Oaxaca City is historic but modern, traditional yet progressive. It’s large enough that there are numerous things to do and see, while small enough that you can walk the entire historic center. It boasts legendary cuisine, some of Mexico’s finest examples of colonial architecture and an avant-garde graphic arts scene. These tips will help you settle in smoothly and make the most of your time in the city dubbed La Verde Antequera (its old name during Spanish rule).
The best time to visit
With year-round spring-like temperatures and intense sunshine even during winter, there is no bad time to visit Oaxaca City. However, if you can make it for the Guelaguetza, you’re in for a treat. Every year during the last two weeks of July, Oaxaca goes into full celebration mode; the Guelaguetza is a colorful and joyous festival that centers around traditional dress, music and dance, with origins in the worship of the Aztec corn goddess Centeōtl.
Destinations Unlocked:Let our travel expert Stefano help you find your perfect Culture trip
Looking for an expert's perspective?Uncover my top 3 recommended places from each continent on the map.
1. GuatemalaAn express adventure for those with limited time off. Prepare yourself incredible experiences. You will hike a volcano, visit mayan temples and witness a ceremony and take in beautiful colonial Antigua.
2. BelizeA quick trip not too far away for those seeking a relaxing mini break. You will have plenty of free time to relax but also some awesome activities to experience the rainforest and the caribbean sea.
3. MexicoAn exciting mini trip exploring the lesser known colonial towns of central Mexico. This is hte perfect trip for someone with limited time off and still wants to turn on explorer mode and do something different.
1. EcuadorA remarkable 8 days adventure through the Andes and the Amazon rainforest. The best choice for adventure seekers wishing to visit the 2 most iconic areas of South America, in only 1 week and no flights.
2. PeruAn alternative itinerary to classic Peru, from Cusco to Arequipa. This itinerary is great combination of highlights Cusco and Machu Picchu with the lesser known Arequipa and Colca Canyon.
1. ItalyThe ultimate Italian experience from the vibrant streets of Naples to the breathtaking sceneries of the Amalfi Coast followed by Matera and down to Puglia with its golden beaches, intense flavours and fascinating destinations.
2. ScotlandEmbark on this great adventure starting from London all the way to Scotland with a true Scottish experience made of breathtaking sceneries, whisky tasting and ..lots of fun! Ideal for train lovers and explorers.
3. PortugalA wonderful train journey around Portugal, from the romantic city of Porto to the Douro Valley, to the beautiful Aveiro all the way to Lisbon and Sintra. The perfect trip to train, culinary and culture lovers.
1. South KoreaDiscover incredible temples, mountains and modern cities on this 10 day adventure. This trip is perfect for those seeking immersion in the cuisine, culture and natural wonders of South Korea.
2. ThailandFrom Bankgok to Angkor Wat to Ho Chi Minh City and everything in between - adventure through the heart of South-East Asia. Taste the delights, see history brought to life and unwind on a Mekong River cruise.
3. Sri LankaA fantastic adventure that showcases Sri Lanka's fantastic landscapes, wildlife and flavours. With 3 epic rail journeys, 3 UNESCO heritage sites and time to relax, this trip has loads to offer at a great price
1. MoroccoAn epic journey across Morocco: from Casablanca to Marrakech, through the blue city of Chefchaouen to the wonders of the desert and deep to the High Atlas Mountains - this trip has it all! Ideal for true explorers!
2. EgyptFrom Cairo to Aswan, this trip brings the land of the pharaohs to life. You'll visit the Pyramids, Valley of the Kings and Luxor Temple and cruise down the Nile in style. This is the perfect way to explore Egypt.
Getting to the city from the airport
Travelers on a budget might want to consider taking a taxi from outside of the airport to the city center. If you walk out of the terminal and follow the sidewalk towards the exit, after five minutes or so, you will see black and red taxis lined up on your right-hand side. They charge roughly half the price of the taxis that operate within the terminal and are trustworthy. Expect to pay around 200 Mexican pesos ($8.30).
Getting around the city
Oaxaca is a great city for walking. You should be able to get around most of the historic center on foot. However, if you want to explore some of the city’s other great neighborhoods, such as Xochimilco or Reforma, taxis and buses are your best bet, especially around midday when the sun is at its strongest. Yellow cabs charge a base fare of 60 pesos ($2.50) for a local trip, and the buses will take you anywhere within the city for eight pesos ($0.35). At the front of the bus, there will be a sign that says where it’s going; if in doubt, don’t hesitate to ask the driver, ¿A dónde va? (“Where’s it going?”).
Oaxaca City is, in many respects, a modern city. Most restaurants, cafés and bars will accept all major credit and debit cards; many even take contactless card payments. However, you should still carry some cash on you while out and about in Oaxaca. If you decide to eat at a market or local restaurant (cocina económica) or go for some mezcal at a cantina, it is very unlikely that these establishments will take a card. Taxis and buses are also strictly cash only.
Try not to take excessively long showers
Currently, Oaxaca is facing a water shortage. With an increasing population and the city growing, the supply can no longer keep up with the demand. Water in Oaxaca used to be plentiful due to the two rivers that flow through the surrounding valley, but nowadays, those rivers have shrunk and dried out almost completely. Water supply trucks are a common sight across the city. So, be sure to avoid leaving the tap running or taking overly indulgent showers.
Do not leave without eating at a market
Oaxaca’s markets are sensory bliss: envision the red of ripe tomatoes, the smoky smell of grilled cecina and the taste of warm tamales. Indeed, some of the city’s most delicious and fresh food is prepared daily at its numerous markets. It would be a crime not to eat at the shared table of at least one market stall before leaving Oaxaca.
Visit the Mercado 20 de Noviembre to try a rich, chocolatey mole negro for only 50 pesos ($2.10). The tlayudas (giant tostadas topped with beans, quesillo and veggies) are also some of the best and cheapest in the city. If you are searching for a meatier affair, venture towards the back of the market where you will find an alleyway lined with tasajo vendors. This thinly sliced quality cut of steak is cooked over charcoal and best eaten with handmade tortillas, guacamole, salsa and grilled whole spring onions. ¡Buen provecho!
Learn the difference between queso and quesillo
Oaxaca is famous for its cheese. Indeed, across Mexico, the stringy, mozzarella-like cheese that is used in quesadillas is known as queso oaxaqueño (Oaxacan cheese). However, its real name is quesillo (at least while you’re within state lines). You might just offend some very proud Oaxacans by failing to get its name right. Remember, while you’re in Oaxaca, queso is the name they give to the crumbly, feta-like, fresh cheese called panela in the rest of the country. So, when ordering your food, try to specify whether you want quesillo or queso, but if you get it wrong, don’t worry. Both are delicious!
Watch out for museums closing on Mondays and Tuesdays
Oaxaca City has a great deal to offer in terms of museums and art galleries, with everything from pre-Hispanic sculptures to paintings by the Zapotec artist Francisco Toledo on display. But don’t plan your day of gallery-hopping without first making sure that the attractions you want to visit are going to be open. Avoid the disappointment of an encounter with a closed 15ft-tall (4.5m) colonial front door. Museums tend to shut for the entire day on either Mondays or Tuesdays. For example, the Museo de Sitio Casa Juárez and the Museo de las Culturas de Oaxaca are closed on Mondays, while the Museo Rufino Tamayo and the Museo de Arte Contemporáneo de Oaxaca are closed on Tuesdays.
Support local artists
Oaxaca City is full of talented artists. Tourists to the city can support them by visiting the many studios where they work and sell their art to the public. In 2006, there was a boom of grabado (graphic art) in the city. Since then, dozens of studios have opened within the historic center alone, producing everything from graphic T-shirts to linoleum prints. Much of the artwork has a political dimension and reflects the social and environmental realities of the region. Pick up a Graphic Passport at one of the 12 participating independent studios and get it stamped with an original print from each.
Don’t be afraid to try out your Spanish with residents
You might be surprised by the number of travelers that continue to say “thank you” when everyone – yes, everyone – knows it’s gracias. The local people are quite used to welcoming visitors from all over, especially from the United States, and while many Oaxacans will be happy to speak English, residents really do appreciate it when visitors make the extra effort to speak their language. If your Spanish skills are somewhat limited, a simple buenos días or buenas tardes when greeting hotel staff or your waiter would certainly not go amiss. If you can order a meal in Spanish, that’s even better. Spanish is a wonderful language, and what better place to practice than in Oaxaca!
Get the pronunciation of Oaxaca right
Finally, whatever you do, don’t mispronounce Oaxaca by saying something that sounds like “oh-axe-aca” or “wax-a-car.” It’s pronounced “wa-ha-ca.”
Volcanic Iceland Epic Trip
meet our Local Insider
HOW LONG HAVE YOU BEEN A GUIDE?
WHAT DO YOU LOVE ABOUT YOUR JOB?
It's the personal contact, the personal experiences. I love meeting people from all over the world... I really like getting to know everyone and feeling like I'm traveling with a group of friends.
WHAT DESTINATION IS ON YOUR TRAVEL BUCKET-LIST?
I have so many places on my list, but I would really lobe to go to Africa. I consider myself an “adventure girl” and Africa feels like the ULTIMATE adventure!
Every CULTURE TRIP Small-group adventure is led by a Local Insider just like Hanna.
KEEN TO EXPLORE THE WORLD?
Connect with like-minded people on our premium trips curated by local insiders and with care for the world
Since you are here, we would like to share our vision for the future of travel - and the direction Culture Trip is moving in.
Culture Trip launched in 2011 with a simple yet passionate mission: to inspire people to go beyond their boundaries and experience what makes a place, its people and its culture special and meaningful — and this is still in our DNA today. We are proud that, for more than a decade, millions like you have trusted our award-winning recommendations by people who deeply understand what makes certain places and communities so special.
Increasingly we believe the world needs more meaningful, real-life connections between curious travellers keen to explore the world in a more responsible way. That is why we have intensively curated a collection of premium small-group trips as an invitation to meet and connect with new, like-minded people for once-in-a-lifetime experiences in three categories: Culture Trips, Rail Trips and Private Trips. Our Trips are suitable for both solo travelers, couples and friends who want to explore the world together.
Culture Trips are deeply immersive 5 to 16 days itineraries, that combine authentic local experiences, exciting activities and 4-5* accommodation to look forward to at the end of each day. Our Rail Trips are our most planet-friendly itineraries that invite you to take the scenic route, relax whilst getting under the skin of a destination. Our Private Trips are fully tailored itineraries, curated by our Travel Experts specifically for you, your friends or your family.
We know that many of you worry about the environmental impact of travel and are looking for ways of expanding horizons in ways that do minimal harm - and may even bring benefits. We are committed to go as far as possible in curating our trips with care for the planet. That is why all of our trips are flightless in destination, fully carbon offset - and we have ambitious plans to be net zero in the very near future.