Oaxaca City was built for the wanderer; winding streets take you high up above the center with views over the Oaxacan skyline, and cobbled paths lead you to cafés you wouldn’t ordinarily have found in a million years. The multi-colored façades of many of Oaxaca City’s houses and edifices only adds to this smalltown charm in what is actually the state capital. Wandering round the historic center of Oaxaca is undoubtedly one of the must-do things for any visitor – just start at the zócalo and go from there!
If you want a break from exploring the city, then you must stop by Parque Llano. An open public space, there are trees, fountains and quaint walkways in abundance, making it the perfect place to go with a book, coffee or a friend, and on various days of the week markets are hosted there. Always busy, you’re sure to get a glimpse into everyday life for Oaxacan’s in the capital city; and, if you’re a people watcher, you might even find it tough to leave.
You’d be hard pressed to visit Oaxaca and not stop by the Museo de las Culturas at least once, given that it’s located next to the famed Templo de Santo Domingo in a 17th century converted monastery. Even if you’re not big on museums – and this one does have some cool exhibits – you should check it out for the location alone; huge open windows frame the surrounding Ethnobotanical Garden, creating some literally picture perfect views.
Speaking of which, the Templo de Santo Domingo – one of Mexico and Oaxaca’s most iconic landmarks – is also well worth a look at. It is over 400 years old and while it seems deceptively understated from the outside, the interior is ornate, impressive and positively drenched in gold. Also, given that it’s surrounded by cacti and often bathed in the midday sun, it makes for a great spot to take some artsy photos.
While Mexico City takes the title for the most museums, Oaxaca is a force to be reckoned with when it comes to art galleries. From smaller independent ones that you can dip in and out of as you wander the cobbled, winding streets of the city to the larger more famous ones that display pieces from renowned artists, the art scene in Oaxaca is absolutely one of the things you must see. We recommend the well-known contemporary art stronghold MACO, as well as the Museo Textil de Oaxaca.
MACO, Calle Macedonio Alcalá 202, Centro, Oaxaca, México +52 951 514 1055
This one may be tricky to achieve if you’re not in Oaxaca during mid to late July, but you should absolutely make your best effort to attend the spectacular Guelaguetza celebration at least once in Oaxaca City. All seven of Oaxaca State’s regions are represented in this cultural spectacular that shows off some of Mexico’s best traditional dances. You must buy tickets in advance, though, (they go on sale about two months ahead of time) if you want a guaranteed seat.
While on the subject of coffee, Oaxaca is one of Mexico’s primary coffee producing states and you can’t forget to café hop while you’re passing through. All down the city’s principal pedestrianized street, Calle Alcalá, there are numerous spots you can try your luck at and taste test the blends on offer, although if you want to plan ahead, we recommend Nuevo Mundo, Café El Volador or the legendary Café Brújula.
Café El Volador, Xolotl 118, Centro, Oaxaca, México +52 951 205 1664
Oaxacan cuisine is some of Mexico’s best and you can’t afford to miss out while you’re in the capital. Even if you can only try out a few dishes, make sure they include at least one of its regional specialities. Tlayudas are also known as Mexican pizzas because they’re large, crispy tortillas topped with beans, cheese, avocado and meats of your choice – you can’t not try one! The same goes for Oaxacan mole, chapulines (grasshoppers), tasajo (dried beef) and tamales Oaxaqueños.
It’s not all about the food in Oaxaca; the drinks are also pretty damn good, too. The city is known for its mezcal and we highly recommend that if you have time, you pay a visit to one of the nearby mezcal factories where you can learn more about the process. Alternatively, stop by one of the city’s mezcalerías instead, and taste test the drink some regard as the cooler cousin of tequila. Los Amantes and In Situ are widely regarded as some of Oaxaca’s best mezcalerías.
Los Amantes, Allende 107, Centro Histórico, Oaxaca, México +52 951 501 0687
In Situ, José María Morelos 511, Centro, Oaxaca, México +52 951 514 1811