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Oaxaca
Photo Courtesy of Brian Finke

At a Glance

Oaxaca is a vibrant colonial city with rich indigenous roots. It has bustling marketplaces, lively fiestas, and wonderful folk art traditions. It's a place with a fascinating history. The capital of Zapotec civilization was located on the nearby mountaintop now known as Monte Albán. Later, the Dominicans built some of their most impressive churches and convents here. A city of color, movement, and sound, as well as a cornucopia of flavors, Oaxaca also offers ample tranquil spaces where you can quietly enjoy the natural and cultural beauty of this magical area.

The Essentials

When to Go

Oaxaca enjoys a pleasant climate year-round. The warmest months are usually April and May, when daytime temps can reach into the 90s, but since it is a dry heat, it's invariably pleasant in the shade. The rainy season begins in late spring and continues through to early fall. You can expect rain in the afternoons during that time of year, but it's not a bad time to visit: dry, brown landscapes turn lush and green. The coolest months are December and January, when nights and mornings are decidedly chilly, but daytimes are warm and sunny.

Getting Around

Oaxaca's international airport (OAX) receives several flights a day from Mexico City, and one daily flight from Houston. There is limited air connection from other Mexican destinations; discount airline VivaAerobus offers a few direct flights a week from Cancun and Monterrey. Bus connections are more plentiful. ADO bus company runs first-class service from the TAPO bus station in Mexico City, and frequent buses run from other Mexican destinations.

Oaxaca’s historic center is easy to get around on foot. The city plan is simple to navigate, with streets changing name north and south of Independencia, and east and west of Alcalá. Taxis are an inexpensive way to get to sites farther afield. They don’t use a meter, so it’s best to agree on a price before you get in. Taxis can be hired by the hour for sightseeing trips; or, for more information as you go, hire a guide. Public buses are cheap (6 pesos), but it can be difficult to find the routes, and there are no set schedules.

Can't Miss

Sit side by side with locals on a metal bench or plastic stool at one of the many street food stands throughout the city. Forget about gourmet restaurants: these stands are where some of the city’s best food is served, and the friendly banter of your dining companions will be hard to beat.

Food and Drink

Oaxaca is one of Mexico's best foodie destinations, and many of the regional dishes date back to pre-Hispanic times. Its culinary offerings include a wide variety of corn-based dishes, and the local gastronomy also makes good use of the huge array of chiles grown in the state. Mole sauces are a specialty; you'll hear about seven different moles, but there are in fact more. Oaxaca is a major mezcal producing center, and tasting the endless varieties is a popular pastime.

Culture

The historic center of Oaxaca city and Monte Albán archaeological site were declared Heritage of Humanity by UNESCO in 1987, but the city's living culture is as vibrant and colorful as its storied past. The indigenous markets and traditional celebrations have changed little since ancient times and offer a glimpse into Oaxaca's deep cultural traditions.

Colorful fiestas happen throughout the year, and even when there’s not a major holiday, it seems there is always something to celebrate. Some of the most representative festivals are Day of the Dead (at the end of October and beginning of November), Night of the Radishes (December 23), and the Guelaguetza festival (last half of July). Oaxaca's fiestas represent the rich and diverse cultural legacy of the Oaxacan people, and visitors are more than welcome to join in the festivities.

What the Locals Know

Protest marches and roadblocks are not uncommon in Oaxaca. They may hamper your ability to keep to a schedule or accomplish everything you've set out to do, but they are by and large peaceful.

Guide Editor

Suzanne Barbezat Oaxaca Local Expert