Image by illustrator Cecilia Ruiz

The Insider Guide to Oaxaca

Oaxaca City – Oaxaca de Juarez or, more commonly, just Oaxaca – will, more often than not, be your springboard for an exploration of the state of the same name. But with a cultural tapestry as vibrant as the artisanal products on sale, it’ll be a wrench to leave. Colorful colonial architecture, rich indigenous culture and a culinary scene to rival any in Mexico, make this an alluring, if not essential, destination.

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¡Vamos! The Main Attractions

Gastronomic powerhouse, living museum, cultural juggernaut, Oaxaca is a city with depth. Start your exploration with the revered local cuisine, sampling the traditional Mexican marinade known as mole. You’ll find different varieties across the country, but in Oaxaca there are seven regional sauces to try, with the dark, sweet-savory mole negro probably the best known. You may also want to sink your teeth into a tlayuda (a pseudo pizza with a tortilla base) or, perhaps, chapulines (crunchy, deep-fried grasshoppers.) And, seeing as Oaxaca is the mescal capital, wash it down with a visit to a mezcaleria to sample a tongue-tingling selection of the agave liquor. A siesta might follow, or you could spend a tranquil afternoon gawping at the gilded belly of the Church of Santo Domingo, before admiring the cacti and succulents of the botanic garden, Jardín Etnobotánico de Oaxaca, just a few steps away. There are also plentiful day trips from Oaxaca City should you wish to broaden your adventure. Many whizz off to Hierve el Agua, a mind-bending rock formation that looks just like a flowing waterfall; head to the top to take a dip in two, rather photogenic, mineral-rich springs with mountain views. Or you could visit Árbol del Tule, a titanic tree with the widest trunk in the world. Either way, you’ll also want to visit one of the archaeological sites surrounding Oaxaca City: head to Monte Alban for Zapotec and Mixtec ruins, Mitla for geometric mosaics, or Yagul for a well-preserved ancient ballcourt and palace. Then, if you fancy a break from city life, make for the Oaxacan coast and the surfer’s dream town of Puerto Escondido, home to the not-for-beginners barrels of Playa Zicatela, and a hang-ten, cut-loose lifestyle. You could also visit Huatulco, where nine bays offer a more secluded version of the Mexico Pacific beach experience.

Neighborhoods in Oaxaca