Reasons Why You Should Visit Oaxaca, Mexico, at Least Once in Your Lifetime

Monte Alban, near Oaxaca City, Oaxaca, Mexico
Monte Alban, near Oaxaca City, Oaxaca, Mexico | © Jon Lovette / Alamy Stock Photo
Photo of Leon Beckenham
28 September 2021

In southern Mexico, the state of Oaxaca is a beguiling mix of shimmering Pacific coastline and soaring rugged sierras, fascinating ancient cultures and unique gastronomy – and that’s not the half of it. There are many reasons why you should book your next trip to this extraordinary destination, including frozen waterfalls, fantastic marine life, smoky mezcal, an excellent surf scene and more. Here’s our pick.

It has some of the best surfing spots in the world

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C68W3N Surfing deep in the tube of a powerful wave. Puerto Escondido, Oaxaca, Mexico, North America
© paul kennedy / Alamy Stock Photo

While the long sweeping bay of Puerto Escondido is renowned for its surf scene, it’s far from the only place in Oaxaca where you can catch some serious breakers. The hippie-tinged resort town of Mazunte is a top spot, too, while nudist-friendly Zipolite along the coast offers some great surfing conditions. If you’re keen to escape the crowds, the relatively remote Barra de la Cruz has a reputation for some of the best swells on the Pacific.

Bahías de Huatulco is a seriously good vacation spot

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BG3J1H Santa Cruz Beach, Bahias de Huatulco, Oaxaca State, Pacific Coast, Mexico, North America
© robertharding / Alamy Stock Photo

If your idea of the perfect vacation is unspoiled beaches and fresh-from-the-water seafood, book a stay at Bahías de Huatulco. Formerly a virtually untouched stretch of Pacific coastline, the purpose-built resort region now reaches across nine scenic bays and more than 30 beaches. The main area, La Crucecita, is a laid-back town filled with outstanding tourist-friendly restaurants. Neighboring Huatulco National Park brims with wildlife on land and in the sea, including iguanas, turtles and almost 700 avian species, such as hawks and hummingbirds.

Oaxacan gastronomy is out of this world

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F73GJC Women selling traditional Mexican Bread called Bread of the Dead in Oaxaca Mexico
© Yaacov Dagan / Alamy Stock Photo

The secret is well and truly out – Oaxacan cuisine is among the best in the world. While there’s an abundance of outstanding restaurants where you can sample this flavorful cooking, you can’t beat the heady buzz of eating in a food market. For the real deal, visit Mercado 20 de Noviembre in Oaxaca City – a kaleidoscope of colors, sights and smells, and the spot to enjoy just-off-the-grill treats. For something sweet, the Oaxacan hot chocolate is a silky belly-hug in a cup.

There’s an abundance of sea life to discover

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EXX0CW Two bottlenose dolphin, Tursiops truncatus, Socorro Islands, Mexico, America
© F1online digitale Bildagentur GmbH / Alamy Stock Photo

With hundreds of miles of Pacific coastline, it’s a given that this southern state is a paradise for budding marine biologists. You’ll find numerous companies in larger resorts, including Puerto Escondido and Huatulco, offering the chance to get up close to spot dolphins, whales and turtles. December to February sees humpback whales migrating off the shore. There’s ample opportunity to explore sea life underwater, too, with Puerto Ángel a popular spot for scuba diving and snorkeling.

You can step back in time and discover ancient civilizations

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2AY95TY Pyramids on Monte Alban near Oaxaca, Mexico
© Zoonar GmbH / Alamy Stock Photo
Before the Spanish arrived, Oaxaca was home to the Zapotecs and Mixtecs – sophisticated societies that flourished and built extensive settlements and ceremonial centers across the region. Just outside Oaxaca City, the must-see site of Monte Albán lies on a flattened hill with 360-degree, temple-top panoramas. High up in the Tlacolula Valley, Mitla (meaning “underworld”) is another spectacular pre-Hispanic site; archaeologists have identified it as a center for the grizzly practice of human sacrifice.

You’ll find a wealth of uniquely Oaxacan artisan handicrafts

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A7EK37 Mexico, Oaxaca City, Alebrije painters decorate their wooden creations at ARIPO, folk art shop
© Danita Delimont / Alamy Stock Photo

While every region in Mexico has a unique arts-and-crafts scene, Oaxaca has an especially rich tradition and produces works that are particularly distinctive of the area. The best place to learn more about it is at Aripo (Instituto Oaxaqueño de las Artesanías) in Oaxaca City, where you can buy the finest examples of local work. Alternatively, there’s the Mercado de Artesanías de Oaxaca, where you can browse a cornucopia of handicrafts, including the renowned alebrijes (colorful and fantastical wooden animals).

It’s the birthplace of mezcal – a wonderfully smoky spirit

Bar, Pub Grub, Mexican, $$$
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JCRC67 Bartender pouring a shot of mezcal, La Casa del Mezcal - Oaxaca, Mexico
© dbimages / Alamy Stock Photo
While mezcal isn’t solely produced in the state of Oaxaca, most agree it’s where all the best stuff comes from. Hundreds of palenques (mezcal distilleries) make the agave-based spirit, which is central to most celebrations. Visit any of the numerous mezcalerías (specialist mezcal bars) scattered around Oaxaca, and you’re sure to find an expert happy to walk you through some tastings.

The spectacular landscape is filled with natural wonders

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San Lorenzo Albarradas, Oaxaca, Mexico - Hierve el Agua._2A8EG5X
© Jim West / Alamy Stock Photo

When it comes to natural beauty in Oaxaca, it’s not just about the coastline. If you head inland, you’ll find some genuinely breathtaking scenery, especially if you take a trip to the Unesco-listed Tehuacán-Cuicatlán Biosphere Reserve. The countryside is dotted with natural springs, too, while the Manialtepec Lagoon – just outside Puerto Escondido – is rich with bioluminescent plankton. One spot you really can’t miss is the “frozen” waterfall of Hierve el Agua, a stunning formation of limestone rock cascading down a cliff.

These recommendations were updated on September 28, 2021 to keep your travel plans fresh. This article is an updated version of a story created by Leon Beckenham

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