The name of both state and state-capital, Oaxaca is among Mexico’s most popular tourist destinations. The city, a Unesco World Heritage Site, combines colonial architecture, fine museums, indigenous culture and handicrafts in a sensuous photogenic package. Elsewhere in the state, the glorious Pacific coast remains relatively undeveloped, despite its seemingly endless beaches. To experience it all as a local would, here’s where to stay.
Samora’s thatched bungalow suites face the sun-drenched Pacific Ocean in a private residential community near Puerto Escondido. A cavernous palapa, or traditional open-sided pavilion, stands at the head of a runway-like 40m (130ft) pool and no two villas or rooms bear the same style or accents. Just up the coast, Zicatela Beach boasts some of the world’s most famous – and demanding – surf breaks for which you’ll more likely need to surf like a pro than a local.
The Selina brand’s hip-hostel format is perfectly attuned to Puerto Escondido’s bohemian surf-dude atmosphere. Arranged around a pretty garden, accommodation ranges from teepees (yes, really) to suites via community rooms or dorms, and there’s co-working space with wifi for nascent nomad-entrepreneurs. Surf lessons, dolphin watching, turtle tours and kayaking through the bioluminescence of Manialtepec lagoon lend ample excuses for guests to, in their words, max their chillax.
This modern property overlooks a strikingly pretty horseshoe bay of golden sand. Superb facilities, from tennis to sailing, yoga and volleyball, offset the temptations of its seven-restaurant gastronomic cuisine. Barely a kilometer away stands Copalita Eco-Archaeological Park, one of only two Mexican archaeological sites overlooking the sea. Here by the Pacific, modest 1,000-year-old ruins including a temple and ball court stand amid cliffs, forests and riverine wetlands.
Few hotels in Oaxaca, one of Mexico’s most appealing cities, so skillfully blend its colonial and indigenous heritage as the newly-opened Escondido. Rough concrete, cypress timber and exposed brickwork meld with Oaxacan craftsmanship – hand-made furniture, rugs, bedspreads and pottery – in a 19th-century family mansion that feels as much like a style statement as a boutique property. That it stands in the historic heart of town lends added verve and cachet.
Behind a typical heart-of-the-old-city colonial facade, Casa Carmen’s four-room boutique property offers an unusually homely take on this most appealing of Mexican cities. White walls and a modern touch are enlivened by the enigmatic if not abstract paintings and designer-eye of local (and internationally exhibited) artist Amador Montes. It’s ideally located in the city’s historic old quarter and, although there’s no restaurant, the communal terrace provides a pleasingly authentic retreat from the daily outside hubbub.
One of three linked and family-owned B&Bs in Oaxaca’s historic center, Bugambilas’s vivid facade heralds a modern home of bold colors, patterns and textures. Breakfasts are served at one long communal table and the premises hosts la Olla, a well-known restaurant specializing in Oaxacan cuisine. Head chef Pilar Cabrera, who also runs a cooking school, offers hands-on cookery classes that reflect her passion for traditional recipes. Temazcal cleansing, a traditional herb-infused sweat bath, might round off your cultural immersion.
From one-time medieval monastery to private guest house to today’s boutique hotel, this charming low-rise mansion in Oaxaca’s old quarter is as discrete as it is stylish. Seven spacious rooms with terracotta floors meld modernity and tradition alongside a pool, rooftop patio and courtyard. The latter doubles as a highly-regarded gourmet restaurant specializing in Oaxacan cuisine and guests can book a cookery workshop in its kitchens.
In its look and location, the exterior of this two-story courtyard mansion exudes the stately air of a heritage hotel. Inside is quite another matter; when the crumbling building was restored, its architect unleashed contemporary Mexican designers and artists to imbue the place with fun and flair, especially in its suites. Two patios provide contrasting space and there’s a small library. But perhaps the ultimate contrast lies in the fact of its cool rooftop terrace-bar and, almost hidden away, a small antique-filled chapel.
In name, this 18th-century mansion pays homage to grana cochinilla, or cochineal – the extraordinary insect-derived scarlet dye whose once thriving export from here helped finance Spain’s New World colonies such as Mexico. Faithful to the home’s original configuration, the recent restoration utilized local artists and craftsmen but this is no time capsule. Instead, the design – subtle use of greens (think insect-hosting cactii) and reds (the dye) – deliberately echoes cochineal’s almost alchemical history.
There’s no shortage of venerable mansion-hotels in the city’s historic center. Yet the elaborate wooden gateway of Sierra Azul ushers a charming leafy courtyard complete with medieval fountain – and a bit of an edge. Ranks of tall sentry-like cacti overlooking it from the roof terrace add a surreal touch. Rooms vary widely: downstairs are more traditional while upstairs boast avowedly modern designer touches, platform beds and fancy lighting. Just across the street stands the Oaxaca Textile Museum, a splendid showcase for this regional tradition.
Perhaps no other hotel in the city has such a pure pedigree or is imbued with colonial mystique. Built in the 16th-century as a convent and then enduring several unrelated roles, for the last 50 years it’s been a luxury hotel. This hotel has vaulted cloisters and manicured gardens, enigmatic alcoves, a pool and fine restaurants with centuries-old paintings. In the former church, now a function hall, you might catch flamboyant Oaxacan dances with brass bands. And the bar stocks 101 types of mezcal.