wallet, passport, or anything valuable in your back pocket. Better yet, invest in an anti-theft purse or anti-theft backpack.
  6. Brush up on your Spanish-speaking skills with Rocket Spanish — which will have you confident and conversational after just a few modules.
  7. Take all of your belongings into the bathroom with you, rather than asking a cafe or bar neighbor to watch your things.
  8. Speaking of bar neighbors, don’t take drinks from strangers and never leave your drink unattended with one.
  9. Don’t wear flashy clothes, expensive jewelry, designer sunglasses, etc.
  10. Keep some cash in your pocket so you don’t have to pull your whole wallet out every time you need to pay.
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 (native Oaxacans) don’t speak English, however with so many U.S. and European tourists, they get by. If you want to brush up before your trip, Rocket Spanish will have you confident and conversational in no time!

If you stick to the popular areas of Oaxaca, like Oaxaca City, and the beaches of Puerto Escondido and Huatulco, tour operators and people in the service industry often 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 least 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

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 international 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 60-65°F in Oaxaca City, but remain warm on the beaches. ☀️ Get more Oaxaca, Mexico weather info at that link.

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 Water-To-Go 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 City, Mexico

Is Oaxaca worth visiting?

Wondering, Why visit Oaxaca? 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, 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 City?

I’d love to hear from you! Join the conversation in the comments below and ask away if there was anything in this guide to Oaxaca I didn’t cover. I’ll do my best to get you the info you need — but check out the Oaxaca travel blogs below as well!

🎧 Oaxaca Mexico podcast

Leave a Reply

Your email address will not be published. Required fields are marked *

59 Comments

  1. 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!

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

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

    1. 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.

  3. 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!

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

  4. 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! 🙂

  5. 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.

    1. 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.

  6. 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!

    1. 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.

  7. 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!

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

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

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

  9. 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!

    1. 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.

  10. 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!
    “”

    1. 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 🤤🤤🤤

  11. 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!

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

  12. 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!

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

  13. 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

    1. 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!

  14. 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!

    1. 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.

  15. Jen Ambrose says:

    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!

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

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

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

  17. 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.

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

  18. Thanks so much for sharing such an informative guide!

  19. 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

    1. 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.

  20. 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!

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

  21. 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.

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

  22. 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!

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

  23. 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

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

  24. 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!

    1. 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.

  25. 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. 🙂

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

  26. 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!

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

  27. Tracey Fleming says:

    Nicely put together guide…Oaxaca is on my list…

  28. Is it hard to eat vegan & gluten free in Oaxaca?

    1. Hi Harrel: Thanks for writing! As a non-vegan, I can’t give you an accurate answer, but I’ll recommend you should check out Happy Cow because they highlight quite a few Oaxaca vegan restaurants.

  29. Partha Prateem Ray Choudhury says:

    Hey Shelley, thank you very much for providing in-depth information about Oaxaca. Well, as a amateur globetrotter myself (I’m from India) who is passionate to not only explore the world but also want to learn the beautiful Spanish language, Mexican culture, colourful festivals, cuisine and of course to meet friendly Mexicans. I’m torn to finalise a place between Mexico City (everything that Mexico has to offer), Oaxaca City (colourful festival, gastronomic capital of Mexico), Puebla (laid back version of Mexico City in a fraction of the price) and Merida (the safest city in Mexico and best to visit between December to March) to learn Spanish and immerse in the Mexican culture. As someone who has experienced Mexico firsthand, would you mind to suggest an appropriate city to visit, live, immerse and learn Spanish from early January- March end for a span of 3 months?
    I’m sorry for the long post. Hope you will bear with me.
    Regards,
    Partha.

    1. Hi Partha: Thanks for writing! I would honestly say anywhere on your list will work for the cultural immersion experience you’re after. In my opinion, I’d say just pick the city you’re most drawn to! I have been to all of the places you listed, and they are all great options, it really just depends on what you’re looking for in a place to live for 3 months.